Top 10 Top 10 Lists for 2006

In the spirit of my recent obsession with abstraction, I’ll take a meta approach to the annual Top 10 list:

10. Starting with a strong one, the top 10 tips for growing old gracefully. I can imagine some funny variations on this, but this common sense stuff is always worth keeping in mind.

9. I like the Top 10 Animal Geeks from CNet UK which includes one of my favorite stories: Koko the gorilla. I’d also agree with SFGate that a few are missing.

8. Again, the common sense stuff makes for great lists. Here are the 10 business improvement recommendations.

7. Design geeks will enjoy the top 10 newspaper typefaces from 37Signals.

6. Similarly, for those of us watching MySpace mostly from the outside, here’s a nice insight. The top 10 MySpace page layout designs.

5. A sleepy one but definitely interesting to track year over year…the top 10 brands according to BusinessWeek.

4. Now we get into the good stuff. The top 10 sexiest geeks.

3. Green Wombat, the Business 2.0 blog from Todd Woody, is getting good. He recently posted The Top 10 Climate Change Influencers of 2006.

2. A tough call on whether this is number 1 or number 2, but either way, I love the Top 10 Rules for Top 10 Lists:

1. And the winner is…wait, we have a tie… Using rule #2 from the Top 10 Rules for Top 10 Lists which says “Start strong, end strong.”… At number one we have both the Top 10 Best Internet Acquisitions which was inspired by the Top 10 Internet Flops.

Preview of the publisher api

I just posted a short screencast on the YDN blog of the cool new publisher api coming from soon. I’ve also embedded the video below. Lots of interesting possibilities with this new service, for sure.

Embed video:

Fun with ads on my blog

There have been 2 really interesting and innovative ad platform services to come out recently from Right Media and Feedburner. I’ve been playing with both on my blog, but I’ve only scratched the surface of the potential here.

First, Right Media’s publisher service is called RXDirect which hopefully will open up to everyone from the closed beta soon. It’s plenty robust enough to serve any small publisher’s needs, and some of its clever capabilities may prove useful to large publishers as well.

You get a simple self-serve ad management system where you can drop in new creative including ad code from your ad networks like YPN or AdSense or even Feedburner. I’ve also loaded in a house ad. It took only a couple of minutes to setup each ad.

Then you get your Right Media ad code to post into your web page templates.


Immediately, you get to watch nearly real-time reporting on your ads.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Right Media is also an ad network platform…not an ad network but rather an ad network platform for other ad networks to create inventory markets.

As a publisher, I can request permission to post ads on my page inventory from any ad network in the system. If the ad network approves me, then the ad network will serve ads to my site and pay me their rate for those impressions. I don’t need sales people on staff. I can just hook into an ad network that makes sense for my market.

I suspect that if they get the ad network platform right, we’ll see mini ad networks popping up everywhere, small telemarketing outfits in niche markets all around the world negotiating niche ad impressions for niche publisher inventory.

Wait, it gets better.

Right Media has opened up their APIs. They tell me they are using their own published APIs for their own tools, along with other internal APIs, I’m sure. And the APIs seem pretty well documented.

That means that market makers can potentially create their own ad networks, self-serve ecosystems, in essence. My mind spins at the possibilities here, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens at this early stage still. The key to this working is maintaining their self-serve approach. If it works, this system could be massive.

Similarly, Feedburner has taken a meta approach to creating niche publisher/advertiser networks. Publishers can create networks of feeds whose inventory can be purchased by advertisers. I setup a network called “Internet Voices” where I thought I might get a bunch of Internet media bloggers who use Feedburner to open up their inventory for advertisers. Feedburner will sell our inventory for us.

Feedburner is so focused on serving publishers you just have to admire them.

They also released a dynamic graphical ad unit generator. It’s basically a badge or widget. You give it a background image, and they burn your feed headlines on top of it.

The dirty little secret is that Feedburner knows that advertisers are quickly becoming publishers. As advertisers learn how to reach customers directly the role of intermediaries (media properties) changes. And an ad unit that publishes dynamic content starts to get at that.

It reminds me a bit of the huge outdoor billboard The Industry Standard had near the San Francisco Bay Bridge that scrolled current headlines we fed to it from the web site.

Anyhow, I took a feed from the FlipBait web site and created an ad unit that now runs in rotation on my blog via my Right Media ad server. I don’t have enough data to see whether the ad performs well, but that’s not important yet. This is the beginning of some new approaches to marketing.

Cool stuff, guys. Can’t wait to see what you do next.

Valleywag is becoming essential

I have to echo Fred Wilson’s view that Valleywag has suddenly become a must-read for me. Despite the incessant Yahoo! bashing recently, Nick Denton has finally created an insightful Silicon Valley gossip rag that’s worth the time put into it. Fred states,

“Under the old regime, I never read Valleywag. Now I read it every day. Sure its still snarky. Sure its still evil. But its relevant. Nick is reporting on real stuff, with classic Gawker attitude.”

For example, he covered today’s hype by exposing the story behind the high traffic numbers. First, he colors the piece with the appropriate human elements that make the story tangible and interesting:

“Samir Arora looks so beatifically happy in that photo, and it’s no wonder why: Glam Media, the fashion site headed by the smiling web guru has just raised an astonishing amount of money, $18m…7m [women] visit each month, an achievement of which Glam is so proud that it places the claim in the logo. Unfortunately, as claims go, it’s a stretch, and here’s why:”

Then he goes on to explain how a network of smaller blogs make up the total traffic and that Glam is not as big as you might think.

Denton’s next post is a reaction to Seth Goldstein’s incomprehensible Root Markets business. It’s short, menacing and basically spot on.

“I never understood Seth Goldstein’s most recent company, Root Markets…Root’s website, a blank page with a mysterious log-in box, doesn’t help. And nor does the advertising guru’s personal website, which leads off with the following gobbledygook headline: API: In the middle of the middle, about Poverty & Wealth in the Gesture Economy.”

This kind of journalism, though not for everybody, clearly, and no doubt difficult to get right, is exactly the kind of commentary that creates a center of gravity in a market. He’s creating cocktail party quotable stuff here for the whole industry and maybe even influencing the way people think about what’s going on in the Internet business.

He publishes stories very quickly, often first. Every post is always about people. He may get frivolous, but his viewpoint is always colored by experience in the market rather than some removed personal opinion. His opinion is a filter on the story, not the story itself.

This is exactly how John Battelle initially conceived the editorial voice of The Industry Standard in the early phases of defining the business. He wanted to create Silicon Valley’s Variety. I’d say Nick is well on his way to making that vision happen here.

And as Fred pointed out, the numbers prove that it’s working whether you like what he has to say or not:

Hack day matures

There’s a noticeable difference between the hacks presented at Yahoo!’s internal hack day today and the ones from a year ago when the program began. It’s like the end of pre-season when the starters come out to show everyone how it’s done. Ash Patel even joined in with a very smart idea of his own.

When hack day began I think there was this excitement in creating purely for the sake of creating. That energy is definitely still core to what people are doing, but people are now combining business strategy along with their bits of code magic. Rather than funny greasemonkey overlays and simple mashups that challenged ideas, today we saw clever uses of core Yahoo! platforms that could actually alter revenue performance.

There were some hilarious demos, too, including the first paper-based hack and a great Wii hack.

The formula for the event is clearly a winner at this point and one that I think could be applied in any medium to large sized company. Chad’s original concept is still spot on:

“Hack Day at Yahoo! has minimal rules: 1) Take something from idea to prototype in a day; 2) Demo it at the end of the day, in two minutes or less (usually less)”

and more here:

“Hack Day is a day for the celebration of hackerdom, a tip of the hat to the artists among us who express themselves in code, a recognition of the pure joys of creation. Yes, hackers are artists. As I wrote in one of my old InfoWorld columns: ‘If art is making order out of chaos, then software developers are artists at the highest level.’ “

I didn’t think hack day would work as an ongoing thing 9 months ago or so. I thought it would lose its edginess or get coopted by marketing people or frustrate coders whose great ideas didn’t make it to market.

In fact, the opposite has happened. The hacks are getting more clever and harder to top. Powerpoints fail every time unless used purely for laughs. And people across the organization are productizing the hacks and thinking differently about how to get these ideas into the real world.

Interestingly, Jerry Yang still sits through every hack (nearly 5 hours of demos this time!). I love the fact that people can engage him from the stage and joke with the other executives who are judging.

Hack day is really part of the process at Yahoo! now. It’s so effective that it’s getting hard to imagine how the company unlocked smart, innovative and actionable ideas without it.

Is attention finite?

John Hagel explores the economics of attention and describes the issues for today’s business leaders:

“Attention economics starts with the observation that, as products and information proliferate, attention becomes the scarce resource … we each have only 24 hours in the day. Where we choose to allocate this attention will increasingly determine who creates economic value and who destroys economic value.”

He provides some insightful advice for an executive in the attention economy:

“The attention economy is surfacing around us today … it is not some distant future. As with most economic trends, those who spot them and act on them early are most likely to create significant value. Here are some early action items:

1) Explore the implications of attention scarcity for firm structure … I view attention scarcity as a key catalyst driving the unbundling and rebundling of firms that is occurring on a global scale
2) Master the management techniques required to increase return on attention, not only for customers but for employees and business partners as well
3) Create mechanisms to help customers and employees attract the attention they need to become more successful in their endeavors, especially in terms of their talent development.”

Hagel’s arguments are valid, but this view sounds a too narrowminded to me. He’s proposing a way to make tomorrow’s new business models backwards compatible with today’s business models.

The problem with discussing attention in economic terms, in my opinion, which is, by the way, completely uninformed by any kind of economic education, is this notion that attention is finite.

It’s true that time limits how many words I can read on a page, how many links I can click on in a browser, and how many billboards I will see in a day. In addition to time, the language, user interface and art of design as we know it limits what I can take in and digest.

But the fluidity of attention is limited more by the medium and the information therein than it is by the brain’s ability to absorb, interpret and output ideas. The brain has an amazing ability to abstract things, to alter viewpoints and understand them both on macro and micro levels. Depending on your perspective, ‘time’ can be as literal as the movement of shadows on the ground or as abstract as evolution of species.

Imagine describing to someone 100 years ago the idea that you could play hours and hours of new and interesting music from a personalized stream of songs produced by pros and amateurs alike from around the world that never repeats itself. Imagine describing to a teen as recently as 1990 that she could build a nearly infinite network of friends and interesting strangers and stay in touch with all of them almost all the time.

It’s as if attention is expanding because of better production methods, easier distribution mechanisms and deeper meaning in the information that gets produced and distributed. While discussing this with Cameron Marlow on the train this morning, he came up with the term “attention inflation” to describe this phenomenon. I like that.

Hagel is right about the most obvious approach to making money in this world. There will always be opportunities in the inefficiencies (or “friction” as edge economists say) in the way information is communicated.

We see this now in the way media properties charge advertisers a fee for the cost of reaching valuable eyeballs. But advertisers are forever chasing people to get their attention. They are always paying for the inefficiencies in the market. And media properties are motivated to retain inefficiencies in order to capitalize on that friction. This business model locks companies on both sides into the status quo.

The opportunity, on the other hand, is vast for those who are able to alter our viewpoints and abstract the way we understand information. It’s about offering new methods to communicate and taking advantage of the methods that are already infinitely fluid. The supply of attention can be limitless when the barriers are removed and the right lubricant is applied.

I guess all I’m testing out here is the idea that the attention economy is not so much a supply and demand issue as much as it is an issue of abstraction. New markets form when people can expand their attention rather than allocate it. And the early movers to find abstract solutions to communication and information problems enjoy enormous benefits down the road when everyone else wants to hop on the ride.

Top 5 new business ideas

The month of lists has begun, so I decided to rank the business ideas from the last year that could or should be a big deal in the next year. Most of these ideas and companies have actually been around longer than 12 months, but they either reached a certain critical mass or captured my imagination in a new way recently.

1) Scrobbling
All my listening behavior are belong to They figured out how to not only capture what I listen to but also to incentivize me to keep my behavior data with them. Since my listening data is open for other services to use, I am willingly giving the power to broker that data with other providers on behalf. That’s a very strong position to be in.

2) Meta ad networks
Feedburner and Right Media figured out that ad networks can be networked into meta networks. Right Media went the extra step and opened up their APIs so that someone can build a white label ad exchange of their own using the Right Media tools. All you need are advertisers and publishers, and you’ve suddenly got a media market of your own. I can’t help but wonder if these guys have stepped into the big leagues with the next really important revenue model.

3) Pay-as-you-go storage, computing, whatever
Amazon impresses me on so many levels even if they don’t know exactly what they’re doing. They are making it happen just by doing smart things with the resources already in their arsenal. Similarly, Flickr understands that the APIs you use to build your web site are the same APIs you want to open up as a service, and it’s paying off handsomely for them. The formula here is one part optimizing resources and two parts confidence that your business won’t crash if you share your core assets with other people. Stir constantly.

4) People-powered knowledge
I really like the Yahoo! Answers experience. I also really like the concept behind MechanicalTurk where knowledge can be distributed as a service. Machines are at their best, in my opinion, when they make humans capable of doing things they couldn’t otherwise do, not least of which is making the universe of human knowledge more accessible.

5) Widget-mania
It wasn’t until I heard about the big revenues GlitterMaker was earning that I realized just how powerful this idea has become the last year or so. Beck’s customizable CD cover reinforced the idea that everything is a tattoo or a tattooable thing if you look at it that way…and many people do. If only I could run AdSense on my forehead.