Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The buzz just got intense. Google Open Social, Facebook SocialAds

Three things happened this week. and the impact of those three rumors/ announcements might be so huge that it has the potential to change technology landscape will change for the next few years. Of course, it is possible that might not happen (remember Google Base) or it might take years before it makes an impact (remember wikipedia).

So they are..

Firstly Google will launch OpenSocial platform tomorrow. Nobody else can cover the technology impact of the announcement better than Marc Andreessen.

Secondly, Facebook plans to launch Social Ads. I believe this is a powerful idea, an idea which I myself have toyed with, so I guess I am biased. But I do believe this is one of those ideas which will have impact on advertisement payoffs, better targeting and even change the perception users have towards ads. If the ads become personal, more relevant and useful, I will not be so averse to them.

Thirdly, Google planning to work with Verizon (and/or Sprint) to be their search engine. I bet by next year, they would be their mobile OS as well.

Now thats a lot of news on several fronts. That also means that we are finally in those bubbly and feel good years for technology companies after years of dullness. and its not bad. Because technology and developers thrive on emotion. Its easy to get motivated when the market is strong and everyone can dream of riches ahead. Thats when the most risk is taken and thats when ideas even from small guys get experimented with.

But coming back the theme, what is this all about. Is it about "Do no evil"? Or is it about dominating technology headlines. Besides both of the above, it is mostly about being able to "own the data" that will lead to "better targeted advertising" in consumer world and "better customer leads" in enterprise world. That is the real treasure that Facebook/Microsoft and Google are fighting over.

Friday, October 26, 2007

SPAN SUMMIT LIVE: Scaling Facebook Apps

Pretty good pointers for developers of facebook apps around Scaling Facebook Apps

By Mark Mayo; CEO, Joyent

How to Scale

  • Vertically (db)
  • Horizontal (page generation) – stateless page + segregated inserts
  • Agile Infrastructure + Dev – Optimization takes priority over features as soon as app goes viral. Users arrive fast and furious


Example of “Are you normal” by Kinzin

- They had their own infrastructure from independent website

- 1sst facebook app

- but used joyent

- Traffic: 150k yesterday, 200k today

What they did in the app

  1. think about reengagement
  2. First 50k users are most difficult. Advertised to get those users
  3. got to recently popular page. Got peaks when they appear on recently popular pag

Their Story

Started Small

  • started with $15 shared hosting
  • chose $45 accelerator
  • 2x125 (1GB) for launch
  • preconfigured and tested load balancing

First Recently popular page

  • 10K users
  • db was 100% cpu
  • not enough mongrels to handle db connections
  • what they did
    • split and clone stateless app server container
    • double database memory
    • tripled performance in 2 h

Its always database

- look for slow queries (obvious but overlooked, untested)

- find offending code, hand optimize sql (do it)

- memcache everything (no other option)

- run a memcached per app server

- most apps don’t need to go to multiple db (very expensive option)

Second recently popular

- 50k users

- much better caching

- just one slow query

- added 2 more app servers (4x now)

- db lagging on I/O now

Recently popular #3

- already dedicated disk spindles for data and logs

- 100k users

- no problems, db cpu under 15%

What happened: went totally viral in 2 weeks. Very little time if your app goes viral. Have a strategy.

Next Steps

- mysql replica

- split read/write queries in code

- add appservers as needed

- metrics indicate another 3-4 app servers to reach 1M with capacity to spare

Lessons learnt

- you only get hours on recently popular page

- must have plan to add capacity on fly in tens of minutes

- plan on how to attack optimization in ur code

- test with more than sample data to find those slow queries.. its always db


- to load test.. write script to add users

SPAN SUMMIT LIVE: Facebook platform by Ami Vora

Facebook platform by Ami Vora (Facebook)

Talking about traffic stats (hovers between google, ebay, 5th most visited site)

Social graph

Photo tagging, awesome ability to reach out to only those who matter

same old stuff..

Now comes good stuff..

Platform offers

  1. mass distrivution – content, invitations, applications, anything oif value
  2. deep integration – if Facebook can build it, so can you
  3. new opportunity –
    1. Growth – access to millions, viral diftrivution
    2. Engagement – social context, 50% retuen users on website
    3. Monetization- freedom

i. Ad n/w

ii. Cross promotion

iii. Institutional funding

  1. Facebook fund
    1. low barrier to entry
    2. small no equity grants
  2. Advice from facebook
    1. engaging content, focus on social. Focus on user.
    2. use integation points well
    3. develop and iterate.. why will user come back. Low investment, quick feedback, iterate.
    4. intelligent promotion
    5. incorporate privacy
  3. This is just the beginning. Think long term. Same users, so facebook believes success depends on each others success.
  4. Facebook found that good performance have dramatic impact
  5. Q&A
    1. Micropayments , Monetization – two approaches. Either Facebook develops or 3rdparty develops.
    2. Facebook will leave a lot of money on the table for 3rdparty
    3. Best user experience is not possible if Facebook tries to own everything. It is upto users.
    4. They are thinking about enabling news feed stories about applications even if user has not installed but friends have.
    5. FACEBOOK will change utlity (feeds etc) based on what works for users, what works for what kind of apps.
    6. The game is not over. Slide and Rockyou did good with opportunity. Platform matures, applications will change.

SPAN SUMMIT LIVE: Virality Session for facebook apps

Panelists: Jia Shen (Rock you), Dave McLure, Keith (Growing Gift), Mark Kantor
Moderator: Susan Wu (Charles River)

Points made so far:

  1. Virality is: Conversion rate which gets 1 user to invite x. where ideally x>10, but definitely should be > 1
  2. Popular idea today: Send a message.. don’t tell them what it is. Or have a gift, get them to click before they can see it.. or make them wait a few days.
  3. Viralness is different from stickiness.
  4. Active users include app additions. Track how many are returning users vs new users
  5. You can wait to reach out to users who have added the app after rolling out the app
  6. Focus on your active suers. Active -> initial installs and invites following that. Passive -> ocassional users
  7. Ease of development allows you to take a chance.. many developers
  8. Missing features: Discovery of apps. Best way to do that is to see my friend using the app
  9. Get yourself on the minified
  10. Get them to send targeted invites, not just random invites
  11. Analytics: You get to track from beginning to know what to fix.. notifications, clicks, invites, engagement.
  12. First 10, 20 clicks are most important in understanding if the app will grow
  13. Then try out A/B testing. Do Mathematical modeling. Multi variant testing. Grab demographic data and then see which ones do what. Per install, per click what happens
  14. Dave rants again about Acquisition, Retention, Monetization
  15. Humor: Susan said.. is developing facebook apps is like investing in Chinese stock market J . Dave: Big market, opportunities
  16. Graphics in feed. Call for action in the profile
  17. Copy the techniques from slide/rockyou
  18. Use fbnames in the actual message..
  19. Any interactions with multi user .. fan out effect.. feed prioritization
  20. Invite optimization: in new system. It is harder to track, can send 20 (average invite per user= 14). User has to pick. Dave says that’s hurting developers.. not sure why facebook is limiting. Keith: fb raised the bar that user has to be passionate abt app now.. because they got to select each user. Dave: danger.. fb users might be getting tired of spamminess, hence the move. Fb profiles are beginning to look like mysoace profiles.. –ve effect
  21. Jia: invite rates are tailoring down.. User profile is their social capital. In the beginning, it was converting crazy. Last 3 months, things have been same
  22. Mark (kickflip): Strive towards 100% acceptance, hide the message, no single sign on experience, so they have to add the app
  23. Major stats attention: what do they care about

a. Mark: small apps, so focus on growth. Daily/weekly Time on canvas page is good metric for ad monetization

b. Keith: active users/day. engaging, what animals popping out of eggs..

c. Dave: over emphasize on metrics.. cpa might be better than impressions on facebook

d. Jia: Numbers are bragging right. Actual stats which you care about are different.

e. Susan: engagement metrics should be different for different apps.

f. Jia: Uninstall rates: 10-20% uninstall rates.

  1. Top things to take care about: Notifications, profiles are better for growth for new apps.. feed still up in the air. Optimizing notification to friends. Make invite personal. Notification should call for action. Channels: invite, mini feed, name of app, profile action (default profile action.. what other users see when browsing). . use sexiness
  2. Kiss me, dodge me: new apps by Stanford Dave’s class
  3. Spam tune. Never send more than 1 notification per user per day. Wait to unblock. Notifications sit for ever..
  4. Audience: primarily N. America, UK. Facebook just announced they are localizing
  5. Analytics tools used: Google analytics, page tagging. Otherwise custom sql statements, log watch. Dave: Google anaytics.. introduced log events for rich media
  6. Other SN: Reprioritize based on developments
  7. Team structure
    1. Mark: 5 full, 2 partime, 1 business, 1 ad
    2. Jia: 20 ppl, 5 business
    3. Dave: 25 teams of 3
    4. Keith: 2 full, 3 partime, 2 developers.
  8. Focus on creative side of apps. If you are not equally excited, that’s too bad.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

exception - for the man in the arena

I don't usually do this.. that is refer blogs I read somewhere unless I have some thoughts of my own to add to them.

but for this post (surprisingly its from Mike at TechCrunch. which is fine I guess, its just that I never thought I would be making an exception for Techcrunch post), I will make an exception. enjoy!!

generation gap on facebook

I made an observation in my last post - "The 25+ browse more but participate less while 16-25 engage facebook using it as their predominant social communication and entertainment tool." purely based on what I saw around me and on facebook.

Today it was validated by the mighty NY Times. "To some extent, a generation gap is already apparent in the Facebook population, said Mr. Shirky, of N.Y.U. Younger people will use it more naturally and differently than older folks, who for the most part will see a Facebook page as something like the dreaded Christmas letter, with its prosaic updates on one’s life events, and less the sense of “living your social life online, hammer and tongs,” the way younger people tend to.

That is only natural, he said, because “People our age are going to find uses for the tool that have to do with the maintenance of life already in process, rather than making one up out of whole cloth” — in part, he added, because “our social lives are more boring.” And that, he said, is only logical: “We’ve made the mistakes we’re going to make, God willing, and we’ve settled down.”

What driving this.. peer pressure, word of mouth, gossip, curiosity etc. Amazing that the percentage of active members who are over 25 years old and out of school has risen to some 40 percent of the overall population of about 45 million on facebook. And many of them signed up to check it out and willing to hang out.. nice!!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

My take on the Facebook Long Tail

Ever since Tim published his analysis on whether facebook apps can be construed as an internet market in itself where long tail exists and it is rather so thin that defies the original long tail theory or the fact that it is a losing proposition for 3rdparty developers.

Chris Anderson follows up arguing if it is even mature market that the long tail theory can be applied to.

Great discussion. But I kind of agree with Chris. Not around technical analysis and its applicability but more so around the fact that the idea is too nascent to do the analysis. Its like trying to analyze internet web 1.0 economy in 1997. Not because critical mass isnt there yet, but its because the engagement is different for different age groups.

Clearly early application developers have had a head start and because network effects is the gas pedal on which this market breathes, they are galloping while the laggards remain envious and wishful. But the success in engagement they have had is with stupid (and funny) apps which teens, students. Clearly the older age groups have started to participate, but is it to observe or is it to participate. Fred makes the point in his musings that participation drops off like a waterfall once the years weather off. Facebook is still predominantly a 15 to 26 year old service. The usage drops off dramatically once people get above 30 years old.

Research from a recent user study (email me the link if someone finds it, I cant find it) shows that more than half of Facebook users are not currently enrolled in a university or college and that the site’s fastest-growing demo is the 25+ age group. So they are enrolling and observing and wondering. But they are not engaging like the younger ones do. I see that in my peer group and thats what I feel.

So what does that mean. The 25+ browse more but participating less while 16-25 engage using it as their predominant social communication and entertainment tool.

So what does that say for 3rdparty applications. They are still stupid because active users are 16-25. They will mature if the 25+ generation starts adopting social networking platforms for their social interaction needs. I bet that 25+ generation will do that, they are getting warmed up.. kind of learning the new ways.. isn't it always like that as we grow older.

What do you all say?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

giants playing catchup.. and its not google vs microsoft

Thanks to Lalit who pointed to me late last night that myspace plans to launch their platform to 3rd party application developers.. playing catch up to facebook and curbing the popularity. Boy, did they move fast. No questions, almost all existing facebook developers will port their apps on myspace and google (orkut) for that matter. Some of them which were filling the gap for facebook (vs myspace) might not have much of a choice, but within couple of months, muyspace would have caught up with facebook in terms of developer attention. Then the actual race begins.. who can keep developers tempted to their platform aka who can maximize returns for developers. In any scenario, developers win.

But what about users. Do they win? More coming up on that in later post.


Now several sources claim the above rumor was in fact just a rumor and that myspace is not yet ready to go public with their API's. Makes sense. Its not easy and it really seemed that was very fact of them to have caught up.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Adsense now streaming videos!!

Just learnt this from Adsense group mails I subscribe to..

...AdSense isn't just for ads anymore; it's also a place to get video
content for your site -- and earn extra revenue at the same time.We're
excited about the launch of video units -- a new way to enrich your
site with quality, relevant video content in an embedded, customizable
player. Simply embed a snippet of code and have relevant YouTube
partner content streamed to your site. You can choose categories of
video to target to your site, select content from individual YouTube
partners, or have video automatically targeted to your site content.
Companion and text overlay ads are relevant and non-intrusive. To
further blend the YouTube player into your site, you can also customize
the color scheme and layout as well as choose from three different
player sizes. If you're looking to build "stickiness" with your
visitors, show quality YouTube partner video on your site, and earn
extra revenue along the way...

what is interesting is that instead of branding this offering differently, they decided to merge the offering within Adsense. That will help them get the initial critical mass pretty quickly. Smart move.

and goes without saying, the move will hurt quite a few startups, including MonetizeMedia, founded by a close friend of mine.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

will conferences lose their appeal in valley

Today was the start of yet another conference around facebook applications called Graphing Social Patterns. A must go conference, so everyone says. Many of my friends are going to be visiting, many hope they could have. Dave is a blogger I respect, though I dont agree with him sometimes.

Another must go conference called CommunityNext around the same subject was wrapping up organized by kind of friend (we met) Noah Kagan.

The common theme around both of these conferences remain the same. Speakers from media, VC and top facebook applications gather and preach the best way to develop apps, the value of social graph, how this is the next best thing invented since sliced bread and arguing about the yet but slowly emerging business models around facebook and social networking economy.

All is good but do you really need to be in the conference to get to hear what is going to be said in these times. There are so many bloggers that I am anyways inundated with the feeds, I am almost always behind trying to play catchup all the time. Ditto for business networking. Given the plethora of meetups in the valley around your favorite subjects you dont really need to be in these conferences unless you are either trying to expand your team or meet VC's. I would comment later on futility of meeting a VC during such conferences, but thats for later.

And then I find it funny for small startups having to pay hundred of dollars. Hosting and attending a conference is not inexpensive.

So the question is, will conferences lose their appeal in the years ahead?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

using personal data within social networks

As you can guess, this topic has been intriguing me for a while. Well, in a way, it is a no brainer. It had to happen. MySpace announces it will use users persoanl data to target ads. Brad Stone from NYT reports

"The social networking companies see those pages as a lush target for advertisers — if only they could customize the ads.....

But MySpace, the Web’s largest social network and one of the most trafficked sites on the Internet, says that after experimenting with technology over the last six months it can tailor ads to the personal information that its 110 million active users leave on their profile pages....

They say the tailoring technology has improved the likelihood that members will click on an ad by 80 percent on average."

If this is indeed true, thats a big jump. Improving success rate of your impressions a few percentage points can be quite a feat, here they are talking about 80% jump.

I am sure we will soon see news feed from Facebook claiming similar expertise. It had to happen and is happening as the above article claims. From what I hear, many googlers and yahoogans have been recruited by Facebook. More information here in the excerpts from WSJ. I think what they recently released as Flyers pro is an effort in that direction.

Now the question is, will I as a user of myspace or facebook or linkedin mind if they are mining my personal data. Given that google already does that within gmail and iGoogle and still is very popular web email program and home page, people have come to expect this. If they get a service they like and want, they are willing to compromise their privacy..

But what about giving access to that information to thirdparties.. now that is something which is very dangerous. It is already happening.. it happens. The intent is not to compromise on user privacy, but there are so many loose ends when that happens on the internet that accountability disappears.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

naked profiles

Read the story about facebook on mercury news today.

" Four out of 10 users of Web site Facebook unwittingly expose themselves to the risk of identify theft and virus attacks, according to a new study that underscores growing concerns among security experts about online social networking."

you know what I fear the most in this web 2.0 craze, a backlash. And we are all too smart to never underestimate the backlash of the masses. If there is one thing that can puncture the bubble (geez, I meant the euphoria), that would be backlash against loss of privacy individuals/families/mom and pop shops might feel against. Even MSNBC is talking about the dangers of online predators.

As web 2.0 penetrates the masses, crime (and spam and ogling) sophistication will increase. When it will start hurting, there is going to be backlash (like against pop up blockers, spam), people will start educating themselves about how to behave on social networks.. but it might be too late for some.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

whats wrong with too many companies trying too many ideas

I was just reading Mike's blog on the excesses in the valley right now.

Everyone will agree on the excesses part. But something perturbed me. Its a madness, but a different kind of madness. Not the one where you burn cash crazy. But the one where there's just too many people experimenting too many ideas. Almost like school projects.

But whats wrong with too many companies trying too many ideas. There are 4X companies now because

- its cheap to build something
- there’s a reward for simple ideas done nicely (youtube, feedburner)
- grip of institutionalization is breaking. Gone are days when ideas had to be big, blessed and would take years before released..

When there’s fire, there is going to be smoke. But its no wild fire like 90’s. I was there back then and I am here now. Difference is I am bootstrapped now. And so are so many others I know. Some might be partying, but no way close to peak times yet.

but it can be overwheming. too many companies doing too many things. There’s so much compeitition for even reaching the early adopters. Just keeping uptodate with TC feeds takes an hour.. and frankly Mike, thats what is happening to you. Covering the valley is/will remain a nerve wrecking job.

and whatever cycle we are in, there will always be good startups with the right idea executing the right way. ALWAYS. remember google was a me too idea as well.

Monday, May 14, 2007


my last month has been gruelling. it almost reminds me of my student days. I have almost become a web 2.0 researcher and its hard to summarize the learnings. Well, that sounds like so not web 2.0 like.

I believe we have entered the end of first wave of web 2.0.. there is consolidation, the reality has started to kick in, people are talking about social network fatigue fatigue and fatigue. But on the other hand, technology has just started to penetrate the mainstream. Like always, it starts with geeks, find its way to students and young generation who then teach their elders. Sometimes the gap remains for the worse or the better (now we are entering perception theories).

Now technology has started to penetrate the niches and there is no common theme to it (which again is against the essence of web 2.0). Now people are started to talk about how to adopt these new tools into existing solutions and change the way things are done. For that I am talking about broadcasting, music, publishing, at work (office management , sales, HR, CRM, product management, feedback mechanisms from customers, analysts etc etc), students, lectures, books, products, reviews, trust, friends, parties.. you get the picture.

To people who are thinking about starting a company, this is a great time to start a company. No, you are not too late. In fact, the time to start a company is when the technologies have been validated, the solutions become apparent, the curtains have been raised.. now its all about execution, take a problem and solve it to its core.. I believe the next wave of startups will be dealing with the niches, taking to the masses. To me web 3.0 is not about read/write/execute in the technology front, but taking the read/write web 2.0 and executing the ideas which will take the technology to the masses.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

why to not say no to startup?

Paul Graham has written an excellent essay about starting a startup. He illustrated many points which a entrepreneur joggles through..
and I still maintain, one of the single big mistakes many potential would be entrepreneurs do is "not taking the first step of actually starting" the company. Too much time and energy is wasted is thinking about the process and consequences. The decision should be taken and if it is to start, company should be started asap. Failure is not a taboo, as long as you have thought about that as well.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

demographics of evolving web2.0 users

interesting stats from hitwise. I have been digging and researching to understand the demographics of evolving internet app usage post web2.0. One topic which often comes into my discussions is whether web 2.0 has entered mainstream and if yes, to what extent.

Firstly, very good work in defining customer segmentation from Claritus, which can be very useful when planning/thinking /designing your web app idea, especially in this web 2.0 era.

Secondly, when it comes to scope of web 2.0 apps today, the word is still "informainment". Is that it? How do you take this movement to the next level?

On Blogging, Dave Sifry says

Technorati is tracking 70 million blogs now, at a rate of 120,000 new blogs per day - 1.5 million new posts per day. He compares to "an enormous amoeba". He says there are 15.3 million "active" blogs (21%). He also notes the mainstreaming of these technologies - and that people may not even notice they're reading a blog. 12% of the top 100 sites 6 months ago were blogs; but now he says it is 22%. Mainstream media is still at the top (NY Times etc), but there is growth in the blogs.

He looks now at the behaviors of the top bloggers. He says these are effects, not necessarily causes. He notes that influential bloggers post more frequently, on average twice a day. Whereas "magic middle" bloggers (about 3M) post on average once a day. Also influential bloggers have been at this at least 1-2 years. Finally, 88% of the top 100 is different than one year ago - i.e. it's very fluid.

In language, Japanese is now the top language - 37%. However there are undercounts: French, Korean and Chinese. English is now 33%, only one third.

Tagging has become a mainstream acitivity in blogging, according to Sifry - 230 Million tags over two years, with 37% of blog posts using author tags.

Next Bill looks at participators vs viewers. Some 'visits to media upload' ratios: 0.16%
for YouTube, 0.2% Flickr, 4.59% Wikipedia (entry edits). Dave Sifry notes that
the creation percentage - I guess I'd call it the read/write ratio! - is
certainly a lot lower than the old 80/20 rule. Bill drills down into the
participatory figures, which shows for Wikipedia that older users are much more
likely to be participatory (35-55) whereas the younger users are the viewers.
However for YouTube it is the 25-54 yr olds that upload videos - however note
that Hitwise doesn't track <18. The gender breakdown shows that 76% of users are male on
YouTube, but a 60/40 male/female split for wikipedia.

blog it

Thursday, April 5, 2007

public blog?

I was never a writer.. I have had private blogs but never found the need to share.. until now. I guess its easier to follow the trend than to create one. A cursory look at my private blog and I knew it will need many edits before making it public, given it had a lot of propreitary knowledge of many startups I have worked for (Business Signatures, Escalate, Electron Economy to name a few). So I thought I would start my public blog from scratch.

creating blog was easy, previewing template was not. I am surprised half the URL's to preview were bad links. Either not many people care about templates or I just had too much time on my hands.

I strive to keep this simple and to the point. One of the reasons I started was not that I wanted to publish (strage isnt it), but that I wanted to find value in the feedback which will come back my way. I want to be able to blog questions and opinions and see what sticks to the wall and what is outrageously bad idea.

well for starters, this blog is ready to be lost in the crowd..