Sink or Swim: Six Companies that Might Make It

This past Friday, I had the privilege of being on a “Future of the Web” panel at New Media Nouveaux outside of Washington, D.C. It was a lot of fun and certainly a necessary kind of event if the capital region is going to make any real strides in the area of social media.

One of the questions that was asked revolved around which companies or individuals were important to watch for the future. I shaped my answer in a Sink or Swim kind of mode. Companies who would sink into obscurity or make it in an industry that has as many newcomers, it seems, as we had in the late 90s and few are actually making it to an exit or IPO.

So as a recap and an elaboration, let me outline three companies that will sink and three that will swim.

Yahoo – Sink
A couple of weeks ago, I had several stories about Yahoo! and the woes they were encountering. In that time, their CEO has left, they have closed several of their businesses including Yahoo! Photos and Yahoo! Personals. This is more indication of what is to come as they slim down to an acquirable state. Yahoos failure was not in vision, but in execution. Many missteps along the road took them out of the lead position to upstart Google, and their seemingly blind navigation through the internet world post-1998 just makes me think they aren’t going anywhere but straight to the acquisition bin.

Twitter – Swim
Twitter is only a couple, six months old. They are not a big company and they may not have a business plan. However, their amazing ability to lure new users to the world of micro-content is nothing short of amazing. Twitter’s base principle “What am I doing now?” seems shallow in its focus, however look deeper and you’ll find a whole new world of connectivity between blog posts. Before blogs, we had magazines and newspapers and you had to wait until the next day to find out what someone would write – and then those someones were”qualified” journalists. Then there was blogging which gave the average person the opportunity to write a couple times of day. Twitter takes that conversation into an even more granular state of the “in between” times. Half global instant message, half blog, half forum, half marketing platform – Twitter has the bases covered. Despite upstart competitors like Pownce and Jaiku, none have the weird charm that Twitter does.

Plus, Twitter takes the internet into untethered space allowing folks to use the service via text message. That is very Web 3.0.

MySpace – Sink
No need to rehash this, Myspace is dead.

Facebook – Swim
An open platform, an open motif for all kinds of guerrilla and viral marketing, Facebook will not only become the destination for friends and colleagues – it will become the platform of choice for marketing.

Mahalo – Sink
Something about “human powered search” doesn’t sit right with me. It seems old and antiquated. It seems irrelevant. It seems like too big of a task to have relevancy in. Why should Mahalo work? If it does, it will only because Jason Calacanis is a very smart man. Beyond that, the entire concept is crazy.

ConceptShare – Swim
My good friends up in the great white north, ConceptShare, are definite swimmers. Scott Brooks called me this morning to thank me for mentioning them. Quite unusual to get a call thanking someone for a mention, but that demonstrates how smart these guys are.

ConceptShare takes the idea that collaborative design is tricky over email with comments and feedback sometimes having questionable results in the end product, and mashes the collaborative process into a single web application. With ConceptShare, a designer, photographer or videographer can upload “concepts” to the application, and contributors can comment with drag and drop comment threads linked to portions of the piece. This is particularly interesting in video where 2:35 seconds into the video, there is a color shift that seems unnatural and a contributor thinks that the video producer should edit that one 10 second section. See the power?

ConceptShare has been used by b5media, in full disclosure, for several of our design projects including our version 2 template that is deployed across the network. Very powerful. These guys laughed at me when I predicted they would be acquired by Google – but I think it’s coming.

Published by

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

19 thoughts on “Sink or Swim: Six Companies that Might Make It”

  1. Why do you think that Facebook with swim over MySpace? It seems more professional, but looking forward to your take on it.

  2. It is a crazy concept… just like the idea of building a blog network was crazy in 2003, but not any more… obviously you understand this since B5 was very upfront about photocopying the Weblogs, Inc./Gawker business model. ;-)

    Seriously, if you want to understand why people need us do a search on iPhone, Paris Hotels, and Breast Cancer on Google, Yahoo, Ask, and MSN and compare the results to Mahalo.com’s. You’ll see quickly that we are spam free, more organized, and have better links.. in other words we save people time and help them find high-quality information. That’s how you win on the web (that’s why blog networks won fyi).

    best j

  3. Jason:

    I appreciate you stopping by and leaving your comment. I have used Mahalo and find it tremendously lacking. For instance, if I search for things that everyday people might search for, I get no Mahalo search results. But I do get suggestions as to what I might mean. -500 points for assuming things about the users search and not actually providing results for the search itself.

    Let’s try sex offenders for the first search. Mahalo has no results but suggests sex and the city searches, The Sex Pistols and birth control injections.

    Hardly what I was looking for (or even close).

    Let’s do another search. Maybe I am thinking about buying a new vehicle and want ssome information on the 2008 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid. Google has 651k results. Mahalo has no results but makes some good suggestions. Unfortunately, the suggestions they make provide broad information about the Tahoe and certainly not anything specific to the Hybrid model.

    Okay, you might say it’s in Alpha. I’ll give you that. You need time to fill out the results. So let’s try something more in our niche of both social media and blogging. Let’s search for WordPress. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Oh, but there is a suggested link to Netscape. Go figure. It’s a CalaCompany. Mahalo does give equal time by suggesting that maybe I was looking for Digg or Reddit – but no, those suggestions are nowhere near.

    Then there’s the question of how you’re producing your results.

    1. Are you paying people to come up with these results? If so, where do you draw the line in terms of economic efficiency vs ROI? How on earth can you pay enough people to produce a relevant result set that actually is quality for unknown quantities of topics in the world?

    2. How do you augment the human factor of human bias about what is relevant and what is not. How do you prevent conflict of interest? Google has not disclosed it’s algorithm for search relevancy, yet we trust that it is by and large not created by hand with the intervention of human bias?

    3. How do you “sell” me on competency and relevancy when you cannot produce real results on (I would argue) most search topics, yet you are not at all worried about selling sponsored placement (Adsense?) instead?

    Questions demand answers. ;-)

  4. Aaron,

    1. We should have WORDPRESS…. I’ll get that done today for you. Netscape vs. WordPress is a moot point… we will have both in the first year of building this out. it’s a loooooooong process to build a search index.

    2. It’s in Alpha so you’re not going to get a lot of hits that you should. Right now there are 7,000 pages. We will have 25,000 next year and it will feel a lot different.

    3. if we don’t have a result we give things that *might* be related and Google, so there is nothing lost… and the gain is huge if we do have a result.

    4. We are paying people to build pages, yes. Full-time people and part-time people (in the GReenhouse: http://greenhouse.mahalo.com).

    5. We are not looking to have every page… we want to do the top 1/3rd of search terms–where there is most spam.

    6. Re: conflict of interest we have an ethics and COI policy. So, we will avoid these problems just like a newspaper, wikipedia, or out bloggers did: hire ethical people, check their work, fire people who break the rules quickly.

    7. In terms of “selling” you on competence it should be fairly easy to see the difference between any health SERP on Google/Yahoo/Ask and ours. About.com and Wikipedia don’t have pages on most items–but they are still valuable. So, you don’t have to have EVERYTHING in order to be valuable.

    Take a look at Mahalo in a year and i think you’ll get it. Right now you need to have a lot of vision to see what it will be like when we release the other 90% of the project.

    best j

  5. I love that you continue to think b5 was modelled after WIN. The only commonality at all is that both contain blogs Jason. There’s more in common between Netsape and Digg, Mahalo and Wikipedia or SAH and BusinessWeek than there is between b5 and WIN.

    I give all credit where it’s due for kicking off the blog network thing, but that doesn’t mean you get all credit for everything done in the industry since it started.

  6. Jeremy I hate to do this, but you guys did photocopy Weblogs, Inc. (and i’m fine with that). Look at the design of your network alone:

    1.you took the “ad slice” promotional slice from the top of our blogs.

    2. You took our format of on fat column + medium rectangle with two columns below it.

    3. You took our promotional grid from the bottom of the page.

    I could like 20 things… easily.

    I know about these three off the top of my head because i designed these three items myself when build Weblogs, Inc. and I watch you guys take each them.

    Again, I’m fine with that. I do think you guys have done your own thing by splitting the categories we had on blogs into their own blogs (i.e. TV shows specific blog vs. a TVBlog)… of course, as we’ve discussed I think it’s a mistake to do that, but smart folks can disagree.

    Also, for the record, over dinner with your VCs they told me that what attracted them your deal was what Weblogs, Inc. had done.

    so, let’s be real dude…

    j

  7. Jason, I won’t argue that VC’s will invest in a company after another had a successful exit. But that doesn’t mean we copied you :)

    In terms of design, I think you’ll have a hard time making the argument that a 3-column design with an ad up top is something you guys pioneered.

    As far as the footer, not entirely sure how ours could be farther from WIN’s? Maybe you’re thinking of other networks that are copying yours (because there are many). We never used your style of footer.

    That said, there are similarities. Design-wise, there are only so many ways to coherently present a large variety of sites, specific ad formats, etc.

    End of the day, they’re fundamentally different models (that we disagree on), totally different approaches to advertising (2-3 ads vs 7-12), and (very soon) an entirely different approach to the interaction that happens on blogs.

    Again, I’ll always give you credit for kicking things off, but I’ll also always stop you short of saying every network is some kind of carbon copy of WIN.

    Either way, let’s talk in 4-5 months and I’m sure that I’ll have a higher opinion of Mahalo (as it’s matured) and you’ll have a higher one of b5 (ditto) :)

  8. 1. You guys took those three features *EXACTLY*… i wouldn’t bring it up if you didn’t. I mean, down to the pixel exact.

    2. You’re right there are only so many ways to design something… so, again, I don’t have a problem with you guys copying what we’re doing.. i just find it ironic that Aaron is sticking it to Mahalo when he works for a company that is a photocopy of the one we did in 2003.

    3. I am already very impressed with what B5 has done. I think you guys are in the top 10 blog networks after Weblogs, Inc. and Gawker and that’s significant.

    j

  9. Jason: There’s no irony in me sticking it to Mahalo and my thoughts have nothing to do with b5media and WIN. As I said in my post, if this has any chance of succeeding it’s because you’re a smart guy. Other than that, the concept makes no sense to me.

    I don’t mind you two duking it out here but please don’t bring me into a WIN-b5media skirmish as that has nothing to do with my post or anything I’ve said up to this time.

  10. Jason, I’ll let the down-to-the-pixel comment slide. I’ll also ignore the columns issue, because there are only a couple of options design-wise for mass-market blogs.

    The footers, though, are nothing at all alike. Yours show 12 blogs with the 5 most recent posts. All SEO’d and all that jazz. Ours is an AJAX-driven footer that lets you explore the entire network, see all the blogs, explore the most recent content, etc.

    I’ll give you that the designs are similar. I’ll even give you the header bar (even though it was something I’ve been using for a decade). Because to visually look at them that’s easy to see.

    But the footers are totally different. Honestly, feel free to click through to http://www.ensight.org (my site, so I’m not promoting something off topic) and look at the footer. Then look at http://www.joystiq.com (a site I’m a daily reader of) and feel free to illuminate me on the similarities.

    The only ones I can see are “shows other content” and “is square”.

    ;-)

    Anyways, as I said you can say you inspired the early versions of b5, but “carbon copy” is just too much of a stretch even for you mate :)

  11. So is this the point where someone channels Al Gore and claims to invent the internet, superseding any comeback the other may be dreaming up? Maybe one can take it down a notch and just lay claim to inventing blogging?

  12. Couldn’t resist posting my thoughts and personal assessment of each company mentioned…so here goes.

    Yahoo – Agree…it’s gonna sink. Trim it down. Give a fresh coat of paint and throw it out on Craig’s List.

    Twitter – Disagree…it’s a fad appealing to earlier adopters which in turn peaks the interest of everyone else. Once everyone else arrives, they’ll wonder, “What’s the big deal?” Twitter has a Second Life quality about it — meaningful to a small group of people it’s AMAZING, but the masses just don’t care.

    MySpace – Agree 100%. Too much bad press has labeled it as a place for perverts and child molesters.

    FaceBook – Undecided but I am certainly going to take a closer look. I think it will swim…at least for the next year.

    Mahalo – Agree…one quick visit and the first impression is overwhelming, “What? Another one of these things?” Doesn’t instantly differentiate itself from everything else out there.

    ConceptShare – First I’ve heard of it, but it sounds very promising. I’ll have to take a closer look. Thanks for the tip.

  13. Man I was just going to come in here and give Aaron a hard time about his myspace comments like usual but this went in another direction.

    By the way I would just like to claim a few things myself… I invented drinking water and breathing air, so in all your faces.

  14. Okay, so I did a search for “Sex Offenders Maryland”, thinking that would result in something better than Aaron’s search on Mahalo.

    Um, the first result was “Maryland Terrapins Football.” Giggle-worthy, yes, and I did indeed chortle and point at the screen…but not what I wanted from a search. And the fact that it brings up Google results…well, who cares? I could (and will) use Google.

  15. Definitely some predictions that I agree with.

    Myspace is done, Facebook already won.

    Yahoo! [and MSN] are dead in search, Google won that.

    Social networking is still emerging, I’m slow to attack the industry yet.

  16. MySpace can’t sink- they’ve got a massive userbase that’s going to stick around. Look at the recent Simpsons movie marketing blitz on MySpace to see how useful it can be to Fox.

    Besides, they already got acquired- they won the rat race. They’re done.

  17. I agree with everything but Twitter. I give them another two years unless they add something BIG other then what they have now.

    I have always felt that Mahalo could make it, but the time that would have to be put into a site like that to make it work is hard to grasp. I’m curious how long Jason thinks it will take before its a force.

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