Secret remains a very interesting app. Some people love it, some hate it. Either way, it’s still here, and just got funded…
Greetings from a rainy (but always fun) Austin, TX. As is the case leading up to every SXSW, many wonder what will be the breakout app. As someone who works in, invests in, and writes about mobile, the app that’s come up the most in conversation, offline and online, is no “secret.” It’s not too surprising given Secret launched publicly at the right time (a little over a month ago), received both critical acclaim for its design and ability to motivate people to create original content (it’s a very clever app) as well as criticism for the potential negativity and bullying which could take root inside the app (which are very valid concerns), and has updates key features at the right time — most recently adding location (nearby secrets) and the ability to share secrets to the web and, thereby, spread information to an even wider audience. Most recently, it’s been reported that Secret closed a larger round of funding.
For a number of reasons, Secret is a fascinating app. It emerges during a time when many new apps allow for (relative) anonymity and aren’t built from online social graphs but, instead, from a mobile phone’s address book. It transforms the passive-aggressiveness of a subtweet into a product, creating a space for people to speak their minds with less of the filter required by traditional social networks. It created a new type of newsfeed — the SecretFeed — which is not bound by being presented the traditional, reverse-chronological manner, which allows secrets to resurface over time. Personally, while I see the concerns, I do like the app and open it about once a day because the content is so new, fresh, raw, different — despite the fact that I stumbled across a secret where my name came up negatively in the comments from a variety of users (see picture).
Like any new product that has people buzzing, questions remain. In Secret’s case, I find those big, unanswered questions to be fascinating. In my opinion, here are the big open questions about Secret:
What Will The Company Do To Control Abusive Behavior? The top concern seems to center around the app’s potential to be used as a bullying tool, especially among young folks. My belief is the founders and investors are well-aware of these unsavory risks and will build tools, as well as empowering their community, to flag, report, and trace repeated mean-spirited behavior. I prefer to take the founders at their word and the thoughtfulnessaround exposing their hashing techniques and other statements leads me to believe they won’t take this lightly. (Along similar lines, how “anonymous” is identity inside the app?)
When Will The App Be Used To Break Big News? This is an exciting one. We all assume news breaks on Twitter and Facebook, but if we pause, often someone has to leak that news to a source who then puts it online. With an app like Secret, a user could post an original photograph and write a post about it, and people connected to that user can help the secret propagate through the app’s network, as well as through the web. Of course, people will also report fake news, misreport news, and other pranks. Yet, I do think Secret will be used as a whistleblowing tool and to break news and could be an interesting growth-driver as it expands, as journalists outside of tech could see it as a place to mine scoops (see below).
How Will Secret Scale Across Platforms? I’ve noticed Secret is a bit slower to load every now and then. It’s a great problem to have. While the images and posts that load appear to carry a bit of weight (which may impact load-time), I’m sure the team is working on making the system faster, as today’s mobile users have come to expect the speed of zippy apps like Snapchat. I’m sure the team is also working on their Android app, but I wonder if they’ll release it soon (to increase their user base and activity) or wait a bit. I’m also curious if they’ll ever allow user interactions through content shared from the app to the web, though that seems doubtful given the network is built from users’ mobile phone address books. (I do expect them to offer each secret on the web to be embedded as content elsewhere.)
Will Brands Find Affinity Inside Secret? I spoke about mobile at an event yesterday where many brand managers of large, international, recognizable consumer brands were in attendance. While we didn’t discuss Secret specifically, they all mentioned to me that mobile networks like Instagram and Snapchat, among others, provided a tremendous amount of interactivity with consumers. They seemed most concerned about where attention was focused. Some have tried to release their own mobile apps only to learn, after the fact, that the majority of mobile app attention is not siloed by brands, but rather through news streams and communication networks where users often opt-in to specific brands or marketing messages. If Secret grabs more and more attention (and if it grows, see below), I do think brands will pay attention and dollars will follow.
And, The Big Question: How Will It Grow? I have often argued (perhaps incorrectly, time will tell) that mobile apps which truly achieve breakout status come from one of a few buckets. There’s gaming, of course. After that, it’s apps that leverage the phone camera in some way (Instagram, Snapchat), or apps that benefit from network effects (Whatsapp and other messaging apps), or apps which aggregate consumer demand through the phone but fulfill the demand offline (Uber). Otherwise, most apps that do well have an influential “parent” with a web audience that helps move that audience to another platform.
Secret, today, doesn’t have these elements. Of course, it could (and likely will) add private messaging, as well as the ability to take pictures directly within the app. The question remains then — how will it grow into a breakout? Perhaps it grows simply on the power of lightweight web sharing combined with strong word-of-mouth. That was certainly the case during my conversations with people around the country here at SXSW. As it has done inside the Valley and tech circles, gossip seems to drive attention inside Secret, so it’s plausible to think the app would do well inside other chatty networks addicted to insider information, such as Hollywood and the Washington DC beltway.
It’s too early to call this one, and while the odds seemed stacked against Secret breaking out, any analysis is ultimately rendered moot because it will — like most things — come down to the product, to whether or not the app changes many peoples’ behavior and creates a space for people to share the things they wouldn’t in traditional manners or networks. So far, just a few months in, I’ve read Secret posts and rich comment threads on a range of topics — some trite, some thoughtful, some heartbreaking, some hilarious, and nearly everything in between. In a limited sample, people do seem to have bottled up thoughts for too long, either afraid to share them or not having the place to do so. One way or another, with all the publishing tools and sharing networks available to all of us, those secrets will eventually come out — it’s just a matter of time. It will be interesting to see this trend powers Secret’s growth outside of the echo chamber. On paper, it shouldn’t — but it just might anyway.
Earlier in February, pro podcaster Michael Wolf had me on his show, NextMarket. He just posted it yesterday, and it’s fun to listen back on our conversation — though it turns out that I say the word “right” a lot ;-( …I need some feedback from you all so that I can improve. Specifically in the discussion, we talk about the following topics: A breakdown of mobile app categories; Apps which run in the background (Refresh, Highlight), or which tie to offline services (Instacart, DoorDash); Stories around Bitcoins (Coinbase) and my investments in Bitcoin (Gyft, Vauram Labs, Gliph); Thoughts on podcasting and our product plans at Swell; New trends in hardware investing including crowdfunding and institutional capital (Coin, Tindie, Grand Street); Trends in investing, including AngelList, microfunds, seed funds, etc. Take a listen in the car on Swell (click here) or below via Soundcloud.
As you may know, I’m lucky to work for a mobile technology called “Swell.” I’m lucky to have been involved in the very early days. It’s been amazing fun, a steep learning curve, and the type of job that blends together all sorts of fun things: a product that I use daily as a consumer, along with the benefits of making my flywheel for other mobile activities — writing, investing, speaking — move even faster. In a way, I should be paying Swell for the opportunity! Since releasing the product about six months ago, I wanted to share a bit about how our learnings in 2013 are informing our focus for 2014:
First, we are putting the finishing touches on what will be “Swell 2.0.” I can’t reveal too much about it yet, but it will be out soon. If you’ve used Swell so far to date, the new version will be even better, the same great content, personalized to you, with newer features that will be the first of its kind in mobile digital media content delivery and discovery.
Second, we are going cross-platform. The majority of early-stage mobile companies go iOS-first for many reasons, though we are starting to see a few more Android-first plays in 2014. So, yes, we are expanding to Android — really exciting move for us, and we are thankful for the patience of our fans who own Android handsets. The wait will soon be over, and I’m waiting for my own Android to come in the mail — I will be two-phoning it for a while!
Third, we are making improvements to our web player. The web is dead, right? Well, not so fast. It may depend on the product. Like millions of people listen to Pandora on their laptops through their browsers, we are sketching out our strategy for how to integrate Swell’s offering into a web-based experience. If you have ideas or requests on this, please reach out to me and let me know.
As 2014 begins, our goal is to put our learnings from 2013 into action and climb bigger hills in 2014. We experienced a nice entry into the crowded mobile app ecosystem. Yet, we are humbly aware that consumers are inundated with choices, so with that in mind, and by not taking any addressable minute for granted, we focus our work at Swell on our engaged users and the data they produce, and I’m looking forward to sharing more of the details around that with you in the coming weeks. What I can say now is that it will be an active year for us — we are gently transforming the app from a single-player utility into a multi-player audio network (the first of its kind, we believe); we are broadening our platform reach (releasing Android and investing in web); we are working with web and mobile partners on distribution and content partnerships (stay tuned!); and we continue to develop the technologies that help drive the machine inside Swell, a machine which aims to be the most-personalized, intelligent routing system for digital media delivery to mobile devices.
Facebook releases Paper today. Here’s my take on Facebook’s mobile strategy.
In the world of mobile apps, the biggest news from this week was the announcement, by Facebook, of a new app, built by the social network, to read news and stories: Paper. Make sure to watch thev ideo, which is very Apple-esque in its elegance and emotion. When Facebook announces these kind of apps, it evokes memories of their previous attempts to build and distribute standalone apps that unbundle one of its features, such as Camera, Poke, or Messenger. The initial reaction within the technology startup community has been a mix of skepticism and excitement, with some drooling over the new design (it does look good) while others lament its a copy (some interactions do look like Flipboard).
This all begs a question: Will Paper go the way of Poke, or the way of Messenger? The answer will have big consequences for Facebook.
On mobile devices, Messenger has been successfully unbundled from Facebook. Messenger is one of the top messaging apps out there, it works great, and even today, Facebook is so focused on making sure everyone has it on their phones that they actually route users who are inside Facebook’s main app entirely out to Messenger (and then back in) to coax the behavior of using Messenger itself. With Poke, as we all can recall, even Facebook wasn’t able to use its enormous, engaged mobile user base to turn it into a real experience to rival Snapchat. This episode was a highly visible example of how Facebook’s high mobile engagement could shoot any app right to the top of the charts, but also exposed the limits of its power to affect mobile engagement as users quickly abandoned the product experience.
When it comes to Facebook and mobile, we are witnessing the early stages of the company’s attempt to unbundle and distribute its core features in new mobile products. Back in September 2011, I wrote a column right here on TechCrunch which argued Facebook’s strategy for blanketing our devices with their software was to break it up. You can read that post here, and make sure to check out the picture. Two and a half years later, Facebook is in a much stronger mobile position. Earlier this week for earnings, Facebook shared mobile stats, reporting nearly 950m MAUs and 550m DAU’s. This type of scale and engagement for mobile apps affords Facebook incredible amounts of actionable data, which translates to market power, which they use to line their pockets through mobile app install ads — just wait until they roll out mobile re-engagement ads and deep-linking options, as well.
Can Facebook, moving forward, effectively leverage the power and scale of its own network to drive its daily active users to new mobile experiences (as they’re doing with Messenger), or will users only temporarily flock to only to abandon them (as they did with Poke)? And, in the case of Paper specifically, will users convert to getting real-time mobile push notifications about news and stories about their friends, or will they find this spammy and revert back to their original sources of news (which includes regular Facebook)?
It will be interesting to see the world’s reaction tomorrow (February 3) when Paper is released. Two great pieces on this are by TechCrunch’s own Josh Constine, who takes a deep dive on Facebook’s Plot To Conquer Mobile: Shatter Itself Into Pieces, and Wanelo’s Adam Besvinick, who looks beyond the motive to unbundle when it comes to Paper. Facebook is a very different mobile company today than it was a year ago, or two years ago. The scale is just massive, and the engagement is off the charts. Assuming the product experience itself is relevant, which is why news and personal stories are interesting, even a low conversion rate to Paper would be a very sizeable audience. The reason we see more and more news apps on our phones or in the App Store is because checking the news isn’t just a daily active use case, it’s a multiple-times-a-day hyperactive use case, and one that Facebook, with their mobile user data, their algorithms, and their scale and engagement, could exploit with this move and be the first thing people read in the morning — just like the newspaper used to be. Only time will tell, so pick up the Paper tomorrow morning and read all about it.
Lots of chatter, of course, about Medium today and it’s first and very large round of institutional funding. As someone who writes online, uses Quora often, has dabbled with Medium (and love the product), I thought I’d jot down some brief thoughts about why this product can grow into a big company and potentially remain independent and go public:
To date, Medium content has been written by individuals, but expect it to expand to all kinds of brands. All sorts of brands, from media to CPG and beyond, want to put ads in front of consumers, of course. They currently do this on Facebook or Twitter or Yahoo or Flipboard. In those cases, they often don’t control how the content looks nor how it’s delivered to the end viewer. As this shift continues to happen, Medium is positioned to take bigger slices of this ad spend, especially as other properties stop growing and/or lose attention.
Medium poised to explode on mobile devices. So far, Medium has grown on the web, the old-fashioned way. It’s so easy to use the software and write — I hate the phrase “beautiful experience” for consumer software, but even I’ll admit, on Medium, it is — that when it expands to phones and tablets, people will use it to create more content. The lack of a keyboard presents a big hurdle to writing on a mobile device, but Medium’s design could help assuage this.
More about discovery, less about a destination. When Quora started to grow, it achieved that rare feat — it was a destination you just went to. Medium, while offering some recommendations for related content and hooks to go back to the site, has largely used other social networks (Facebook, Twitter) to power discovery of its content. The result is that consumers stumble upon Medium links more easily and, if presented with the next right piece of content, or collections, that user will stay around and enjoy the experience for longer. We should expect the ability to subscribe to people, brands, and collections, as well.
Leveraging other social networks as “smart” distribution pipes. Despite the success and scale of Facebook and Twitter, there aren’t many other properties which have gotten enormous on top of these graphs. Airbnb has, and Instagram has, among a few others. Medium has that chance given Ev William’s presence and the way the site is designed to share content into social networks, especially Twitter. (Incidentally, Jelly has a similar structure for routing questions through these pipes.)
“It’s the team, stupid!” Very few people like Ev Williams around, and going for #3 in the arena he knows best is a VC’s dream. A no-brainer. And, from what I’ve heard of friends who have directly worked with Ev (I have never met him), they all say he’s one of the best people in tech, period. They love him. This type of loyalty is infectious, and in turn greases the wheels for recruiting top talent and brokering game-changing partnerships that can change the arc of a product.
WordPress is a target, and mobile is a frontier. I love WordPress. This blog is built on WordPress. And, much of the web is, too. It’s got a big private valuation and has empowered many people to create, share, and earn. That said, it’s woefully behind on mobile, on easier-to-use interfaces, and overall responsiveness. They own a big piece of the market, and a team led by Ev can snack around the edges before going after the old land (on the web) and expand into new territories as the world shifts to phones and tablets.
For these reasons, Medium has the chance to go big, the chance to capture the old magazines, consumer writing, and new types of media on phones and tablets that tie into social networks. It has the chance to be an independent, public company, and stand on its own.
No doubt in my mind that @ev has another billion-dollar++ hit on his hands with @Medium.
I normally don’t read mainstream articles about the current state of Twitter as a media service, usually because they’re either rehashing the same old arguments, extrapolating from one person’s perspective, or both. This morning, however, an article penned in The New York Times bubbled up into my feed and some good friends throughout the day shared the same link, all saying, to paraphrase: “Yes, this is the problem with Twitter today.” While I engaged in a bit of banter this morning, I wanted to make sure I read the article, titled “Valley Of The Blahs,” by NYT technology writer Jenna Wortham, before writing my own views — and kudos to Jenna for engaging me without blasting her point of view.
Here are my reactions after digesting her post, which on this particular topic, is thoughtful, well-written, well-argued, and quite provocative:
When it comes to news and information online, Twitter controls the lions’ share of that attention today, and at least from my vantage point, the activity on the service seems to have increased just in the last year, even as more and more users came onboard or became more active. As a result of all the attention, Jenna is right that people have a twisted incentive to throw in their own witty comments and jokes about mainstream or industry-related events as a situation is unfolding. That desire to get noticed creates noise, and for others who are there to either dip their toes in the water or get into other more valuable conversations. (I will admit I have, as well, jumped into the fray on occasion, lobbing in a funny tweet here or there — not to look for a retweet, but more out of a desire to just participate in the conversation that’s developing, though reading Jenna’s piece, I can see how someone else could perceive that.)
As someone who views the web through Twitter (like Jenna does), I felt the medium largely became a self-promotional and marketing tool years ago. In fact, some of the most technically accomplished founders I know who used to use Twitter back when it was really just about human-level status updates abandoned the platform years ago. I’ve felt the same over the past few years, so I’ve made some tweaks such as creating lists (more on that below) and trying to get into the stream during “off-peak” hours.
When these critiques surface, two or three common fixes are usually suggested by apologists (like me): One, refresh the list of people you follow on Twitter, and two, create lists to focus on specific people in groups, which cuts down on the noise. (There’s a third option, which I’ve done, which is to go through your entire follow list and manually disable a good chunk of folks from retweeting anything into your stream, because let’s face it, there are some people who just retweet self-promotional garbage into your stream.) I have come to realize there are problems with these suggestions. One, even though there shouldn’t be any stigma attached to “unfollowing” a person, I believe the stigma is real and has grown as Twitter commands more attention and importance. Two, most people (even techies or power users) aren’t going to create lists. I have a few private lists I follow, and I use the stream-focused web version of TweetDeck in the browser — the redesign for the normal Twitter website (which broke chronology) was too much for me to handle. (On three, I doubt people will go into each profile and disable retweeting, so we’re stuck with it.
OK, so what then to do? Here are the options I came up with, each one plausible in the right situation:
Unfollow everyone and start over again. Steve Schlafman did this and documented the process (including scripts) here. Why not? Why not just follow 10-20 people whom you know will behave on Twitter in a way that’s attractive to you? It sounds appealing to me! Even though there is a stigma around unfollowing, I agree it needs to be broken and challenged. I’m sure many folks follow me because they know me or we are friends, but they’d probably like to unfollow me. (Tweetbot offers a muting option across clients, but native products do not.)
Set aside 1-2 hours and create lists. Yes, it’s work and changing habits, but I did this about two years ago and there’s no way I could now use Twitter without lists. No way. I would just stop or unfollow everyone to rebuild the graph slowly.
Approach Twitter with more Zen. That is, you open the app/site, you jump in, and if you don’t like what’s in the water, jump out. However, there is a risk here…
Stop using Twitter entirely. Even though I love Twitter, I can completely understand why someone who just wants to find good links and chat with friends or colleagues would feel like, after trying to be “Zen” inside Twitter, to just junk the whole thing. This is the time we live in, where people just get fed up and turn off this stuff and then realize, “Yes, this is better.” Even though the tools are there for users to do all of these, it may just feel easier to let it go. And, that could happen as Twitter struggles to grow its user base (which precipitated many of these recent design changes). It’s hard for the product in its current form to encourage users to cull their graphs, or create lists, or to just jump in and jump out of the water…the product’s incentives are to keep us there all the time, and when folks are there all the time, the number of tweets may increase, yes, but the quality of them may not. In the heat of that moment, even as a Twitter addict, I can see how someone could just say, “I have to move on.” Good luck getting those users back.
Biz Stone’s much anticipated mobile app “Jelly” officially launched today, and since it marries some of my core interests — mobile and marketplaces (Q&A) — I thought I’d jot down some quick, unpolished reactions to the app — which at a high-level, is very well-designed — because it brought together many of the things I’ve been writing about and interested in. While I have questions (haha!) about how the quality of questions can be maintained out of Beta, the app on Day 1 is bold enough to make an impression, no doubt. Some initial thoughts:
Q&A forums are marketplaces. It’s easy to forget that. Someone demands a question, and (hopefully) someone supplies an answer. As someone who asks (too) many questions on social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Quora), I see the native need to do this. On the web, marketplaces are one thing, but on mobile, when there are two big platforms that don’t interoperate, companies need to figure out how to short-circuit the time to liquidity by either being very focused (Uber) or launching on iOS and Android at the same time. Related reading by me: How Mobile Alters Traditional Network Effects In Marketplaces.
The camera remains, by far, the most important mobile sensor. No surprises here. What will be interesting is if and when users start sharing mobile screenshots instead of regular pictures, like early Instagram users did. Related reading by me:The Harsh Realities Surrounding Mobile App Investing.
The app allows users to “star” a question and agree to receive push notifications as replies. This is a great, core, intent-based engagement loop in a hyper-competitive world for consumer app attention. Related reading by me:The Precise Art Of Mobile Push Notifications.
Jelly harnesses existing social networks to more efficiently “route” questions to those who have a great likelihood of responding and/or knowing the answer. Quora does a great job of this on the web, and it’s a very hard problem to get right. Takes years. The app has a nice touch of pulling the avatars of people you recognize, which creates more of an incentive to engage and respond.
Unknowns, or things that should give us pause, in no particular order: Yahoo Q&A still stutters along; Google tried with Aardvark after acquisition but shut them down; Google has no problem giving Quora good SEO juice for its great content; Facebook tried and abandoned questions a while back; and the point of creation or origination for these questions usually take place on existing social networks, so pushing audiences over to another app remains a very high hurdle to clear.
At the end of each year, I like to pick one company that truly was a “breakout.” No surprises here, but an interesting framework to consider…
Last year, as 2012 ended, I scanned the early-stage startup landscape and tried to identify one company that was a breakout for the year — I ultimately selected Stripe, and explained why, here. I liked the thought-exercise so much I decided to do it again this year, and it didn’t take much deliberation to choose Snapchat — in my personal opinion, the clear breakout consumer product of 2013. The framework is provided courtesy of Fred Wilson, a high-level litmus test that, when applied, starts to make the improbable seem obvious in hindsight:
The Right Person(s): Clearly the Snapchat founders are smart enough to build something on their own, to iterate on their vision for a product, and to navigate the choppy waters of the early-stage app ecosystem and investment market. Once Snapchat made it through Series A and the 2012 Christmas “present” from Facebook, the company’s CEO Evan Spiegelassumed the mantle of “David” against Zuckerberg’s “Goliath” and became the person who embodied this character.
The Right Idea: How many times have you been presented with the option to sign up to a new service by using Facebook Connect alongside terms of service disclaimers including “We will not post any information to Facebook”? Snapchat’s value proposition is essentially the modern, mobile, digital reflection of those types of disclaimers. Even with family over the holidays, when pictures are taken, you hear more than just one person blurt out “Don’t post those to Facebook!” The idea of Snapchat — to allow people to share images without posting to the web or Facebook — was definitely the right idea.
The Right Product: Building on the idea of Snapchat above, the actual product, like Instagram, unbundled one of the most important parts of Facebook — mobile photographs. However, once Instagram became a part of Facebook, and once those images helped build Instagram user profiles on the web, one could argue mobile-only Snapchat unbundled the forced permanence, faux-filtered finishes, and broadcast nature of Instagram to put people and faces at the center of images and to share them with individuals or groups in a more private, time-sensitive, mobile-only, intimate way.
The Right Time: In 2013, the two leading social networks made big moves — Facebook transformed enough of its business to mobile to convince Wall Street that big profits could continue to roll in, and Twitter finally went public and is performing well even with spikes in trading volume. At the same time, however, mobile messaging apps, especially those from Asia, grew so big, dominant web platforms finally took notice, seeing them as a new platform threat. All of these companies combined could one day represent nearly one trillion dollars in public and/or private valuations, so as the market recognizes this, a property like Snapchat can easily be perceived to be worth much, much more than we imagine today.
The Right Market: Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. User-generated pictures taken and viewed on mobile devices. A demographic centered around mobile-native teens and expanding rapidly. A communications app with network effects that can spread globally because the medium is universal. Oh, and mobile, mobile, mobile — a shift so huge, it could still be one of the mostunderhyped trends in technology relative to its scale.
And, there you have it — Snapchat is the “breakout” company of 2013. I’m not going out on a limb with this one! In about a 12-month timespan, the company grew exponentially, became one of the most dominant mobile photo-sharing networks, rebuffed multibillion dollar acquisition offers from the two dominant web companies, and closed increasingly bigger Series A, B, and C financing rounds from some of the most successful investors at each stage, including the most recent round led by one of the world’s leading tech hedge funds. While the future of Snapchat is uncertain — will they be able to sell ads, deliver ads without ruining the user experience, capitalize on in-app purchases, or sell itself in early 2014? — the app remains at the top of the charts and shows no sign of slipping. For all of these reasons, Snapchat is 2013’s breakout.
Big news today about the FAA lifting the ban on the use of handheld electronic devices during take-off and landing. As I was hearing the reports on this on the radio, and remember the tireless crusade of Nick Bilton (and the recent Amazon-commissioned research), it dawned on me just how much time this ruling “unlocks” for content providers, gaming companies, and advertisers. Just like tweeting on the pot (#tweetfromtheseat) has increased time online (and in apps), how much time approximately could this ruling unlock?
Source: Research & Innovative Technology Administration (Bureau of Transportation Statistics) [link]
For this analysis, I’ll use projected figures for 2013.
Number of Passengers, per year: 643M trips or “Px”
Assume: 15 minutes of time at take-off & landing = 15 minutes per “event”
Assume: 75% of USA passengers have a smartphone or e-reader/tablet, but also factor in devices must be in “airplane” mode, so can only access information downloaded to a device or client.
Calculation: (643M Px * 75% devices) * 2 (takeoff + landing) * 15 minutes/event = 14.46 billion minutes per year, or 241 million hours per year. That’s a lot of mobile device time!
Today, NYC-based Union Square Ventures unveiled their new community site under “Beta” at beta.usv.com. Now, while I talk to these guys often, I had no idea today was the day they’d lift the curtains. And, over the past few months, I have talked to folks at USV about how to reinvent systems and how important original content is to connect with like-minded people. Anyway, I was excited to see what they cooked up (and I like it so far), so here are my brief thoughts on it:
This is very “USV’ – I’m not sure another firm could’ve pulled this off. Firms all have content strategies now, but trying to be a destination is a whole other game. Sequoia is building “Grove” and a16z may be able to reinvent the technology news category. There’s First Round Capital with First Round Review, their Harvard Business Review, which is just really high quality. USV’s core strengths here are Fred’s daily blog (plus at least 100 comments per day), Albert’s daily blog (usually around 30+ comments a day, and underrated in my opinion), and occasionally when Andy writes (wish he’d write more!). USV can now combine this reach with the power held in Disqus from their readers and invert the model, asking the audience to suggest what’s important. Yes, it’s very much like what PG did with Hacker News, and there’s no reason that model cannot be verticalized with a more venture or market-based mindset.
Takes Pressure Off Of AVC.com – Fred is his own media powerhouse. This is important to USV in many ways, but I’d sense Fred also doesn’t like it because it takes focus away from the team. While everyone will likely blog on their own sites, people in their community (like me) can now go into their site and directly interact with others via Disqus or other oAuth systems. So, the mindshare goes slightly from the individual back to the firm, which is a nice, subtle touch.
Android-Only, For Now – As I’m an unabashed Android-hater, I love that these guys only released an Android app. Brilliant!
“Pin to USV” Interaction – With a Chrome bookmarklet, folks in the community can now easily pin articles they’ve seen online that are interesting and pump them back into USV.com. The hope is that the community will bubble up the most interesting things, though it could be noisy, too. Let’s see. At least folks will have an audience.
Testing Ideas Outside Of The Hallway – Say the firm is exploring a thesis or idea. Now, without tipping their hand or focusing on an individual blog, they can place articles into the forum or comment and explore those ideas outside the hallways of their offices. That is pretty cool if it works.
Moderation Is Key – I’d imagine this place will be moderated from Day 1, as being on the USV site cannot afford trolling or other types of unsavory participation. If moderated well, I think people will come here more and more, because there aren’t many places that exist like this in technology circles, even though there are plenty of forums, etc.
Transition Planning – Say one day some of the folks at USV aren’t there. Who knows when…but, the point is that individual brands and their audiences may not move, so doing Beta as a discussion forum helps unify the community under the USV brand and makes it easier for a new partner to step in at a point in the future, as I’d assume that new partner blogs and would be the type of person to interact online in such a manner, though they may not have their own audience or brand. This is important for firms to consider in leadership transitions because so much of the intellectual and brand capital can be tied up in individuals.