Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Rising Stars of Social Networking

Facebook is the most dominant social network has more than 1.11 billion active users and over 680 million mobile users. Facebook users spend more than 700 billion minutes every month on the website. While the broad user base and social graph give Facebook a huge advantage, the company still does not have a solid revenue generation model and faces intense competition for online ad sales. For instance, the channel attribution problem is still a major issue and the social advertising model is still viewed with skepticism by many marketers.As such, the barriers to entry in the sector are limited and Facebook’s current advantage is its scale. 

There are other emerging starts in this market who's fortunes are rising rapidly. Video and photo-sharing social networking platforms such as Pintrest and Youtube which have been experiencing rapid growth. Pintrest is experiencing the highest growth rates among Social Networking platforms and Youtube gets in excess of a billion unique visitors a month. These platform pose a serious challenge to Facebook and will compete with Facebook in getting a bigger share of the social advertising dollars. To stay relevant, Facebook has to keep innovating and expand its services as it related to video and photo-sharing services and try to develop more tangible and measurable performance metrics for demonstrating the ROI on Facebook advertising. Facebook’s purchase of the photo-sharing service Instagram is a step in the right direction and will help the firm to stay competitive in the space, but needs more than an aggressive M&A strategy to sustain its dominance of the Social Network market. Facebook also has to drastically improve its user’s perception of Facebook’s lax privacy policies and settings as this could severely undermine its credibility as a secure platform.


Paid Search!

I am not so proud to report that I subscribed for the Wolfram Alpha's paid subscription service. I did feel a minor case of cognitive dissonance right after I signed up for the $60/ year service. However, once I started using the search for highly quantitative problems, I beginning to see the value of the service. I am also comforted by the fact that the service provides privacy and gives me highly accurate search results when compared to standard search engines like Google or Bing. I really believe that this model could be monetized broadly as subscribers would be willing to pay for higher quality search results that offer more privacy. While this model is still in the early stages, it does offer a lot of promise. 


Innovations in Search Technology

Search technology as we know is changing rapidly. Below are some of the key innovations happening in search technology today. 

Specialized Search Engines: The landscape is increasingly competitive and getting more nuanced. There are search engines like Wolfram Alpha, which is a computational knowledge engine. Blekko is a curated search engine, which focuses on cutting out the non-relevant search results. DuckDuckGo is user friendly and privacy friendly search, which does not store the user’s search history. These engines fill a niche gap in the market and provide more accurate and targeted search results for users. While they have not reached any significant scale, they do have the potential to grow their respective user bases rapidly and take away market share from larger players.

Search Advertisements: There is a lot of room to improve search advertisements to make search also about engagement and not just clicks and conversions. This aspect of search is likely to see huge investments as it has the potential to attract the attention of marketers who want an outcome-driven search not an output-driven search.

Search Relevance: Most search engineers and professionals believe that search is far from reaching its potential and are constantly innovating to get more accurate search results. Search fragmentation as indicated by the rise of search volume on sites like YouTube and MySpace will lead to results being refined based on what site users are searching from rather than just what they searching for.

Search Retargeting: While advertiser interest in behavioral targeting is very strong, actual investment is still low. This market is ripe for more growth and innovation and likely to rise in importance in the near term.

Mobile Search: Mobile devices and tablet computers are increasingly becoming more sophisticated and feature rich and are slowly replacing most of the traditional functions performed by a PC. Search engines are competing heavily to capture a greater market share in the emerging market require the integration of new feature sets to maximize usefulness.


Lending Club and "The Long Tail"

Lending Club is a great example of a firm, which has benefited tremendously from the Long Tail concept. In the past, when a consumer wanted a personal loan, they would go their bank where they have their checking or savings account and rely on a bank’s credit rating model to get a loan. Lending Club has turned this model on its head and has build a new and an effective model that brings together a large number of investors to fund small loans to individual borrowers who need capital for a variety of personal needs. Crowd funding platforms such as Lending Club have become increasingly popular and have been steadily increasing their market share in a market that was previously dominated by banks. Lending Club alone has disbursed more than $1 billion of small loans within the past three years. These platforms cater to the financing needs of individuals and are able to spread the risk by giving a chance to hundreds of borrowers to fund a loan and guarantee better than market returns for such investments.


Twitter's New Business Model

Twitter has become one of the most effective outlets for breaking news. Twitter’s user base serve effectively as reporters of any type of important news around the world and use it as a platform to relay the news to their followers and to the broader user base. Twitter is widely credited for the positive role it played in garnering support for the Arab Spring, the Iranian Revolution in 2009 and other world-changing events. In fact, Twitter and other Social Media outlets have repeatedly beat traditional news outlets when it comes to breaking news. This can be evidenced by what happened after the Asiana Airlines crashed in San Francisco airport, when the pictures and the news was first reported on Twitter before traditional media outlets got to the venue and reported the news. This trend is likely to increase as Twitter’s user base that is in millions has a distinct competitive advantage over traditional media companies.

Although Twitter has over 280 million active users and is the fastest growing social network, it needs a sustainable revenue generation model to maintain its growth and move towards profitability and the new advertising model will help Twitter to do that. The success of this approach will be based on how well Twitter is able to execute this model without being too invasive of its users’ privacy. The new “promoted tweets” and key word targeting features of Twitter let advertisers target users based on device, gender, geography and interests. What is unique about Twitter’s advertising model is that advertisers pay Twitter based on re-tweets and the favorites that the tweet generates and not based on traditional advertising standards based on impression. This model is unique in the social network advertising space and is definitely more outcome-driven than other models leveraged by other platforms such as Google adwords and Facebook. While this is a very clever business model, it is too early to comment on its effectiveness as it relates to generating a steady stream of ad revenues for Twitter.  


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Closing the Attribution Gap

As with all of marketing the key challenge for any advertising medium is that of attribution. However, social media and online shopping are closing this gap. This gap will be closed even further with mobile payments since these will effectively allow mobile advertisers to track a person even in their offline shopping. This is something that Facebook an Google should invest in heavily and perhaps come up with a set of virtual debit and credit cards that can be used all over the world with or without a phone in order to maintain its relevance as their younger crowd ages and becomes economically independent and as mobile payments and mobile broad-band continue to proliferate. 


analytics and landing page design

Web analytics is still a relatively new concept in newly formed financial services businesses. The company prefers to invest money in the departments which bring direct revenues. However, as more and more products are getting commoditized, it is imperative to differentiate oneself from the competitors. There has to be more and more focus on data driven strategies i.e. web analytics driven content marketing. Developing a customized web analytics solution that integrates with the enterprise CRM system requires a huge upfront investment. Making a business case with traditional investment management firms becomes a big challenge. Here is one study performed to find the root cause of having an effective online measurement strategy and not surprisingly it's the "lack of budget and resources". The next two biggest reason comes out to be the siloed organization/lack of co-ordination among different teams and lack of strategy. 

Despite reluctance on spending on web analytics, the budget of any e-commerce department is increasing. For any successful e-commerce site, landing page ( or in most cases product page) is the most important and starting part of the marketing funnel. So, it's mandatory to invest good amount of time thinning about customer and their purpose while designing the page. Landing page often presents first ( and many cases last) opportunity to prove product's worth or value to the customer. Landing page should be optimized for different segments of customers. As each customer requires different elements satisfying one's requirements, it becomes challenging to present different designs. That's why content optimization i.e. Test and Targeting tools come in handy that let us test which elements work best and have better conversions. Here are the basic steps for optimizing product landing pages:
1. Align the website and product landing page objectives to business goals
2. FInd out conversion funnels using web analytics data
3. Create test hypothesis for various design considerations.
4. Execute tests and continue to improve as there is no proven recipe and the page has to continue evolving
5. Gather web browsing data and continue try to find new insights and new test and targeting recipes


Microsoft vs Google

In the world of tech giants, Microsoft and Google are the two big players and their ongoing battle for dominance has been escalating over the past few years.With Microsoft making a push to to make their Windows phone more mainstream, Google has made many efforts to protect their Android user base. Because Google owns Youtube and many other popular website, Google has been making a concerted effort in making it prohibitive for Windows to carry the right content to make their phones a compelling option.

For more about this ongoing power struggle:!


The next big thing?

So when it comes to Apple, what is going to be there next big thing?
Clearly they have revolutionized the worlds of music, of smartphones, of computers, and most recently they created the tablet market. Skeptics would say that there are no more great ideas coming, since their visionary is gone, however I would disagree.
I believe that Steve Jobs left Apple with some great ideas and plans for new products, foremost being the TV. In  addition their visionary designer is still on board, so I would caution those who would write Apple' epitaph to just take a time out for now.....


Design Help Made "Swiftly"

Have you ever needed a business card, logo or flyer designed in less than a day? 99 Designs recently launched a site called Swiftly that can help with all your impromptu design needs. With Swiftly, simply enter a short description of what you're looking for, upload any relevant assets and the site will match you with a designer that can get it done in less than a day. 99 Designs picked a small crew of reliable designers from it's very large community. Furthermore, most design work is completed within 20 minutes of submission. That's a great addition to other sites that let you delegate across the net like, TaskRabbit and FancyHands


Friday, August 16, 2013

How Pinterest is Changing Website Design

Even if you haven't ever visited popular visual bookmarking sitePinterest, you might recognize its design elements — which have been popping up everywhere since the startup burst onto the mainstream scene in 2011.
The site doesn't use traditional web building blocks.
"It's almost like a window-shopping mode," says Khoi Vinh, the former design director for
"It puts the ball back in the user's court," muses Andrew Beck, a web designer at Blue Fountain Media.
"It flattens the information hierarchy," describes Jeff Croft, a web designer and co-founder of ebook lending site Lendle.
Pinterest puts web content into sticky-note sized blocks users can organize onto pinboards that fill the entire browser screen. The majority of each block is filled by a photo, and the ability to "like," "repin" or comment at the bottom make it look like its own mini web page.
Though the hot Palo Alto startup is staying mum about its user numbers, one study found it drives more traffic to websites than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined.
As it has gained in popularity, so too has its unusual design.
Quora launched a new feature in December that incorporates a topic "boards." In January, social video startup redesigned the site to contain "bricks" of videos shared by the people who you follow, complete with social activity from other Chill users. And several content visualization projects such as Scrolldit, which launched in December, took on the Pinterest block-by-block content feel.
Pinterest didn't invent the basic design structure, but it did help make it cool.
Most designers cite a layout plugin called jQuery Masonry while describing the look of Pinterest's site. Launched in February of 2009 by designer David DeSandro, it makes it easy for web designers to create a vertical layout like that of Pinterest.
It also broke the system of organizing information online based on reverse chronology, as favored by Twitter and Facebook. Reverse chronology is a tired, overly-used system; as Vinh says, "I almost thought it was the default way to organize information on the web."
Though many sites experimented with the jQuery Masonry layout, it didn't immediately catch on with sites that were offering a service.
"The sites I saw before Pinterest that used this design were pretty much tech demos of how you could do this," Croft says.
Pinterest, as far as the designers Mashable spoke with could remember, was the first site to take the idea to mainstream success. It showed how the design could solve certain challenges eloquently and how the traditional reverse chronology layout could be broken without scaring users away. In fact, it was attracting them in invitation-only droves.
Consequently, the design caught on. Croft says that five clients in the last six months have mentioned Pinterest when discussing what they want their website designs to look like.
"At a pure level, there's an advantage if you ave set of information that benefits from people accessing it in a non-linear fashion," Vinh says of the layout. "For most people, they saw it on Pinterest and want to be almost as cool as Pinterest."
A Quora "board."


Apple IOS and its integration with Apps

Investors in the mobile space need to know three things about Apple's (AAPL) soon to be released mobile operating system, iOS 7:
  • iOS 7 heralds the introduction of the dynamic user interface (UI) in mobile. With the use of depth and enhanced motion, iOS 7 is purposely designed to look and feel radically different than current mobile operating systems
  • Low and mid-tier smartphones do not have the hardware to emulate (copy) the dynamic UI experience of iOS 7.
  • High-end smartphones competing with Apple will require significant time to develop software to introduce a dynamic UI.
So, Apple's strategy with iOS 7 appears consistent with what it did with the introduction of iOS in 2007 - Cupertino hopes to develop a UI that is seen by users as the new mobile gold standard. The end goal? Recapture the company's dominance in the high-end of mobile devices.
The Difference Between UI and Functionality
The public tends to take extreme positions regarding smartphone technology - significant time and energy is spent on arguments over functionality - and who had it first. For example, Apple trailed Android in providing "copy/paste" functionality on the iPhone. As a result, Android fans feel Apple "stole" this functionality.
Please note - this article has little to do with smartphone functionality.There is no discussion regarding Apple's new Notification Center, Multitasking, Control Center or AirDrop features. The focus here is on how a dynamic UI may influence user experience and purchase decision.
To better understand, an analogy. Consider the difference between a HD TV and the traditional TV design. Both TV's broadcast the same content (functionality) but the HD TV (UI) provides a more immersive experience.
Translucence, Depth and a Physics Engine: Just Try to Copy this!
Apple's dynamic UI is driven by the heavy use of blurring, translucence and depth. Natural motion is delivered via a new fully functioning physics engine. The end result of these new design components is an interface that feels "alive" compared to current mobile OSs.
Another analogy: Think of the movement to a dynamic UI like the difference between looking at a picture of a fish (iOS 6) versus gazing into an aquarium (iOS 7).
Apple's hope is that this dynamic UI reignites the sense of newness that came with the launch of iPhone in 2007, making iOS 7 the de facto standard for smartphone UI.
Of primary interest to Apple investors -iOS 7's dynamic UI requires significant software and hardware horsepower. According to technology writer, Marco Arment,
iOS 7's appearance and dynamics require a powerful GPU and advanced, finely tuned, fully hardware accelerated graphics and animation APIs
While the high-end smartphones running Google's (GOOG) Android OS have the capability to deliver a dynamic UI - the majority of Android smartphones are low and mid-tier smartphones which don't have the hardware or software required.
With this hardware and software disparity, iOS 7 Apple hopes create a visual moat. Where Apple's smartphones appear new and cutting edge, while the majority of Android phones, in contrast, will appear dated and dull.
While Google should see little revenue impact from a successful iOS 7 launch (some estimate Google actually earns more revenue from iOSusers), Android OEMs may fare differently. If Google does not provide a dynamic version of Android quickly, OEMs might face pressure to migrate to lower-pricing segments placing pressure on margins.
Interestingly enough, Apple's older iPhone models and the company's anticipated mid-tier phone can't run full versions of iOS 7. Some UI effects need to be constrained due to the A4's SoC limitations. The net result? The iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s will provide a more visually robust feel than Apple's mid-priced iPhone models. The company obviously hopes the difference in UI will provide incentive for consumers to migrate-up to the company's higher margin phones.


Facebook testing one-click checkout for mobile shopping

The latest news in Facebook's quest to expand beyond being just a social networking site came out yesterday......Facebook is testing a one click checkout for mobile shoppers. This will enable Facebook users to store their billing information on the site and shop on other sites. In Facebook's own words they described the test as "a small test with one or two initial merchants."Mobile payments is a hot area and many of the key players including Amazon and Google.

Expanding in mobile payments is an exciting opportunity for Facebook given that they have such a vast number of users. Google started out as a search engine and in now is an Internet product and service provider. Facebook is just beginning their journey from a social networking site to something bigger. Let's see where they go.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Green Goodness of Social Media

Sometimes I wonder why I spend time on facebook, then I am reminded of days like today. In five minutes of checking status updates, I was able to see that my brother is going to Detroit for business in marketing and another friend just arrived in Cairo for his work as a reporter. Facebook is going to continue to be a transformational tool in how people communicate and network with each other. That said, I think that it loses it's value and starts to reach a point of diminishing returns after 100 contacts. I cannot take the time to check updates from 500 to 1000 people. However, people that I know and know me, I really want to keep up with, and sometimes I do not have time to call them. However, in the last 5 minutes I was able to see a picture of my brother passing South of 8-Mile Road and a post from Fred at CNN. Good stuff, keep it up facebook. (I also saw a post that said, "You might be a soldier if you have ever drank until 5am and then run 7 miles." Fair point, Jeff Foxworthy.)


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

GMAIL Priority

Wonder if these statistics prompted Gmail to create the priority tabs? If so, I wonder what the statisitcs will look like in the second half of 2013. Also, why is it that we must help Gmail prioritize what emails go under which tab. I wonder if there is some sort of business plan or way to make money that online firms and/or google will see that will enhance the "priority" feature.

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Nearly a quarter (22%) of opt-in marketing emails never made it to inboxes in the first half of 2013, according to a recent study by Return Path.
Based on a sample of nearly 1 trillion messages sent worldwide, the report found that 18% of all email messages sent with subscribers' permission either were blocked or went missing, and another 4% were delivered to spam or junk folders.
Below, additional key findings from the Email Intelligence Report: Placement Benchmarks 2013.

Global Trends
  • Inbox Placement Rates (IPR)—the percentage of sent email delivered to addressees' inboxes—declined globally by 4% since 2012, according to the report.
  • The Asia-Pacific region led the worldwide decline, slipping to an IPR of 64%.
  • On the other hand, American senders slightly improved their IPR to 86%.
  • European marketers had an IPR of 80%, lower than their North American counterparts, despite improvements in Germany and France.
  • In South America, Brazilian marketers continued to struggle to reach subscribers, losing more than 40% of their email to blocking or spam folder delivery.

Rates by Industry
  • Several large industries, including retail, posted meaningful IPR gains in 2013.
  • Social networks' IPR declined to 75%.
  • Non-profit organizations improved their global IPR dramatically in 2013, placing 90% of their messages in subscribers' inboxes.

  • 86% of American senders' messages reached the Gmail inbox.
  • Reaching Gmail inboxes was far harder for senders from Brazil (53% IPR).
  • Only 7% percent of all Gmail messages were routed to the Priority Inbox.
  • Finance-related mail (17%) was more than twice as likely to reach Gmail's Priority Inbox, whereas social networks' mail (5%) was the least likely among major categories.
  • Messages that were part of an active conversation, either replies (24%) or forwards (11%), also reached the Priority Inbox more often.
  • Any message categorized as a "statement" was far more likely to reach the Priority Inbox (26%), but only 5% of those identified as "coupons" were found there.

About the research: The report was based on an analysis of nearly 1 trillion messages sent through more than 150 mailbox providers during the first six months of 2013.

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