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Social Media: Culture = f(UI) December 19, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in culture, facebook, game mechanics, interaction, Internet, myspace, social media, social networks, UI, web 2.0.
5 comments

Lightspeed hosted a summit for portfolio companies and friends of the firm in the fall, focused on consumer internet user acquisition. One of the panels was about building community on a social media site, and on that panel Angelo Sotira (CEO and founder of deviantART) noted that for social media sites, culture is a function of UI. (deviantART is the leading community for artists and their fans on the web, and is an Alexa top 100 site. [Disclosure: my wife did some consulting for deviantArt.])

I was reminded strongly of this when reading Judith Donath‘s paper on Signals in Social Supernets that was published in the special theme issue of JCMC on social network sites guest edited by dana boyd and Nicole Ellison:

Variation in the design of SNSs promotes the development of different cultures (Donath & boyd, 2004; Lampe, Ellison, & Steinfield, 2007; Lenhart & Madden, 2007b). On a site where creating a link involves little cost, users may amass thousands of “friends,” but an observer has no way of knowing which, if any, of these links represent a relationship between people who care about or even know each other (boyd, 2006; Fono & Raynes-Goldie, 2007). On Orkut, for instance, one simply clicks on a profile to request a connection, and being connected provides no special access or information.

On sites with higher costs for creating a link, the observer has reason to believe that the links represent genuine relationships. Members of aSmallWorld are careful to request connections only with others whom they are sure wish to be linked to them, since they can be banished for having a few link requests declined (Price, 2006). On LiveJournal, making the link is easy: It is one of the few sites in which this can be done unilaterally. However, linking is generally done to give someone access to part of one’s journal, and linked members’ posts appear on one’s own space. This makes “friend” a relatively significant signal, as friending someone both reduces one’s privacy and publicly connects one with that person’s writing (Fono & Raynes-Goldie, 2007).

The meaning of these links is also personally subjective. For some people, listing someone as a “friend” on a social network site is an indication of personal and positive acquaintance. Others are far more casual, willing to add friends indiscriminately (boyd, 2006). This has ramifications for the reliability of the profile itself. Viewers may trust the self-created content of a profile if they believe that its links are to people who know that user well, while links that they believe have only minimal connection add little credence.

SNSs are designed for different audiences. LinkedIn is for professionals. It has no photographs, the profiles are resumés of education and work, and the comments are in the form of testimonials from co-workers. Identity is firmly tied to one’s professional self, and there is limited ability to explore other people’s networks. MySpace, popular with young people, has a very different atmosphere. Its profiles feature photographs, music, and embedded programs, and users can explore the network far beyond their own acquaintances (although they can choose to make their profile visible only to direct connections). This open interface makes it a rich environment for the jokes, links, and software that function as information fashions (discussed below).

Identity in MySpace is fluid. Some profiles are real people, presenting themselves much as they would offline. Some are commercial entities, such as bands, charitable organizations, or celebrities; still others are fictional personas, made for creative experimentation or as fronts for spam. No single design is ideal for all sites. What is important is that designers be fluent in not only the fonts and colors that make up the graphical design of the site, but in the social costs and benefits that shape its emerging culture.

Once a culture takes hold on a site, it is very hard to change. People building social media sites should be careful to think through the implications of their UI (including such mechanics as keeping score and exposing popularity) as their choices will likely have long term implications that can’t be easily reversed by a subsequent tweak to UI.

I’d love to hear other examples of sites where the dominant culture is a function of UI.

UPDATE: Bokardo has a good related post on how changes to Digg’s UI changed its culture

Social design for social media companies August 15, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in communication, Consumer internet, Internet, social media, social networks, user generated content, web 2.0.
2 comments

At the end of June, Motorola published the results of an ethnographic study that they did on the sharing (communication) practices of family and friends. They collected in depth data for 2-3 weeks on 5 different social groups. The powerpoint is well worth reading as a reinforcement of the principles of social product design. The key findings will apply to anyone building social media and communications products:

Motorola Findings

As one of the study’s authors says on the Motorola blog:

When we talk about the “user experience” the main emphasis is often on an individual’s experience with a particular technology. Even with a purported social technology, for example a social networking site, we still tend to create for the individual’s interaction with the site (how does someone find their friend, how do they access this site easily from a mobile device).

However, designing for sociability means thinking about how people experience each other through the technological medium, not just thinking about how they experience the technology. The emphasis is on the human-to-human relationship, not the human-to-technology relationship. This is a crucial difference in design focus. It means designing for an experience between people.

Read the whole thing , but one example that really struck home to me was about “focusing on the (meta) message” rather than “focusing on the mechanics of communication”. If you understand the meta message being sent as part of communications, you can really improve your users experience. Motorola gives two “meta messages” that are common “I know you” and “I care about you”. Facebook‘s birthday notifications on their homepage is a great example of a product feature that supports both of these meta messages. It helps users know when to write on a friend’s wall (or Superwall!) to send both these messages, both to the recipient, and as a performance for other friends of the recipient.

For those interested in more about social design, I also find Josh Porter’s blog Bokardo quite helpful.

Hidden traffic drivers at top tier sites August 14, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in ad networks, advertising, business models, Consumer internet, Internet, web 2.0.
2 comments

Glam has received a lot of attention recently, with many noting that its Comscore traffic is a rollup of multiple sites, some Glam branded, but most part of an affiliate network.

While Glam is more like a vertical ad network (which it readily admits to), there are many other well known sites that derive meaningful amounts of their Comscore traffic from unexpected sources. Among Comscore’s top 100 web properties, Ask, CNet, the New York Times, Move.com and iVillage all also generate the majority of their network pageviews from sites other than their namesake:

traffic analysis for top network sites.

The non-namesake traffic was mostly driven through acquisition, although in some cases (e.g. Zwinky) the growth was organic. In many other examples though, acquisitions have been absorbed into the URL structure of the acquiring company. Yahoo for example acquired Launch (now music.yahoo.com), Hotjobs (now hotjobs.yahoo.com) Geocites (now geocities.yahoo.com), among others, all of which now roll up under the Yahoo.com URL.

Whether ad networks or acquisitions, Comscore’s “media property” reporting often includes a lot more than the namesake URL in the rollup. While this can come as a surprise to the unwary, it is no surprise to the people that matter – the people who are buying online advertising. As one media buyer commented on the Techcrunch article about Glam (abridged quote):

As an online media buyer, perhaps I have a different opinion then most of the outsiders commenting on the sidelines. I use comScore and NetRatings on a daily basis for planning media spends targeting large audiences online… The only way to measure the audience that any large media property reaches is through a panel based media measurement tool like comScore… It does not matter if they own a site or have a partnership with them.

This stuff is no big secret.

Monetizing Search August 8, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in business models, Consumer internet, Internet, Search, start-up, startups.
15 comments

Before I joined Lightspeed I was General Manager of Netscape, where I was responsible for the portal and the browser. Search drove about half of Netscape’s revenues and so I spent a fair amount of time trying to understand how to best monetize search traffic.

One thing that initially surprised was that the top two search terms on Netscape.com were “Google” and “Yahoo“.

In fact, around 20% of searches are “navigational” in nature – users looking for a particular website. Another 50% of searches are “informational” in nature (e.g. “capital of Taiwan”, “top social networks”) and the remaining 30% are “transactional” in nature (e.g. “cheap flights to Orlando”, “flat screen TV”. These stats come from an IBM research paper from 2002 that defines a taxonomy of web search, but the ratios were still roughly accurate as of 2006 when Gina Winkler, the outstanding woman who ran Netscape’s search team, left the company. [NB Netscape’s search is now largely a re-skinned version of Google, a very different product to what it used to be]

It is relatively difficult to monetize navigational and informational searches. Try searches for “amazon” or “specific gravity of lead” and you won’t see any sponsored links. All the monetization comes from the transactional searches. Look at the huge number of sponsored links for searches on “ipod“, “rowing machines” or “disneyland hotels” in comparison.

So a new search company’s ability to monetizing search depends largely on what percentage of its search volume is transactional. For some of the new vertical search sites, this percentage can vary dramatically.

Take people search for example. A search on “jeremy liew” in Google yields no sponsored links (although before Ebay cut back its spending on Google there used to be an ad for “Great deals on jeremy liew at Ebay”!). In general, people search is informational. The proportion of transactional searches will likely be lower than general search. This is something that companies like Wink and Spock will need to take into account as they develop their business models.

Conversely, sites focused on shopping search will have a very high proportion of transactional queries. The first generation of comparison shopping engines such as Shopping.com, Shopzilla built valuable businesses on much lower traffic than the big general search engines because almost every query is monetizable. This bodes well for the next generation of shopping search engines including companies such as Shopwiki, The Find (a Lightspeed portfolio company), and Krillion.

Similar analyses can be conducted on other vertical search engines in areas such as local, travel, video and health – some of these will have a much higher proportion of transactional searches than others.

Semantic search startups propose to do a better job on informational search than the current search engines. If they see a greater proportion of informational searches because of this, then they may in fact monetize at a lower rate than today’s search engines.

Search is a tough business because of the need to change customer habits and pull search share away from today’s big branded search engines. If a new search engine does not monetize well because of its mix of queries, it has even more work to do.

Improving copy; an easy way to increase user interaction August 5, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in Consumer internet, copy, interaction, Internet, usability, viral, viral marketing, web 2.0.
5 comments

Wired’s August edition has a good article about how newspapers are putting their readers to work which is worth reading. But one section that jumped out at me has broader applicability:

A GetPublished! button features prominently on many Enquirer Web pages, and the submissions land in Parker’s queue. They almost never resemble anything commonly considered journalism.

“It used to read, ‘Be a Citizen Journalist,'” Parker says. “And no one ever clicked on it. Then we called it ‘Neighbor to Neighbor,’ and still nothing. For some reason, ‘Get Published’ was the magic phrase.”

Changing copy can make a huge difference in your level of user interaction.

Direct marketers have known about the importance of good copy for years. Good email marketers constantly test and refine subject lines to improve open rates. Many best practices in email marketing subject lines have evolved that are often directly applicable to other areas. The same is true of the best lead generation businesses who are constantly tweaking their landing page copy and form-fill flow to maximize the completion rate.

Copy can improve interaction rates in media businesses as well as these more transactional examples. Another example is in social media optimization (an element of search engine optimization). For example, this list of the top 101 advertising headlines ever written (top 10 excerpted here):

1. They laughed when I sat down at the piano – but when I started to play!
2. They grinned when the waiter spoke to me in French – but their laughter changed to amazement
at my reply.
3. Do you make these mistakes in English?
4. Can You Spot These 10 Decorating Sins?
5. How a “fool stunt” made me a star salesman
6. How a strange accident saved me from baldness
7. Who else wants a screen star figure?
8. Who else wants a lighter cake – in half the mixing time?
9. Free to brides – $2 to others
10. Free to high school teachers – $6 to others

may seem dated, but many of them follow the same rules for headlines that help your article get Dugg today.

Email virality and other forms of viral marketing can also often be tuned and improved through better copy. When dealing with email invitations from friends, more social messages may be more effective than the hard-sell/call-to-action type copy of the examples linked to above. For example, Flixster (a Lightspeed portfolio company) asks in the email subject:

Do we like the same movies?

while Tagged‘s subject line is

[Friend] has Tagged you 🙂

In both cases the actual copy is important, but more important is the fact that the companies constantly A:B test their copy to optimize and improve their conversion rates.

The takeaway here is that, although technology startups full of top notch engineers often look to improving the product to improve user interaction rates, sometimes something as simple as a change in words can have much the same result.

I’d like to hear from readers of examples of how small changes in copy improved their user interaction rates. [Note the call to action!]

What’s in a name? That which we call a wiki by any other name would smell as sweet July 30, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in communication, Consumer internet, Internet, Search, social networks, web 2.0, wiki.
4 comments

(with apologies to William Shakespeare)

Recently Ben Elowitz, CEO of Wetpaint, wondered why the term “wiki” was not better understood. Wetpaint (a wiki company), prompted by wiki being listed as one of the top 10 most hated internet words, commissioned a survey to ask online users about their awareness of wikis, as compared to blogs, social networks, forums and search engines.

At the top level, the awareness levels were as follows:

Awareness Survey

Since these were online users (not the general population) this could be construed as discouraging; many don’t seem familiar with the basic technologies behind the modern web. However, I think that the data is misleading – while many people may not know about the technology, they do know specific examples of these technologies. As always, people focus on how their problems are being solved, not on what technologies are being used to solve those problems.

Take search as an example. Although only 76% of internet users were familiar with the term “search engine”, Google was recently announced to have the most powerful brand in the world. It beat household names like Coca Cola, Marlboro and Toyota. Its hard to imagine that there are ANY internet users who don’t use a search engine an a regular basis, whether they know the term of not.

Similarly, although only 28% of the surveyed audience were aware of the term “social networking site”, according to Comscore 64% of US internet users visited a social network in June 2007, with 39% visiting MySpace alone. Awareness does not appear to be a barrier to usage.

The same is also true of wikis. Although only 16% of internet users were aware of the term wiki, Comscore says that 26% of US internet users visited Wikipedia in June. If people are using Wikipedia, it doesn’t matter if it sits in the “encyclopedia” category or the “wiki” category in their minds

In the most successful consumer technologies, the technology becomes transparent to the user. Apple has sold over 100m iPods but I’m sure that many iPod users will not be familiar with terms like MP3, AAC or DRM. Users of cordless drills may not be familiar with the term Lithium Ion, even though that is hoe their drill became cordless.

For consumer facing internet startups the lesson is to view the world through your users’ eyes. Talk about the problems you’re solving, not about the technologies you use to solve those problems. That means more about “music” and less about “ACC”, more about “writing” and less about “blogs”, more about “collaboration” and less about “wikis”. After all, as Juliet tells Romeo:

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet

Increased innovation in online marketing is driving up costs July 26, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in advertising, business models, Consumer internet, Digital Media, Internet, media, viral, viral marketing, widgets.
6 comments

Marketers are always looking for new and innovative ways to break through the clutter and get their advertising message across. This is true across all media. In TV, some advertisers are looking beyond the 30 second spot to sponsor a whole show, do product placement and even user generated ads on TV. In print, some advertisers are looking beyond standard 4 color full page ads and have experimented with buying out a whole issue, and even scratch and sniff ads. But in traditional media, as you can tell from the links- these events are rare enough to be newsworthy.

In online, advertisers look beyond standard ad units (buttons and banners) as a matter of course. Everyone wants to do something innovative, whether it be widgets, viral video, sponsorships, takeovers or immersive campaigns.

I’ve recently seen a few examples of this increase in innovation in online creative. At Widgetcon earlier this month, one of the panels was Widget Marketing in the Media Mix, where reps from boutique online agencies Denuo + Droga5, crayon, Organic and Fleischman-Hillard discussed their views on widget marketing. One of the most telling quotes from the panel was from Chad Stoller of Organic who said, “If you can count it then it’s not innovation, it’s not new. You have to be just as creative with how you measure something, as creative as you are with your execution.”

This novelty-seeking mindset is increasingly typical of the new, online-focused, boutique agencies. They are all looking to demonstrate their creativity and thought leadership. A couple of weeks ago New York magazine had a great article about the new guerrilla ad agencies and the viral ad campaigns that they are creating. It highlights one of the most successful viral marketing campaign to date, a viral video where Marc Ecko purportedly tags Air Force One with their “Still Free” graffiti logo.

Apparently, “including media coverage” the video has had 115m impressions. Despite its “homemade” feel, the video cost nearly $400k to shoot ($150k went towards repainting an old 747 to make it look like Air Force One). That implies a CPM of around $3.50 on production costs alone – pretty good for online video advertising if these were the only costs.

The demand for new media creative talent to make these innovative campaigns has increased salaries, and hence costs, across the board:

Salaries for digital creative directors rose 60 percent nationwide in 2006, from an average of $115,000 to $185,000, according to a survey by the recruiter TalentZoo. “We’re trying to hire two people right now,” says Charles Rosen, “and we cannot find them.” Rosen is one of the co-founders of Amalgamated, which started with six people in 2003 and has just hired its 40th employee. “People who were juniors when we left Cliff Freeman, where some of us used to work, want $250,000 or $300,000 now. ”

These increased costs are not confined to the startup boutique agencies either. At GM Planworks (the division of Starcom MediaVest dedicated to managing General Motor’s $3.2bn ad spend) the number of employees has grown from around 200 in 2000 when the group was formed to about 500 today, primarily driven by the increase in people dedicated to new media. Yet GM spent only 10-15% of its ad budget online last year. The cost of online creative and production as a percentage of ad spend is much higher than it is for traditional media, in large part because of the urge to do more innovative creative executions online.

Often advertisers and agencies don’t have the in-house capabilities to even do the creative for the “something new” that they want in new media. At the Ypulse Teen Mashup conference last week, Craig Sherman (CEO of Gaia) spoke about Gaia’s recent immersive campaign for Scion which will allow Gaia users to buy Scions, trick them out and race them. It’s an exciting embedded advertising campaign, but a significant custom integration effort on Gaia’s part.

Similarly some big advertisers have started to launch widget marketing campaigns through partnering with Clearspring. But it’s been up to Clearspring to supply the professional services to make the widgets; the advertisers don’t have that skill in house.

This custom work isn’t something that only startups have to do either. Even Yahoo and AOL have teams within their ad sales groups dedicated to doing custom creative for special sponsorships and promotions that involve non standard ad units. Often this creative work isn’t charged for but is “eaten” by the portal to sell the whole advertising package.

The quest for innovation in online advertising comes with higher production and creative costs. As the online ad industry matures, I would expect it to evolve to look more like print, TV and other more mature ad markets. In these more mature markets the majority of campaigns are more standards based and less customized, and the costs of production and creative come down as a proportion of the overall marketing budget.

I’d be interested to hear about readers’ experiences with highly customized campaigns and their costs and effectiveness.

Facebook apps are providing new stages for “performance” by users July 17, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in communication, Consumer internet, facebook, Internet, performance, self espression, social media, social networks, user generated content, web 2.0, widgets.
10 comments

Its now widely agreed that the two most common behaviors on social networks are self expression and communication.

Most of the online revolutions have been driven by new forms of communication. This started with Usenet and BBSs back before there was an internet, moved through the chat rooms of early AOL, the mainstreaming of email and the instant messaging revolution with AIM and ICQ. Communication has always been a large portion of overall time spent online because it drives both frequency of visit (people check for communications often) and depth of visit (reading and responding to your messages takes time).

Social networking is no exception, and that is what has driven the extraordinary pagesviews for the top social networks. In the case of social networks, the primary communications channels are private messages and public comments. You can see how these relate to other older forms of online communication below:

communications-matrix.png

Social network private messages look a lot like webmail. Public comments on social networks are newer and more interesting. Indeed, Danah Boyd includes public comments as one of the three defining features of social networks (along with Profiles and Friends lists). Unlike message boards, public comments “belong” to a single person and are addressed directly at them. But as Danah has also pointed out (I wish I was half as smart as her!), there is also a performance component to public comments on social networks.

This is best understood with an example. Suppose it’s your birthday, and I know it. If I send you an email wishing you “Happy Birthday” then you’re happy that I remembered. This communication is part of the social lubricant on which relationships are built.

But supposed that I post “Happy Birthday” to your Facebook Wall instead. Then not only do you know that I remembered, but ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS know that I remembered as well. They may find out from the feed, or by visiting your page, but they will know that I’m a good enough friend of yours that I know when is your birthday. That is the performance element of the communication.

Indeed, Danah says that your Friends list is your best guess at the audience for whom you are performing:

The collection of ‘Friends’ is not simply a list of close ties (or what we would normally call ‘friends’). Instead, this feature allows participants to articulate their imagined audience – or who they see as being a part of their world within the site. While SNSes have millions of users, most participants only care about a handful of them. Who they care about is typically represented by the list of Friends. If an individual imagines her profile to be primarily of concern to a handful of close friends, she is quite likely to have very few ‘Friends’ and, if the technology allows it, she’ll keep her profile private. If she wants to be speaking to her broader peers, her Friends list is likely to have hundreds or thousands of Friends who are roughly the same age, have the same style, listen to the same music, and are otherwise quite similar to her. She is also quite likely to keep her profile publically [sic] visible to anyone so that she can find others in her peer group (boyd 2006).

Historically, the Wall (Facebook)/Friend’s Comments (Myspace, Bebo and others) has been the only place on a profile where another user can put something on your page. The rest of the profile has been completely under the author’s control.

However, some of the Facebook apps have changed this paradigm. A number of the most popular apps allow another user to put something on your profile, including #2 Graffiti, #7 X me, #8 Superpoke, #9 Free Gifts, #15 Superwall, #16 Foodfight and lots more. [Note: X me and Superwall are both owned by Rockyou, a Lightspeed company].

In my own experience, performance is an aspect to the use of these apps as well. I feel a certain pressure to choose something “clever” to X someone (e.g. “defenestrate”, “disdain” or “milk”), and if I’m leaving graffiti on a friends page, I try to make it good. The popularity of these apps suggests that social network users are craving more stages for their performances.

I’d be interested to hear what readers think.

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Five lessons in viral marketing from a crowd experiment July 15, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in advertising, Internet, self espression, social media, social networks, viral, viral marketing, web 2.0, widgets.
15 comments

I’ve been traveling a bit this week, speaking at Widgetcon on Wednesday and at Community Next on Saturday. Both panels were on the topic of viral marketing; at Widgetcon with a focus on how brands can use widgets for marketing, and at Community Next with a focus on how to measure viral campaigns.

Dave McClure moderated the panel at Community Next and conducted an interesting experiment with the audience that really encapsulates some of the key lessons of viral marketing. He seeded two memes into the audience. One person was asked to start saying “meep” repeatedly. Another group of five people were asked to put their hand onto another person. The idea was to see which memes spread furthest in the audience.

The “Meeper” juiced up the visibility of his meme by adding an element of clapping as well (“meep”, clap, “meep”, clap etc), and walking up and down the front of the stage. Initially maybe 10 people near the Meeper started to meep as well (and clap – more clapping than meeping actually) but this eventually died down as it failed to get picked up more broadly. The initial early adopters started to feel self conscious when no one followed them, and stopped meeping.

At this point, the people on stage still had no idea what the second meme was until Dave asked how many people were touching someone else. About a third of the audience, maybe 50 people, raised their hand. Although it initially lagged, the second meme had far outpenetrated the first.

Although a somewhat artificial experiment, Dave managed to demonstrate a number of the key lessons about viral marketing in a very clever way:

    1. A “high visibility” app can get quick pickup among early adopters very quickly. “High visibility” can be caused by a high invite rate, inviters who invite a lot of people on average, or simply something that is extremely visible and obvious (e.g. music on your profile page, or some guy walking up and down the stage clapping and saying meep).

    2. High visibility can cut both ways. New users who are seeking social proof can see who is adopting, and decide whether or not they are “like me”.

    3. Early adopters can also be early abandoners and not representative of the broader population. (see Josh’s classic post on the 53,651)

    4. Product matters. While a highly viral app can get distribution quickly, if the uninstall rate is high then it never gets beyond a certain size. While virality dictates the speed of growth, uninstall rate (typically a function of product quality) dictates saturation size, which in many cases is a more important business driver.

    5. It helps to start virality from a larger base. Viral marketing is a probability driven game, and if you don’t have enough initial seeds then a failure of virality from any one seed can stop all growth immediately; with more seeds you have more “shots on goal”.

A lot of the same lessons came out of the panel discussion at Widgetcon. There was a real focus on asking what should be the right metrics for measuring “success” for a widget based marketing campaign. CPM and pixel count (728×90 etc) didn’t seem to be the best way to measure and sell advertising when users voluntarily affiliated themselves with a brand. Echoing lesson #4 above (Product matters), most of the panel came back to engagement with the widget as the key metric for success. If the widget isn’t good, users won’t engage.

As the industry’s attention turns to the tactics of viral growth (whether through email, cross sell, calls to action, optimization of color, font, copy and position etc) it’s a good reminder that, as has always been the case, product matters more than marketing (whether viral or not).

How to monetize UGC video June 28, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in advertising, business models, Consumer internet, Internet, social media, user generated content, video.
8 comments

Over at NewTeeVee, Liz Gaines says that Ad startups are turning away from user generated video. She says that all of the online video ad startups that she is interviewing these days are focusing on professional video over user generated video, calling out Kiptronic, Blinkx, DigitalSmiths, Brightroll, YuMe, Adap.tv and Broadband Enterprises by name. She says that only Scanscout hasn’t dissed UGC.

Liz did omit from her list VideoEgg, which is taking on monetizing UGC head on (with social networks like Bebo, Tagged, and Dogster among its client list) and making some good headway. Notwithstanding what they told Liz, Brightroll is also serving a lot of UGC video sites.

But Liz is right, advertisers prefer professional video inventory. The market has spoken. These startups are going to where the money is, and today, its easier to monetize professional content than user generated content.

However, there are a lot of “shades of gray” between professional and user generated video. Its worth while parsing out some of the issues that separate the two:

    Professional content can guarantee no “Objectionable content” that would be problematic for an advertiser (e.g. hate speech, risqué content, violence etc); UGC can not.
    Professional content can guarantee to not have copyright/rights issues; UGC can not.
    Professional content tends to have better metadata for targeting advertising than UGC.
    Professional content tends to have higher production values than UGC.

The first two of these are show stoppers for many advertisers. Proctor and Gamble or Budweiser just can’t afford to have their ads show up next to videos of naked people, neo nazis or street brawls, or against copyrighted content.

The other two are a matter of degree – they just affect CPM. Diggnation for example, which comes close to UGC on production values and has limited metadata for targeting, has no problem getting advertising because it keeps on the right side of the line on the first two points.

I think that if we see user generated video that can guarantee no “objectionable content” and no copyright violations, and if it has the ability to target ads well (e.g. through a synthetic channel, or behavioral targeting), then lower production values will not prevent a healthy market for advertising against this inventory. Examples might be sites like Turn Here, Diversion Media and VoD Cars.

I’d love to hear reader’s thoughts.

Also, please don’t forget to switch your RSS feed to feeds.feedburner.com/lightspeedblog if you haven’t already.