Advertisement

Pinterest Founder: Early Adoption Works Differently Now Company plans to unveil redesigned profille pages soon

There’s no shortage of blinking display ads and giant billboards telling people what they want, but Pinterest co-founder Ben Silbermann said there needs to be more progress in helping people discover things that seem “handpicked” for them.

In a conversation with entrepreneur and investor Chris Dixon, at South by Southwest, the (thus far) media shy Silbermann opened up about the ideas behind his popular virtual pinboarding site and the path to its success.

He said he’d always been interested in social products, so after working for Google for a couple of years, he left to create apps with a friend of his. Eventually, they decided to build something around collecting and launched Pinterest in November 2009.

“I was obsessed with this idea that these things that you collect, they just say so much about who you are,” he said. “I can’t say it came from hard-nosed business analysis… It was just something I really want to see built.”

At first, he acknowledged, adoption was slow. In the first nine months, the site only had less than 10,000 users. And many of those people didn’t use Pinterest every day.

But he and his partner pushed on, he said, largely because “the idea of telling everyone we blew it… was just so embarrassing.”

The site now has clearly blown up. (As we learned last month, it’s one of the fastest-growing sites ever.) But Silbermann said Pinterest’s popularity wasn’t the result of any one moment. He said he met a group of design bloggers at a conference who really took to the site and Pinterest organized an online event called “Pin It Forward” in May of 2010. Since then, growth has been consistently strong.

Unlike other popular tech services, such as Twitter and Foursquare, Pinterest didn’t get its first boost from traditional tech early adopters in New York and San Francisco, but from others across the country. But Silbermann said that given the access everyone now has to technology, that makes sense.

“For me, I think that the whole concept of early adoption is a lot different than it used to be,” he said.  “Everyone that I grew up with has Facebook and everyone has a phone, that’s often an iPhone… They have access to the same channels.”

Silbermann’s thinking about engineering also runs contrary to the prevailing school of thought in Silicon Valley (or at least among tech giants Google and Facebook).

“I think of [engineers] like the chefs at a restaurant,” he said. “[They’re] important, but all these other people are integral to making a good meal.”

And that non-tech-centered approach extends to the user experience.

“I want Pinterest to be human,” he said. “The Internet’s still so abstract… To me, boards are a very human way of looking at the world.”

They not only save objects for retrieval later on, he said, they put context around the objects.

Pinterest has been working hard to keep up with scale, but Silbermann said that the company soon plans to release redesigned, more “beautiful,” profiles for users that make it easier for people to find each other. He also said that he’s looking forward to new platforms and seeing Pinterest on the iPad.

The company isn’t yet tackling long-term monetization, but when he does, he said it will be something that “speaks to the heart of the product itself – helping people discover things they didn’t know they wanted.”

March 13, 2012, 3:08 PM EDT

Nike, Ford Among Facebook Timeline App Partners Nearly 3,000 Timeline apps launched

Nearly 3,000 apps have launched for Facebook’s timeline in the past two months, the company said Monday. But only a few seem to be for big, nonmedia brands so far.

At an event at South by Southwest, Facebook featured several of the startups (such as Foursquare, Foodspotting and Viddy) and media companies (for example, NBCUniversal’s Fandango and The Onion) that have recently created open graph apps. 

All of the apps are designed to permit Facebook to automatically—with users' permission—share their interactions with the various companies’ content or services and let the companies benefit from the scale and sharing potential on the social networking site.

For example, Facebook said the platform has already helped Pinterest grow its daily active Facebook user base by 60 percent and Goodreads boost daily traffic by 77 percent.

But among nonmedia brands only a few companies seem to be representing thus far. A new integration with Nike’s FuelBand lets people find friends using the new fitness tracking bracelet and compare activity (and soon share their achievements through their timeline). Earlier this year, Ford released a time line app that lets people share badges showing their loyalty to Ford and parts of their personality.

Ricky Engelberg, an experience director for digital sport at Nike, said the new app is in line with the company’s mission of bringing “innovation to every athlete in the world, [and] if you have a body, you’re an athlete.”

Facebook's timeline platform apps not only provide brands new opportunities for interacting with consumers, but they also create a new stream of user behavior data that can be used to inform other activities on Facebook or elsewhere. Presumably, as more brands see the word-of-mouth possibilities of timeline apps, they’ll join in too.

For media companies, the new apps give people new ways to share and congregate around content. The Fandango app, for example, lets people share with friends the clips they watch, the movies they rate and the films they want to see.

“Movies are inherently social,” said Nicholas Lehman, president of digital for NBCUniversal’s entertainment and digital networks and integrated media division. “This just amplifies that behavior.”
 

March 12, 2012, 11:10 PM EDT

Pinterest Founder: Early Adoption Works Differently Now Company plans to unveil redesigned profile pages soon

There’s no shortage of blinking display ads and giant billboards telling people what they want, but Pinterest co-founder Ben Silbermann said there needs to be more progress in helping people discover things that seem “handpicked” for them.

In a conversation with entrepreneur and investor Chris Dixon, at South by Southwest, the (thus far) media shy Silbermann opened up about the ideas behind his popular virtual pinboarding site and the path to its success.

He said he’d always been interested in social products, so after working for Google for a couple of years, he left to create apps with a friend of his. Eventually, they decided to build something around collecting and launched Pinterest in November 2009.

“I was obsessed with this idea that these things that you collect, they just say so much about who you are,” he said. “I can’t say it came from hard-nosed business analysis…It was just something I really want to see built.”

At first, he acknowledged, adoption was slow. In the first nine months, the site had less than 10,000 users. And many of those people didn’t use Pinterest every day.

But he and his partner pushed on, he said, largely because “the idea of telling everyone we blew it…was just so embarrassing.”

The site now has clearly blown up. (As we learned last month, it’s one of the fastest growing sites ever.) But Silbermann said Pinterest’s popularity wasn’t the result of any one moment. He said he met a group of design bloggers at a conference who really took to the site, and Pinterest organized an online event called “Pin It Forward” in May 2010. Since then, growth has been consistently strong.

Unlike other popular tech services, such as Twitter and Foursquare, Pinterest didn’t get its first boost from traditional tech early adopters in New York and San Francisco but from others across the country. But Silbermann said that given the access everyone now has to technology, that makes sense.

“I think the whole concept of early adoption is a lot different than it used to be,” he said.  “Everyone that I grew up with has Facebook and everyone has a phone, that’s often an iPhone…They have access to the same channels.”

Silbermann’s thinking about engineering also runs contrary to the prevailing school of thought in Silicon Valley (or at least among tech giants Google and Facebook).

“I think of [engineers] like the chefs at a restaurant,” he said. “[They’re] important, but all these other people are integral to making a good meal.”

And that nontech-centered approach extends to the user experience.

“I want Pinterest to be human,” he said. “The Internet’s still so abstract…To me, boards are a very human way of looking at the world.”

They not only save objects for retrieval later on, he said, but they also put context around the objects.

Pinterest has been working hard to keep up with scale, but Silbermann said that the company soon plans to release redesigned, more “beautiful” profiles for users that make it easier for people to find each other. He also said that he’s looking forward to new platforms and seeing Pinterest on the iPad.

The company isn’t yet tackling long-term monetization, but when he does, he said it will be something that “speaks to the heart of the product itself—helping people discover things they didn’t know they wanted.”

-------

Adweek reporters are blogging, tweeting, Tumbling, Instagraming and occasionally even writing articles, capturing the scene from Austin. Log on regularly to Adweek's dedicated SXSW blog and Tumblr for blanket coverage. And feel free to share with friends.



Click here to view Adweek's
Exclusive Live Blog from SXSWi.

March 12, 2012, 6:58 PM EDT

Advice for Brands From Twitter’s ‘Translator in Chief’ Twitter's editorial director says she pushes for more openness internally

The woman who once shaped the voice of Google, and now does the same for Twitter, had this to say to brands: Even when you fail, be as transparent as possible.

“The more you can have upfrontness with your audience, the better off you’re going to be in the long run when you have failure, when you have something you backtracked on, when you made a mistake,” said Karen Wickre, Twitter’s editorial director, during a panel on “brand journalism” at South by Southwest.

“You have stumbles, you have mistakes as a company,” she continued. “But being off message would be to ignore or deny it. To face the problem, that is actually being on message. Or should be.”

When the fail whale surfaces at Twitter because of technical issues, it falls to Wickre and her team to gather the information and translate it into English, she said—prompting her co-panelist Jesse Noyes, corporate reporter for marketing firm Eloqua, to dub her the “translator in chief."

While you can’t communicate the story behind a technical break in real time, she said, she often finds herself pushing her co-workers in PR to open up more.

“I’m often advocating for more information sooner with my PR colleagues,” she said. “They have their reasons for holding off, [and] I get all that. But…to have more bits sooner is my interest.” 

March 12, 2012, 5:06 PM EDT

Startups, Agencies (Try to) Build Relations Frustrations abound, partnerships not so much

Would an advertising agency ever create the next Foursquare or Tumblr, asked James Cooper, chief creative innovation officer of JWT New York, during a panel yesterday on pitching startups to agencies and clients. Cooper answered his own question definitively. No.

“An agency isn’t set up in that way,” he said. “We can do internal products fine...but that’s very different from creating an actual startup, a business that’s going to go out and make money. I just don’t think any agency is set up for that.”

Instead agencies are better suited to work with startups. Well, they’re supposed to be. Last year JWT signed a deal with David Tisch, who runs the New York arm of startup incubator TechStars, to connect startups under Tisch’s purview with JWT and its clients. Tisch said that since signing the deal with JWT, TechStars has connected 10 startups with agencies, and at least 10 other agencies have approached him.

But just because a startup, an agency and a client can get in a room together doesn’t mean everyone’s going to leave the room satisfied. John Laramie, founder and CEO of out-of-home buying platform ADstruc, said that it’s usually a six-to-eight-month process from initial introductions to a tangible work relationship. Problem is, the process often dies in its crib.

Just about everyone can share in the blame to varying degrees. Startups have to navigate an agency’s or brand’s organizational structure to determine who can get them in the door and then to the top floor. Brands have to manage being on the cusp of innovation while mitigating the risk inherent to experimentation with unproven platforms. And agencies have to play matchmaker, pressured to get the right teams in the room together. When that doesn’t work out, the startups leave feeling like a shiny new toy for the agencies to show off—then discard.

“It comes off as agencies [bringing in startups] to claim credibility [saying], ‘Look, we tried. We put some cool shit in front of you; you guys didn’t buy it. It’s not our fault,’” said Tisch.

During the panel Tisch questioned the extent to which the JWT deal is a “dog-and-pony show” for JWT, to which Cooper replied that it was a 70-30 split in favor of the show. He said, “We work with very big clients—Johnson & Johnson, Diageo and stuff like that—they are not traditionally these kind of nimble, lithe people who are like, 'You know what, we’ll hack off like a hundred grand of our budget to do an experiment.'”

That can be especially frustrating for startups whose businesses can skyrocket by partnering with brands. Tisch said the moment when Foursquare took off was its partnership with cable network Bravo in 2010. “Bravo TV made no sense for them, yet Bravo had an audience, a national television audience, that Foursquare was now integrated into that pushed people to their product,” he said.

But Cooper suggested that it shouldn’t be too jarring an experience for fledgling companies seeking essentially a high-profile patron. His approach is to start 10 fires with the understanding that nine will likely extinguish. “I think that’s a little bit similar to how investors treat startups,” Cooper said.

But often startups can’t tolerate being toyed with, said Tisch; they’re trying to build a business. “A startup has to make a decision,” he said. “Do we put our money toward another hire? Do we put our money toward building a feature set that might be able to speak to brands?”

March 12, 2012, 12:53 PM EDT

Why the Mouse Blocks Us From Being Superhuman Geoloqi’s Amber Case on ambient location and new interfaces

If you haven’t ditched the mouse already, maybe it’s finally time.

After all, according to Amber Case—noted cyborg anthropologist and founder of location-based mobile platform Geoloqi—it’s keeping you from being superhuman.

During her keynote at South by Southwest, Case, who studies the relationship between humans and technology, said that the inventor of the mouse, Douglas Engelbart, never meant for it to be lasting technology. Even though it’s now familiar, she said, it’s "persistent architecture" that is “very dangerous because it blocks new innovation.”

Instead of using old metaphors to describe new technology and relying on dated inventions, she said, we should look to interfaces that make us feel superhuman.

“The best technology isn’t physical,” she said. “It just gets out of your way and lets you live your life.”

Flipboard, for example, she said, is a superhuman interface because it’s more efficient and leverages natural gestures.

New ambient location technology that can deliver geo-triggered messages about places and people is another example of superhuman technology. Instead of forcing people to interact with a button or a keypad, the interface completely disappears.

“[It lets you] be embodied in your world instead of a two-dimensional screen,” she said.

March 11, 2012, 6:23 PM EDT

Barry Diller Talks Aereo Lawsuit and Location-Based Services The feisty media mogul welcomes a fight with broadcast nets

Save the hype surrounding location-based social discovery apps like Highlight, Glancee and Sonar. That talk bores Barry Diller, chairman and senior executive of IAC. Diller, who also serves as chairman and senior executive of travel site Expedia, said location-based services aren’t interesting because they’re obvious.

“Now you have location-based everything,” he told CNN anchor Ali Velshi during a wide-ranging fireside chat on Sunday morning.

Among the heady topics Diller and Velshi discussed were entrepreneurialism and innovation, two labels Diller isn’t crazy about but ideas he values nonetheless. He described entrepreneur as a “pretentious” word that dresses up the will of one person to start a business. And, again, entrepreneurialism is obvious. “If you’re not an entrepreneur today, you’re not allowed to exist,“ he said.

The people who aren’t entrepreneurs, however, are those more interested in their own career path than in creating something (anything). Diller said he often has friends ask him to meet with their sons or daughters so that they can pick his brain. But if they tell Diller they just have an end goal, such as becoming a film studio head, rather than an interest, “I say get out,” he said.

But it’s not like Diller’s advising all wannabe captains of industry to take a sabbatical in Tibet to find themselves. Instead they should cut a wide path open to innovation. An example is what Diller’s done with IAC-owned Hatch Labs, a free-form entity focused on developing mobile products. The company’s developed five products so far; Blu Trumpet, a service that connects mobile developers/publishers and advertisers, is the only one to have launched.

Diller said Hatch Labs might not birth a revolution but it functions as “a hot house in the company that everybody else in the company is intrigued with. It keeps the juice going."

The revolution may come with Aereo, a controversial streaming TV and online video service that IAC announced in February. In addition to video from services like Netflix or Hulu, Aereo will stream broadcast TV, but not cable. In defending Aereo's right to exist, Diller argued that broadcast TV originated as an agreement in which programmers would receive a free license to distribute content and consumers would receive that content without a middleman controlling access.

The service is set to go live in New York on March 14, but on March 2 a slew of broadcast owners filed a lawsuit in New York claiming that Aereo violates the broadcast owners’ exclusive public performance and reproduction rights—to which Diller responds: Look to the VCR. When Sony invented the Betamax VCR, media companies filed suit, but the Supreme Court overruled them.

“I understand what [the broadcast owners] are saying, but they’re not on the side of settled law,” he said. And it’s not like Diller envisions thwarting companies like Fox and NBC entirely. “It’s not for 100 percent of the population,” he said, estimating that 25 percent-30 percent of people are cord-cutters who would be interested in a service like Aereo.

Nonetheless, “it’s going to be a great fight,” Diller said.

Diller also said that IAC-owned online video site College Humor, which specializes in short-form content, is currently shooting its first movie in California to be called Coffee Town. What he didn’t say is how the film will be distributed. 

March 11, 2012, 3:53 PM EDT

Thank Warcraft for Your Social-Mobile Game's Success Incentivized "freemium" model cited as key strategy

The secret to socializing and monetizing mobile gaming? There is none, considering it's long been used by online multiplayer goliath World of Warcraft, which counted 10.3 million subscribers last November. Nonetheless Eiji Araki, svp of social games at Japanese mobile gaming company GREE International, prescribed that game developers incentivize casual gamers to invite friends to play in order to grow a game's user base, and monetize hardcore gamers by having them pay to unlock new achievements or progress through a game's levels. "We have to make sure each segment of users has their role in the game," he said during an afternoon SXSWi session on Saturday. While GREE categorizes 95 percent of its 190 million global mobile users as casual gamers, Araki said the company generates 80 percent of its revenue from getting gamers to pay to play. GREE is able to divest its core gamers of their money because they "love to pay money to achieve something." It's the "freemium" business model fused with game mechanics. Araki recommended tapping into gamers' varied levels of competitivness: acclimate a casual gamer to perform actions like inviting a friend to play in order to access new features, then hope that person becomes so addicted that they're eventually willing to pay for further progress. Opportunistic as that may sound, it's sensible, as GREE's revenue and user numbers demonstrate. But whether it's a viable long-term strategy is another matter. Those World of Warcraft users numbers from November? Down 1.1 million gamers from March 2011

March 10, 2012, 7:38 PM EST

The Foursquare Harry Potter Connection Foursquare still aiming to go mainstream by converting 'Muggles' -- non techies -- with deals

When Foursquare debuted at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in 2007, co-founder and CEO Dennis Crowley said, “We thought we were going to be embarrassed. …It was kitschy.”

Instead, they were a hit – among the tech faithful who attended the conference that year, and their cohorts in New York, San Francisco, Boston and other major cities.

Three years later, the location-based social networking app is closing on 20 million users and works with brands like American Express and Walgreens.

In a conversation with CrunchFund general partner and TechCrunch columnist MG Siegler today at South by Southwest (SXSW), Crowley said that when he looks at how people use Foursquare at the conference – checking-in in droves and using the app to determine which party to go to next – he sees the “Foursquare of the future.”

“We’re the smallest of the big guys,” he said, but later added, “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we can be one of those big companies.”

It’s true that for tech enthusiasts at SXSW, Foursquare is almost as much as a part of the experience as beer and barbecue. But for the population in general, the value of location-based apps is just coming in to view.

According to a Forrester study released in December, the percentage of U.S. online adults who use geolocation apps has grown to 6 percent this year from 4 percent in 2010. Of that small sliver of geosocial smartphone users, just 2 percent say they use the apps once a week or more.

But Crowley said that the company’s partnerships with brands like Walgreens, as well as smaller local businesses, are helping to raise its profile among average Americans.

“Muggles – normal people in the world … they think Foursquare is about getting deals,” he said. “That’s how you get from 20 million to 50 million [users].”

One of Foursquare's strengths is lead generation for local merchants, Crowley claimed. For those looking to acquire new customers, retain current ones, or resurrecting relationships with old ones, he continued, Foursquare has valuable data and a platform for facilitating a connection.

When asked whether location-based services would be niche or break into the mainstream, he said that if people don’t use location apps, it will be “silly.”

People already lean on Google maps to help them get from place to place, but there’s no reason that those maps shouldn’t be tailored to each individual.

“This is the problem I love,” he said.  “You should be able to walk around the world and have perfect information of everything that’s interesting.”
 

March 10, 2012, 6:40 PM EST

Brands Infiltrate the Digerati Virgin Mobile, NFL teams among unusual attendees at SXSWi

Virgin Mobile usually hits up the SXSW Music festival to scout up-and-coming bands for its Virgin Mobile FreeFest concert or Virgin Mobile Live Radio, "but now the new rock stars are these mobile app developers," Ron Faris, head of brand marketing at Virgin Mobile USA, told me this morning. As part of its larger "Higher Calling" initiative rolled out earlier this week, on Friday (Mar. 9) Virgin Mobile launched its What the App program to spotlight emerging Android app developers on Virginmobilelive.com and other brand outlets.

Anyone who witnessed how Apple's launch of its App Store accelerated iPhone adoption shouldn't be shocked at a cell company would align itself with the mobile app ecosystem, but the fact that Virgin Mobile announced the program at an early-adopter event like SXSWi instead of promoting it in a more consumer-facing fashion might be a little shock. Michael Lazerow, CEO and cofounder of Buddy Media, said there's definitely been a rise in brand marketers attending SXSWi. "Pretty much every one of our big brands [ex. Virgin Mobile] has people here, which didn't happen [before]," he said. "Usually you have social media managers, but now you have people running [brands' marketing departments like Faris in attendance]."

Also in attendance? All 32 NFL teams. Lazerow said he wouldn't have expected that confluence in years past, but the teams met in Austin this week with social marketing experts like the Buddy Media honcho to educate themselves on how to use technology and content to build their business. "They have the best content in the world. You'd think they'd figured it out, but everyone's still learning." One thing brands are learning is how to transform from marketers to media companies. "We think brands need to think in terms of how you build a distribution network to distribute content at scale," Lazerow said.

Facebook's recent changes to its ad offerings put the content-centric approach on blast, but the shift extends further than one social network." Where marketing is moving to is newsroom marketing, which is all about headlines just in time," said Virgin's Faris. "Brands have to stay relevant now, and to keep that conversation going, they have to publish daily." To that end Virgin Mobile is working with social-heavy news site Buzzfeed to help with content created for Virgin Mobile's social outlets. Faris said the decision to partner with Buzzfeed is a change from a "studio-based marketing culture" of one-way, brand-to-consumer messaging to a fast paced environment in which brands must keep up with the rapid pace of consumers' conversations. Faris' team meets every week to go over headlines and content to push to its 18-24-year-old target demo. "We're in like a hardcore training mode right now," he said.

March 10, 2012, 5:26 PM EST

Advertisement
About Adweek's SXSW Coverage

News, Reporting, Analysis and Photography from SXSW Interactive.  Adweek staffers Ki Mae Heussner (@kheussner), Tim Peterson (@petersontee), Mike Shields (@digitalshields), Alfred Maskeroni (@digimatized) on Twitter.

 

Click to Subscribe to Adweek's SXSW Coverage RSS

Blogroll