Vator Box on voyeurism and brand control

Bambi Francisco Roizen · April 6, 2008 · Short URL:

We're back again with Drew Curtis of fame. This time we looked at fast-growing FriendFeed, and the appetite for voyeurism and socially-produced content. We then look at Gorilla Spot, which lets consumers create video ad mashups. The company competes with MixerCast and Genius Rocket, and is part of the booming, video-ad-solutions industry drawing up-and-comers like ScanScout, BrightRoll, Digitalsmiths, VideoEgg for publishers, and HotPluto, Spotzer and Turnhere - video solutions for small businesses. advertising. Finally, we look at file-backup company Carbonite. It has nothing to do with the other two companies we looked. But it's a company with real revenue and a real value proposition. 

Let’s start with FriendFeed, an easy-to-use service that lets you see the content across the Web that your friends or people who randomly end up in your network are using. The content comes from services, like Twitter, Yahoo's Flickr, Netflix Queue and Google's YouTube. (Read and watch my interview and analysis of FriendFeed with Paul Buccheit, FriendFeed founder.)

Ezra Roizen – Vator Box regular guest – raised the point that it’s unclear what the demand is for other people’s “dribble,” though clearly it’s a fascination among those who Twitter and use Seesmic, a video Twitter.

Drew said that as a whole, socially-collected content and contributing commentary around them generate a lot of pageviews, but the “actual product sucks.” 

Indeed, FriendFeed’s traffic has exploded since March, according to Alexa. But much of the content shared (including some from yours truly) and comments offered belong on the editing floor, and definitely have a short lifespan. As Drew pointed out in a separate interview I had with him, of the 2,000 articles posted each day on Fark, only about 100 are deemed worthy of being showcased by the Fark moderators.

Now, Ezra did point out that there is value in creating “discussion around content” or a “shared experience.” I could not agree more. In a recent interview (to be published next week) with Slide CEO and founder Max Levchin, he tells me that the key to keeping fickle Web users glued to a particular product is to ensure that their content is mixed with other content that is not theirs.

In other words, a person can and will easily move his/her own scrapbook-like content from one social network to another. But if he/she cannot take the contributions of others, they’re more likely to stay put.

Indeed, I have had profiles on Tribe, Friendster, MySpace, and on social-activity sites, such as Kaboodle and Plum. I’ve not stuck around. I just moved onto the next site that lets me create a presence. There are no switching costs, besides lost photos (but given the abundance of such photos, I'm hardly emotionally attached to any digital content I've collected in the past. I'll just make new memories.)

But - to Max's and Ezra's point - in time, if my content mixed with others creates something even more valuable, and if I can’t take that finished or ongoing product with me, then I’d more likely stick around. Social-activity sites aren’t something to sneeze at. Soical-shopping site Kaboodle was purchased for $30 million by Hearst in August 2007. I remember when Kaboodle was valued at $9 million in 2006. (Full disclosure: Paul Buchheit is an investor in Vator.)

Speaking of mixed content, social sharing and mashups, Gorillaspot is a company that lets marketers involve their fans or customers in the promotion of products. In the Gorillaspot video pitch, you can see how Viacom’s Paramount Pictures used Gorillaspot to promote Sweeney Todd.  According to Athan Stephanopoulous, the company’s founder and CEO, those participating in the Sweeney Todd campaign spent an average of 30 minutes editing the movie trailer. I can definitely see this happening. Ezra's son Tanner spends about 30 minutes or more creating scrapbooks of Star Wars characters. I wouldn't doubt that the next step for him is editing an entire video.

But the challenge for such user-generated advertising services is getting marketers/advertisers comfortable with the unpredictable personal touches that can hurt brands. Advertisers are "scared to death," said Drew, who talked about a campaign he held on Fark. "You can't stop anyone from putting a big giant P.. (bleep)" on an ad, he said. "How do you get around that?" I asked.

"You don't," he responded. "It's a flawed concept."

The upshot is if consumers know that what they're viewing is a "derivative" product, a brand may not be tarnished regardless of the mixed content. You'll have to watch the video for our collective thoughts on user-generated ads.

Finally, we looked at Carbonite. Hands down, this company is worth taking a look at. It's not a cutting-edge,  sexy idea or business. But it makes money and it's growing fast.





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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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