Secondlife for Pets?

I came across the most amazing phenomenon recently and it’s called Webkinz. It’s a fuzzy little stuffed pet that has a virtual life. Each fuzzy being comes with a unique code that can be used only once and allows you access to the pet’s home on the Internet ie. webkinz site for 12months. You can renew your access for additional fees. Each pet has a unique name and personality. Moreover, it can interact and compete against other pets in online tournaments.

You start off with 1500 webkinz money or kinzcash, which you can use to buy clothes, food, and even additional rooms for your pet in the Webkinz world. You can win more kinzcash by playing trivia and other arcade games (fun!). Although, this site is geared towards children 5years and above, it’s just as addictive as for kids of all ages (like myself).

I think it’s a brilliant concept where you are extending the life of a plain-vanilla stuffed animal by giving it a virtual second-life. The parent company Ganz generates revenue from sale of the toy itself and fees for extending the life of your pet. Another source of revenue could potentially be tie-ups with large CPG companies, so pet owners can buy branded products for their virtual pets. Hmm..my bunny would really look cute in a Juicy Couture tee.

Amazon shipping for eBay sellers?

NY Times reports that Amazon.com will now offer order fulfillment services to independent sellers.

Amazon.com, the online retailer, is expanding a program designed to allow independent sellers to use its network of distribution centers to store and ship their products, according to Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive.

Bezos also says,

We have this beautiful, elegant, high-I.Q. part of our business that we have been working hard on for many years,” he said. “We’ve gotten good at it. Why not make money off it another way?”

This move makes a lot of sense for the Internet retailer who has developed expertise in online fulfillment systems over the years and until recently managed order fulfillment for well-known brick and mortar shops like Toys R’ Us and Borders, who have since parted ways with Amazon. While the company still manages online shipping and order fulfillment for Target, the void left by the departing retail giants could potentially be filled by revenues from smaller independent sellers.

According to Techfold, Amazon Fulfillment works in four steps:

    1. Send your inventory to Amazon
    2. Amazon warehouses it
    3. Amazon fulfills it – finding it, packing it, combining it with other items, and shipping it
    4. Amazon manages customer service (returns)

While some small sellers are optimistic about using Amazon’s vast infrastructure for their shipping needs, not all are biting.

For two and a half years, John Brown of Lafayette, Ind., has sold rare books and educational audio and video programs on sites like Amazon, eBay’s Half.com and his own site, Shelfmasters.com. To handle orders, he rents a 4,400-square-foot warehouse and employs two full-time workers.

Shifting fulfillment to Amazon’s warehouses would save him $2,000 a month in rent and utilities for his warehouse, he estimates. But Mr. Brown has held back so far, in part because Amazon does not yet let Fulfillment by Amazon’s customers in the United States ship their products internationally, or by overnight delivery.

He is also bothered by the use of brown Amazon.com boxes for the merchandise he sells on the other e-commerce sites. “My other selling sites are not going to think well of that,” he said, because it could lead to consumer confusion. “And it’s not like I can afford to anger those other sources.”

These other ‘sources’ could very well include eBay. In addition, some smaller businesses are also wary about competition from Amazon itself during peak holiday times, when priority may be given to Amazon’s internal orders. Analysts who cover Amazon aren’t very excited either and some question if diverting resources away from core business is a wise move.

Expanding the fulfillment program to include non-Amazon sellers “almost suggests they are so confident with their core business that they can expend resources and management time on this,” said Safa Rashtchy, an analyst with the investment bank Piper Jaffray & Company. “But the core challenges have never been larger. To some degree this is a distraction.”

Whether or not, Amazon has worked out the kinks in its system and whether it can cost-effectively manage this expansion to include independent additional sellers remains to be seen.

Why Web 2.0 bashers are …

If you’ve been here before, you have already read my counterpoints to Charlie’s Top 10 reasons why Web 2.0 sucks.

Ok, so we have established one thing, I am definitely not one of the ‘most people’ who reads Charlie’s blog. I commented on his points based solely on the merits of his argument. His credentials are no doubt impressive, but I don’t make it a habit of studying people’s bio before I comment on their posts. I probably should. I could’ve (should’ve) used a different word, but ‘wrong’ just doesn’t have the same ring as ‘clueless’. No offense meant.

Thanks to Charlie for the counter-points to my counter-points, being a good sport, and providing much-needed inspiration for my post :)
Note: You can read Charlie’s complete response right below my counterpoints.
Alrighty, here are my counter-points to his counter-points to my counter-points to Charlie’s original post (phew),
- "Plus, our laws about decency and privacy only really serve to make the indecent seem more vile…  Do you know how many people wrote into the NFL about Janet Jackson’s boob scarring their kids?  I mean… how ridiculous is that?  Rules should not be made by the government about how people dress."
I wish there was a law against people dressing unfashionably, but that’s just me :) But seriously, people have a right to be indignant. I don’t think there’s anything’s wrong with folks writing to NFL. It’s healthy to have an opinion, but someone has to decide what’s acceptable and what’s not. In the Web 2.0 world, those limits haven’t been set yet. Kathy Sierra (and the death threats against her ) is a prime example of the abuse of freedom of expression. The debate is still on, who decides what’s okay and not okay especially in the online social networking world.
"the tools that make it possible and easy have just recently been created. Remember the days of static html pages?! That wasn’t that long ago…"
1, not true… online social networking is 10 years old…  Remember searching member profiles in AOL?   2.  Static html works just fine for Craigslist, no?
What was missing then is the ease of interaction that is possible today, ‘searching’ is not the same as being able to debate/share/collaborate.
"not every company is looking to capture the Idaho or Wisconsin (no offense) market"   
MySpace does a fine job of tackling that market and if you’re looking to create value, you need to hit the mainstream.
There are some tools/sites that will never go mainstream and one does not have to go mainstream to create value. You can create value and cater to a niche market segment. I consider, trying to go mainstream is akin to commoditizing, trying to be everything to everyone. So my question here is – what are you defining as mainstream? And why does MySpace have to go mainstream instead of figuring out how to monetize the existing user base?
"It’s saying that if you are going to fund…say Modern art…you should be an artist yourself."   
No… actually… its like saying if you talk about art, you should have gone to a museum at least once.  Case in point, internet radio licensing.  Diane Feinstein thinks that setting equal music play costs across all digital mediums is "fair".  Of course, these rates don’t apply to radio.  Do you think she’s ever listened to an internet radio station…tried last.fm?  She’s creating laws for things the prob doesn’t even use.  That’s bad.
I have already answered this one, and I will repeat it here again – Sure, I can understand why one should have a good understanding of the business, but just because one is a great  blogger and/or has a cool MySpace profile, doesn’t make him/her an expert in understanding business models and valuations.
In other words, understanding how blogging works and how to monetize it, is not the same as being a savvy blogger yourself.
Same goes for your latest example, does Feinstein listen to Internet radio all the time? Who cares.
Does she understand how this media is consumed, the consumers, and the revenue model? She’d better.
"Web 2.0 gets…gets blamed for data-issues like privacy"   
Really?  Because the last 10 stories I heard about privacy leaks were not Web 2.0 companies… it was old school financial services players like banks.
That’s exactly my point, I couldn’t understand why this was part of your ‘Web 2.0 sucks’ commentary. I agree, these are real challenges but it’s going to take much more than Web 2.0 to resolve these. And there’s no reason to think that some entrepreneur somewhere isn’t already thinking of ways to leverage Web 2.0 to address some of these.
As far as the NBC-Fox comment goes, I am not a big-media-company fan, and you can read my rants here – http://marketingmystic.typepad.com/marketing_mystic/2007/03/new_network_by_.html
—————-
Charlie’s response:
On 4/27/07, CEO <charlie> wrote:

Ok, so most of the people who read the post realize that I’m not a "Web 2.0 Basher".  I was an analyst for Union Square Ventures (we funded del.icio.us) and now I’m a product manager for an avatar company.  I teach two classes at Fordham… an undergraduation course called "Management for the MySpace Generation" and a graduate MBA course called "Intro to Business Blogging". 

So, I don’t think its quite appropriate to call me "clueless"…   

The post was meant to, and was successful at, starting conversation.   Most people who read that realized that.

And now I’ll counter your counter points…

"For example, you like to walk around naked because you believe that clothes inhibit your ability to express yourself fully. The problem is that nobody else wants to see you naked, hence the need to lay down rules."

- I don’t like seeing naked old guys at the gym, but there’s no law against that.  So what exactly is the difference between seeing naked old men at the gym and seeing them in public?  I don’t like seeing naked old men anywhere, but clearly there are inconsistant rules about this sort of stuff.. just as there are inconsistant rules about freedom of speech… rules manipulated for political reasons often times.  Plus, our laws about decency and privacy only really serve to make the indecent seem more vile…  Do you know how many people wrote into the NFL about Janet Jackson’s boob scarring their kids?  I mean… how ridiculous is that?  Rules should not be made by the government about how people dress. 

"the tools that make it possible and easy have just recently been created. Remember the days of static html pages?! That wasn’t that long ago…"

1, not true… online social networking is 10 years old…  Remember searching member profiles in AOL?   2.  Static html works just fine for Craigslist, no?

"not every company is looking to capture the Idaho or Wisconsin (no offense) market"   

MySpace does a fine job of tackling that market and if you’re looking to create value, you need to hit the mainstream.

"VCs and big companies are not paying for the tools or features, they are paying big bucks for the huge traffic."

Actually, many VCs are funding companies before they have any traffic whatsoever.   And traffic is not what people pay for.  Traffic can be bought… it is usage that you can’t buy. I could buy traffic to YouTube, I just can’t incentivize video creation in the same way.

"While the big media companies loathe the idea of some joe schmoe enjoying their content without paying for it, the Web 2.0-enabled sharing of legal and illegal content has forced them to adopt the…OMG..FREE content-sharing platforms."

Are you serious?  NBC-Fox is not a win for anyone…   Do you really think they’re going to come up with an implementation as good as YouTube… and even YouTube still does not connect to my TV.  So far, all of the network approaches to this have not allowed the embedding of these clips anywhere.  They want to keep you in their site.

"Web 2.0 gets…gets blamed for data-issues like privacy"   

Really?  Because the last 10 stories I heard about privacy leaks were not Web 2.0 companies… it was old school financial services players like banks.

"It’s saying that if you are going to fund…say Modern art…you should be an artist yourself."   

No… actually… its like saying if you talk about art, you should have gone to a museum at least once.  Case in point, internet radio licensing.  Diane Feinstein thinks that setting equal music play costs across all digital mediums is "fair".  Of course, these rates don’t apply to radio.  Do you think she’s ever listened to an internet radio station…tried last.fm?  She’s creating laws for things the prob doesn’t even use.  That’s bad.

Why Web 2.0 bashers are clueless

I was inspired by Charlie’s rant – Top 10 reasons why Web 2.0 sucks. I think, Web 2.0 gets idolized to the point of ludicrity or gets blamed for everything under the sun, including depletion of the ozone layer..okay not that..but Charlie came real close. He raises some very interesting points and I disagree with all of them :)

The finger pointing culture of fear will always dominate a culture of openness. Media thrives on taking people down and creating a general fear of the worst possible outcome.  Whether it’s trying enact anti-MySpace laws or firing everyone who says a dirty word or two, until we hold our noses and fully embrace freedom of expression in this country, we’re going to hold back the real potential of the internet as a medium of conversation and open exchange.  Everyone will be too scared to publish anything thought provoking for fear of being stoned by glass house dwellers.

We will never "fully" embrace freedom of expression whether it’s online or offline, because that’s unrealistic. The problem with ‘full expression’ is that it can (and many times) it does infringe on someone else’s rights. For example, you like to walk around naked because you believe that clothes inhibit your ability to express yourself fully. The problem is that nobody else wants to see you naked, hence the need to lay down rules. In the online world, the same rules apply. Say, you use your blog to threaten people, if the people you threaten don’t like it, they will try to find a way to to stop you. Expressing yourself is a wonderful thing, but living in a ‘civilized’ (using that term very loosely) society  means that you should be mindful of other’s rights (even if they are big-bad-companies) and that’s healthy. We still haven’t figured out the rules for operating in a Web 2.0 world and that’s called growing pains.

2. The thinking, not just the building, has gotten small and lightweight…  Too many people building  features, not applications, or, gasp, companies.  People are confusing design with innovation. Just because you add AJAX and rounded boxes to something does mean you have innovated.

I agree, a tool doesn’t make a company, but innovation is in the eye of the beholder. Social networking has been around for a long time, but the tools that make it possible and easy have just recently been created. Remember the days of static html pages?! That wasn’t that long ago…

Web 2.0 hasn’t even come close to breaking open the carrier choked mobile world.  E-mail and WAP?  That’s what I’m paying unlimited data for?  Come on.  We can do better than this.

Amen, we can do better than that…but come on, let’s not blame Web 2.0 for everything…what’s next global warming?

Web 2.0 is a conversational vacuum. I’ll prove it.  Unless you live in the Valley, walk outside your door and try to find a Twitter user… You’ve got six hours.  Go.  Trust me, we’re talking to ourselves.  (Don’t get me wrong…  I really like Twitter…  We just need to remind ourselves about how close to the edge we all are out here.)

The reason, the Valley is in a bubble most (if not all) of the time is because it is home to the innovators and early adopters. This is the best place in the world to get your new idea tested and funded. That does NOT mean your idea is going to make it big outside that "door", but being funded does help your chances of making it past the chasm and towards mass-adoption. Mind you, not every company is looking to capture the Idaho or Wisconsin (no offense) market. Some markets will probably never be penetrated and there’s a very good reason why :)

Spelling and grammr (beta)  have gone to hell in a handbasket.  I’m in ur domainz, droppin’ ur vowelz.

I refuze tu commant.

M&A Wack-a-mole stopping innovation in its tracks…  Dodgeball, del.icio.us, MyBlogLog…   Some of the most innovative startups have been swallowed into the black holes of big companies, abruptly halting their innovation paths.  Unless we get some more robust business models, some more risk seeking entrepreneurs,  maybe a real IPO market, most of Web 2.0 is going to wind up becoming the corporate walking dead of long forgotten or poorly understood acquisitions.  Consumers suffer when entrepreneurs won’t make a go of it on their own and make a bigger impact on their online experience.  (Pleasant exceptions being the  Office-like apps at Google…)

VCs and big companies are not paying for the tools or features, they are paying big bucks for the huge traffic. Innovation has and always been fostered at smaller companies, go figure! Small entrepreneurial companies innovate, and then they either become really big, really fast, or they get eaten up by the big sharks…um…I mean big companies, that’s just how the world works…sad but true.

Content licensing is still a bottleneck.  Web 2.0 is all about people and sharing, two things that music and video content owners don’t seem to be big fans of.  For now, much of what we share is illegal or user generated.  Freely shareable stuff probably makes up about 2% of the millions of hours of content ever created professionally.  I’d like to blog a clip from the A-Team…  Not only can I not access it easily, I can’t clip it easily, and I sure as hell can’t publish it legally.   Yet, no one current monetizes it on the web, so it just sits and collects digital dust.

While the big media companies loathe the idea of some joe schmoe enjoying their content without paying for it, the Web 2.0-enabled sharing of legal and illegal content has forced them to adopt the…OMG..FREE content-sharing platforms. Case-in-point, being the NBC-Fox announcement. So in the end, it’s a win-win for the consumer.

The really juicy data will always remain locked up…    I’d very much like to be able to share my purchases, particularly restaurants, at my own discretion.  Of course, that data is at Mastercard, and I think I’ll start wearing "I love the RIAA" shirts before Mastercard starts creating personal RSS feeds or APIs for users to take their own financial data to various applications.  The same with my credit history.  I need to sign up for lots of junk mail to get a credit report… and don’t even get me started on my own medical history. 

I like the idea of having control of my own data and having personal RSS feeds would be cool. I wonder what the cost for implementing a personalized RSS feed would be for a company like MasterCard? I think the reason Web 2.0 gets bashed a lot is because it gets blamed for data-issues like privacy, portability etc. These are real challenges but it’s going to take much more than Web 2.0 to resolve these.

A lot of powerful people don’t participate.  How many VC’s out there fund widget companies without having a blog or a MySpace profile?  Any Sony bloggers out there?  What about brand managers that want to do Second Life campaigns without ever having been inside.  How about my elected representatives?  They get out there and kiss babies during election time, but how many blogging elected officials are there?  (And not watered down campaign blogs… actual blogs written by the actual people.)  We could do great things if we weren’t so segregated into a small gro
up of people punch drunk on Kool Aid and a great deal of people who’ve never even heard of Kool Aid. 

This is the real bubble-talk. It’s saying that if you are going to fund…say Modern art…you should be an artist yourself. Blogging is a relatively new media and not everyone can be a savvy blogger. All the top-runners for the presidential race have a MySpace page. That’s a start but it remains to be seen, how much of an impact their online social networking is going to have on the votes. Sure, I can understand why one should have a good understanding of the business, but just because one is a great  blogger and/or has a cool MySpace profile, doesn’t make him/her an expert in understanding business models and valuations.

MySpace is the most popular social network. Seriously, is this the best we can do?  Spam, hacking, viruses, one song at a time, and no developer network or API?  Facebook is such a better product, but it’s really pretty limited as a self expression tool.  Plus, neither really comes close to being able to be my digital home on the web as much as my blog is.   

I am not sure who ‘we’ refers to. The people have spoken, millions and millions of them and they like MySpace. It’s naive to think that the best product always win, that’s geek-talk. In the end, the consumers decide who wins and who loses. I think MySpace sucks, the UI is horrible and I can’t wait for a new platform that combines the best features of the current popular socializing sites. With any new technology, one has to put up with the clunky first-editions. I have no doubt, as the technology (and developers) mature, we’ll see more sophisticated derivatives of Web 2.0 sites and also more judicious use of Web 2.0 features on traditional sites.

Bottomline, Web 2.0 tools aren’t magical and they are not going to solve all our problems. Web 2.0 is still in its infancy and yet to realize its full potential. There are going to be many hiccups until this ‘phenomenon’ gets to the stage, where all the kinks have been worked out, sound business models vetted, and it has been milked for it’s worth. And once we reach that stage, it will probably be time to move on to the next big thing…

MySpace dating pitfalls

Last week, I blogged about my friend Dave’s experience on dating via MySpace, here’s our friend Elif’s take on dating scene on the same popular site:

I definitely don’t use it (MySpace) for dating. As you can see from my profile, I accept just about anyone who wants to add me as a "friend," and I tend to get a lot of random messages on there, I ignore nearly all of them. There are far too many weirdos out there.

With MySpace, it’s so easy for people to create a persona that is attractive, popular, fun, etc. You never really know if the person’s profile is the truth or not, so actually going out on a date or even engaging in email conversation with a MySpace random is much too risky. That’s why I just use MySpace for fun and to link back up with old friends. I have been able to reconnect with many old high school, college and even elementary school friends on it.

I think what Elif is alluding to are the classic pitfalls of online dating. How do you know the person’s really who he says who he/she is.

I looked at Michael Stone’s free dating site over the weekend- www.kickbackworld.com. I think all dating/socializing sites should consider the following questions (among many others) – What does your site offer that others don’t? What kind of safeguards do you have in place to screen out the whackos? How user-friendly is your UI?

In the end, it all comes down to your positioning related to other dating sites out there and how successful you are in attracting the ‘influencers’. The popularity of any social site depends on the ‘network effect’ or simply put, how many people are using your site. Of course, more in this case is better, unless your site can’t handle the traffic.

Women tend to be more discerning about where they socialize online and men seem not to care as much.Here’s Elif’s take on the contrasting attitudes between the men and women:

It’s probably because guys are usually the “hunter” and MySpace is another weapon or bait of choice.

I think attracting (attractive) women is key to the success of any social (dating) website, which is true of any real-time dating scene as well. If there are attractive women, it is pretty much a given that men will come :-)

SV New Tech (Web 2.0) Meetup

Last week, I was at the Silicon Valley New Tech meetup. First of all, I can’t stop raving about the Meetup site, which is a great way to connect with other like-minded folks. The site lets you put together groups and organize events. Very neat concept and definitely one of the top Web 2.0 sites out there.

The SV New Tech meetup is a great place to see demos of the latest technologies and these days, that typically means Web 2.0 technologies. The group founder, Vincent Lauria (Vinnie) has done a phenomenal job lining up the coolest technologies in the valley, so it’s no wonder these events are quickly sold out with over 130 attendees at the last meetup.

Here are three new technology ventures featured in the last meetup:

* linksviewer.com – mapping the social capital of the venture capital [Bradley Cohen]

LinkSViewer is (as the name suggests) a viewer. It graphically shows you the links/relationships between the various movers and shakers in the Silicon Valley – who’s funding which company, which VCs are connected to which IPOs etc. It’s basically a mashup that uses data from LinkSV and maps it to show the various networks and relationships connecting the various nodes in the database.

Very cool, but there is no compelling value proposition ie. why would someone pay to use it? The company is still working on its revenue model, which most likely will be subscription. I think the figure mentioned was $50/month. The company is also exploring more uses for its technology. It can work with any database and although, LinkSViewer would love to get their hands on Linkedin database, it seems Linkedin is very protective of its member database, as they should be.

* wrike.com – project management 2.0 – Get Things Done [Andrew Filev]

Wrike is a web-based project management system, which makes it easy to collaborate on projects without having to download any software. Positioned as halfway between Bootcamp and MS project by founder, Andrew Filev, this project management technology has a lot of potential. It’s simple to use and currently, it’s free but that can soon change, once Wrike figures out its sweet spot.

* diigo.com – social annotiation, share your corner of the web [Wade Ren]

Although, founder Wade Ren did have some technical difficulties with his presentation, I thought  Diigo was the coolest tool of all. It has received tremendous amounts of publicity and has clearly positioned itself as top research tool. Diigo allows users to bookmark, highlight, add sticky notes to interesting information online and share it with others. Currently, Diigo is free to all users but in future, the revenue model will be a mix of ad-supported services, supplemented by subscription-based premium services.

Dating in Web 2.0 World

Okay, so we talked about what’s coming down the pipeline for flirting, let’s talk good ol’ fashioned dating. Social networking sites like MySpace, FaceBook, Orkut are giving the traditional online dating sites a run for the money.

eMarketer says,

..the success of MySpace and Facebook has invigorated the market for social networking sites targeting people beyond the high school and college crowds…60% of MySpace users are now 25 and older.

My friend Dave, a 40year old athlete, artist, and successful marketer, recently went on a date with someone who found him on MySpace. His MySpace account has some very cool pictures, his profile, his favorite music, links to his friends, activities, and so on.

Many of my single friends in the age group 30+ find online dating sites tacky. Sites like MySpace are very appealing because they make it easier to meet like-minded singletons without the expectations associated with the traditional dating channels.

AP reports,

In some ways, having a social networking page, or pages, has become the new calling card. It’s a way for people to check out photos and find out what they have in common, even when they’ve already met in person.

That was the case for Brad White, a 23-year-old recent college grad in Chicago, who met his current girlfriend through friends at a bar and immediately looked her up on Facebook. "The commonality of our music taste and friends is what prompted me to ask her out," White says, "obviously, besides the attraction."

Having something (in common) to talk about definitely helps in that all-awkward first meeting  and increases the likelihood for a successful long-term relationship. But as my friend Dave says, there’s no pressure and even if it doesn’t work out, so what…you might still end up with someone interesting to hang out with.

John Moore asks what must Starbucks do?

In February, John Moore, a former marketing guru at Starbucks, enlisted the help of his Brand Autopsy blog readers and Starbucks customers to suggest ways in which Starbucks can do to reclaim its uniqueness. At the heart of this passionate discussion was the highly-publicized leaked memo from Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz, who expressed concern about "commoditization of the Starbucks brand".

Growing revenues while staying true to your core is challenging for any company, especially for companies under the intense scrutiny of Wall Street. Given my passion for B2B marketing, I typically stay away from consumer products but John’s blog is as addictive as his caffeine-laced projects (perhaps more) and the discussion topics are very intriguing, so I decided to contribute my $.02 as well.

Here is a link to John’s eBook "What Must Starbucks do", which is a compilation of ideas from readers recommending changes that Starbucks must make in order to "reclaim its soul".

Enjoy!

Some interesting Web 2.0 links

If you are like me, you are always looking for useful information, so I decided to post these links to some articles that I found very interesting.

Here’s an interesting article on "How to Leverage Web 2.0 & Social Media Sites to Market Your Brand & Control Your Message" at SEOmoz.

Here’s a link to their last year’s Web 2.0 awards.

Dan Taylor has done a brilliant analysis on how Social media is maturing and put together a comprehensive list of niche social networking sites, at his Fabric of Folly blog.

Enjoy!