Monday, May 15, 2006

Looking for the Swaptree Post?

Wow - based on the visitor stats, it looks like a lot of people are searching for . My SwapTree post is here:
http://productize.blogspot.com/2006/05/to-have-and-to-want-rant-on-swaptree.html

Also, I have moved my blog. Newer posts are here
http://www.isabelwang.com

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Moving (Again)

Back in March, I signed up for GoDaddy's QuickBlog. A few weeks later, I moved all my post here. And earlier today I created a Typepad account.

I thought QuickBlog was reasonably user-friendly. But what really, really impressed me was GoDaddy's super excellent support. I tried moving my blog from isabelwang.com to a subdomain and ran into some difficulty. I was able to reach a tech in about 3 seconds. He not only fixed the problem but reminded me that my web hosting account was up for renewal; there's a special promotion that I should take advantage of.

Maybe this doesn't sound like a big deal, but to me it showed that GoDaddy trains its staff well. What the guy did took attention to detail, and the ability to wear multiple hats.

But I stopped using QuickBlog because GoDaddy didn't have the most flexible templates. The layouts I liked didn't support the colors I wanted, and vice versa - and there's no option to customize. Plus, Flickr didn't recognize QuickBlog, and without HTML access there was no way to install Technorati's claim blog script. So, I moved on to Blogger.

My experience here has been great. I LOVE Blogger's interface design. Everything looks pretty and is totally intuitive. And it's free - which is only icing on the cake. I would gladly have paid. But something's missing - GoDaddy had categories and visitor stats, which Blogger doesn't.

So this morning I checked out Typepad. It took a lot longer to set up than Blogger, but has some thoughtful features. For instance, if I have an Amazon Associates ID, and I included lists of books or CDs on my blog, these items would automatically be linked to Amazon under my referral account. I will post a few posts there and see how it goes. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Share of Voice on The-EV1-Planet

When I first came across TrendIQ a few weeks ago, I was skeptical about its market research methodology. According to TrendIQ, the importance of a company/product/event is closely correlated with the amount of available text on the subject on the Internet. If there exist 100 pages of content on donuts, and 30 of them mention Krispy Kreme, that's a 30% "share of voice". TrendIQ monitors such stats over time to gauge where you stand relative to the competition in consumers' hearts and minds.

I wasn't sure I liked this approach because some pages of content reach far larger audiences than others. It seemed like over-simplification to equate volume of references with consumer sentiment. But maybe there's more validity to TrendIQ's stats than I realized.

1. A chart in Technorati CEO David Sifry's recent "state of the blogosphere" summary showed that major news events create noticeable spikes in blog posting volume.

2. My friend Warren says nobody really takes time to read; most visitors to even CNN or Slashdot probably only give the headlines a cursory glance. And my other friend Patrick says there are far more content creation tools (websites, blogs, forums, many kinds of social networking profiles) than expression-worthy ideas - which might explain why almost half of new blog owners stop posting within 3 months.

To make a long story short, readers are great, but if your company/product/event is something people invest time in writing about, you've made a much more significant impact.

Anyway, I got to thinking about share of voice because EV1Servers, the web hosting company I used to work for, merged with its arch competitor ThePlanet last week. GI Partners, a private equity firm, recently bought a controlling interest in both. EV1 and ThePlanet together manage 50,000 web servers, which are home to 1.6 million websites. Together they form the world's largest web server provider.

Is this an important event? Apparently not. It was briefly noted in the Web Hosting Industry Review and Netcraft, but not blogged about at all - even though people in the web hosting business are a relatively vocal lot. There's some discussion on EV1's and ThePlanet's customer forums, but both threads combined had only a handful of posts. In comparison, there was much more feedback on EV1's new website design, and a great deal of clamoring for Opteron servers. Apparently customers care about customer-impacting events, even if they seem relatively trivial. As for major announcements from your company? Maybe not so much.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Questions and Answers

wants to "evolve Microsoft from a software company into the world’s largest, most attractive provider of online media through MSN, Windows Live and adCenter." But despite a $100 million investment on MSN Search, adCenter's own FAQ shows a disappointing trend:

Question: How many people use MSN Search?
Answer #1: Over 40 million/month, according to Nielsen's 2004 stats
Answer #2: 39.1 million/month, according to Nielsen's 2006 stats

"Most attractive" is debatable as well. I haven't tried using , but I'm already disappointed with the unwelcoming tone of its introductory materials.

Question: WHY is there a $5 charge to create an MSN adCenter account?
Answer: You are charged a $5 administration fee only one time. It is an administrative fee that is non-refundable.

Question: If I am charged for invalid clicks, WHEN will I be refunded?
Answer: If Microsoft adCenter determines that your ad has received invalid clicks, a credit will be issued to the credit card you use to pay your monthly balances.

And speaking of unwelcoming, adCenter is not compatible with Firefox.

On the bright side, Microsoft does offer detailed instructions for importing Google and Yahoo keyword ads into its system. I was planning to check that out, but got annoyed with adCenter's account creation form. "A signup fee will be charged", it said, but the $5 amount wasn't stated. Oh well; some other time.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

To Have and to Want (Rant on SwapTree)

I was reading about in Business 2.0. It's a service that lets users exchange books/CDs/movies/games. You create an account, enter UPC codes for no-longer-wanted things, and submit a list of items you'd be willing to trade them for. SwapTree's system scans for matches and shows you potential exchanges. Once a proposed transaction has been accepted by all parties involved, SwapTree sends out instructions and ready-to-print mailing labels to each participant.

Business 2.0 says SwapTree is notable for being the first online bartering system that facilitates multi-party trades. For instance:

A sends B a book
B sends C a game
C sends D a movie
D sends A a CD

According to SwapTree's developers, an early version of their system took 20 minutes to set up its first 4-way trade. Now multi-party matches are made in just 1/5 of a second.

Is such a complex algorithm really necessary? Couldn't SwapTree's functionality be provided through a simpler system?

1. Users submit lists of Haves and Wants. SwapTree aggregates info.

2. Instead of waiting for SwapTree to set up trades, users look for opportunities on the aggregated Have and Want lists. Search results could be filtered by location, or limited to exchange partners who own specific items.

3. Users earn one SwapTree point for sending each item to another participant. They redeem points by requesting items from others. All items have the same value (as SwapTree's founder puts it, used media is "all worth about the same to people who have already read, view or otherwise consumed them").

I think points offer more flexibility than simultaneous exchanges. Users can immediately offload items they have on hand, and use credits they accumulate on a newer movie or game that might become available at a later time. And given SwapTree's 100% ad-supported business model, a points system is also more conducive to interactive sponsorship programs. SwapTree says it can help advertisers find targeted audiences because they know what users have and want: if someone's profile contains references both Spiderman movies, they could be shown a preview of #3.

But instead of just displaying a sponsor's ads, why not offer the opportunity to award SwapTree points for users to make purchases, participate in market research or attend events? Or redeem points for discounted prices on overstocked or discontinued items? Advertisers will love the guaranteed results - and the points cost SwapTree nothing. That would be a much easier sell than cost-per-impression advertising.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Are You an Elephraffe?

I'm the most impressionable consumer ever. Amazon's auto-recommendation system is made for people like me. Every time I go to buy a book or a CD, I end up ordering 7 other things. This is how I ended up with The Irresistible Offer by Mark Joyner.

According to Joyner, the key to any successful marketing campaign is a compelling "touchstone". He illustrates this with three case studies: Domino's ("hot pizza in 30 minutes, or it's free"), Columbia House Records ("10 CDs for 1 cent") and FedEx ("when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight"). A touchstone, he explains, is a brand-identifying message that clearly and succinctly conveys what you sell, why a prospective customer should trust you, and what's in it for him.

Joyner also likes Circuit City's "we'll honor the lowest price you can find for up to 60 days after your purchase", Caterpillar's "48-hour parts service, or we pay", and Nordstrom's "we'll take back anything you're not satisfied with without a receipt, no questions asked". The one surprise on his list of examples is RackSpace's "Fanatical Support".

I used to be a customer; their service was excellent! And recent press releases tout their 15% market share among Fortune 100 companies. So I think what RackSpace has are an excellent track record and a great reputation - but those factors don't make "Fanatical Support" a brand-building message.

As an experiment, I showed RackSpace's ad in the May issue of Wired to a few friends (there's no graphic, and the text just says "Fanatical Support is the Difference"). They thought "Fanatical Support" sounded like hype; it's not quantifiable. (And remember, one of Joyner's criteria for an effective touchstone is believability.) Also, if you look up fanatical on dictionary.com, its definition is "motivated by irrational zeal". Irrational is bad in a mission critical business environment. If I were the administrator of a huge, busy site, I think I'd be more interested in consistency than fanaticism.

RackSpace's website is not so great either. The alternating palm tree/swimming fish Flash movies are sort of pretty, but the look and feel is not consistent at all with the print ad's red and white color scheme.

DataPipe, on the other hand, ran a much more compelling ad in the same issue of Wired. It promised to "extend your IT resources on demand" - at "predictable costs" and with "guaranteed service levels". I have no first hand experience with DataPipe, but they sound like they really understand what hosting customers are looking for. Indeed, on DataPipe's website, they call this understanding "Operational Empathy". Now that's compelling.

But enough RackSpace bashing. They do have one really, really awesome marketing initiative; it's the "find your animal" game on RackSpaceCareers.com. First you're prompted to choose two personality traits from a list (I picked resourceful and clever). You're then told what kind of animal you are (I'm a KangOx, which is part kangeroo and part fox). And guess what? RackSpace provides a friendly habitat for your strange, special creature. The game sends two very powerful messages: we think your uniqueness is valuable, and we offer such an welcoming environment that even a Chameoceros can find its place. Recruitment is of course super important; RackSpace added 250 new hires last year. But a concept like this would have been great for their front page and print ads.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

GoDaddy 2.0

Recently I started volunteering at the National Women's Business Center, a non-profit that provides educational programs for women entrepreneurs. Earlier this week I was a guest judge at a business plan presentation session. Most of the ideas were brick-and-mortar (specialty retail, childcare, holistic health). The owners, likewise, came from "real-world" backgrounds (architecture, HR, law).

Believe it or not, the crowd was practically a GoDaddy fan club. Everybody's registered at least one - and in some cases several - domain names. And the consensus was that once you're planning to build a website, you should definitely host it at GoDaddy. It made me feel like Godaddy ought to do something in the meantime to maintain their high level of goodwill.

GoDaddy currently has 9 million domains under management. Tier 1 Research guesses that it generates $200 million in annual revenue. On April 12, MarketWatch wrote that GoDaddy's possible IPO could value the company at $250 million. A week later, another MarketWatch article reported that Greylock Partners' recent investment in Facebook was based on a $550 million valuation.

In theory, Facebook delivers a highly-targeted audience of super-desirable 18 to 24 year olds. Its 7 million members include 72% of American college students; two-thirds of its users visit the site daily. In March 2006, the site generated 1.4 billion pageviews in ad inventory. And social networks, says MarketWatch, are great environments for building brands and selling products.

After spending a few minutes on http://mit.facebook.com, I'm not sure I'm convinced. I kept seeing completely irrelevant banners, featuring:

1. KIDZ BOP 9 ("18 more kid friendly hits, sung by kids for kids!")
2. Register.com ("get your business online fir $5!")
3. 1-800-PetMeds ("save a trip to the vet!")
4. Traffic.com ("up to the minute report for your commute!")
5. Orlando ("perfect family vacation destination")

The only advertiser that might have derived value from MIT undergrads was Monster.com. Even so, its "find a healthcare job" message didn't quite resonate next to the profile of a Class of 2008 Urban Planning major. While Facebook doesn't seem to deliver on its promised value proposition, might Godaddy be able to take advantage of its formula?

According to an article in today's New York Times, social networks tap into three passions of young people: expressing themselves, interacting with friends and consuming pop culture. (The article also points out that although MySpace generates one billion ad views per day, it produces less than 5% of Yahoo's revenue.) I think business owners have somewhat similar desires: to get the word out on their company, network with other professionals and find/purchase products/services that might help their business.

So here's an idea: what if GoDaddy rolled out a social network for small businesses? Currently, GoDaddy offers domain owners ad-support websites and blogs. But since users of these free services rarely produce compelling content, the resulting advertising inventory is limited in both quality and quantity. More importantly, GoDaddy derives no long term benefit from advertising to its customers' website visitors. A much more attractive audience is the domain owners themselves.

I'm envisioning a Linkedin-like service where domain owners could create company profiles which might include photos/descriptions of products/services, links to investors/vendors/partners, memberships in industry associations and networking groups.

The New York Times reported that MySpace is planning to turn advertisers into members of their community. Bands, movies, phone companies would have their own profiles, and teenagers could become "friends" with these vendors. I LOVE this concept, and I think it could have even greater value within a small business social network. Company owners could become "friends" with Dell and Staples and Citibank and receive discounts, new product announcements, invitation to events, etc.

In addition to creating ad inventory and strengthening GoDaddy's relationship with domain owners, a small business social network could encourage customers of other registrars to transfer their domains to GoDaddy. Last but not least, it would elevate GoDaddy beyond the ranks of Tucows and Register.com (Marketwatch noted these two domain registrars' modest valuations relative to their revenues) and give the company a much higher valuation.

Monday, April 10, 2006

You Should Meet (but not like this)

The Internet disintermediates and reintermediates; according to Wikipedia, such is its dynamic nature. But sometimes, it just... intermediates. In activities that you never realized you could use a web-based interface for.

A few weeks ago, I introduced my friend Nathaniel to my other friend Rodney. They're both interested in open source software development. And their small daughters might like each other. And they're the two smartest people I know in DC. I made the introduction the old fashioned way - by emailing them directly.

I just found out, though, that I could have gotten them together through YouShouldMeet.com ("YSM").I read about the site in Bob Allard's 'Care and Feeding of your Network' article on ChangeThis.com. Bob says that networking is not about looking for help. Instead, a successful networker looks for ways to help. What can you do for that new person you just met? Do you know of anyone who might want to hire him? Buy his product? Join his company?

This is the philosophy behind YouShouldMeet. You sign up, enter two friends' email addresses, and tell them they should get to know each other. A few weeks later, the system sends both friends a follow up email, asking them whether the introduction was useful.

I loved Bob's article, but I'm not sure I would ever use his site. Couldn't I just enter names of friends and introductory messages in Outlook or Gmail? YouShouldMeet does keep count of the number of introductions made. But neither the tally nor the automated follow up seem like compelling enough reasons to stick with YSM - especially since emails from the site show noreply@youshouldmeet.com (rather than me) as the sender.

I see two possible ways to make the site more interesting though:

1. Give it some sort of gate-keeping capability?I enter two friends' emails, and the system sends my introductory message to both. But instead of A and B automatically receiving each other's contact info, they have the option of accepting or declining the introduction. If both parties accept, email addresses are released. If one or both wished to decline, the system offers a list of canned rejection messages. "Sorry, I'm swamped", perhaps? Or "I'm afraid I don't have the [insert subject] expertise you're looking for".

2. Use it to enable multi-user communication?I enter multiple friends' emails, and the system sends my introduction to all. It also creates a private forum where all recipients can post messages. Each friend can choose whether their name or email is displayed, and whether they would like to receive copies of forum posts. This might help eliminate 'reply to all' clutter, and could facilitate bringing a group together for a specific purpose.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

302

302 rhymes with Sanrio, sort of, in Chinese. Growing up in Taipei, my friends and I used to skip out of elementary school to ooh and aah at bright pink trinkets at 302 shops on every street corner. It's been at least a couple of decades since Hello Kitty's come up in conversation. I got all nostalgic when I saw the Sanrio name splashed across... a Concentric Hosting white paper, of all places.

Sanrio.com, the 12677th most popular site on the web (according to Alexa), is powered by Concentric's clustered hosting platform. Here, Sanrio has on-demand access to CPU resources, storage space and bandwidth. Concentric's custom-developed technology offers beyond a box scalability, software-based load balancing and DoS attack protection. The company's developers have even created a usage metering system that's compatible with any billing product on the market, a feature that Concentric resellers no doubt appreciate.

The question is, how synergistic is such a complex software development project with the hosting business? There's no economy of scale. Since 1997, Concentric has invested countless developer-hours into creating, maintaining and upgrading its proprietary platform, but the product is monetized only through its own customers' and resellers' hosting fees. In comparison, other web hosting providers generate similar revenue streams with little or no in-house development resources.

Barbara Branaman, Concentric's GM, says I'm comparing apples and oranges. There are many kinds of web hosting business models: some companies focus on leasing state of the art hardware. Other see systems administration services as their core competency. Still others are primarily in the web design business. Concentric sees its clustering technology - rather than its data center, hardware, bandwidth capacity, etc - as its core product.

I think she's right; I was taking a too-monolithic view of the web hosting market. Because there are many types of website owners as well: some want direct control over the biggest and baddest web servers (I hear EV1Servers' 'Monster Servers' have been selling well. Dual core dual Xeons, anyone? With 12 GB of RAM and 2.4 TB of SCSI hard drives??). Others would like to outsource everything - from development to sysadmin - to a vendor. And still others are interested only in a specific set of apps. Sanrio's priority was beyond the box scalability. They had a website that worked; they moved it from another web hosting provider to Concentric because they wanted automatic, on-demand access to resources.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Open Sunday

I'm thinking half-heartedly about buying a condo: not serious enough to get in touch with a broker, but when the weather is nice, I'll walk around the neighborhood and check out the open houses. Today there must have been 20 of them within a 3-block radius of my apartment. The problem is, the signs outside don't tell you much about the units for sale. Just now I saw a 250 square foot studio and a multi-million-dollar 3-bedroom.

So, where should buyers go to find out about open houses in their target neighborhoods? Realtor.com says there are 115 condos for sale in my zip code, but not which ones are available for public viewing today. Washington City Paper has 10 open houses listed in its classified section - that's for the whole city. But there are that many signs on my street alone. WashingtonPost.com is more like it: 49 open houses in NW Washington DC. But the list is sorted only by price, not by location.

Maybe buyers and sellers alike could use a repository of event-based rather than property-centric listings?

(a) Realtors and/or sellers submit listings for open houses

(b) Prospective buyer performs searches by specifying geography boundary, price and date/time range. Site outputs list of properties, calendar and map. (Have you seen how Trulia incorporates maps in its real estate searches?) Searches can be saved so that buyer receives updates of new listings.

(c) Buyer can sign up to receive follow ups from seller - or he can just show up/browse/leave anonymously. In either case, listing owner receives report of how many unique visitors have viewed his/her event.

Such a system would save buyers time by pinpointing opportunities to visit price/size-appropriate properties within their desired timeframe. It would also help sellers promote and track ROI from open house events. As for the business model... Motivated sellers could likely be persuaded to purchase enhanced listings. Realtors and mortgage companies might also be eager to capture the attention of buyers. Local businesses, too, could be interested in advertising to prospective new neighbors. Maybe?

UnClassifieds

Was reading this article in an old issue of Business 2.0. The future of e-commerce, it says, will be online classifieds. And heavy investment from Google and Microsoft in this arena will threaten eBay's long-term viability. Auctions are too complicated for most users, supposedly, and consumers prefer to buy locally. (eBay does own 25% of Craig's List, but the author dismisses it as not having adequate online payment/shopping search infrastructure, and not being eager to expand.)

Microsoft plans to launch a classified listing service (code-named Fremont) in mid-2006. It'll be tied in to MSN's mapping service, to help buyers and sellers pinpoint each other's locations. Google Base is "a place where you can post all types of content". Used cars, for example. There were 10 listings within 30 miles of my zip code; Google Base showed them on a map.

Traditional "stuff for sale" listings seem sort of drab, though, even when combined with maps. Someone ought to create a bi-lateral version of classifieds. Upon signup, users would specify their geographic location, list goods for sale AND request items they might be willing to buy. Let's say I'm looking for a cheap sofa. I could search for sellers within an X mile radius of my location, and the system would display possible matches on a map. I also have the option of

(a) Saving the search and receiving notification when appropriate items are added to the system

(b) OR, making my criteria (item/budget/location) available (on an anonymous basis, of course) to prospective sellers, who could seek me out and make me an offer

This could be a particularly useful tool for sellers who have a deadline (moving, leaving town, etc). They could search immediately for buyers in their vicinity, instead of taking time to list items without knowing whether there'd be any demand. What do you think?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Don't Say Cheese

Damian Saccocio put on a great show at MIT Enterprise Forum tonight. This guy's an awesome speaker, and he wants to save all those digital photos on your hard drive from gathering virtual dust. Send your vacation pics to DigitalShoeboxes ("DSB") and Damian will lay them out on a customized map - or turn them into a podcast.

The concept hasn't gathered B2C steam (at least not after a $500 ad campaign), but there's been some interest among retailers and tour operators. Damian's vision is to pitch his outsourced digital media production services to associations, meeting planners and popular birthday-party-venues like Chuck-E-Cheese.

I just checked out DSB's website, and I'm thinking Damian needs to generate some recurring revenue. DSB charges $10 - $150 for creating eCards, podcasts, Google Maps mashups and online albums. These one time fees seem to include ongoing storage for as many as 1500 photos. DSB's website is located at WestHost, where the highest-capacity web server costs $380/month and includes one 250 GB hard drive. As DSB expands its customer base, it will be no small burden to keep every single non-revenue-generating past project online. (As a point of reference, Flickr charges $25/year for keeping more than 200 photos on display.)

DSB could probably use an FAQ, too. A mashup of your photos is $14.99 - but where and how should you send your pictures/descriptions? What's the typical turnaround time? Would you be able to make changes down the line? No details are available on DSB's website. Damian's take was "we need some help on the tech side", but I see product definition as his main challenge. And while I initially agreed with Scott Frederick's (from Vahalla Partners) assessment that there may not be easily aggregatable B2B market segments for DSB's services, the situation seems more optimistic on second thought. Washington DC does have a large number of associations and a shiny new convention center. I'm still skeptical about Chuck-E-Cheese though.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

ISPCON

I'm moderating a panel on Virtual Private Servers (VPS) at ISPCON in Baltimore in May. Jon Price and Denise Miller from the Golden Group lined up quite an impressive group for the session. We'll have (in alphabetical order)...

* Barbara Branaman from XO/Concentric Hosting (offers proprietary VPS solution)
* Christian Dawson from ServInt (offers Virtuozzo)
* Harry Hollines from Verio (offers proprietary VPS solution)
* Ted Smith from Peer1 (does not offer VPS solutions)

I have mixed feelings about VPSes... On one hand, server virtualization (whereby one physical web server is sub-divided into multiple isolated, independently operating virtual environments) maximizes efficiency and scalability; the benefits are indisputable. Still, during my time at EV1Servers ("EV1"), I had a somewhat challenging experience with SWSoft's Virtuozzo (the market leading software that powered 300,000 virtual environments as of the end of 2005).

In late 2004, EV1 rolled out a beta program where 100 resellers each received a free web server with free Virtuozzo licenses. A small number of companies generated significant end user interest and immediately deployed additional servers. At the same time, both EV1's and many resellers' technical staff found the Virtuozzo learning curve steeper than expected. In fact, quite a few customers abandoned their free servers because the project distracted their team from existing business.

I'm curious to hear how VPSes fit into our panelists' business plans. Is it making its way towards revolutionizing multi-user data centers? Will it render the individual web server obsolete as a unit or sale? Or will falling hardware prices undermine its relevance? Join us and find out!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

More or Less

After almost 10 years in the web hosting industry, I'd gotten used to the idea that more is better. One-upping the competition means building data centers with more square footage and more GigE connections, and offering hosting plans with more disk space and more bandwidth. More advertising is also key. Bid more on Google Adwords and buy more ad pages in every magazine you can think of. 1&1 does, and according to Netcraft they're the world's second largest web host!

I've just finished reading Blue Ocean Strategy, though, and here the authors argue that more is... bad. When multiple companies try to make nearly identical products bigger/better/cheaper, consumers are encouraged to comparison-shop based on price, and profit margins plummet. Instead, look through a list of value propositions that you and your competitors share - what can you eliminate? For instance, take the money-losing circus business, get rid of expensive-to-maintain elephants and bears, add a dash of high culture, and voila! Cirque du Soleil has sold out Vegas shows at high ticket prices!

Rackshack's (now EV1Servers) 2001 success fits this pattern as well. Robert Marsh created a mass market for dedicated web servers by eliminating customizable hardware configs and adding automated instant setup. He offered Cobalt RaQs and only Cobalt RaQs at a standard $99/month price - and was flooded with business even during the dotcom bust. More recently, EV1's private racks program became another Blue Ocean case study (disclaimer: I used to manage it): give users isolated hosting environments with dedicated switches - but modify the traditional 'bring your own equipment' colo model. Instead, offer a selection of EV1 hardware they could lease. Phones have been ringing off the hook: less upfront cap ex for customers, and more recurring revenue for EV1. What could be better?

So... what will be the next web hosting money maker? The winning concept these days seems to be web hosting without web hosting. Take a quick poll the next time you're at a Starbuck's or the dry cleaner's: how many of the folks in line have a web hosting account? I'll bet a good number of them don't even know what web hosting is. And yet these same people might have profiles on MySpace, or photo albums on Flickr, or resumes on Linkedin, or backup space on Box.net, etc. Could they be persuaded to build their own websites and consolidate all these functions on theirname.com? I think not. But... as cool tools proliferate, might users be interested in a web-based dashboard from which they could manage logins, view stats and display select content from multiple sources?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

It's Directory Year!

Strange but true: every THIRD year, the MIT Club of DC publishes a PAPER directory of local alums and sends copies via snail mail to members. Does your college/MBA program/law school do that too? The answer is yes in too many cases - and how much sense does that make??

People who've gone to the same school generally feel some degree of affinity towards one another - yes? And we're willing to share contact info because we think there might be some benefit in networking with fellow alums. In which case, what we need instead of school-specific paper directories is a cross between Facebook and Linkedin.

While 85% of college students are on Facebook, it has limited off-campus reach. I was the 9th person from MIT's class of 1994 to sign up for a profile. But what's cool about the site is, users are welcomed into a built-in community upon signup (all students/alums within the same school automatically have access to each other). I think that's been key to the site's mass adoption.

In contrast, Linkedin focuses on the grown-up, out on the job market, demographic. Life is tougher in the real world. No ready-made community awaits. Instead, you build your contact list through one-on-one invites. For me, at least, that's been a significant usage barrier.

I'm envisioniong a middle ground on which...

(a) Every user automatically belongs to one or more open communities, depending on where he/she attended college/grad school

(b) Users might also have the option of joining geographic and special interest sub-communities. Biotech researchers in Boston? Snowboarders in New York?

(c) Meetup/eVite-type features could be incorporated to help users/sponsors organize and promote online/in-person social/professional events. Chicago happy hour for MIT graduates of the last decade? Microsoft recruitment dinner for Minneapolis-based users with computer science degrees? Roche webcast for any user who's indicated an interest in cancer research?

The primary incentive for users to sign up is immediate and automatic access to a social and professional network, consisting of people with whom they have a shared educational background. And the greatest selling point for advertisers is a highly educated - and therefore reasonably affluent and technology savvy - audience. The online/offline combination, in particular, could make for some very compelling sponsorship programs. Think this could work?