Is this the 2nd most successful paid for social network?

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In the last three weeks I have responded a couple of times to Tweets regarding social media. One was entitled ‘would you pay for social media’ and it got me thinking that when we talk about social we often forget Flickr. Then I see a tweet about the way most of the mobile Apps for Google+ and Facebook are evolving into a series of rich images to scroll through and again I think to myself what a whopping missed opportunity Flickr was and how a lack of foresight led it to be a photo repository for the average user.

Flickr has 50m registered users, pretty good but when compared with what it could have been! It was bought for $35m dollars in 2005 by Yahoo, it seems so cheap and in terms of what it could have been, a steal! I think the timing of the purchase was unfortunate with Yahoo in some of its biggest disarray in terms of position in market anbd future strategy as well as FB etc coming to town. Back then Flickr had a function to bring people together to ‘chat’ around subject matter photos – the equivalent of a ‘Hang-out’ at the time I guess. Basically what Flickr lacked was someone who could see the future and how social and sharing was going to be HUGE.

Would you pay for social media? I do every year when Flickr say to me that if I ever want to see my photos again I better pay up! That is one of the best social media payment models in the business no? Now of course I resent the ransom note every year but begrudgingly admit that they do a job, they hold this for me, allow me to share it, although their god awful privacy controls are difficult to fathom, normally when you want to send a single photo you send people everyone of your private photos!

I notice that Flickr has started to adapt, new interface, new controls and a far more user friendly interface, but they need to do more, they need to create an easy way to share, comment, bring in friends, let people announce things, set up environments for events and..oh is that not Facebook? I would like to see a ‘hang out approach’ on videos you want to share, invite them live and so on, the opportunities are endless and this is what makes me realise what a terribly, terribly big waste of an opportunity it has been thus far. It is however not too late in my mind.

There has been some debate about their revenues, conservative at $50m ranging upwards helped by Getty Images, Advertising on billions of impressions and other partnerships so it is a good business from the outside, I will be intrigued to see if the most successful pay-for-play-social-media-platform in the world can continue to adapt and grab the new opportunities before it is resigned to being a bloody good attempt at a social network from 2005.

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AOL may have had it right all along!

Does anyone remember the sitcom from the US called ‘Soap’? It was about a mad bunch of individuals who were pretty dysfunctional. At the start of each episode there would be an introduction recapping the previous episodes. That summation was invariably confusing and left you having no idea what was going on. The image below may jog your memories for those of you over 37 I am guessing.

The Soap cast

Confusion reigned.

Why am I writing about that? Well recently through a combination of my own experiences and reading the press I have been thinking that in the world of tech, social and mobile we are experiencing something similar. To recap;

– Google and Apple were good friends, admirers even until Google started to like phones..and music..and books, now Apple does not like Google so much and is not keen on using their search tool on their phones.
– Twitter and Google liked playing together as Big brother Google helped the new boy get a bit of traffic, now the new boy has grown up he has decided he does not need Big brother anymore so cut the rope.
– Facebook and Google were colleagues and admired each other until Google started to like this social media thing and Facebook got the hump with that, they too have decided they want to keep their people to themselves.
– Twitter and Facebook enjoyed each others company for a while until Facebook liked the look of the Twitter approach and changed their updates accordingly, this has meant of course that they will not share anymore and never the twain shall meet
– Lets not forget some other long distant cousins! Yahoo and Facebook have not crossed swords too much in the playground until Yahoo decided Facebook had copied a lot of their IP and are now contemplating suing so that will be the end of that friendship
– Samsung and Apple have just had an all out fight all over the globe and frankly not seen eye to eye for some time!
– Even the lovely and friendly Amazon has had to get dragged into the cat fight with its entry into the tablet market which annoyed Apple who promptly stopped their Kindle App from being e-commerce enabled – surely no one falls out with cuddly Amazon?

All of this squabbling leads me to see a future where we have one of the most siloed ecosystems we have ever known. Years after we criticised AOL for its wall garden approach to media we find ourselves with more walled gardens than we know what to do with and as consumers that is the honest truth.

We are edging towards a world where Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google, Twitter and beyond will all be managing their own ecosystems and not allowing us as advertisers or consumers to mix and match and join up all of the platforms. It is a frustrating development as a consumer as it would be nice if Facebook and Twitter could find a way of working together. It would also be a better Google search experience if we could find results from not just G+ but also the other social media players.

As I have written about before it gets worse when you move to looking at the tech marketplace with our homes being divided into either an Android home, Apple home, Microsoft home or Samsung home, we have to make a decision and stick too it as we can’t get all our toys to play nicely together.

I am not sure how this will play out, but it is messy and not particular user / consumer friendly in my view and probably going to get worse as these Big 5 getter bigger and stronger.

Inspired by the Big 5 in Palo Alto

Inspired by the big 5 – A week in San Francisco.

There is something genuinely special about San Francisco and Palo Alto. A place that if you are into digital you can’t help but feel excited about when you go there. First time you go it’s about going to the offices – Google HQ, Facebook, Apple etc and the famous locations attached like Mountain View or Cupertino. I have talked in previous blogs about the offices, they are a little disappointing, they are often deathly quiet and in the case of a Google a little battered and worn out, no it’s not what they are like inside.

The thing that strikes you is the scale, huge complexes, small towns in the case of Google, the meccas of those now famous names that come with such financial status and dominance and yet still have their young founders somewhere in those buildings. You can’t help marvel at that scale after so few years of history. In that mix though you feel a sense of tension between hanging onto that founder spirit and the relentless burden of financial success and expectation, something Facebook will start feeling acutely post IPO.

Palo Alto itself comes with this air of amazing entrepreneurship. Much was mentioned of Sandhill Road, where all the VCs are based, I had not considered that even VCs like to cluster, I guess I thought they would be isolated, each one trying to find the golden nugget but I suppose they are like everyone else and like to chew the fat on whether x company or y company is of interest. Fascinating I thought that at every one of the meetings we had this week, Pinterest was mentioned, it is crazy how that company has come from nowhere to being on the end of every sentence and judging by my Twitter feed, tweet, I would imagine that those investors are all eyeing that company up with much interest.

Dreams are made in this place and you can’t help admire it and be mesmerised at the immense foot print of these companies. As we walked into Apple you remind yourself you are walking into the most valuable company in the world, staggering what has happened there, or Facebook with its 100b price tag on its head and yet Facebook is still very lean, 3000 employees in US vs a Microsoft of 70,000, that paints a picture and it’s one of Facebook needing to recruit fast to cop with the demand for its products and insights.

The reason for the trip was to bring the VivaKi Nerve Center to the wider Publicis group and let them come together and meet with these amazing digital beacons. A fascinating few days as the Saatchi’s and Leo Burnetts came together to discuss and learn how we can all work together more effectively with these leading digital companies of the world. This new world of social by design has revolutionised the media and creative approach from a ‘bowling ball’ approach where a carefully aimed ball was fired at the consumers and hope to hit a few of them to the ‘pinball effect’ where you send the content into the mix and watch it get fired around.

There were some revealing debates about social and where it fits creatively and who is driving those conversations, we have as clients some very sophisticated marketeers and those who are more tentative but all of them are becoming more global, more scaled and more digital and it is the role of The Nerve Center to help our group capitalise on our amazing partnerships to be able to respond to those trends in a material way.

So as a marketeer who do you care about? Google, Facebook, what about Amazon? Apple and Microsoft will all lay claim to be the companies you need to work with, there are others of course but after a week here you start to consider exactly who are you missing if you work with these companies? The issue comes with knitting these companies together, in the last few years the rivalry has been intense with various fissures opening up between the companies and that’s where organisations like Publicis and The Nerve Center come in. When you sit opposite a Google or an Apple, they often hold many of the cards and yet all of them want to see the whole picture and the agencies hold those cards and they want to learn from us, so it’s a hugely valuable position to be in and one we must exploit on behalf of our clients if we are to get the most from an Apple or Facebook.

Based on this trip and my time at CES I can’t help feel this sense of a more and more closed world vs Open. Facebook’s mission statement is all about connectivity and openness which felt strangely at odds with their restrictions on how we as companies can track anything or the fact that their content can’t be found on Google search. Apple seemed very happy to sit and not want any sort of cross fertilisation, they felt that their billion devices is a big enough footprint for anyone. Everywhere you turn we are organising into silos, TV platforms with Samsung, Apple etc, social platforms controlling their data tightly, not an issue for consumers, harder for advertisers.

That said, when you see the power of YouTube, Facebook’s scale and social by design capabilities, Google from search to display to G+ combined with Microsoft and Xbox/Kinect or Apple’s incredible footprint through hardware it’s hard sometimes to imagine that a global client needs to go much further a field to reach and engage with their audiences. These companies are uniquely global, consistent and so as a global brand you can work on the same platform across multiple markets which will be an important offering of the future.

The days of media schedules with 40 sites on them have to be dwindling or dead, the specialism of tech press or context led site lists can not be totally recreated but you can go a long way towards that same effect through audience buying, targeted Facebook work, Search and so on. These companies and platforms could be the media plan, if only the advertisers themselves could organise in the same global fashion. They don’t right now, but they will and they will want agencies who understand and have very grown up deep relations with these companies and that is the aim of our Partnerships team at VivaKi and VivaKi Ventures which aims to keep us wired to the new start ups as well.

This week was about that, it was about saying lets work out how we can work together and not on the premise of spend and price but intellectually and strategically work to create the media and technical solutions of the future. My last meeting was at Mountain View with Google and what they are working on is mind boggling and makes you realise that although there are many companies out there with great marketing decks and some very bright people, they are dwarfed by what’s going on in this company.

And above all as I sat delayed by 4 hours I thought what an incredible part of the world this is and how inspirational these companies are both person ally and professionally. I also thought that I am working for the most forward thinking organisation in the advertising and media industry and one which is full of very smart people all looking at this business through different eyes and that is fantastic. VivaKi Nerve Center.