IMThere Joins MadeIt As The Most Recent Attempts To Crack The Event Nut

October 30, 2007

and the deadpooled Any event based site is basically a social network – they are designed to allow interaction among friends to coordinate virtual or real world activities. The venerable Evite is still the king of online event coordination. None of the recent startups (renkoo, socializr, mypunchbowlSkobee) have presented much of a challenge. And none of the event aggregators/search engines, including upcoming, zvents or eventful, have managed to dominate their space, either.So there’s still room for the killer event site, and startups keep trying. A couple of weeks ago TechCrunch wrote about MadeIt, a new site that not only allows users to create new events but also to add content before and after. Like the others, though, it centers on the invitation to an event and whether you are going or not.

St. Louis based IMThere, which I discovered on TechnicallySpeaking, is a little different, and joins MadeIt as the most recent startups to try to crack the event nut. IMThere is focused less on getting invitations to events out to friends and talking them into accepting. Instead, it allows users to upload events, focusing less on the private invitation stuff (parties, dinners, etc.). Instead, the site’s early content is mostly about public events like concerts, video game releases, TV premiers, movie releases, etc.

Other users can then add their own content, ranging from comments about the event to uploading pictures from mobile phones during the event itself.

The resulting content is more interesting to the public than those private dinner parties. And top level navigation allows browsing by person, venue, artist, etc. So you can see all the events your friends participated in, see all the past and future concerts at a local venue, and see all past and future album releases and concerts by a particular artist. Users can also search events by popularity, region, etc.

The result seems to be a compelling user experience that could result in real local communities springing up and interacting around stuff that’s happening around them. Mobile interaction is excellent, so heavy users will be accessing it from all of their devices regularly.

There’s no guarantee IMThere won’t be in the deadpool in six months, but if they can quickly grow a core set of passionate users, they could have a nice property on their hands. IMThere is the first project from parent company Ramped Media.

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Other e-vents sites:


Hulu.com Launches Private Beta, Makes Very Good First Impressions

October 29, 2007

News Corp. and NBC Universal are certainly banking on it.

After seven months of preparations, delays and wisecracks about its quirky name, the two companies are finally lifting the veil Monday on their new Internet video service, Hulu.

Hulu programming will begin appearing Monday at the Web sites of its distribution partners, such as News Corp.’s MySpace, Yahoo!, Time Warner portal AOL, Microsoft site MSN and Comcast.

And Hulu.com, which will have additional features that won’t be available at the partner sites, is launching a private beta test Monday. The beta will start with a few thousand users who register their e-mail addresses at the site and will gradually expand its reach in the coming months.

It’s the latest and most ambitious effort by the television industry to reach viewers online. But in some respects, it’s also the most perplexing.

In addition to distributing content at leading portal sites, Hulu is also establishing a brand-new destination site at Hulu.com – not a simple task in an increasingly crowded online video market. Moreover, it will be competing for traffic with its owners’ other Internet properties, such as Fox.com and NBC.com.

Finally, Hulu will be run as a joint venture between two hard-nosed competitors, raising inevitable questions about whether or how News Corp. and NBC Universal, which is owned by General Electric, will play nice with each other.

But such concerns don’t appear to bother private-equity firm Providence Equity Partners, which has just invested $100 million in Hulu. And Hulu Chief Executive Jason Kilar, a former senior executive at Amazon.com, downplayed potential worries about the JV dynamic.

“This could not happen without their commitment,” Kilar said. “I feel very proud to say how they’ve come together.”

Hulu provides a vivid illustration of how much TV network attitudes have changed – and not changed – since YouTube crash-landed on the entertainment landscape two years ago.

While the networks were initially hesitant about making their programming available online, Fox, NBC, CBS, Disney’s ABC and Viacom all do so today to varying degrees. Hulu represents the latest step in these efforts.

Hulu and its distribution partners will feature streaming video of full-length prime-time programming and clips from Fox and NBC, as well as content from sibling networks such as Bravo, Sci Fi, FX and Fuel TV and USA Network. CNET, E! Entertainment Television and Sundance Channel will also provide programming.

All Hulu content, including movies, will be viewable free of charge and supported by advertising. Full-length TV shows and movies will open with a “brought to you by” title card that will appear for several seconds. Once the programming gets under way, a banner ad will rest at the top of the screen unless a viewer chooses the full-screen video option. In addition, about two minutes of video advertising will be inserted every 22 minutes or so.Clips and other short-form video will also feature a banner ad at the top of the screen, as well as overlay ads that will periodically appear at the bottom of the screen but won’t interrupt the flow of the programming. The overlay ads can be clicked for more information about the sponsor.

Hulu.com will have extra features not initially available at its distribution partners’ sites, including the ability to e-mail links to full episodes and whatever portion of an episode a viewer chooses to share.

Hulu.com visitors will also be able to embed full episodes and clips on their own Web sites and blogs. Embedded programming will retain all advertising. It’s a somewhat daring move, given the potential squeamishness that advertisers may feel about where their marketing messages will end up appearing.

All of these features illustrate how eager News Corp. and NBC are to reach viewers online. But in other ways, Hulu also demonstrates the degree to which the companies want to retain control over how consumers view and make use of their content.

For instance, contrary to what News Corp. and NBC indicated when they first announced their plans in March, Hulu won’t enable viewers to create mashups of its programming. Nor will it accept uploads of user-generated videos. Instead, Hulu has assigned part of its team to create clips and video “montages” for users.

Why impose such restrictions? “We’re very focused on premium content,” Hulu’s Kilar said.”We’re not seeking to have a user-generated content service. There are many other services out there. …We want to [break] new ground, as opposed to ground already being served by other companies.”

But shifting more power to consumers has been part of the core appeal of YouTube and other video sites. Differentiation from the competition is fine, but when the competition is eating your lunch in terms of traffic, taking a page from their playbook probably wouldn’t hurt either.

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Hulu is still a joint venture exclusively between NBC Universal and News Corporation. It exists as a website through which users can stream a collection of TV shows, movies, and short clips on-demand for free without any limits on how many times you can view each video. Hulu also exists as a distribution network of premium content for several partner websites – AOL, MSN, MySpace, Comcast, and Yahoo – that will display Hulu’s videos for free but in their own branded players. In addition to these partnerships, users themselves form a viral distribution network of sorts since Hulu allows its videos to be embedded in any website and shared via email. Hulu makes money in all cases from advertising, which it displays in and around the videos it serves.

A couple of things that Hulu is not: a repository of user generated content like YouTube or a download service like iTunes Store. All of the video on Hulu is premium content and users don’t have access to any uploading capabilities. TV shows and movies can only be streamed through Hulu or one of its partners’ Flash players, not downloaded to your desktop or portable media player. While it’s understandable that NBC and News Corp. want to focus exclusively on premium content, it’s a shame that we can’t (yet) download videos from Hulu (either in an ad-supported format or for a fee). Perhaps this is something to look for in the future, although company representatives were mum on whether they had plans for it.

As for the content on Hulu, TV shows will come from Fox and NBC, and over fifteen cable channels including Bravo, E!, FX, SciFi, Sundance, and USA. Movies will come from Fox and Universal, and following a deal signed just this Friday, from Sony and MGM as well. Hulu says many of its short clips will come from independent content providers, and it’s also signing licensing deals with others such as Smithsonian and the WWE. Overall, Hulu’s collection is impressive and we can anticipate seeing it grow even more in the coming months. Representatives say that they will listen to consumer demand to determine which shows and movies to add next. Click here to view a full list of the videos currently in Hulu’s collection.

In terms of availability, Hulu as a website will not be available to the public for another few months. Its collection, however, will be rolled out on its partners’ websites over this coming week so we can expect to see most, if not all, of Hulu’s content on AOL, MSN, MySpace, Comcast, and Yahoo very soon. Just when particular videos will be available through Hulu – and how long we can expect them to stay on Hulu – will vary from video to video. However, as a general rule TV shows will be available on Hulu by midnight Hawaii time after they debut on normal television. As another general rule, Hulu will keep distributing TV shows until five weeks of newer episodes have passed, at which point older shows will presumably just disappear from the site.

This is Hulu’s greatest weakness. Try as it might, it has not yet escaped the programming mentality of broadcast television. Hulu still imposes a schedule of sorts on Web viewers, even if that schedule comes with a five-week window of flexibility. But on the Web, five weeks may not be enough. Appointment TV just doesn’t make sense in a medium where time slots are thrown out the window and the available inventory of videos is counted in the millions. Hulu may be limiting its appeal by not keeping all of its videos up indefinitely (who knows when a particular video clip could take off as the next viral hit?). It also will be interesting to see how this limit affects embedded TV shows, which may just stop functioning after too much time. Similarly, movies and short clips will be added and removed from the site in an undisclosed (or uncertain) manner, although Hulu reps say they will try to add movies that are in demand. Hulu will not only have new releases but older movies as well, and only ten movies will be available to start.

Now for the design and features of Hulu.com itself. First of all, the experience is entirely browser-based so there is no software to install beyond Flash player, which you probably already have. Hulu has done a good job keeping the user interface simple and highlighting the actual content of the site. The homepage highlights a given video and lists the most popular episodes, the most popular clips, and recently added videos. You can also search Hulu’s entire collection from the homepage. Other sections of the site list the available episodes for particular shows and let you browse videos by network/studio, alphabetical order, or popularity. On your user profile page, you can create a video playlist and check your viewing history. Both your viewing history and playlist can be shared via RSS which, in addition to user reviews that you can leave at the bottom of video pages, form pretty much the extent to which Hulu.com incorporates social features.

The videos themselves are streamed at either 480kbps or 700kbps depending on your bandwidth, and Hulu is working with Adobe to provide even higher resolutions through Flash Player 9.2 by the end of the year. Hulu’s video player sports all the basic features we see in embeddable players these days: sharing via email, embedding via HTML, video details, full screen, seeking, and volume. It also has buttons with which users can submit feedback directly to Hulu, pop the video out into its own window, darken the rest of the page for better viewing, and vote the video up or down. Perhaps the coolest feature of the player is the ability to select just a segment of the video to share with friends or embed on your website. Embedded videos have fewer features, but users can still share and embed videos that have already been embedded, which should really help to spread Hulu’s videos virally (and make it less popular to embed low-quality versions hosted on YouTube). But, again, if the embedded video expires or is replaced with new content that the embedder did not choose, that could end up backfiring on Hulu.

Finally, some important information about how Hulu plans to advertise. Advertising will be much less intrusive than on actual television. Ads will be served in a variety of ways: banners that display alongside videos, text blurbs that overlay the bottom of videos, and in-video clips that play before, within, and after videos. Shorter videos will tend to have overlays and banner ads, whereas longer videos will tend to play in-video commercials. Hulu says that for longer videos, the total playback time dedicated to advertisements will be drastically lowered, perhaps constituting only 25% of the time you’d spend watching ads on TV. Thus, for every 30 minutes of video, you may only see 2 minutes of ads, whereas on TV you would see 8 minutes. If this is true, then Hulu will certainly be more consumer-friendly than TV. However, that is still probably more commercials than people are used to when watching video on the Web.

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Social Site Rankings (September, 2007)

October 25, 2007

Did you know that Imeem is the fastest-growing social site in the U.S (up 1,590 percent in monthly uniques). And that AIM Pages is growing slightly faster than Digg (345 percent growth versus 323 percent)? Well, at least according to comScore.

comScore has done a ranking of social sites in the States and in the U.S. and then Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch has reordered the list by growth rate. Here it is:

MySpace is still growing at a healthy 23 percent, despite its size. But Facebook is coming on fast, with 129 percent growth. Notice also the strong showing by Bebo (growing 83 percent) versus the lackluster U.S. growth of Hi5 (3 percent) and the decline of Xanga (negative 55 percent).

In blogging platforms, Blogger is beating Six Apart on both absolute numbers (32 million visitors versus 13 million) and growth (55 percent versus 44 percent). In the doldrums territory, you’ve got Windows Live Spaces (with a one percent decline) and Yahoo Groups (four percent decline). And in the you-ought-to-seriously-think-of-shutting-this-down territory, there is Lycos Tripod (23 percent decline), MSN Groups (36 percent decline), and Yahoo 360.

Here is a more comprehensive list of social sites ranked by total number of visitors. It includes sites where comScore could not calculate a growth rate because it did not have enough data for September, 2006. Some sites that stand out on this list, having come out of nowhere in the past year, include WordPress.com (with 11.9 million monthly visitors), Freewebs (with 6.6 million), BuzzNet (with 4.4 million),and Kaboodle (with 2.5 million). (Update: Also, you will notice that Google’s social networking site Orkut isn’t even on the list. That is because while it had 24.6 million visitors worldwide in September, 2007, Orkut only attracted 503,000 visitors in the U.S.).

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Facebook Experiments With Ads Targeting People’s Interests

October 23, 2007

By Erick Schonfeld

TechCrunch

The big promise of advertising on social networks has always been the ability to target members by their own self-proclaimed interests and demographics. Facebook, as expected, has quietly taken a step in that direction with its Facebook Flyers ads (these are sidebar advertising widgets that Facebook still controls, as opposed to the majority of ad inventory on Facebook that falls under its deal with Microsoft). In terms of revenues, these Flyers probably don’t amount to much yet, but this is one Faecbook experiment worth keeping an eye on.

As first reported on AllFacebook, the Flyers let you target by country, city, gender, age range, political views, relationship status, education level, workplace affiliation, or any keyword in a person’s stated interests. It’s that last option that could be really powerful. For instance, simply putting in different keywords into the Facebook Flyers ad-targeting page reveals that of the 19,951,900 Facebook members in the U.S., 101,000 are into rock climbing, 411,000 are into cooking, and 706,160 people are into traveling. Such targeting could theoretically allow advertisers to reach exactly the people they want, instead of the scatter-shot approach favored today. If you are a wedding planner in Salem, OR, for instance, there are 100 women on Facebook between 20 and 40 who live in Salem and are engaged. That’s pretty deep targeting. MySpace is also moving in this direction, allowing advertising by interest categories and sub-categories.

Update: Apparently, this sort of demographic ad-targeting can be done by Facebook app developers as well. I just got off the phone with RockYou CEO Lance Tokuda and asked him if he could do the same thing on his Facebook ad network. “That is open to us,” he confirmed. “At some point we will be targeting this way when more sophisticated brand advertisers enter the field.” In contrast, most advertisers on Facebook today are just looking for raw numbers.

Source: TechCrunch.com