Tag Archives: social

Solving for Snapchat’s Declining User Growth: A New Podcast

Julie Zhou, former director of growth at Yik Yak, and I spent some time discussing Snapchat’s declining user growth now that it is public, what its causes might be, and what we’d tried to do if we were in charging of improving it. You can check it out below or read the summary here.

The iTunes link is here, and here is the Soundcloud link for email readers.

Currently listening to Chnoiseries Pt. 3 by Onra.

Online News is Broken, or A Brief History of Online News and a Startup That’s Re-inventing It

I am not a news expert. For most of my life, I never cared for the news. So, there are probably details below that are wrong or over-simplified. Consider that a caveat. Once I started working for a startup, news began to have value. It was the only way to learn about a growing industry. And it presented opportunities startups could seize before others became aware of them. So, now I care about the news. The problem is that the news sucks. It really does.

The way we receive and share news online is wrong. But it’s not our fault. All the main ways to receive and share newsworthy content have fundamental flaws. Now, I won’t take this space to rail on blog culture and how it’s a 100 articles a day of recycled press release garbage (I could, but I won’t). Instead, I’ll make the argument that I think we’re all going to have to accept that news is going to be the way it is for some time to come. That is, at a fast and furious pace, without a lot of context, and largely filled with what companies want to get out instead of what they don’t want to get out. As Rocky Agrawal said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Quality news is like luxury airlines. If there was a market for it, it’d already exist.” With acknowledgement of that fact comes responsibility. If not the New York Times or TechCrunch, who is going to provide the context we need to make news more actionable and educational? No, the answer should not be MSNBC or Fox News. The answer is that it has to come from us, the readers.

This makes sense, right? One could argue the internet’s main disruption is its empowerment of the individual. And many individuals do provide context to the news in a way that is meaningful. Popular bloggers provide context to news all the time. In my industry, this certainly happened during the recent tech IPO’s, from Rocky Agrawal’s trashing of Groupon’s IPO in a completely analytical way to Mark Cuban’s defense or Facebook’s IPO to Bill Gurley’s examination of LinkedIn’s successful IPO.

But, as you can probably tell, these kinds of interpretations of key pieces of news are rare, and the exception. Most news gets posted and forgotten without any interpretation at all. Yet, a correct interpretation is where all of the value of news is in a professional context. If you can’t answer “what does this mean to me?”, then it wasn’t worth reading it. Further complicating the problem is the abundance of news and news sources today. What publications and bloggers should you read? Which articles from them? These questions are left up to you to figure out.

Before we dig deeper into the current problem, let’s do an extremely simplified (and in many ways, probably wrong) history of online news…

Online News Phase 1: Professional Curation of Content

In the early web, most people received news from newspaper sites like Chicago Tribune or portals like Yahoo. Content was surfaced to users the same way it was before the internet; an editor decided what was important. Users read what looked interesting, and went on their way. Content contained various levels of depth and context. Some of it was high quality, and some of it was just timely.

Online News Phase 2: Crowd-sourced Content

With the rise of blogging, a technology that existed for years but suddenly exploded in usage with the emergence of easy publishing tools like Blogger in 1999 and WordPress in 2003, editor-curated content suddenly had competition from thousands of non-professional, news-focused blogs, which were focused less on depth of content and more speed of delivery. Portals and news sites needed to adjust and did, using their capabilities to re-work the editorial cycle so that by the time their articles were published, they weren’t already “old news”. Content with more depth and research was de-prioritized. Blogs also provided opportunities for the community comment on stories, but comments stayed at the bottom of blogs and were public, but not easily share-able.

Online News Phase 3: Crowd-sourced Curation

With the rise of so many more potential news sources online, it became harder to find the right content to view. Quickly, the internet responded to this problem. Digg launched in 2004 to help users share and discover the best content. Digg was primarily a vehicle to keep up with the latest and greatest news, and featured a home page that showed the most submitted stories from Digg users. Reddit launched soon after with its mission to be the “front page of the internet”. More news surfaced and was shared than ever before.

Online News Phase 4: Social Networking

Digg and Reddit exploded in popularity among the tech elite, but became closed doors in a way to less savvy internet users. These sites formed tight-knit communities and gamed algorithms to provide certain content an extreme amount of visibility while most content stayed completely hidden. This was great for superstar bloggers in technology and politics, but felt impenetrable for quality writers not as devoted to building networks or writing about the latest technology fads. It also juxtaposed political news with funny internet .gifs, creating a confusing experience for a normal person that lacked direction.

In 2006, Twitter emerged, and combined easy publishing and curation into one format, with some lightweight commenting as well. With only 140 characters max, content was concise and easily digestible. No need to set up a blog. It took seconds to sign up and post. Twitter also easily allowed you to build a network where you could follow other users to see their content and easily comment back and forth. You curate your own feed of users and news, and don’t have to rely on Digg power-users.

Twitter has its problems as well though. With only 140 characters, most news is shared just as a link, with no context at all. This is no better than Digg or Reddit were. Again, a ton of news is shared, but very little is discussed.

Online News Phase 5: Crowd-sourced/Social Context?

So, what’s the next phase for online news? Well, I certainly hope, and will make the argument it will be, crowd-sourced context. Crowd-sourced context means that the meaning of the news and its importance will be derived and examined by its readers, and communicated for everyone else to enjoy in an ongoing conversation. Our immediate reactions to stories should go from our heads to a feedback loop on the news that is immediately shared with others. They should be recorded and contribute to an enhanced understanding of the news and its importance. Enter Quibb. Quibb is a new website where users share what they are reading for work and comment on what their colleagues are reading. It offers an easy way to discuss news with colleagues outside of the traditional blog comment environment, and catalogs all of this into a stream of noteworthy articles for your job. In the future, I can see this being the de facto way people catch up on news in their industry as it’s curated by you and your peers and you get the context for why people think these articles are noteworthy.

Why is crowd-sourced context the future? Well, as described above, the main ways we share and comment on news are broken. Commenting on blogs is something most people won’t do out of some sort of fear, but even if they did, those comments are only heard by people who scroll to the bottom of the page. Unless your peers go to that page, they have no idea you read this article and posted a response. Twitter is broken in another way; it only gives you enough space to really just post the link to an article. You get no context, and no opinion of why the person tweeted it. Digg and Reddit surface the most popular news content, but seem completely impenetrable for non-geeks, and again, lack discussion. Sites focusing on crowd-sourced context can deliver the news that’s important to you, why it’s important, and can make sure your team or your peers read the same thing and can also contribute to why that news is important. Comments could be public or only shared to your network.

Note: Quibb is in invite-only mode, but you can apply for membership via me to get a speedy acceptance.

My Building Internet Startups Class Final Presentation: Cartogram

For Brad Keywell and Eric Lefkofsky’s Building Internet Startups class at the University of Chicago, each student was asked to build a 5-10 page presentation for a new startup idea. Out of the 100 students in the class, seven were selected to be presented in front of the class. Mine was one of the seven chosen. See it below.

Track Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself, or How To Track Your Brand Online

In my various rounds of speaking engagements on social media with my partner in crime Amy Le, I have been including a slide on general brand tracking/monitoring. This slide always receives a bunch of questions, so I am posting this how-to online so anyone can figure out how to track mentions of their brand anywhere and everywhere on the internet. Now, if you’re frugal, there isn’t one great system to compile every possible mention of a keyword across the internet. But if you use about four different ones, you can get everything.


This is probably the section most people know how to do already, but it is where the most mentions originate, so I still include it first. Thanks to Twitter’s home page redesign, most users know they can search Twitter and see all mentions of a brand or keyword. Well, what if you don’t want to keep refreshing Twitter all day? Applications exist for all mobile and desktop platforms to notify you when new comments mentioning your brand or any keywords you want to track exist. My favorite of the free platforms is Tweetdeck, though Seesmic is pretty similar. Tweetdeck in particular also pulls in data from Facebook, Foursquare, and LinkedIn related to your accounts on those platforms, but is not able to scan data mentioning your brand on them due to the lack of public availability. Tweetdeck and Seesmic are available as desktop applications that can be hidden in your tray until you receive a notification as well as all mobile devices. Reply to people if it makes sense and retweet some complimentary remarks.

One note here: Neither Tweetdeck not Seesmic will remain free forever. It’s important to note that there are other players in the space that already charge and may be better suited for your more aggregate monitoring needs, such as SproutSocial, HootSuite, Radian6, et al. This post focuses on free apps, but want to make sure you keep this in mind.

Tweetdeck Search for GrubHub


I know what you’re thinking. People still use forums? Hell yeah they do, and you should know what people are saying about you on them. BoardReader allows you to search all forums for mentions of your brand. What makes BoardReader even more invaluable is the fact that you can subscribe to searches so any time a new mention occurs you are automatically notified. Just perform a search and click the “See Tools…” link at the top to subscribe. My personal preference is RSS (no, it’s not dead), but setting up a personalized home page isn’t a bad idea either. Jump in the conversation if you want, but do it respectfully and don’t hide your connection to your brand.

Blog Posts

There are numerous blog search sites. The important thing to remember is that all of them are good besides Google’s. My personal choice is Icerocket. Just do a search and click the Results RSS link on the left. Pop that into your RSS Reader or personalized home page and you’re set.


In reverse of my section on blog posts, Google News actually works pretty well here. Just search your brand and find the RSS link at the very bottom of the page. Rinse and repeat on the RSS Reader or personalized home page.


If you’re asking yourself what are backlinks, well, you should learn some SEO. Backlinks are the most important part of search engines’s algorithm. They determine the authority of your website. SEOMoz has a great post on using Yahoo! Pipes to track new backlinks.

Now, all of this can be applied to your competition, so if that’s important, replicate these suggestions with your competitors’ brand names for competitive research.

So, now that you know how to track it, what are people saying about you?

Don’t Be Social Until You’ve Grown Up A Little

I’ve been meeting with a lot of people lately that are launching their own web businesses and hearing about even more. Naturally, they get very excited about what the site’s going to look like, all of the features it’s going to have, etc. There’s just one problem. Their site isn’t live yet. And it doesn’t have a launch date. I’d be much more impressed by them if I could see something, anything really. Reid Hoffmann, the founder of LinkedIn and a serial entrepreneur/investor once said, “If you aren’t embarrassed by what you launched with, you waited too long to launch.”

I’m going to take this thought a step further. ¬†One of the most common features people will talk about in these cases are all the ways you’ll be able to interact on the site. They’ll talk about how they’re going to have a blog, a comment system, a forum, a social network, rss feeds – a myriad of ways their audience will be able to interact with the site. But, there is just one problem: they don’t have an audience yet. So when people do start to show up, they’re going to see an empty forum, only one blog post because they don’t have a blogger yet, no comments on the launch blog. Basically people see a site that’s dead or unpopular instead of a site they’re dying to interact with.

Social aspects to a company should be added over time as a company builds an audience that requires those interactions. It is best to wait once you have an audience or a community that wants to interact with you more before you suggest ways to do so to an audience that doesn’t even exist yet. Then, when you add these aspects, you can be seen as responding to the needs of the community and be confident that they are things that will actually be used. You may find that customers want to interact with you the company, but not others that use the service. You may find the opposite. Those outcomes require completely different services. It may be a forum you need, or it may something totally different.

These are things that are important to learn over time instead of predicting at the start of a company. You’ll end up with a company that grows with its audience, is responsive, and understands their needs. This is a relevant for a website as it is for a brick-and-mortar business. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment, but it does mean you should understand your audience before you determine how they’ll interact socially with you and with fellow customers.

Life on Record

When I graduated from high school, I wanted to move away from my home town and really get off the grid. Have no one from my school be able to find me, know where I was, or what I was doing. An innocent invitation to Facebook made that impossible. Now almost my entire high school class has sought me out through the social network to build their friend network, and if they ever actually look at my profile, they know where I am and what I’m doing. Thanks to Netflix they know my favorite movies. Thanks to last.fm my favorite music. Thanks to Twitter they now know what I’m thinking about all the time. And thanks to Foursquare they know where I’m at at this very moment. New startups like Blippy are even getting more personal with storing everything you buy.

For myself, there’s been value to storing all of this information. I can look at my Yelp profile to find the name of that restaurant I wanted to try, last.fm to figure out the name of that song that popped into my head, or Foursquare for the name of that bar I went to the other night. The internet has essentially replaced my need for in depth memory, because I can refresh my memory as easy as refreshing my browser by looking at my various profiles or order history on certain sites.

The side effect of that value is now all of that information is public. What does that really mean though? What it will mean, if it doesn’t already now, is that we are now, inadvertently, documenting our entire lives through the internet. In 50 years, obituaries won’t just list highlights of lives like degrees and jobs held or the names of your children. They will more likely be links to your public Facebook profile, with links to Netflix showing your favorite movies, your order history on Amazon, where you ate on your 30th birthday. All of that information will be available, stored, and digestible for those who care.

Think of the power of this information. Let’s say an Einstein exists in a coming generation. When he passes, historians can look at the music he was listening to before his biggest breakthrough or the books he read during his formative years. All of that information will be documented, searchable, and accessible, with the possibility of cross-referencing it with current members of society. Fill in the blanks on where that data takes us; there will certainly be interesting complications when it comes to things like decisions on public elections or job openings and even effects on parenting or school curriculum.

There are many that will push against this trend, but it is unavoidable. The internet generation now defines itself by what’s on its Facebook profile and the content of its tweets. Just look at IBM’s latest commercials. They’re actively working on stuff like this already with electronic systems. And if analysts don’t transition that research to individuals marketers certainly will. It’s easy for data junkies to get excited about this future, but it’s also easy for normal people to get scared, and both sides are probably right. Now, everyday people will start to have to consider questions like: what will the internet say about me when I’m gone? What does my personal data say about me?

If you had access to this data today, what would you search for?