Category Archives: Aggregators

Beers and Innovation 5: Aggregators and Upsetters

True to form, I wrote this up on 30th December to finally clear the decks of 2006’s inaugural Beers & Innovation event series. And I’m only posting it now… Indeed.

And what better way to draw it to a close with what was perhaps my favourite night in the series.

In truth, it’s a probably a dead heat with Beers & Innovation 3: Mash Ups & Web Services. Equally focused on how we’re re-forming and experiencing the web, B&I 5 had the edge in raising more questions than it answered, which is part of what fuels the quest for understanding in the first place I guess…

It also had more explicit “edge” focus. In fact I was originally going to call it ‘Aggregators & The Edge’ or (following on from RSS Frontiers) ‘Edge Frontiers’. But the dual musical and business model reference to “the Upsetters” just felt better, plus I know Mike Butcher likes a pop culture reference to his event titles, so it helped me persuade him to chair the evening ;-)

Reevoo CEO Richard Anson started by explaining the nature of Reevoo’s aggregation service – its business model is to provide customer reviews for clients and integrate them into the client-side business.

Trust baseline for sense-checking brands

They publish all reviews positive and negative and they don’t edit them (profanity and libel being the only barred content). Then they also aggregate all the reviews around each product to create an independent basket of reviews for that item that are accessible from the Reevoo site. Clients include Jessops and Orange among others.

Customer involvement backs and reinforces user loyalty. is where people can come and sense-check a brand, he stressed. They also aggregate reviews from blogs using the hReview open standard microformat. Additionally, they aggregate reviews from experts.

Underlying everything is the impartiality they get from consumer reviews. Between 8 and 13% of people that they ask to contribute a review do so.

[Note: As First Capital’s Paul Fisher has since explicated, their key differentiator from other (and especially first generation) consumer-review sites – guaranteed trustworthiness – derives from the fact that the bedrock of their reviews are from people who have actually bought and used the product. First Capital advised Reevoo in successfully garnering $6m investment from Benchmark Capital in December 2006].

Unexpected birth of an aggregator

Paul Pod Of TIOTI (Tape It Off The Internet) explained how the origins of the project arose from his frustration that he couldn’t watch Series 7 of The West Wing when it was first being shown in the US. He put up a webpage taking the piss out of the Web 2.0 phenomenon based around aggregating good TV shows. But his friends all said “this sounds like a really good idea!” So he put up a mock-up, got more good feedback, and started to take it seriously.

Now TIOTI is aggregating information about TV shows – episode guides, show guides, first broadcast dates, ratings, and then all the downloads available (at first the latter was all “naughty BitTorrent” downloads; now they aggregate Amazon and iTunes).

They’ve architected the site to pull in and aggregate all this content, have 700 people on active private Beta testing, and are going to launch in public Beta with 11,000 testers this week (starting 13 October 2006). [Note – the site launched publicly on Thursday 11 January 2007]

To Mike Butcher’s enquiry as to what he was most excited about, Paul said on the copyright front, they are talking to people in the TV guide side of things, as well as people on the Wikipedia side.

So a mix of legit content, grey stuff and user-generated content is propelling them forward.

Looking for value in all the wrong places?

Umair Haque began by comparing MySpace and Friendster. In many ways Friendster was the perfect model but the fact it crashed and burned begins to disprove that mere aggregation is the answer. Where was the network effect with Friendster?

Aggregation is a dirty word, he insisted. It stops people thinking. This room is an aggregator. A training course, parliament, the Senate, a nightclub – these are all aggregation. What MySpace got right was facilitating the kind of dynamics that happen in a nightclub. All the actions there are productive. But not all the actions of aggregation are productive.

The latest craze in the Valley is widgets, Umair observed. But once we atomise the content, what’s the value? We should be able to remix and hack things. Ecademy CTO Julian Bond remarked that Umair’s description of an aggregator wasn’t the same as his. Technorati was Julian’s idea of an aggregator.

To which Umair asked – how does Technorati collect value from what it does? The value comes from… [at this point I missed a bit as I had to skate over to the bar to ask someone to stop talking. Who was it? Well, he’s involved with a thingamy, ya know… "project"]

When aggregators go bad…

What’s the difference between Friendster and MySpace? On Friendster I’m limited to 100 characters of text. With MySpace I can do anything I want, Umair noted.

Wasn’t it just more of a business and technology failure on Friendster’s part, rather than being a larger social problem, commented George Nimeh. It certainly wasn’t technology that failed Friendster, Umair countered, as MySpace is built on [substandard] Cold Fusion technology.

Alan Patrick interjected that social networks seem to be subject to generational effects too [echoing Danah Boyd’s point that when Friendster lost favour, its twenty and thirtysomething inhabitants went back to email, IM and SMS; whereas most MySpacers are digital natives and will migrate to other digital social networks if they tire of MySpace].

Business built on shifting sands?

Mike Butcher asked the panel “will the edge aggregation effect work or are you going to be screwed by someone else” (ie. a better resourced company re-aggregating the same content)? And will aggregation be made easier by Microformats?

Paul said he didn’t know the answer to that. Richard Anson said their partners are shops and customers, but they try to do what feels right. Will you have user ratings of reviews on Reevoo, Mike asked, to which Richard replied: no, but they will have trust-based relationships. Digging further into this issue, Mike asked can people share their Reevoo reviews – can they be shared and widgetised? In terms of sharing, they already distribute Reevoo reviews to all their partners Richard explained.

Umair brought the discussion back to the question of value with his characterisation of Yahoo Answers as “just a collection and aggregation of Q&A’s. It’s a dumb aggregator.”

Squaring the social value circle

James Cherkoff wondered how we put social value on the balance sheet. A phenomenal question, Umair commented. It’s impossible for the bean counters to get beyond the basics; so how do you represent social value? Possibly brand equity, but that’s also impossible as the value that’s created is much more valuable than what you can represent though “brand equity”.

There’s a new kind of asset emerging, he continued, “knowledge value” that is both plastic and liquid [for more on this check some of the longer downloadable essays and presentations on Bubblegeneration]. For example, Reevoo reviews *can* be ranked, Umair insisted, but the challenge is huge. Take Google – where is Page Rank on the balance sheet?

Paul Pod remarked that TIOTI relies on old media still being centralised and doing their thing. For now, we rely on sources, but over time we may *become* a source, we may even become a new kind of TV station.

Pinpointing the aggregator mojo

Reevoo CTO Ben Griffith asked what is that the aggregator adds that gives it extra value? Richard reckoned that what they at Reevoo add is that they create a truly independent and trustworthy basket of reviews. In turn, it’s about adding and extending the ability for recommendation – not just through blog but via a number of different sources.

If you rely too much as a business on stuff that doesn’t belong to you, as many aggregators do, aren’t you going to have problems, Mike wondered. The word aggregation itself is a bastardisation, Umair countered. It’s about aggregating peoples’ preferences, but it’s just a pseudo business.

John Baker of Ogilvy One London noted that there’s been quite a few aggregators who have come through, most notably Google – where’s it going to be in 10 years? Paul Pod reckoned Google would be in managed decline, so it will funnel out into new properties that they own.

Isn’t aggregation purely about convenience, commented Philip Wilkinson of Crowdstorm. Richard Anson of Reevoo agreed and Paul Pod added that the value is in filtering the information out in a convenient way or in giving it a flavour that no-one else has.

Maintaining aggregator impartiality

Sophie Coudray of Antersite expressed concern as to how, as an aggregator, you remain impartial. Richard replied that Reevoo *is* impartial – the reviews are ordered only by date. Paul explained that TIOTI has a four-track revenue scheme that will allow them to remain impartial: advertising (they plan to use the site as an Advertising 2.0 laboratory); white-labelling the service; sponsorships; and ratings/download trend reports.

Umair observed that the people in the States who are really revolutionary are creating a new “currency”, but what do you need to support that in the real world? However, the real world is not necessarily the source, he noted. Interactions in the Habbo world and Second Life are what power some of those businesses.

Will you pay people for the user-generated content that they give you, asked Sam Sethi. Paul said no. Whilst agreeing information has a value, he argued that the public don’t care if they aren’t paid and that’s fine. George Nimeh cited the Pareto rule wherein 99% watch and 1% re-use and contribute. Given that user views are formed post-purchase, how will that affect this balance?

Unless you pay people, they won’t come back to you, Sam insisted. But Umair took this reasoning to task. If we pay them, does the stuff that we get back from them then improve? If you look at economic research you’ll see that people have a strong tendency towards reciprocity.

Aggregate or interact?

Rob McKinnon asked – referencing back to Tom from The Economist’s point [which I missed!] – what about sites like ChicagoCrime? These sorts of aggregators can have major implications *in* the social world because they are *about* the social world. So what’s the next big thing in this regard?

Paul Pod reckoned the environment was the upcoming social issue ripe for aggregation. He’d like to know, he said by way of a mainstream example, about what the differential health impact is between living one metre and three metres from the road. As for the legal side of things, Paul said “if we upset some people along the way, we’re probably doing the right thing!”

Richard Anson remarked that if you as a business aren’t pushing the boundaries, then you’re not going to grow as a business. Umair said we need to stop thinking about aggregation and start thinking about interaction. Closing with a flourish, Mike Butcher floated the idea of the first user-generated-content trade union.


BTW, a podcast of this event, as well as the ‘RSS Frontiers‘ and ‘Social By Design’ nights may be available in the future. From it, any flaws in my reports will be made transparent ;-)

All three events were recorded for purposes of podcasting but we didn’t have the time or resources to magic it into MP3 goodness. New NMK editor Ian Delaney will soon have a better idea of when it might happen.

In the meantime you can watch a video of the ‘RSS Frontiers’ talks and some of the discussion here, thanks to the industrious Ian Forrester of BBC Backstage.

BBC Backstage Xmas bash booking up fast

If you don’t know already, BBC Backstage are holding their Xmas party in collaboration with a lot of other digital media and technology networks…

Including MoMoLondon, London Girl Geek Dinners, Geek Dinners, Swedish Beers, London 2.0, Open Rights Group, London Perlmongers, London Webstandards Group, London Ruby User Group, and London SEO.

It’s on Saturday 9th December at The Cuban.

Bookings opened this morning and as of 8pm this evening there were upwards of 270 registrations already. The limit on numbers is about 400, so it’s bound to be maxed-out soon.

You can get the details and register here, and see who else is going here.

Congrats to Ian Forrester and BBC Backstage for fostering the first real-life aggregation of London’s networks. It’s going to be a great party!

Aggregators and upsetters and what it’s all about

Okay, i feel pretty guilty and inadequate for not having posted about the Beers & Innovation Aggregators & Upsetters event last Tuesday until now.

Oh man, has it really been a week already?! Well, three nights out at events in a row (I also attended Swedish Beers later that same night and then the Paid Content Mixer – they’ve now launched a redesign via which I currently can’t see the comments, but hey - on Wed and and the TechCrunch UK launch party last Thurs) and having to change jobs while trying to sort two future events and a pile of other urgent stuff simultaneously will do that to a person!

So, as per usual, nada time to reflect, but a (very) quick scan of my Bloglines, Technorati and Google has turned up the following really interesting coverage and follow-up discussion of the evening’s topics.

(if I’ve missed anything please feel free to add it in the comments, thanks!)

If there’s one thing I have to respond to criticism-wise, it’s the view from Roger Kondrat that it’s largely the same people coming every time to B&I. First off – I’m so glad Roger was there but he’s only been to the last two B&I’s – we’ve had five and the first three varied widely in who attended depending on the subject matter.

Big brands and agencies in attendance…

Also, I would ask – did Roger talk to any of the brands, or large advertising agencies who were in attendance? If so, that’s great, but they haven’t been coming to every event, and also, a lot of the mainstream /big media types (but not all) don’t hang around afterwards because they’re not yet acculturated to the idea of a social scene around digital innovation. But I’ve had great feedback from them and more keep coming each time.

Another thing to factor in is the fact that it needs to be a relatively small “1st world” event because if we had more than 60 or 70 in the room the intimacy would be lost and you just wouldn’t have such a good discussion.

What’s more, NMK is a small, publicly-funded organisation that doesn’t have a lot of people or resources to promote its events, however much it might want to. This is currently accentuated by a staff exodus. But we are trying our hardest (across multiple channels including 2.0 channels like the fab wiki Jigsaw UK and Upcoming) in the circumstances. And I don’t even work there anymore, since last Friday…

More than your average geek…

In the event’s defense I would also note that it has a much wider audience than many geek / web 2.0 events, and also many more women in attendance.

The former is explained by NMK‘s broad audience, the latter - I don’t know why, but probably something to do with the former and (perhaps) the fact that it’s organised by a woman. Surely neither can be a bad thing? Events need to reflect the users more, and I think we all sorta know the web has a diverse audience!  ;-)

Finally, I’m not going to complain if a community of regular attendees is growing up around this event. It just makes it more essential that you should keep tabs on it and book early for forthcoming ones – only if you think the discussion is relevant and important to you of course.

The people formerly known as the audience

Thanks to everyone for coming along, speakers and the people formerly known as the audience alike. You are what make it worthwhile  :-) 

The point of it all is to highlight and trigger debates after all, and to try to move things forward, like Tom Coates did in his original post ‘Where are all the UK start-ups?‘ that inspired this whole Beers & Innovation series.

On a connected note, it might be of interest to you that B&I 5 speaker Paul Pod’s TIOTI (Tape It Off The Internet) got covered in the business section of The Guardian yesterday, Monday 23rd October. Was their reporter Katie Allen scanning Technorati, lurking on Upcoming or in disguise in the audience; or is it just a coincidence, who knows..?

Aggregators and upsetters event nearly full

There are just a handful of tickets left for Beers & Innovation next week.

If you want to join the discussion about content aggregation, user-generated content, edge economies and disruptive business models on Tuesday 17th October, book your ticket now.

Umair Haque of Bubblegeneration, Paul Pod of TIOTI (Tape It Off the Internet), Richard Anson of Reevoo and Mike Butcher of mbites will be exploring this issues and reflecting on their experiences in tandem with the equally quizzical audience.  ;-)

Once the event is full we won’t be operating a waiting list this time, due to the current NMK staff shortage.

Evolutionary scepticism and the bubble

I went to see scientist Richard Dawkins speak at the Institute Of Education last night about his new book The God Delusion after hearing about it on Upcoming.

It was a packed out hall (of about 500 I think) and luckily I got a ticket on the door, after queuing for 40 minutes.

Anyway, I won’t go into the entire contents of the talk and discussion here, although it was very engaging and lively.

You can check out Dawkins resources and coverage elsewhere.

But one woman in the audience mentioned the fact that Dawkins’ Channel 4 series ‘The Root Of All Evil’ (which Dawkins disagreed with as the series title – he thought ‘The Root Of A Lot Of Evil’ more accurate, albeit not such a catchy title…) is available on YouTube! (and also here, and here)

Science of aggregation?

Interestingly, Dawkins voiced no comment on this (what Channel 4 might say is another matter).

Then overnight this breaking story on Google’s aquisition of YouTube first dropped into my inbox via PaidContent.

So perhaps the days of the YouTube copy are numbered… (BTW, does this run counter to the theory that Google is the ultimate aggregator?)

In turn, while I’m fully aware that online has now eclipsed print media in Europe, the soap is still stinging my eyes  ;-)

[UPDATE: Turns out there's a God Delusion tour of the UK, USA and Canada with Cambrige, Birmingham and Cheltenham all happening this week and the tour finale in Oxford on 14th November ... via Dave, via Tom]

New Directions In Mobile is Pandoras box unleashed

Where to start with New Directions In Mobile, the NMK event held on Tuesday 3rd October at 01ZeroOne in deepest Soho?

It was all in the mix – mobile TV, the mobile web, business models, user-generated content, statistical trends, and brands on mobile. Lordy. Just beam me down now, I’ll feed it all to you over my super-bionic network in a nano-second, and shazzam! Well maybe…

But really, you had to be there. For now, I’ll share a good few highlights.

Stats and factoids

Among the choice trends detailed by m:metrics’ Paul Goode, the news that ringtones are in decline has gained a lot of coverage this week. Paul Walsh of Segala added the caveat that people are downloading less but increasingly creating their own ringtones. In turn, if you think that mobile gaming (a booming sector) is for the boys, smell the coffee – it’s more balanced between genders and 70% of consumption takes place among over 24-year-olds.

Demographics, however, reveal mixed news for the handset manufacturers – Nokia have increased their handset share in 3G services in the UK among older users, while Sony Ericsson lead the younger market.

The UK is a test-bed for 3G services with 10% of the population owning a 3G phone. We lead Europe for mobile video downloads but France has the edge on mobile TV viewing.

Mobile TV disrupts…

Steve Flaherty of mobile innovation consultancy Ketai Culture cut to the chase, and boy did he whet the appetite of students of disruption. Move over YouTube, mobile is gonna upset your business (and creative) production and distribution model, and then some…

Phones themselves won’t be the only terminals for mobile TV – enter the PSP, the Video iPod, and antennas for laptops (via DMB in Britain; DV-BH in Europe). The likely uptake of mobile TV has always been a moot point, but Steve revealed that Vodafone has signed up over 1 million subscribers [Correction: Steve has contacted me to let me know it was rather that Vodafone had delivered a million TV sessions in the first 3 weeks] in the first three weeks of launching their Sky mobile TV service. Could the simplicity of the concept of “Sky on your mobile” plus reliability of the Sky brand be a factor I wonder….

Lookout – brand channels incoming!

While there are similarities to TV, Steve noted, it’s in the differences that the opportunities and challenges of mobile TV reside: limited or no EPG; short programme formats; streamed rather than broadcast (for now); non-TV brands making an impact; channels dedicated to single programmes. And the last two factors open a Pandora’s box…

They have the power to re-cast our relationship with TV, just as the web has; and massively extend the opportunity for non-TV brands (which reminded me of the hugely successful Hallmark channel – a card company scores as a TV company – who’d have predicted that?); yet the value of mobile video on demand is still being hamstrung by network operators’ business models and high data charges to the consumer. But for a glimpse of the converged, multiplatform future, reflect for a minute on this: the most popular TV channel on Orange is FHM TV.

If shareholder certainties are uppermost in your mind, you’re in for some sleepless nights folks, as the roles of broadcasters, mobile operators and aggregators are still to be defined, Steve stressed. But as the entire market enters a transitionary period, who can afford not to innovate?

Clock ticking for walled gardens

Alfie Dennen of Moblog UK underlined the imperative for network operators (not just start-ups and brands) to innovate. They’ve created a system that has built-in obsolescence, so they should have the foresight to experiment and adapt services and business models to secure their future existence. They’re waking up to the fact that they need to start behaving more like mobile ISPs.

Paul Walsh of Segala raised the interesting point that the end-result of stripping stuff out of websites to make them work and easy to navigate on mobile can often be perceived as damaging to brands ie. removing graphics, advertising, logos and other so-called funky stuff. While at the minute WAP is a far superior experience to the mobile [open] web, he added, the issue is that you have no freedom on WAP, it’s yet another walled garden.

Accessibility vs. snack-mode culture

He championed following the W3C accessibility guidelines, which override the need to create your website twice (once for web, and again for mobile), because a by-product of the W3C guidelines is that your site will work well on mobile too. Plus the web will detect what device the user is using and the device capability, and tailor delivery of the website to fit that phone [cool, but apparently it slows down the browsing experience]. But this seemed to side-step the issue of content suited to the mobile device and the user’s context.

A whole new vista was then opened to me by one of Paul’s remarks. While we are obsessed with content-on-the-go, mobile snacking and mobisodes, we seem to forget that the way most people in the world will access the internet is via mobile.

So while affluent Westerners wired with broadband at home might lap up tailored content on their handset, people in India and Africa might be happy to get the full episodes, the full essay, the whole motherlode of information on the web on their phone, as in the main they have no alternative. Don’t factor that in at you peril and don’t assume that you know what your users want!

Collaborate with your community

Listening to the users was at the very heart of Alfie’s perspective, and he opened with a superlative rant on the part of the consumer that Ewan has published here.

With MoblogUK they canvassed users right from the outset and let them submit in competition their own designs for re-skinning Moblog pages. While responses may have been limited to people with design skills (but 80 submitted designs was great feedback for a start-up barely off the blocks!), it was a fantastic way of garnering feedback and understanding of the market from the get-go.

It’s so easy for anyone to use a wiki or a forum to collect further feedback. But who else even thinks of asking the question, Alfie remarked.

Consumers know what’s good for them…

Uptake of disruptive services is steadily creeping upwards as better and more innovative alternatives are launched and developed. Shozu and Juvino were two that Alfie rated highly. Enabling the freeflow of content between your digital spaces was another feature Moblog embraced with send to “my Blogger”, “my Delicious”, “email this” and “Digg this” buttons recently added to the Moblog user toolset. Creative Commons licencing is also offered.

Richard Hurring from Marvellous noted that the permanent world of mobile presence is coming to brands and he explained why the mobile channel is so important for brands: it allows for impulse interaction and purchase as it’s anytime, any place and anywhere; it gives people and brands the power to interact; it drives control for users; and it’s an active (not passive) medium.

As the number of people with 3G phones is now equal to the number of households with broadband, more people will connect, Richard added, and he cited Peugeot (who have launched three cars with Marvellous) and Carling’s London barfinder (downloadable via WAP) as instances where thought-through mobile branding has really come to life.

Advertising forecasts and marketing response rates

A salient point from Beep Marketing’s Helen Keegan was that consumers, as ever, seem to be two steps ahead of businesses and brands when it comes to mobile. She cited research from Jupiter (released September 2006) that said mobile advertising spend will reach £2 billion pounds in the UK by 2010.

The more granular findings underlying that bold forecast highlighted the shift in consumer mindsets. Almost half of 16 to 25 year-olds said they were happy to accept adverts in return for free content, and 30% said they would be likely to respond to marketing messages (though the medium for the call to action – posters, TV ads, print, mobile itself – was not stated). A further 25% said they’d respond to mobile marketing specifically, and this was equally split between the sexes.

Bountiful options…

Helen went on to outline the opportunities and trends in ad-funded content, mobile advertising, sponsored SMS, selling your list (not-so-good), branded content, sponsored content, off-the-page promotion, subscription models, user-generated content and wholesale. Phew, so many options! It was a rich summary of the business landscape where you can make money now. But still, many brands’ mobile activities are poor, spam-like, or non-existent.

There were loads of other nuggets, case studies and interesting debates, but like I said, you had to be there. One Irish mobile marketing start-up even sent two delegates over from Dublin to attend. As Helen recently said, mobile isn’t going away any time soon. And the whole sector is ripe for transformation.

So next time there’s a mobile event anywhere of this calibre folks, get yourself along! :-) Mobile Mondays are recommended and hopefully we’ll have a B&I soon that goes deeper into this area.

In the meantime, if disruption, content aggregation and new business models more generally float your boat, there’s still a few places left for Beers & Innovation 5 on 17th October.

[UPDATE: I've removed the apostrophe from Pandora's in the title as it makes the URL kinda crazy, so the URL has changed. As for the new punctuation, am expecting a call from Lynne Truss any minute... paranoia induced by journalism background etc. Use of etc induced by too much GapingVoid etc]