Today, Facebook launches a new ad unit called “Sponsored Stories” that turns Page updates, as well as Places checkins, Likes, and application activity by users into advertisements. Sponsored Stories will allow advertisers to augment viral buzz by giving greater distribution and visibility to posts that endorse their organization or business.

Sponsored Stories will initially be available through Facebook’s managed brand advertising services for display on the home page and profile, and in the coming weeks it will become part of the self-serve performance advertising tool for display across the site. Launch partners for the ad unit include Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Levi’s, and Anheuser-Busch, as well as social good organizations (RED) and UNICEF.

Facebook has been testing the ad unit for a few months and says it has resulted in brand lift and increased engagement, ad recall, and likeliness to be recommended to friends for the organizations that tried it.

When a user checks in to claimed Place, Likes a Page, or shares content to the news feed from an application that has paid for Sponsored Stories, that activity may appear as an advertisement to their friends. The ad is shown in special right sidebar module, and displays the user’s name and photo, any additional context or friends they’ve tagged, a picture of and link to the advertised Facebook Page or app, and the Likes and comments from the original post.

Similar to social context ads and Ads for Applications that Facebook launched this year, Sponsored Stories increases the relevance of advertisements to users by displaying a recommendation from one of their friends. Seeing that a friend has checked in at Starbucks is a much more compelling reason to visit than a standard advertisement telling a user to go get a coffee.

Jim Squires of Facebook Product Marketing says “all privacy settings are honored”, so the ads will only be visible to those who can see the original post they draw from. This means users will only see Sponsored Stories by their friends who haven’t restricted them from viewing their shared content. Advertisers can overlay any of Facebook’s standard demographic targeting parameters to further refine who sees a Sponsored Story.

Facebook plans to educate users about how Sponsored Stories respects their privacy through a blog post and explanation in the Help Center. However, there won’t be any link to this information within the ad unit. Some users may not want their content turned into ads, and since there’s no way to opt-out or turn off Sponsored Stories, some protest should be expected.

Page post Sponsored Stories are more straightforward. Pages can buy greater distribution for their latest news feed update, ensuring an audience for a particularly important link or announcement. Users who Like the Page will see the post in Sponsored Stories without having to Like it or take any other action.

Sponsored Stories co-opt a user’s actions, voice, and identity to create ads that resonate with their friends. While Twitter has diluted its content stream with promoted tweets in order to make money, Facebook may have found a significant new revenue stream without selling out the beloved news feed.

Interesting move from Facebook that will delight advertisers but users not so much. You can’t opt out of sponsored stories, unless you judiciously avoid clicking ‘Like’ on any brand pages/apps or activity … or you stop using Facebook altogether! (Oh the horror!) 

The ad will also include whatever text you use in your checkin, so expect some pranksters to mess around with that aspect. A suggestion from Twitter: “Just checked into the Starbucks around the corner and this mocha latte tastes like goat urine.”

Sponsored stories are currently available only to big-budget advertisers, but I hope this initiative is ported to self-serve ads soon. I definitely want to play around with this and see how it works.

Check out the official Facebook Marketing video for more info. (link in first line)

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The Internet went through some fairly predictable phases.  

The first was a research phase (the 70s) where some forward thinkers were working on early research projects for what was then called videotex, teletext, 2-way TV, etc These were experiments in labs as consumers did not have PCs or any practical way to access these services. Futurists like Alvin Toffler wrote about the notion of an “electronic cottage” (he wrote The Third Wave in 1979) but it was considered a pie-in-the-sky prediction.

Next was the pioneering phase (early 80s to early 90s) where a relatively small number of people were trying to build interactive services, but it was an uphill battle. Few people used them (and the Internet itself was still limited to government/educational institutions – indeed, it was illegal to use it for commercial purposes.) The conventional wisdom was that the market would always be limited to hackers/hobbyists. AOL was the first “Internet” company (it was actually called an “online services” or “interactive services” company at the time) to go public and I remember on the road show (in 1992) explaining why we thought this would be a large market someday. Given we had been in business 7 years and had less than 200,000 users, most were skeptical.

Suddenly interest in the Internet took off and we entered a growth phase (mid 90s). A lot of factors contributed to this: consumers started buying PCs in large numbers, PCs started shipping with pre-installed modems, network costs dropped sharply making access more affordable, software was developed to improve easy of use for mainstream users, the World Wide Web emerged, the first wave of start-ups were developed, etc. Suddenly a market that had been nascent for more than a decade was suddenly showing signs of life. As an example, AOL went from 200,000 users to 1 million in a 2 year period.

This sudden surge in interest led to the hype phase (late 90s), when people came out of the woodwork to be part of the Internet gold rush. Hundreds of companies were started, and everybody wanted to invest. Valuations shot up. Me-too companies became prevalent. Crazy ideas that had no business model and no realistic chance of success were viewed as the next big thing. As millions of people decided to go online virtually overnight, companies like AOL expanded rapidly. We were literally getting America online), adding 1 million new users every month or two. Our market value soared, from $70 million at the time of the 1992 IPO to $150 billion in early 2000.

Not surprisingly, this hype phase was followed by despair (early 2000s). Some called this the Internet’s nuclear winter. Investors ran from the sector and valuations plummeted. Some companies lost 99% of their market value in a matter of months. Dozens went bankrupt. The sector went from being the hottest thing on Wall Street to being cold. New companies could not raise start-up capital. Most people thought the Internet as a passing fad.  

That then led to a recovery phase (mid 2000s). Some of the companies started in the hype phase built large franchises (Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, etc), and a handful of newer companies got traction (Google, in particular). This was a slower, steadier, saner period of growth. Investors tended to be selective, betting on the winners that survived the bust that were consolidating their positions.

Now we appear to be in a boom phase again. The success of social media (Facebook in particular) and more recently social commerce (Groupon and LivingSocial) has reminded people of how quickly large, profitable, valuable franchises can be built. As a result, there is once again a rush to invest. This will inevitably lead to many disappointments, but the difference now vs a decade ago is the companies have real business models, significant revenues, etc Valuations are likely to move up – or down – quickly, but the underlying businesses are for the most part pretty stable.

This cycle – hope, hype, despair, rebound, etc – has been interesting to watch (and live through) over the past 25+ years. It is is worth pointing out though that what happened with the Internet is not unique to the Internet – the cycles just happened a little faster. Most significant inventions and industries (cars, etc) have undergone similar transitions. Success seems to require a mix of passion, perspective, and perseverance.

Beautifully written piece about the history of the Internet & the current phase we’re in by Steve Case, co-founder of AOL on Quora.
It is due to posts like this one that Quora is fast becoming one of my favourite websites (and also a big time-suck). But that’s a topic for another day.

The company will also announce that it has raised $800,000 in venture capital, the first step in moving along the path from building an app to running a profitable business.

The New York Times on Pulse growing and making the app free

I’m happy for the Pulse team. Pulse is great. But this quote, for which the blame lies more on this article’s author, is (probably unintentionally) ridiculous. Unfortunately, the media loves zeros and gets carried away by any announcement that involves a big figure.

Hundreds (if not thousands) of iPhone and iPad apps are made by profitable businesses that didn’t raise any venture capital. In fact, making the app free is going to remove its biggest revenue stream, which is likely to be generating at least $25,000 per month.

I’m sure the Pulse team put a lot of thought into this and have a good chance of making money later in other ways, as the article mentions. But in the short term, this move is likely to make them quite unprofitable. That’s why businesses raise venture capital: to cover their costs when they’re unprofitable so they can grow into something that’s hopefully larger and very profitable later.

It’s ridiculous, incorrect, and insulting to those who have chosen the traditional business model — charge money, spend less than you make — for this author to suggest that giving away your product for free and paying your expenses with VC money is the “first step” to make your app development “a profitable business”.

Apple or any of its employees do not accept or consider unsolicited ideas, including ideas for new advertising campaigns, new promotions, new or improved products or technologies, product enhancements, processes, materials, marketing plans or new product names. Please do not submit any unsolicited ideas, original creative artwork, suggestions or other works (“submissions”) in any form to Apple or any of its employees. The sole purpose of this policy is to avoid potential misunderstandings or disputes when Apple’s products or marketing strategies might seem similar to ideas submitted to Apple. If, despite our request that you not send us your ideas, you still submit them, then regardless of what your letter says, the following terms shall apply to your submissions.

TERMS OF IDEA SUBMISSION

You agree that: (1) your submissions and their contents will automatically become the property of Apple, without any compensation to you; (2) Apple may use or redistribute the submissions and their contents for any purpose and in any way; (3) there is no obligation for Apple to review the submission; and (4) there is no obligation to keep any submissions confidential.

Linkedin

A Japanese teenager has hacked the Microsoft Kinect to create an augmented reality superhero game, which I must say is pretty impressive for a one man hack job. Imagine what teams of professional developers could create in the future!
With the demand for gesture based applications set to explode in the next few years, I seriously think that the Kinect has the potential to be Microsoft’s iPod.

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Remember 4CHAN? This is the anonymous usergroup that conducted the hack attacks on Mastercard et al after the Wikileaks fiasco. Ever wonder what kind of people frequent this site? Wonder no more ..

Today you .. tomorrow me

Posted: December 27, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Just about every time I see someone I stop. I kind of got out of the habit in the last couple of years, moved to a big city and all that, my girlfriend wasn’t too stoked on the practice. Then some shit happened to me that changed me and I am back to offering rides habitually. If you would indulge me, it is long story and has almost nothing to do with hitch hiking other than happening on a road.

This past year I have had 3 instances of car trouble. A blow out on a freeway, a bunch of blown fuses and an out of gas situation. All of them were while driving other people’s cars which, for some reason, makes it worse on an emotional level. It makes it worse on a practical level as well, what with the fact that I carry things like a jack and extra fuses in my car, and know enough not to park, facing downhill, on a steep incline with less than a gallon of fuel.

Anyway, each of these times this shit happened I was DISGUSTED with how people would not bother to help me. I spent hours on the side of the freeway waiting, watching roadside assistance vehicles blow past me, for AAA to show. The 4 gas stations I asked for a gas can at told me that they couldn’t loan them out “for my safety” but I could buy a really shitty 1-gallon one with no cap for $15. It was enough, each time, to make you say shit like “this country is going to hell in a handbasket.”

But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Immigrants. Mexican immigrants. None of them spoke a lick of the language. But one of those dudes had a profound affect on me.

He was the guy that stopped to help me with a blow out with his whole family of 6 in tow. I was on the side of the road for close to 4 hours. Big jeep, blown rear tire, had a spare but no jack. I had signs in the windows of the car, big signs that said NEED A JACK and offered money. No dice. Right as I am about to give up and just hitch out there a van pulls over and dude bounds out. He sizes the situation up and calls for his youngest daughter who speaks english. He conveys through her that he has a jack but it is too small for the Jeep so we will need to brace it. He produces a saw from the van and cuts a log out of a downed tree on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top, and bam, in business. I start taking the wheel off and, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones and I wasn’t careful and I snapped the head I needed clean off. Fuck.

No worries, he runs to the van, gives it to his wife and she is gone in a flash, down the road to buy a tire iron. She is back in 15 minutes, we finish the job with a little sweat and cussing (stupid log was starting to give), and I am a very happy man. We are both filthy and sweaty. The wife produces a large water jug for us to wash our hands in. I tried to put a 20 in the man’s hand but he wouldn’t take it so I instead gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other. I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I could send them a gift for being so awesome. She says they live in Mexico. They are here so mommy and daddy can pick peaches for the next few weeks. After that they are going to pick cherries then go back home. She asks if I have had lunch and when I told her no she gave me a tamale from their cooler, the best fucking tamale I have ever had.

So, to clarify, a family that is undoubtedly poorer than you, me, and just about everyone else on that stretch of road, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took an hour or two out of their day to help some strange dude on the side of the road when people in tow trucks were just passing me by. Wow…

But we aren’t done yet. I thank them again and walk back to my car and open the foil on the tamale cause I am starving at this point and what do I find inside? My fucking $20 bill! I whirl around and run up to the van and the guy rolls his window down. He sees the $20 in my hand and just shaking his head no like he won’t take it. All I can think to say is “Por Favor, Por Favor, Por Favor” with my hands out. Dude just smiles, shakes his head and, with what looked like great concentration, tried his hardest to speak to me in English:

“Today you…. tomorrow me.”

Rolled up his window, drove away, his daughter waving to me in the rear view. I sat in my car eating the best fucking tamale of all time and I just cried. Like a little girl. It has been a rough year and nothing has broke my way. This was so out of left field I just couldn’t deal.

In the 5 months since I have changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations and, once, went 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won’t accept money. Every time I tell them the same thing when we are through:

“Today you…. tomorrow me.”

tl;dr: long rambling story about how the kindness of strangers, particularly folks from south of the border, forced me to be more helpful on the road and in life in general. I am sure it won’t be as meaningful to anyone else but it was seriously the highlight of my 2010.

As it is Christmas weekend, I think it is only appropriate I repost this story of human kindness and the profound impact even small actions can have on others. The thread that this post appeared in was titled “Have you ever picked up a hitch-hiker?” where people weighed in with their opinions and experiences. It wasn’t until ‘Rhoner’ posted this small write-up that this thread really came to life. Rhoner talks about an incident when his vehicle was stranded on the side of the road for hours and no one stopped to help except for some Mexican immigrants. The Mexican’s closing words “Today you .. tomorrow me” succinctly express his simple philosophy and serve as a gentle reminder of the karmic cycle.
After-effect: A ‘SubReddit’ on Reddit.com called TYTM has been formed where people are sharing their experiences. Head over to Reddit to read more if you are interested.