Cloud Four’s Web Site Launches

Tonight we launched Tomorrow we pick up the keys to our new office. Friday we start painting and assembling furniture. If all goes well, we’ll open doors on Monday and start planning our office warming party.

We’re overwhelmed, excited, and anxious. What a remarkable thing it is to start a company. There is really nothing that compares.

So why another web development company? Here’s why.

First, my co-founders and I have spent the last several years doing very similar work, but for a very specific market. In some ways, we’re just continuing what we’ve always been doing, but with a larger public presence and in a different location.

Second, we’re see new opportunities in spaces outside of the niche market we worked in. We see opportunities to:

We’ve also got some exciting side projects. More on that later. ;-)

Finally, we’re thrilled by the idea of building a business and a culture together, continuing to work closely with our former colleagues, and meeting new people tackling interesting challenges.

It’s been three fast months since Guy Kawasaki’s video kept me awake with the realization that I wanted to start my own company. I’m proud to be working with such an amazing group of co-founders, and I’m pleased that we’re all sharing equaling in the creation of the company. We have an all-star team. If this was a pick-up basketball game, I’d feel guilty for having so much talent on one squad.

Most importantly, I find myself going back to what inspired me about that video and what compelled me to choose a different, more risky direction. I believe we have a chance to make meaning—to make an impact—in the lives of others. That means a lot to me.

So that’s what Cloud Four is about. We’ll have more to discuss in the coming months. If you know of someone who can use our services, we would appreciate you pointing them in our direction.

Brand Affinity and Brand Fans

Everywhere I turn lately, there has been a discussion about brands and our relationship to them. One of the co-founders of Cloud Four, Lyza, wrote about Brand Affinity recently. My ex-coworker Chris Higgins picked up the theme on Mental Floss. Finally, Facebook’s recently unveiled its big advertising push with an emphasis on “Brand Fans” and “Fan-sumers.”

When Lyza and Chris write about their brand preferences, I find myself thinking that, yes, I indeed follow brands and buy brands. However, when I first read about Facebook’s new advertising plan relying on me declaring myself a fan of a brand, I laughed aloud. Yeah right, how many people are going to take the time to sign up to become a fan of Coke.

But if you read Jeremiah’s article on Facebook, he provides some convincing supporting data in support of Facebook’s brand pages. In particular, he points out that people trust the recommendations of friends and acquaintances more than any other source of information. Because of this fact, having your friends endorse a brand on Facebook would make a big difference in your decision-making.

The data is right. The conclusion is wrong.

Few people have blind loyalty when it comes to brands. I generally like Apple products (as do both Chris and Lyza), but I would never buy nor recommend that anyone buy an iTV. Because I generally like Apple products, I will look at their new products, but I don’t purchase them blindly.

And when I like something, I evangelize specific products, not the brand itself. I think this is true of most people whether we talk about Apple or Coca-Cola. People like specific products created by companies, not everything the company has ever done.

This is why I think Facebook is on the right track, but misguided in a fundamental way. They have taken a marketer’s approach to creating a relationship with brands when the real value comes from recommendations at the product or service level.

Mobile Dominates Social Media

With all of the buzz this week about Google’s Open Social, everyone’s attention is focused on the web-based social networks and missing the impact of mobile technology on social media. Per usual, the Communities Dominate Brands blog is ahead of the game on this one.

In Tomi T Ahonen’s latest post on Communities Dominate Brands, Tomi points out that:

Informa’s latest Mobile Industry Outlook report for 2007 reveals that yes, mobile social networking services did continue their dramatic growth for the past 12 months, and are already worth over 5 billion dollars in 2007.

$5 billion dollars! This again dwarves the revenue associated with web-based social networks. Tomi’s post echoes one of his posts from a year ago where he put the then $3.45 billion in mobile social networking in perspective:

3.45 Billion dollars this year! Wow. A bit of context. All of iTunes revenues last year were about 400 million dollars. TV-interactivity (voting for Big Brother, Survivor Island, Pop Idol etc) were worth 900 million dollars. Internet gaming revenues, all multiplayer games etc, were worth 1.9 billion dollars. All internet adult site revenues were worth 2.5 billion dollars in 2005… Oh, just to be clear – that mobile digital content revenue is more than all (non-mobile phone based) online social networking revenues combined. In only two years, the mobile side of digital communities has shot ahead of the online world. Amazing!

There you go. If you weren’t previously convinced that mobile is the next big thing, it’s hard to dispute the fact that today’s big thing–social networks–is already bigger on mobile devices than on PCs.

I miss Kathy Sierra

There is huge hole in the Internet that Kathy Sierra filled. This morning, I looked again for some signs of what Kathy is doing now, but her site is still dormant.

We’ve lost such a eloquent voice for building businesses and products that people are passionate about. It’s been months now, and I don’t see anyone being able to fill the void.

I miss Kathy Sierra and still hold out hope that one day she will return to blogging.

5 Months Later: Twitter Rocks. Facebook Bores.

After hearing such a buzz about Twitter and Facebook at Web Visions 2007, I decided to give them both a try. Five months later, the results are completely unexpected to me: Twitter seems indispensable and Facebook completely ignorable.

My initial impressions were very different. Facebook had a clear purpose and reason. While I’ve never got much value out of MySpace or Friendster and minimal value out of LinkedIn, at least I understood why someone might find them useful. Facebook’s common features with these other social networking sites made it easy to see what Facebook was about.

Twitter on the other hand seem like a tremendous waste of time. I believe that the high interrupt nature of today’s workplace is already straining productivity. I’ve changed my email client to only check email every 30 minutes, stopped participating in IM and irc but irregularly, and generally sought ways to give myself more focus.

It was difficult to imagine that a system like Twitter with constant micro-updates would work for me.

Five months later and I’m contemplating turning off my Facebook account while I both enjoy and find utility in Twitter. How did this come to be?

Let’s start with the easy answer on why Facebook disappoints.

Dave Winer wrote recently about how Facebook sucks because it doesn’t allow users to control their data. This triggered a lot of back and forth about the value of Facebook. I’m not sure if it is control of the data or the walled garden or what, but the reality is that I never see what is going on in Facebook.

I think Facebook’s expectation is that I’m going to log into their system and refresh the news feed page. I’m not sure. I’ve tried turning on every type of notification and subscribing via RSS to no avail. I’m in several groups, but I never know that anything is happening in them.

Basically, the only time I think about Facebook is when someone writes an article about how great it is. Then I log in to look again and wonder what I’m missing.

Yes, Facebook has a wonderful development platform. I like the fact that I can syndicate my blog, twitter, delicious and flickr information to Facebook. It means I never have to log into Facebook to update anything. :-)

Maybe more of my friends need to use the platform. Maybe I need to “live” in the application to appreciate it. But for whatever reason, I’ve given Facebook five months to hook me, and I still could care less about it. And I’m actively trying to understand this system. I doubt others will take as much time.

Twitter’s purpose is much more difficult to explain. Adam C. Engst’s recent “Confessions of a Twitter Convert” mirrors my own experience. Twitter provides both a way to know what is going on in people’s lives, a conduit to breaking news, and a community that you don’t find elsewhere online.

It also provides you with a conduit to talking to people you otherwise have no connection to. My exchange with Guy Kawasaki allowed me to give something back to someone I admire. That connection would have never happened without Twitter. I don’t have Guy’s email address. He doesn’t know me at all.

Who knows? Perhaps in five months more of my friends will be on Facebook, and I’ll suddenly see why so many people swear by this service and think it can take on Google. And maybe Twitter will grow old or become crowded with spammers.

But for now, Twitter provides a difficult-to-describe joy and usefulness to my everyday. Facebook promises much more, but doesn’t deliver.

(You can follow me on Twitter here. My Facebook account is… well, I don’t think I can link to my Facebook profile. So I guess you have to search for me. How lame is that?)

Web ‘not path to close friendships’

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post where I theorized that social networks were having an impact on our ability to create and keep in contact with many more acquaintances, but don’t redefine our definition of friendship as some have suggested. A study by Sheffield Hallam University has recently been released that says that, “close friends are unlikely to be made through social networking web sites such as Facebook and MySpace.”

The article on the study points out that social networking sites “may be having less impact on people’s social lives than might be expected.” The research shows that people really only have about 5 close friends—the same number that people had before social networking sites—and that those close friends are met face-to-face.

So social networking is about acquaintances more than friends regardless of how many “friend” request you accept. The thing that surprised me most about the research was that people might have actually expected social networking sites to change the dynamics of close friendships.

OEN Award Winners

Silicon Florist announced Jive Software’s award at the OEN Awards based on my tweet earlier tonight. So in the interest of getting it right, here is my wine-colored recollection of the winners:

As always, the Awards Ceremony was fun, the food good, and the videos of all the finalists were inspiring. Congratulations to all of the finalists and winners.

(And I hope I remembered the winners correctly. Did I mention that the wine was good?)

Speed Matters: Presentation Files and Resources

Speed Matters: Presentation and Resources

We had an exceptional audience tonight at DevGroup NW for my presentation on how to speed up web pages. There were a lot of good questions and an engaged audience. Thank you to everyone who showed up. Here is my presentation from tonight as well as some of the resources I mentioned.

The great irony is that I used so many images in my presentation that I can’t compress the pdf files to the degree that I would like. Sorry for the large file size. If it is any consolation, you’ll likely get to fully use your broadband connection unlike when you download web pages and are limited by current connections to a fraction of your connection speed. :-)

Books on Site Performance

Articles & Resources

Measuring Site Speed

Minimizers and Compressors

Statistics & Studies

Thanks to all of the Flickr users who posted their images with Creative Commons licenses. This presentation wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting without their photographs.

Applying a Social Computing Strategy to the entire Product Lifecycle

Jeremiah Owyang has published an exceptionally detailed article tracking the different ways to engage in social media during a product’s lifecycle.

The article has a raft of good ideas in it including this insightful quote:

1. Listening: The most important step
This is one of the biggest problems for communicators today, just like a real conversation, is learning to listen. Any savvy party goer knows to listen before jumping into a conversation at a cocktail party. Marketers, MarCom, Integrated Marketing, Advertising, PR, have forgotten (or never knew) that by listening to the needs of the market will help them to create more effective messages and then evolve into a conversation.

Listening is the most underdeveloped skill in business today. Whether it is listening to our customers or listening to our coworkers, finding people who can listen well is difficult.

Listening to a market is a different skill set (rss, bulletin boards) than listening in a meeting, but both rely on true listening—active listening.

Active listening requires you to not only have heard what is was said, but to listen intently enough that the people speaking know that you have heard and understood them. Only after someone knows that they’ve been heard will they be able to engage in a conversation.

In social media, it isn’t sufficient to simply monitor the conversations. You need to understand and internalize the values, concerns and fears of the people involved.

The first time that a marketer speaks in a social network, it will be readily apparent those involved in the network whether or not the marketer truly gets what they are about or not. Marketers need to take the time to listen and to make sure that when they engage in the conversation that their audience knows that they have been heard.

I was pleased that Jeremiah listed listening as the most very first thing on his list. The rest of the list is just as insightful so read the full article.

Congrats to Silicon Florist

Rick Turoczy marks one month of covering the Portland technology community on his blog Silicon Florist. I’ve come to rely on his blog and tend to look at his posts as soon as he notes them on his twitter account.

Because of Silicon Florist, I’ve attended interesting local events like last night’s meeting on Implementing Rails concepts with PHP. Without the Silicon Florist, I never would have known the event was occurring.

After one short month, I can’t imagine not having Silicon Florist in my rss feeds. If you’re in Portland or interested in Portland’s technology scene, you should check it out.