Dan and I met over  lunch with the CEO and the IT head of the Mountain View Voice (http://mv-voice.com/). We showed them our mockups and explained the concept to them. While they were expressed interest in our social network around news, we also learned the following:

  • They take at least 3 months to make a decision for anything. This is because it requires the approval of so many stakeholders. The fastest they ever made a decision was when a competitor launched a commenting feature. They built a similar commenting features in 3 1/2 weeks.
  • The criteria the IT head uses to make a decision is (1) ease of use – how easy is it to incorporate into everything we already have? how much do I have to work to maintain it?, (2) cost – how does this affect the bottom line?, and (3) quality – is this the best product out there?
  • They don’t want to replace their existing comments. They see a link to our site as an additional feature.
  • They prefer to allow anonymous comments but don’t mind that we require identities.

They liked the following about our service:

  • Social integration: We tie in with their Facebook accounts.
  • Control: Because we don’t ask for their content (like Yahoo does), they don’t loose control over the presentation of their content.
  • Sharing: The sharing features would probably bring more page views to their site.

So the overall take away is: They are very interested and intrigued by our product but they are swamped with so many other projects that commenting isn’t on the top of their  list.

At the end of the meeting, we asked the IT head what the company’s top priority projects were. I was astonished to learn that these projects were all IT related. They needed a redesign of their site, they were replacing their ad system, and there were many other changes to the site in the pipeline. The difficulty was, like a lot of other small newspapers, they were running  a home-brew content management system built in an era before WordPress.

We also asked what the company’s largest problem was. To my surprise (sarcasm), they said the bottom line. The transition from print to the internet had crippled their revenue. Most of their print revenue used to be made from local advertising. Today, local businesses have a myriad of options to advertise. Among these is Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Ads. Newspapers are no longer the place for local business to advertise. They’re just an option.

The opportunities I see here are

  • The major IT headaches for small news publishers that can’t afford large IT departments. This seemed like a hair-on-fire problem from the way the IT head described it. There is definitely a market for tools that make their lives easier.
  • Newspapers’ competition with other local advertisement channels. The demographic information from our social network may make local newspapers more attractive to local advertisers.

After we are able to obtain evidence that our social network can improve a newspaper’s biggest problem–their bottom line–we will have a far more compelling product.

-Venkat

Want to post a comment on a site? Looks, like you have to register!  And don’t forget to provide a password that is at least 8 characters with at least one capitalized letter and some punctuation. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to check your e-mail to active your account. Didn’t get the e-mail? Be sure to check your spam folder.

Why are there so many sites that require registration? When I go to a site that asks me for my e-mail, a username, and a password, I usually get put off by the hassle and leave. Registration raises yet another barrier for an already skeptical user.

This is why, with Voci.us, we are doing away with the concept of registrations. Thanks to Facebook Connect, users can use their Facebook credentials to login to our site. We can then pull their e-mail address, full name, and profile picture automatically. Facebook provides the added benefit of providing an identity to our users.

Many sites have begun to use Facebook Connect. After clicking “Connect with Facebook” on these sites, you can provide a username , click the register button, and you are registered.

Voci.us makes it even simpler. If you have a Facebook account, you are already registered. No need to make a username or anything. The button that normally says “Connect with Facebook” instead reads “Login with Facebook”. If you don’t have a Voci.us account when you first login with Facebook, one is silently created and linked to your Facebook account.

No more thoughts like “oh man, I have to register?”

-Venkat

As long as news sites don’t severely edit comments, they’re not liable for comments on their sites, according to a collaboration of media lawyers and editors.

Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) Section 230:  “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” and  “No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any state or local law that is inconsistent with this section.”

Cubby v. CompuServe, Inc. (S.D.N.Y. 1991) – CompuServe sued for republishing user’s comment that a competing business is a “start-up scam” – Question: Is Cubby liable as a “republisher”? • Is Cubby a newspaper or a library? – Court finds that Cubby is a mere distributor, with no liability • No role in creating content • No opportunity to review content

Stratton Oakmont, Inc. v. Prodigy Services Co. (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1995) – Anonymous user of Prodigy’s “Money Talk” bulletin board says a securities firm was a “cult of brokers who either lie for a living or get fired.” – Same result as Cubby? – Court finds this case is different, because Prodigy “held itself out to the public … as controlling the content of its computer bulletin boards.”

The natural lesson to be drawn from Cubby and Stratton-Oakmont?  If you control content, you will be liable.

Read more here: http://www.slideshare.net/jbenton/rob-bertsche-on-the-digital-millennium-copyright-act-and-reader-comments

Take a look at the following table from March 2009 (the data is a bit old but still relevant):

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Last week I had the following dilemma: how much should I know about a customer before I give them a product to play with? I erred on the side of playing it safe and trying to figure out too much about our customers without building enough.

I think I see the light now. We all need to have a single vision. We need to work toward this vision as though it is correct. In the meantime, we need to keep testing our vision on the users. We need to have the agility to change our vision as we see better opportunities. The problem with new ideas is that you can’t just ask users what they want, you have to envision what they will want and see if they actually care about it.

So, this week has kept me busy with our current vision. Attached is a summary of the progress that has been made.

Most of these features won’t be present on Monday morning’s beta release but they will be gradually rolled out throughout next week. We believe multiple discussions about an article and real identities are the important features, so they will definitely be included  in this release.

The event logging system I have built combined with Google Analytics will allow us to determine what features our users are interested in. Tests on virality and user attention will be crucial. This is the next goal.

Here are the attachments I was referring to in my previous post:

Voci.us1

Voci.us2

-Dan

Earlier this month, the Online News Association sponsored an event at Facebook headquarters which shed light on a truly unmet need.

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I see the following trends occuring:

Ads

  • Banner ads and click ads will be become much less profitable. There is a reason that news companies are going bankrupt: ads don’t pay enough.

Micropayments

  • Micropayments will become hugely popular. It will become effortless to buy something on the web for 25 cents. Facebook, PayPal, (and maybe Google) will become big players in this industry.
  • There will many sites that will charge for content via micropayments. What if you could subscribe to a blog or a website for 25 cents a month? That would be a solid $2.5k a month from 10,000 subscribers. At $30k/year, you could be a full time blogger. What if you could pay to view the rest of an article for 5 cents? Apple’s app store is a perfect example of effortless purchases that don’t cost a lot

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We know that we have a lot more to know.

That pretty much sums up our mentors’ advice this week. So we’re back to interviews and ethnographic studies to help us better identify user needs in order to pass/fail our hypotheses before we can move into user validation.

voci_us_1_25_slidedeck

Onward.

An instructive lesson for our project from Groupon CEO Andrew Mason who sums up his entrepreneurual experience building a global $15 billion company:

We started out building a site that was designed literally to solve the unsolvable problems of the world, and now we’re hawking coupons.

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