Author Archives: therealmccrea

Where I’ve Landed

After a wonderfully restorative break, it is now time for me to jump back into startup land…

I am pleased to announce that I’m re-uniting with another legendary Plaxo alum, Blake Commagere, and joining his startup, MediaSpike, as the company’s COO. We’re building a revolutionary new advertising platform for digital product placement in social and mobile games. The company is aligned with the inevitable future of advertising, which will be less about interruption and distraction and more about encounters between people and brands that are contextual, digital, and interactive – and when done correctly, loved.

Here’s recent coverage of MediaSpike in TechCrunch. Our awesome backers include Google Ventures, Raptor Ventures, 500 Startups, and Team Downey (Robert Downey Jr.’s production company), and more.

For those wondering how big an opportunity this is, consider how dramatically the media landscape is changing and what that means for marketers:

  • Gaming is on the rise (at the cost of other media), with humans now spending over 3 billion hours a week playing video games.
  • In the digital world, attention is shifting at an accelerating pace from the desktop to smartphones and tablets (in the process, threatening established forms of online advertising, especially banner ads).
  • Spurred by the continued rise in DVR-based time-shifting and commercial-skipping, brand advertisers are shifting more and more of their spend toward product placement (with paid product placement projected to top $6 billion in 2014).
  • Despite concerns about how best to do mobile advertising, it is already huge ($2.6 billion in U.S. and $6.4 billion worldwide) and expected to grow rapidly (reaching $11.9 billion in U.S. and $23.6 billion worldwide by 2016).

Bottom line: the attention economy is undergoing a tectonic shift away from traditional media and the desktop and toward smartphones, tablets, and interactive digital content. Advertising needs to be reinvented for this new world, and the folks who figure it out will be digging into tasty slices of a very large and rapidly growing pie.

So, if you’re a marketer for a major consumer brand or a developer of an interesting social or mobile game, please join the revolution. (You can reach me at: john at mediaspike dot com.) Onward!

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An Amazon Wishlist: The Top 3 Features I Really Want Added to My Kindle

To the Kindle team at Amazon:

I am a very happy recent convert to eBooks, having finally purchased a Kindle when the new generation of your e-Reader product line was announced last Fall. As hoped, I am reading more books now than I have in years, due to my Kindle Touch’s combination of eye-friendly e-ink, great form factor, easy sampling, and frictionless purchasing. (Plus, having a bit more free time at the moment.)

But, after reading a bunch of eBooks in recent weeks, I keep running into parts of the Kindle user experience that clearly fall short of the full potential of a cloud-based digital book service. (See my recent post on creating consumer services that are radically more personalized.) Perhaps the following three features on my wishlist are already in your near-term product pipeline, but if not, please consider adding them. Your customers will be happier and more engaged, and you will sell way more eBooks!

Feature One: Transform all Book Titles into Links. Okay, this one seems obvious (at least to me), but the implications of it are revolutionary. Most of my reading in recent weeks has been non-fiction. I am learning about a bunch of different topics that I’ve been meaning to research. Each book I read makes dozens and dozens (if not hundreds) of references to other books. Oft times, I think, “Oh, I really should read that book next (or soon).” If you rendered all book titles inside Kindle eBooks as links, each reference would give me the chance to order a sample (or make a purchase) on the spot, then continue on with my reading. This would obviously be great for your business. Plus, in the process, you would end up building the strategically potent Web of Books. More on that in a moment…

Feature Two: Embrace the “End of Book” Moment. Getting to the end of a great book is always a magical moment, a time to pause, take a deep breath, and marvel at humanity’s unique ability to capture and transmit learning through the written word. But in the digital domain, it is also a chance to suck the reader deeper into their relationship with the author, the subject, and Amazon itself. You already let people rate and review books (and other products). Why, oh why, is that option not presented to me at the moment of finishing an eBook? After all, I am in a “signed in” state, so it would be pretty low friction for me. And while you’re at it, surely there are a bunch of suggestions you can make for what books I might want to read next (even if I don’t give you any feedback on the one I just finished). Among the lists of suggestions should be “Books referenced in this book” and “Books that reference this book,” leveraging your ever-growing Web of Books.

Feature Three: Connect to the Social Web. Okay, it is 2012. Is there really no social integration on the Kindle? After I finished my last eBook, I really didn’t know what book to buy next. So I posted on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus to see what my friends would suggest I read. The process was fun and engaging, but it could have been so much better. When I finish reading an eBook, make it easy for me to share that out to my social networks (along with a link back into Amazon’s Web of Books). As I’m reading, I might also want to also passively share what book I’m reading to my “intimate social graph” on my new obsession, Path. And, of course, the more you mash up the Social Web and the Web of Books, the better your recommendation engine can be. You can extend it further by mapping between Facebook likes (of books, authors, bands, etc.) and your Web of Books, and automatically suggesting eBooks that I ought to find interesting. This is just the tip of the iceberg for social.

Thanks in advance for listening. And apologies to my relatively new 55″ Samsung TV (purchased via Amazon), who is feeling a bit jealous all of a sudden, as I spend less time watching TV and more time reading eBooks on my Kindle. :)

[Oh, and when Joseph Smarr reviewed a draft of this post, he pointed me to this video from Kevin Rose, in which he shares his own feature wishlist for improving e-Readers, including some smart ideas for social integration (in the second half of the video).]

Okay, one last thing…

When I sample an eBook and decide to purchase it at the end of reading the sample, please give me an easy way to jump into the purchased book at the place where the sample ends.

[Update: Amazon PR reached out to me to let me know that some of these features already exist. Specifically, some of the end-of-book options, like rating, sharing to connected social networks, and seeing recommended books. I appreciate the outreach, and am glad that some of this is already "there". That said, I think that especially for non-fiction books, these features are buried, since I (and most readers), don't page through every page of notes at the end of the book. So, I didn't find these features until I went specifically looking for them. Might there be a way to elevate them?]

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The consumer tech Megatrend for 2012: Pervasive Personal Clouds

It’s once again time for making predictions for the coming year. Here I go (with thanks to all who contributed thoughts on key trends in recent weeks via Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and face-to-face)…

Expect four big waves to smash together in 2012 to create a single megatrend that will rock the consumer tech sector for years to come. The familiar waves of Cloud, Mobile, and Social will fuse with a new, but rapidly emerging wave of Connected Devices to unleash a virtual sky-full of “Pervasive Personal Clouds.” These clouds will enable the delivery of radically smarter, more adaptive consumer services that will delight you in unexpected ways by knowing way more about you: who you are, where you are, your history of usage, your tastes, who your friends are, what they like, and more.

Privacy may not be dead (yet), but you will find yourself increasingly happy to hand over your personal information in exchange for better service, more control, or both. And if you’re a service provider, you need to think about how you can tap these new capabilities to meet a competitive bar of personalization that will be rising rapidly.

Pervasive Personal Clouds

Before bringing it all together, let’s first look at each of the four component waves:

Cloud. What’s exciting about cloud computing in the consumer landscape is its duality: not just all of your data and content “up there,” safe, secure, and accessible to you anywhere/anytime; but also an ever-growing mountain of data about you and your usage of any given service. Together these lay the foundation for “Personalization 2.0,” a complete rethinking of what service means.

Mobile. Smartphones move the liberating power of your personal computer off of your desk and into your hands, and that is a game-changer. But there’s more to come, as your smartphone becomes your all-in-one, always-with-you device, gaining capabilities well beyond that of a PC. Already, this location-aware, networked-computer-in-your-pocket has taken on the functionality of phone, web browser, Walkman, game system, camera, camcorder, television, nav system, watch, and more. More recently, it has started to become your wallet and your cash register. And in 2012, it should start become the authoritative, automated, device-based form of your identity that will unlock an amazing world of truly personalized experiences in your home — or wherever you go.

Connected Devices. Ironically, as the smartphone subsumes the capabilities of ever more standalone devices via its expanding sensor payload, Moore’s Law enables an explosion of other, smaller/embedded devices, previously not possible to manufacture. Digital, Internet-connected devices are popping up around our houses (for example, Nest, disrupting the sleepy thermostat market)  and on our bodies (Fitbit, Jawbone Up, Zeo sleep monitor, etc.), able to interact with the cloud and our mobile devices. The combination of Cloud, Mobile, and Connected Devices signifies a tectonic shift to the “post-PC” era. Expect surprises in 2012 and beyond, as connected devices get small enough to fit into the buttons on your shirt or jacket.

Social. The last of the four waves (and historically the main topic of this blog) is less a technology trend and more a major cultural shift in attitudes and behavior toward sharing and privacy. It was fascinating to watch, when a few years back Facebook went from a college-only community to something accessible to adults of all ages. It could easily have gone wrong — with the adults coming in and spoiling all the fun. Instead, they adapted and embraced sharing in a way they never had before, and the party just got better. Over the years, Facebook has continued to move us all toward ever-more-open sharing — and they’re not done with us yet! Watch as “frictionless sharing” in 2012 goes from something only young folks think is normal to a mainstream behavior.

Pervasive Personal Cloud megatrend. Together, these four elements form the Pervasive Personal Cloud, a radically better way of delivering consumer services by knowing way more about you than was ever possible previously. This approach to consumer services changes the dynamics of how information is gathered (taking out all of the friction), how user experiences are personalized, how content/features/products are discovered (social vs. search), and how that discovery turns into consumption.

And these changes will play out across every major vertical and horizontal market — and invade or create a wide variety of niches. You will have your entertainment cloud (comprised of your music cloud, your video/TV cloud, your news cloud, and more), your communications cloud, and your personal productivity cloud, of course.

But you will also have your personal health cloud, which will shift the balance of power from the medical establishment to you. Your personal health cloud may include your running cloud, your sleep history cloud, you blood cloud, your genomic cloud, and, ultimately, your human biome cloud, and more. (For more info on this trend, see Larry Smarr’s 10-year quest for quantified health. And, yes, Larry’s the father of my former partner-in-crime, Joseph Smarr, and he has inspired me to get my own personal health clouds up and running. More on that in an upcoming post.) BTW, do you know how much of your typical night of sleep is comprised of the mysterious, dream-filled, learning-and-memory-enhancing REM phase? I do:

Hey, hey, you get off of my cloud! (Or not.)

But in what other ways will these Pervasive Personal Clouds impact the balance of power between vendors and consumers? Expect to see very interesting tension between two opposing forces: cloud lock-in and cloud disintermediation.

One the one side, Apple, Google, and Amazon, among others, will seek to habituate and addict you to their various cloud services. My favorite Steve Jobs quote from the recent Isaacson bio is, “I’m going to take MobileMe and make it free, and we’re going to make syncing content simple. We are building a server farm in North Carolina. We can provide all the syncing you need, and that way we can lock in the customer.” (“Maniacal laugh. Maniacal laugh.”)

The opposing force is Facebook, likely to surpass 1 billion active users in 2012, and aiming to be a new kind of middleman, helping consumers discover and connect with the various cloud services through frictionless sharing. In that model, companies like Spotify, Hulu, and Netflix can enjoy hyperviral growth in exchange for piping all of their users’ activity streams into the Facebook data vault. What happens if Facebook decides to use this data to make it easy to switch from one cloud vendor to another?

It will be fascinating to watch. Hmm, now that I think about it, maybe we should all pipe more and more of our personal cloud services through Facebook, in order to minimize vendor lock-in.

What do you think? Exciting or creepy?

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Tunerfish/Comcast/Plaxo: What a ride!

Today is my last day at Tunerfish/Comcast/Plaxo — and the end of my longest ride in Silicon Valley (a sequence of positions that started in March 2006 when I joined Plaxo as the company’s first VP of Marketing).

I’m proud to have played a key role in the turnaround of the Plaxo brand and product, a re-invention that helped pave the way for the acquisition of the company by our largest customer, Comcast, in May 2008 (one of the best exits of the year, especially given the economic meltdown that followed). While at Comcast, I had the great privilege of founding and leading Tunerfish, a new business unit in what would become the white-hot market space of social TV. I took Tunerfish from concept to secret skunkworks, to launch at TechCrunch Disrupt, and on to what is now a really great service, built by one of the best product design and development teams I’ve ever worked with. In short, a fantastic run!

But I’m a startup guy, not meant for a long stay at a huge corporation, and it is now time for me to head on to my next Silicon Valley adventure.  (BTW, If you’ve got an interesting consumer Web startup that could use a seasoned product/marketing/business leader, I’d love to chat.)

I will really miss the awesome folks at what is now the Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center (home to four teams working on the future of entertainment and communications), and I’m looking forward to seeing all of the great stuff under development there roll out in the coming months. In particular, I’m keen to see how the Tunerfish team brings social/discovery/personalization features to the Xfinity touchpoints in millions of homes — and how they’ll continue to evolve my favorite social TV app.

Oh, and I’ll also miss the awesome view from the office, overlooking the dirigible hangars at Moffett:

Onward and upward!

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More Fire Power for Google’s Social Web Team

Early this morning, the Social Web TV broke the news that Chris Messina is joining Google! This follows on the heels of Joseph Smarr’s announcement in December that he would be leaving Plaxo to join Google. The new episode is entitled “Another one bites the dust” and it’s must-see Social Web TV…

TechCrunch has picked up the story from Chris’s post.

Silicon Valley: Top 10 of the 2000s

Kaliya's computer

It’s all too easy to view the first decade of the 21st Century as just an unmitigated series of disasters: September 11th, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, and the meltdown of the global financial system, to name just a few.

But the 2000s also saw continued acceleration in the advance of technology and its impact on society, as we continued to ride the exponential curve of Moore’s Law. So, let me offer my “Silicon Valley: Top 10 of the 2000s”…

The Dot Com Bubble Collapse. (Yes, even this list starts with a disaster.) We entered the new decade and the new century drunk with optimism that recessions were a thing of the past, with a firm belief that the Internet’s transformational power had created an unprecedented “long boom“. And then, in March of 2000, the Bubble burst, sending Silicon Valley into a multi-year “nuclear winter.” Internet companies of all sizes imploded, unemployment rose, buildings went vacant, vendors started requiring cash (rather than asking for equity), and the venture capital fire hose turned into a trickle.

Broadband and Wi-Fi. While many of us licked our wounds and wondered whether Silicon Valley would ever recover, the underlying fabric of the Internet just kept getter better. Broadband access crossed over from early adopter to mainstream, and Wi-Fi hotspots spread like wildfire, fueling a rapidly growing addiction to the Internet. Ten years ago, most of us sipped the Web through dial-up straws; now we expect high-speed access everywhere, all-the-time.

Google IPO. In the first half of the 2000s, one company defied the pessimism and came to symbolize the hope of a return of the good old days. Google reminded us that the Bubble was less about the true Silicon Valley and more about the madness of irrational investment behavior on Wall Street. And their profitability and growth were so strong that they could do what no one else could since the collapse — pull off a tech IPO. Heck, they not only IPO’d, they dictated their own terms to the Street, with a Dutch auction in the summer of 2004. Indeed, for most of the 2000s, Google was the undisputed hottest company of Silicon Valley. [Correction: Dave McClure points out that another high-flier, PayPal, was the first tech IPO, post 9/11. He's got a lot of other great additions, too, so be sure to read his comments. Thanks, Dave!]

Blogging. Though blogging started in the ’90’s, it would take until the middle of the 2000s for it to become a powerful mainstream force. But by decade’s end, sites like TechCrunch, Mashable, Techmeme, CNET, GigaOm, ReadWriteWeb, VentureBeat, and ZDnet, among many others, had completely transformed how we discover, consume, and create tech news. And it wasn’t just tech. The power of blogging was transforming every facet of the news business, from politics to sports — and even to the paranormal, like when a Bigfoot hunter held a press conference in Palo Alto.

YouTube. In the ’60’s, it was said that “the revolution will be televised”. In the 2000s, it became clear that it would be uploaded to YouTube. The video sharing site blasted off from the emerging “Web 2.0″ scene in early 2005, rocketed to mainstream impact, and got acquired for $1.6 billion by Google — all in less than two years! Suddenly, Silicon Valley was once again a place where a few people could get together, build something innovative, have big impact on the world, and get ridiculously rich in the process. The Web 2.0 revolution was in full force, with hundreds of new companies with funny names popping up all over, embracing user-generated content and social virality.

Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg and team did not invent social networking, but they apparently internalized all of the right lessons from those that had come before, including Plaxo (the first socially viral “people layer” network, founded by Sean Parker, Cameron Ring, and Todd Masonis), Friendster, and MySpace. Facebook exploded out of Mark’s dorm room, riding a potent exponential growth curve that continues to this day, propelling Facebook to the center stage of the Internet industry — and finally giving Google a run for the money in the “hottest company in Silicon Valley” category.

Twitter. As the 2000s come to a close, a new contender is rising, not from Silicon Valley, proper, but from the Ground Zero of the Dot Com Bubble of 10 years ago: San Francisco. Twitter, a darling of the early adopter set, launched at the cool geek confab, SXSW, in 2006, and remained decidedly niche for so long, that many thought it might be remembered primarily for its “fail whale”. But Twitter eventually connected with celebrities and mainstream media outlets, like CNN, and the chirpy little bird soared into the stratosphere.

Ereaders (Kindle, nook, and more to come). Books are one of the most important inventions in human history. Major breakthroughs (like the Internet) are often compared with the impact of Gutenberg‘s movable type press from the 1400s. As the 2000s are coming to a close, “ereaders” are revolutionizing the concept of a book, turning it from a physical object to a digital item pulled from the clouds. In the coming decade, the impact will be enormous.

Apple, iPod, and iPhone. For a company that almost died in the ’90s, the 2000s have been a truly remarkable decade for Apple, featuring a return to profitability, a string of hot new products, the launch of two new billion-dollar-plus product lines (iPod/iTune and iPhone), and the reinvention of the music and mobile phone industries. Silicon Valley sees “Big Waves” only once every 15 years on average, but we’re ending the 2000s, riding two distinct and reinforcing Mavericks, and one of them is embodied by the iPhone. The iPhone has given birth to a new ecosystem, much the same way the personal computer did in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and is inspiring vigorous competition in what had been a technological backwater. Of course, the other really Big Wave is the emergence of…

The Social Web. When Sean Parker and team pitched Mike Moritz at Sequoia, seeking venture funding for Plaxo in the dark days of 2002, it was not just to solve the real and vexing problem of stale address books. The billion dollar opportunity they pitched was that the Internet, for all its great impact, would not reach its full potential unless and until someone brought to it the missing “people layer”. If real identity and real relationships could be combined with network effect and Internet-style interoperability, they said, something really big would happen. Of course, like so many big, bold visions, getting there has taken multiple attempts, and now involves a really dynamic collaboration between big Internet companies, “Open Stack” grass-roots communities (like OpenID, OAuth, Portable Contacts, Activity Streams, the Open Web Foundation, and OpenSocial), and lots of startups, but we exit the 2000s seeing proof-points all around of the emergence of an open and interoperable Social Web. It’s becoming increasingly common to visit a new website and be able to use an online identity you’ve established at Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a growing list of other identity providers, and get a new account (without having to repeat the dreadful process of choosing a new password, filling out a bunch of forms, importing your address book, and re-friending the same long list of familiars you’ve friended so many times before). Look to the coming decade to bring us an amazing array of new startups native to this new Social Web.

What do you think? Are these the right 10? Nominate others via comments.

And, now all that’s left is to wish you all a Happy New Decade!

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Reviewing my Five Bold Social Web Predictions for 2009

I just read David Recordon’s post about Facebook implementing support for OAuth WRAP on FriendFeed as a step toward supporting OAuth in Facebook Connect. That reminded me that we, as an industry, made enormous progress in 2009 toward a truly open, interoperable Social Web. But, I wondered, how well did that progress map to my five bold predictions for 2009, penned December 18, 2008?

My five bold predictions were:

Prediction 1: Facebook will begin its migration to the “Open Stack” and roll out support for at least one piece of it. Leading candidates: OpenID and OAuth.

Prediction 2: Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft will rollout support for Portable Contacts for their respective webmail services.

Prediction 3: Microsoft will implement OAuth, at least for Portable Contacts, if not more broadly.

Prediction 4: Microsoft’s “Windows Live” social network will become an OpenSocial container.

Prediction 5: Plaxo will so successfully prove onboard turbocharging via the Open Stack that they will abandon traditional email/password signups entirely.

Well, I’ve gotta say that I nailed the first of the five (Facebook beginning a migration to the Open Stack). Facebook accelerated its “open” plans in 2009, becoming a member of the OpenID Foundation, implementing “Hybrid OpenID/OAuth” for easy signup via Google account, hiring David Recordon, participating in the Activity Streams standardization effort, working actively in OAuth WRAP, and more I’m forgetting.

I got prediction number 2 mostly right (Big webmail providers support Portable Contacts), but not right enough. Google rolled out support for PoCo in March, joining other big supporting sites, like Plaxo and MySpace. And PoCo became a standard feature of OpenSocial. Microsoft rolled out support for the Portable Contacts schema, but not for accessing it via OAuth. Yahoo, who had a tough year in many ways, didn’t quite get there with PoCo…

Prediction number three, is complicated (Microsoft embracing OAuth). There are differing opinions about exactly the relationship between OAuth WRAP and OAuth. (I feel like I need to get The Social Web TV gang together to sort it all out.) I credit Microsoft with participating in the community efforts, in communicating clearly they’re objections to the current OAuth spec, and on working to move the ball forward.

Predictions four and five were a little over the top; I may have been hitting the egg nog when I wrote them. That said, Microsoft made big strides toward greater interop based on open standards, and while Plaxo is still allowing people to sign up without a third-party identity, people all over the Social Web are getting more comfortable signing up to sites via Facebook Connect or OpenID.

Overall, I’d say I was half-right in my bold predictions for 2009. Let me know if you disagree. Next week, I’ll make my predictions for 2010…

A Toast to Joseph Smarr and the Open Social Web!

My “partner-in-crime” for the past three years, Joseph Smarr, has just publicly announced that he’s leaving Plaxo (after eight years!) and will be starting an exciting new job at Google early next year. He’s been tapped by Google to “help drive a new company-wide focus on the future of the Social Web”. As much as I hate to see the breakup of the greatest two-man team I’ve ever been a part of, I’m truly excited for Joseph and wish him all the best in his new role.

A "toast" to the Open Social Web!

More importantly, I think being a part of Google will enable Joseph to have an even bigger impact on the emergence of an open, interoperable Social Web, built on the Open Stack, and with users in control.

New Episode of The Social Web TV, with Special Guest, Frank Eliason, a.k.a. @comcastcares

Joseph Smarr and I welcome special guest, Frank Eliason, a.k.a. @comcastcares, on an episode of The Social Web TV, shot at the NewTeeVee Live 09 conference last week.

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New Episode of The Social Web TV: “We’re Back (Really!)”

The fans demanded it, so we got the band back together! Chris Messina, Joseph Smarr, and I shot an episode of The Social Web TV at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View during this week’s Internet Identity Workshop. So much has happened since we last shot that this is our most jam-packed episode ever!

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