Jive SBS Launches

I spoke with Sam Lawrence at Jive about their new Social Business Software (SBS) product and came away impressed on two fronts, the first being that the product is wicked cool and perhaps more significantly they are skating to the proverbial puck rather than following in the footsteps of other companies.

Longtime Jive followers will notice something immediately, Clearspace and Clearspace Community have been retired as naming conventions. For SBS, the technologies represented in both of these products are now referenced as “Jive Foundation” which forms the underpinnings for the new products and initiatives.

200903100946.jpg Jive is looking at the market opportunity from the standpoint of what people do with the software, and that represents the work centers which map to a neatly presented perspective on what happens in all companies. Within each of these centers is a business process in which a social component is integral. Based on my own experience in very large companies, I think this is a realistic perspective and it’s worth noting that the overlap between centers is probably proportional not by design but based on what actually happens.

In addition to process centers there are cross application modules that allow for top down functions across the entire suite of services. Analytics represent an obvious cross application module but it was the Bridging Module that really captured my attention.

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What the Bridging Module enables is a federation of related communities for an integrated view. As an example, Kaiser is a Jive customer and with the Bridging Module any Kaiser user could add components that represent content and functionality in the American Heart Association community.

To be clear, this federation capability works exclusively with other communities that are built on Jive technology, but with 2,500 customers this is a significant list and represents the greatest strategic opportunity for Jive, to become a vertical industry standard where they have strong representation. This is class Law of Accelerating Returns stuff, a vendor will win more new business as a consequence of being perceived as the accepted standard by a group of competitors within a specific vertical industry.

In the “old days” we would have called these things portals but it’s really an understatement to reference any of these products that way now. Portals relied on a single vendor or approved partners to supply functionality that was unavoidably focused around a single vendor’s products and was also typically transactional data focused. With the emergence of unstructured content and social interactions being the bigger drivers of user focus, portals were poorly equipped to deal with this and it opened the door for a menu of competitive products to emerge, Jive being one of the more successful offerings.

A further data point that underscores the point above is that the technical specifications for what constitutes a portal component are less of an issue today, and as Jive and Socialtext both demonstrate, an OpenSocial widget is just as accepted as a native component. The evolution of widgets demands that they move beyond content and creative to social awareness, in other words, how the widget or component interacts with other components is of equal importance to what the widget or component itself does.

This is a pretty competitive sector and there are firm lines that are developing. Microsoft and IBM offer the biggest footprint enterprise social software stacks and as can be expected they are expensive and timely to implement but on the other hand they offer a lot of functionality and demonstrable ability to scale to very large user numbers while also offering strong integration options to other important enterprise products. Other vendors have emerged that challenge Microsoft and IBM, such as Jive, while another class is extending the big enterprise offerings (most significantly what NewsGator is doing on Microsoft Sharepoint). With a flight to quality as a consequence of current economic conditions, the large vendors will continue to dominate while challengers like Jive with extensive customer lists and mature product offerings will close the window for new startups to establish a foothold.

Today the focus in on what users are doing rather than what companies want them to do and Jive’s SBS is well positioned to take advantage of that with a compelling user experience, strong social functionality, a “marketplace” for third party components and federated community sites, and lastly, advanced functionality (e.g. analytics) that grow in importance as usage grows.

Related Content Startups Raising Capital

OneSpot is an interesting company and it is good news to read that they have successfully raised $4.2m in capital.

There are a bunch of companies in the “related content” space and what is interesting is that there are several deployment models that not only compliment each other but also offer unique monetization options. OneSpot is one such company and like DayLife, NewsGator, Zemanta, Sphere, and Inform, they offer a service that combines revenue opportunity for publishers and content owners with compelling user experience.

“Obviously, the business guys ask, ‘Are we getting more visits, are people staying longer?’ but from the editorial side the question is, ‘Does this make my site a better place for my audience?’” Cohen said. The Journal found the answer was “yes,” because it meant Journal readers saw even more relevant and comprehensive news coverage, coverage that wasn’t limited to what the Journal had the resources to cover. The fact that Journal editors only had to put in a few minutes of work a day to make it work didn’t hurt, either.

[From OneSpot raises $4.2M for customized news aggregation » VentureBeat]

One of the challenges with delivering good related content is having access to a broad range of full text content sources. It’s really difficult to do related content with partial text excerpts because in order to drive a search function you have to have good entity extraction in order to know what to drive the search for.

I’ve been using a wide range of these services and find two weaknesses in most of them, the first being surfacing of related content that is basically a bunch of copies of the same source. I don’t want to read 10 articles that are carbon copies of one another, I want 10 articles that are related to the source but offer a range of perspectives.

Secondly, quality of the surfaced articles is inconsistent and more significantly the quality doesn’t improve as a function of how I use (click) the delivered content. I don’t think active rating (thumb up/down) is the answer, but my clickstream should offer enough behavioral cues that can be fed into the search engine to refine the search results. However, before any of this could happen there would have to be integration with user profiles or at least a cookie based approach.

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Advertising in Applications

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Few things elicit the visceral reaction that advertising inserted in applications does. Just the mere mention of the word brings out a stream of critics who decry the intrusion that ads impose on usability and express dismay at the treasonous behavior of the developers and companies in question.

Yesterday Nick Bradbury released a beta version of FeedDemon that includes a small display ad served by The Deck. As Nick states, his goal was to include the ads in a tasteful manner while also including highly contextual ads that reflect the predominately tech oriented community that uses desktop feed readers, hence the selection of The Deck.

I’ve watched the comments that first appeared on his post and then as the day went on. The comments reflected a good balance of 1) no big deal, 2) disappointed but understand why, 3) want to pay for an ad-free version, and 4) going to look at other products.

NewsGator has to support these apps not only from an operational standpoint but also from a continuing development perspective and the costs of running a datacenter that supports sync, 4+ million feeds, search services, and then the development of a complete portfolio of client products are daunting. We made client apps free a year ago and at that time made no commitment about advertising other than to say we were not doing it at that time. Nick has continued to develop FeedDemon, this is the 3rd release of the app since Jan. Even when we charged for the product, not all upgrades were free therefore it’s still a good tradeoff, IMO.

I looked at what we were doing with our client applications and rightly concluded that if we could generate some revenue that would offset the cost of supporting those apps, then that would be the responsible thing to do. As Nick (and Brent Simmons and Nick Harris) will support, what we talked about was the right approach to doing this. We didn’t want Viagra or University of Phoenix ads showing up in the apps and we didn’t want ads in feeds and we didn’t want interstitials. It was also important to not impact performance negatively so compact asynchronous ad streams were important.

What we wanted were ads that reflected the community of users who rely on these products and placement in an unobtrusive manner that, if we selected the right network partner, would prove to be actually useful to the community. Nick was the most skeptical but as he writes in his post, even he has been clicking on the ads because they are relevant to him.

The FeedDemon v2.8 release is a beta, it’s something we are trying and while we welcome the feedback it’s also important to recognize that adding ads to an app that is being made available for free is not unreasonable. It may turn out that this doesn’t work as well as we would like, hence the reason for calling this a beta, and we reserve the right to change our mind but from where I sit this is a good compromise that satisfies our financial requirements while also presenting ad content that is not distasteful or overwhelming to the user experience.

The reality about desktop applications is that very few outside of large packaged software apps can generate a large enough community of users who are willing to pay for them, at least not enough to pay at a level that supports those applications on a fully loaded basis. This is even more true when you are competing against some very good products that are free. A reasonable person might consider that the alternative of having the app go end-of-life is a less appealing alternative to running ads to offset the operational costs of supporting them. We’ve just gone through a period of time where you could reasonably make the argument for free as a business model but given the economic realities of right now and what 2009 is looking like, you simply have to rethink everything.

Lastly, for the part of the community that remains unsatisfied by this decision and wants to voice their criticism, don’t direct it at Nick, direct it at me.

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TopStyle Acquired

TopStyle is one of those products that has a small but very committed following. I’m pleased to see that it is going to a good home where the user community will be well served by a lead developer who is just as passionate about TopStyle as Nick was.

It’s no secret that TopStyle has languished since I created FeedDemon several years ago. I’ve had several false starts with the next version, only to be pulled away by other demands. Honestly, it’s been clear for a long time that if TopStyle was going to continue, we’d have to find someone else to handle it – and now we have.

[From Nick Bradbury: ANN: TopStyle Acquired by Stefan van As]

What makes a blog post popular?

Our friends over at mSpoke posted part 1 in a series about what makes blog posts popular. This is an in-depth look at the factors that contribute to popularity, here Paul is looking at post writing quality and correlation to popularity.

To start, we’ll need a bunch of feed items and measures of popularity and writing quality. For the popularity measure, I will use the feed item’s NewsGator attention score. While Newsgator has done some additional work to renormalize the scores to range from 0 to 10 since this post, it should give you a good idea about what factors into an item’s score. Put simply, the larger the NewsGator attention score, the more popular the feed item.

Measuring whether a feed item is well-written is difficult. As a crude proxy, I use the php-text-statistics package to compute the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. This measure has been around for years and looks at the number of words per sentence and the number of syllables per word to estimate the number of years of education expected for a reader to understand the text. I also look at the length in bytes of the posts because that is easy to compute.

[From mSpoke Corporate Blog » Blog Archive » What makes a blog post popular? Part I: Comparing popularity and reading difficulty]

This is an important topic because a consequence of the explosion of content that is available in the blogosphere and broader web is that companies who have an interest in tracking their brands don’t know what they don’t know, and more ominously don’t know where to look. It’s easy to deliver relevant content but this is often yet another ocean they have to submerse themselves in.

What is needed is a mechanism for measuring authority on a subject and ability to influence, and popularity is clearly one of the factors. Popularity is an amazingly intricate subject because it combines objective measures like traffic relative to other sources with much more subjective data that suggests ability to influence.

The science underpinning popularity is complex and companies like NewsGator and mSpoke have been devoting significant R&D resources to this problem. Stay tuned.

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NewsGator as the Anti-AP

Considering this latest announcement is an evolution of things we have been working on all year, this is probably a lot less exciting to us than for people hearing it for the first time. But it is genuinely exciting because it delivers on a promise as old as the internet itself, the ability to integrate text on-the-fly from many sources.

NewsGator is building widgets for a consortium of 32 online papers — one for each team in the NFL. While the newspapers are not necessarily owned by the same companies, they’ve decided to share high quality content with one another in a novel way. Essentially, we’re talking about the atomization of content — where, esentially, content is broken up into many pieces and distributed (often standalone) across the web; in this case, the online newspapers we’re parterning with are atomizing their content through NewsGator widgets. (For an excellent introduction to atomization of content, check out PR Squared’s post on the subject.)

[From Introducing Reverse Syndication & Atomization of Content Our Novel, NFL Widget Campaign Breaks New Ground: NewsGator Widget Blog]

Why is this the anti-AP? Simply because the AP takes it upon themselves to create or aggregate content which is then distributed to their coop members, it defines syndication. What we are doing is enabling a peer-to-peer based model rather than the hub-and-spoke where our network participants are getting what they are sharing, in this case news content concerning football (American football, not soccer for those of you outside of the U.S.).

Our theory is that there is plenty of content, high quality content, from local sources and the limiting factor has been the ability to programmatically aggregate all this local content and then provide a distribution mechanism. Widgets and RSS solve both of those problems and point to a future where content owners and publishers can seamlessly share and consume the best content on specific or generalized subjects and do so with little cost and zero friction.

Social Software Notes

Two thoughts.

We’ve been using Yammer but it’s not clear to me what advantages this has over IM and chatrooms, providing you are already using those behind your firewall (we use Jabber). Having said that, Yammer is a very nice UI and the twitter-like desktop and mobile clients are great. It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, presence-based instant messaging is one of them. Just need one system for everyone to use.

Wikis. We’ve been building out a wiki for NewsGator developer services. Nothing fancy but my team has put a lot of energy into building out the content and from a quality standpoint I think it’s pretty high. I heard something today that totally validated the energy we have invested here:

“We have seen a decrease in inbound support requests since the wiki has been online and built out.”

Okay, so we’ve increased our customer count and expanded our product with things like the Gigya integration and new Editor’s Desk functions, yet the inbound support requests have declined. That is awesome and it loudly makes the point that when given the resources people will help themselves and be happy about doing it.

Reuters and NewsGator Partner on Election Coverage

I was remiss in not writing about another announcement we made yesterday. Reuters and NewsGator have teamed up to offer U.S. election coverage widgets for individuals and publishers.

The idea of doing widgets with specific event coverage is nothing new, but what makes this program unique is that we are offering full text Reuters coverage and video in a branded widget that can be co-branded and customized for a specific publisher.

When content in the widget is clicked on, the click brings you back not to Reuters site but to the partner site that is cobranding the widget, as is the case here with Joe the Plumber on the Denver Post site. Pretty cool, huh?

Reuters deserves a lot of credit for offering publishers the ability to take advantage of their content in a manner that benefits both the publisher and of course Reuters. With the AP struggling to maintain their customer list of newspapers, it is no surprise that other information service providers are jumping at the opportunity to disrupt the marketplace with innovative syndication offerings.

RSS technologies when combined with widget syndication offer the ideal vehicle for aggregating and distributing content in a manner that retains the integrity of the brand and ensures that monetization flows exactly where it should, to content owners and publishers.

RSS Adoption Rates

What’s holding RSS back, asks Rubel, the answer is simple: R S and S. Nobody outside of a minority group of self-described geeks will use an RSS client or online reader. I know our numbers and I know what Bloglines and Google Reader do in terms of daily users. It’s no more than half a million users who are on these apps with any regularity. Don’t get me wrong, this is an important half a million users because they are the tip of the spear for new media models, the innovators that have shown a path for a new interaction model with online media, but mass market they are not.

Go to Newsgator.com and you will see that we minimize RSS and focus on what people are doing and why it matters. RSS is plumbing, widgets, social computing and other applications are the things that people interact with.

Rubel points out a very important point for the future, the way content owners and publishers use their newsfeed will determine winners and losers in the future media market. Syndication of content and aggregation are massively empowered with RSS technologies and entities like the AP are the big losers here. You may never use an RSS application but you will certainly be relying on RSS infrastructure in the future even if you are oblivious to it.

This larger promise still holds and as the technologies become more invisible the newsfeed could even one day subsume RSS.

[From Micro Persuasion: RSS Adoption at 11% and it May Be Peaking, Forrester Says]

Branded iPhone Apps From NewsGator

We have experienced a lot of success with our NetNewsWire application on the iPhone, and like all good things in business it lent itself to a series of “what if” discussions internally, the result of which was what I am writing about today.

With NewsGator’s native iPhone Apps your brand and content are just a fingertip away from over 7M iPhone users. Launched in July 2008, Apple’s new 3G iPhone and App Store have experienced tremendous success with over 1M iPhones sold and more than 10M App downloads in the first three days after launch! You can reach this large and growing audience with NewsGator iPhone Apps. Our Apps enable you to deliver a branded media experience directly to the iPhone – providing users with one touch, anytime access to your content.

[From Branded iPhone Apps - NewsGator Widgets]

We realized that we could take the very popular NetNewsWire application for the iPhone and strip off the NewsGator branding to make it a dedicated media reader app for our media clients. We also had to detune it from being a general purpose mobile RSS client to a media specific reader apps. All of this stacks up to be an exciting offering for media companies who wish to have an iPhone app that can be used to increase their audience and more fully engage them at the same time.

There are two reasons why this is an exciting development. First and foremost, media brands have an absolute requirement to extend their presence to the places where people are consuming content and mobile is just one of those places. Building a better website is by itself no longer a strategy for expanding audience and advertising revenue, moving out to mobile is a compelling option for any media site, large or small. The iPhone has dramatically reshaped the mobile marketplace and it’s because of iTunes more than any other factor, we now have a merchandising mechanism for moving apps down the pipe to end users and this is hugely important.

The second reason this is exciting is that developing iPhone apps, or any mobile app for that matter, is complex and expensive. Go out and try to hire iPhone app developers today, good ones are very difficult to find and the market is super competitive, all of which conspire to make iPhone app development a steep hill to climb for media companies. They will invariably end up going with custom development that gives them little in the way of content control and then carries with it the risk of alienating their audience with a less than compelling application that they also have to support.

Our branded iPhone application program not only overcomes the challenges that media companies face with mobile app development, but we also host it for them and that removes a big operational challenge from their equation. We host it, provide our proven content management capabilities and all for a reasonable cost of a one time setup fee and a monthly hosting fee based on the number of downloads per month. We also handle insertion into iTunes App Store and have a best practices approach that clients can follow for predictable success.

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