Friday, December 12, 2008

There you are then...Location Based Social Networking - Brightkite

This week I took some time to explore location based social networking and as Brightkite just got out of beta last week, I thought it would be a great place to start.

I had a nice chat with Brightkite's founder Brady Becker. Prior to launching the social network, Brady was the Senior Designer at Local Matters, a company that provides yellow pages and local publishers with media technology platforms to deploy and scale local directories and specialized portals. Brady’s insight into the local media opportunity and the explosion of social media inspired him to create Brightkite.

Launched in beta April 2008, Brightkite is a location-based social network that works on a variety of different platforms including the web, mobile web and several GPS devices. By “checking in”, users can reveal their location to their network of friends (at varying levels of granularity from country to city to actual address). Web 2.0 tools allow users to annotate places with notes and photos viewed across the network.

Here are some applicable scenarios for the service:
  • At a conference or other event that draws crowds with common interests, users can connect with one another in real life by “checking-in” to the location.
  • Discussions that are tied to an event or place can be shared centrally through a specific location feed (think Twitter) providing a real time record of discussion surrounding the event. In some cases the feeds are displayed on large screens.
  • Friends can coordinate meetings based on relative physical distances.
The service targets the 18-35 demographic and Brady is pleased with the uptake (sorry - no numbers) on users that are willing to reveal their location. Eventually, the auto-reveal function will become an option but Brady stressed the importance of privacy and control as a priority and feels that this may take some time to unfold.

Brightkite’s business model has two core components:
  • Location-based/behavior based advertising - allowing advertisers to reach audiences based on varying levels of granularity.
  • Place analysis and targeted marketing - provides investors and marketers with valuable research about locations (even intersections) and the people that frequent them

Brightkite received about $1 mil in angel funding in February 2008 and the company opened its doors to the public in early December 2008.

The service is available globally.

A couple of thoughts on challenges & opportunities:

There's been a lot of movement in the event space. It seems like a quite gold rush to get to the brilliant combination of time/place/profile advertising. We've seen some great presentations from companies like Zvents and Centerd as they move the needle on innovation across platforms.

Critical Mass is my biggest area of concern for Brightkite. The entire business model is based on delivering volumes of clustered people to advertisers or research hungry investors and marketers. The company will have to work hard to develop high impact event opportunities to gain visibility and drive users.

Privacy is being addressed by the company but when users reveal location to a network there is always risk. Without having studied the security measures behind the platform, it’s hard to tell whether the networks can or might be compromised. We've seen in other social networks that many users don't hold back on providing details. Address sharing takes public disclosure to a whole new level.

If the company can prove its worth by delivering some great case studies at a wide variety of events, the opportunity for acquisition by one of the larger networks would certainly exist.

I really like the research piece of the business. Again, seriously assuming that they reach critical mass (or get acquired by someone who provides this), they would be able to provide investors, marketers and business owners extremely valuable data about consumers as they move offline tied to behavior and time.

The business is thought provoking and I’m looking forward to seeing how it unfolds…

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dear Santa...Random Gadgets Wishlist

Further to my note this past Saturday (thanks for the chocolate BTW), following is the addendum to the list:

- One get out of Facebook free forever card

- A comments or suggestions box tied to home addresses or license plates that allows you to leave comments like “please move your sprinkler off the sidewalk”, “nice Christmas lights” or “nice driving…”

- An auto white paper function that allows me to type in a thesis and click “write paper” - based on past thoughts, random notes, charts and files on my hard drive and blackberry

- A spam sensor that acts as a taser when detected on my blog comments rendering spammers’ fingers paralyzed for 12 hours (If these are out of stock, a reverse look up on spam plug-in would do)

- An on/off switch that allows me to disappear completely online or stream me like I’m Vegas on good days (mobile access please)

- A UPC scanning device that manages ingredient inventory by weight in my fridge and pantry and streams up to my recipe database as promised in 1999 (for blackberry please) - OR a Mac fridge

- One-week pass that allows me to think up a start-up, build it, launch it and live it for one year (in compressed time) within 7 days so that I can see if it works out.

- A time machine – doesn’t have to be the most expensive, will settle for middle range but please, please make it come assembled.

- Unlimited device account from my carrier that gives me unlimited toys tied to one account that I can log into and use for different events/purposes ie. iPhone for fun, Blackberry Bold while working, Pearl Flip for cocktail dresses etc.

- One of those camera do-hickies that takes pictures of people and auto-references them to LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace profiles. Just because it can...

- A one-year subscription to HELLO! Facebook that shows profiles and updates in big glossy format...I miss print

Stocking Stuffer suggestions:

- Heated driveway (solar powered of course)
- A water cooler in my car’s dashboard
- Peace on earth

Safe travels...



Friday, December 5, 2008

When will you know who I am? The Business of Lifestreaming...

Controlling "Who We Are" through User Generated Content

Lifestreaming is becoming mainstream. According to eMarketer 42% of adults online in the US are “content creators”. By 2012, eMarketer projects that 50% of the online population will fall under the same category (I think that’s conservative). As a result, there’s a growing demand for consumer tools that help organize their public profiles.

In the same way that businesses find it critical to keep on top of user reviews and listing accuracy in online directories for their store locations and business profile details, individuals are starting to see the importance of keeping clean and accurate records on themselves.

Catering to this trend is the emergence and rapid growth of aggregator sites that crawl the web to collect all data on individuals and organize it in a rich directory style. While Googling people has always been a popular pastime, there’s a new breed of laser focused people engines popping up that are much deeper in scope than Google, LinkedIn or ZoomInfo.

As an example, is a people search tool that acts like a universal search engine. The site gathers data and displays it using categories like web links, images, videos, news etc. The Austrian start-up launched in beta into the US early this year and appears to be seeing significant growth.

Other sites that provide similar services include Profilactic and Naymz but they don't seem to be as comprehensive as because they are based on member registration and input rather than aggregated search. The downside to the aggregated search of course, is that the amount of incorrect or irrelevant data increases. This however, leads to consumer participation in correcting the data and even going as far as to hire reputation managers to enhance visible content like ReputationDefender.

With directories like this available to the public, it makes it much easier to see just how much content is generated and shared by each individual. With all the sharing going on, I wonder if this will lead to consumers expecting others to have a greater understanding of who they are. Celebrities are used to having the public know every detail about their lives, but this new breed of fame is starting to filter into the mainstream and transparency is leading to a new kind of perceived “status”.

Tying Lifestreams to CRM

While the thought of behavioral targeting can be a major turn-off to consumers, the volume of information that is volunteered on a daily basis through lifestreaming is staggering. As people start to invest more heavily in their public "status", it makes sense that they will expect some returns. I wonder if marketers will pick up on this desire to be understood publicly and develop their CRM systems (permission based of course) around this rich data.

To date, marketers have been limited to customer data that relates to past business activity and/or basic demographic information through direct marketing strategies. If you view the aggregation of lifestreams as the white pages of tomorrow, imagine the data that would be at the disposal of marketing companies.

I recently had two customer service experiences that were influenced by my past behavior or current profile. A telco waived a service fee because of my past business with them (although I had to hold for 10 minutes while they looked it up on what seemed to be their Commodore 64) and a courier bent over backwards to make good on a mishap when I introduced myself as an average consumer that happened to blog a lot. My point here is that businesses care about these details but they simply haven’t had the luxury of push access to the data.

Maybe it’s flighty in a space shippy, twighlight zoney kind of way, but imagine calling into a business that can read through (in the spirit of white pages) reverse look-up or any other type of login, an aggregated view of my opinions, likes, dislikes and probability to buy. Suddenly, a business with a smart data base could customize a pitch and price that is unique to my profile based on information that I have streamed up to “anyone willing to view it”. If analyzed correctly, a high influencer might be given an incentive to refer business or an apparent introvert might be offered an upgraded privacy product.

Move this to mobile and see highly contextual promotions appear (pushed or pulled) based on location and social data indexed from the consumer. One of my favourite early peeks at what this might look like is L'Oreal's experimentation in Paris with the iPhone application that acts as a customer service rep at the point of sale (more on this when I write up "my favourite things" for Consumers still need to feed the engines and the truth is, they're ok with that. It may be a matter of time before they feel that they've fed enough though and that their contributions to the web ought to be aggregated and organized to represent who they really are.

I wonder how space shippy this concept really is? High level business executives have used Jungian based Myers Briggs and other profiling data to improve their negotiations and business development practices, why wouldn't the same principles apply at the consumer level?

From what I've seen, the technology has a long way to go before it truly captures its potential value. There are annoying caching issues and semantic hurdles that need to be addressed but I do believe that offering aggregated profile content and allowing users to control it is smart. Owning significant market share in profile content organization in the long term is brilliant...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Stream of Canadian Actors to Boost Online Video Ads...

Online advertisers that were once stifled by over-priced talent for video ads are now able to source a full pipe of affordable Canadian actors through an agreement that was announced today between Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA) and the Institute of Communications Agencies (ICA).

A two and a half year pilot project launched today to stimulate growth and employment opportunities within the Canadian market. The project highlights significantly-reduced talent rates for Video commercials that are originally made for TV/radio, that are later moved to the online channel as well as pure-play online video commercials.

Canadian consumers are world leaders in Online Video viewership. According to Comscore Video Metrix, 21 million viewers (87% of the total Online population age 15+) viewed a Video Online in August 2008. In contrast, only 78 percent of the U.S. Online population viewed a Video Online in this same month.

Despite Canadians’ voracious appetite for video consumption, the IAB Canada's annual Online advertising survey revealed that Video advertising made up only 1% of the total 2007 Online advertising revenue in Canada.

Between this and the iPhone entering Canada this year, we should be expecting some real growth here for 2009.