Category Archives: Twitter

Highlights from 2Q09 Software Equity Group Report

I’m not sure which better explains my recent decrease in blog post frequency: bit.ly or being out of the office. Either way, I wasn’t kidding a few weeks ago when I said I’m changing my sharing pattern. Much as popular business authors take one good idea and inflate it into a book, I now realize (thanks to bit.ly) that I have been taking what could have been one good tweet and inflating it into a blog post. While I’ve not drawn any definitive conclusions, thus far I’d say I’m sharing many more articles with significantly less effort than before.

Going forward, my guess is that steady state will be ~2 posts/week (instead of ~5), but those posts will supplemented by 5-10 tweets/day (RSS feed here). Because of this, I’ve added the Tweet Blender widget to my home page, made it quite large, and have set it up to include not only my direct tweets (@ramblingman) but all tweets that include the word ramblingman to catch re-tweets and such. This will probably result in the inclusion of odd items from time to time — apologies if anything offensive comes up — and if this becomes a problem I’ll change the setup.

I’ve re-enabled Zemanta after turning it off for several quarters because I found it too slow to justify its value. They’ve put out a new release, and since I’m interested in all things vaguely semantic web, I figured I’d give it another try. Finally, I’m still considering renaming the blog to either Kellblog or Kellogic, but doing so is a daunting project (think of all the links that break) which I’m not yet ready to tackle at present. So, watch this space.

The purpose of this post, however is to present highlights from the Software Equity Group’s 2Q09 Software Industry Equity Report. Here they are:

  • Consensus IT spending forecasts for 2009 predict 8% decrease in overall spending
  • Top five CTO spending priorities from the Goldman Sachs 3/09 survey: cost reduction, diaster recovery, server virtualization, server consolidation, data center consolidation
  • The SEG software index had a 23.7% positive return, bouncing back from a decline in 1Q09
  • Median enterprise value (EV) / sales = 1.4x, up from 1.2x the prior quarter
  • Median EV/EBITDA = 9.4x, up from 7.7x the prior quarter
  • Median EBITDA margin = 14.9%
  • Median net income margin = 3.9%
  • Median TTM revenue growth = 5.2%
  • Baidu and SolarWinds topped the EV/sales charts with values of 16.2x and 10.0x revenues, respectively
  • The great software arbitrage continues with companies >$1B in revenues having a median EV/sales of 2.2x while those <$100M have a mean of 0.7x. This theoretically means that the median big company can buy a median small one and triple its value overnight.
  • Database companies median EV/sales was 1.8x
  • Document/content management companies median EV/sales was 2.4x
  • Median SaaS vendor EV/sales was 2.6x, suggesting that $1 of SaaS revenue is worth $1.70 of perpetual revneue. (Though I worry the overall average includes SaaS so this could be understating it.)
  • Four software companies went public in 2Q09 raising, on median, $182M with an EV of $814M, an EV/revenue of 3.6x, and a first-day return of 17.3%
  • Five companies remain in the IPO pipeline with median revenues of $58.7M, net income of -$2.2M, and growth of 46.4%
  • 285 software M&A deals were done on the quarter with $3.1B in total value. This was down from 296 deals in the prior quarter worth $7.3B. (The lowest total value in the past 13 quarters.)
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How I Want My News: TimesReader vs. Bloglines vs. … vs. Outlook?

I finally got tired of Bloglines this weekend and bit the bullet, figured out how to export my feed list in OPML and import it into other readers. That, plus some playing around with TimesReader, got me thinking about how I want my news, in the end with a pretty unanticipated result.

First, let’s talk about Bloglines. Relative to Pluck, the first RSS reader I tried, Bloglines was a dream. It was easy to use. It was performant enough. It was thin-client, meaning first that I didn’t have to download and install an application and second that it was accessible anywhere — I could read feeds on my machine at work or my wife’s machine at home and it was the same experience.

Over the years, however, I had some problems with Bloglines:

  • Bloglines didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be. Bloglines has this lame blogging tool included, which I can’t imagine anyone using to publish a real blog. It has a playlists tab which struck me as odd and confusing. The company seemed lost.
  • Bloglines didn’t evolve. This reminds me of MapQuest. Back in 2005, when Google Maps was launched and they blew by MapQuest overnight, I was — despite being a Google contrarian — actually happy. Why? Because in the preceding years, I felt like MapQuest was complacent, didn’t evolve, and basically deserved what it got.
  • Bloglines was slow and cumbersome. One example: I like to mark important items “keep new” for future blog fodder, but there is no easy way to un-mark lots of them.
  • You have to be online to use Bloglines. I do my best reading on planes so this was a big negative. (I’d often print posts so I could read them later. Ich.)
  • Bloglines didn’t provide a way to share newsworthy items. One of my favorite media/publishing feeds is Jill O’Neil’s shared items in Google Reader. As Jill churns through loads of information, every once in a while she flags an item for her feed, and the result is an expert-aggregated stream of very interesting stories.
  • The prior point is just one instance of a broader problem: Bloglines is its own, fairly cut-off world. The question then becomes how many worlds do I want to visit every day and in which world do I want to get my news?

I’d always struggled with the question of which feeds should I put in MyYahoo vs. Bloglines. In the end, I put the fun stuff on MyYahoo (e.g., Sharks scores, French news, E! gossip) and the serious stuff in Bloglines. That division reflected two facts: (1) I didn’t want to be buried in technology and business feeds every time I launched my browser, and (2) that MyYahoo is a bad place for serious feed-reading (e.g., you need to open a new window to see more than the last 3-5 stories, there’s no way to mark stories unread or share interesting ones).

Since Twitter’s in vogue as a news delivery platform, let’s ponder Twitter for moment. While Twitter is fun, I participate in that fun, and I do get the odd news story from a Tweet every now and then, there is no way that I want to use Twitter to get my news. That’s not to say, by the way, that Twitter isn’t wonderful for truly-breaking news. But my problem is specific: keeping up with about 100 RSS feeds related to technology and business. Twitter’s not the solution. In many ways, it’s part of the problem: if you have a finite number of “worlds” (or sites) you want to periodically visit, then Twitter is definitely one of them, and this reduces your capacity for the rest.

(And yes, I know I can get Tweetstreams as RSS feeds and thus eliminate the need to visit the Twitter world, but I’ve only done that once: for the H1N1 feed from CDC. Somehow, I have a desire to keep my Twitter world and my RSS worlds separate.)

Some might suggest that Facebook is the right place to get news, and I’d say yes if “news” means updates about my friends, their whereabouts, and their lives. I’ve sometimes heard Facebook referred to as the good news newspaper with highly personalized information, and I think that’s a pretty good description. But, as a place to read and aggregate 100 RSS feeds? No. In fact, I find it vaguely irritating when people status-update serious news stories (I can get them elsewhere, thanks) and quite irritating when people do business marketing with their status-updates. In terms of my “world theory,” the Facebook world has a clear position in my mind (“friends”). It’s definitely a world I want to visit and a world I want to keep pure.

This leads to the notion of “work friend” and LinkedIn. While I’d never consider making LinkedIn my primary news source, I do think that they have done a wonderful job with their news section. I’m not sure how they’re doing it, but I assume their using their knowledge of who my friends are and what they’re reading to suggest stories for me: and the suggestions are always quite good. So, news-wise, I view LinkedIn as a good place to find stories that I might otherwise miss, but it does not solve my problem of keeping up with 100 RSS feeds that I know I want to follow.

So now we come back to the RSS reader category. I tried Google Reader over the weekend, and while I preferred it to Bloglines, it still suffered from the must-be-online problem and the own-world problem. But I liked the UI better than Bloglines and it enabled sharing a feed of interesting items, so I was about to convert when I stopped and thought for a second about that RSS Feeds folder in Outlook 2007.

I imported my OPML file into Outlook and the rest was history. I hate to say it, and the last thing I thought I’d ever say was that I want “more stuff in email” but this seems to be the best solution for me. Why?

  • I can read offline
  • It’s one less “world” to deal with and a world where I already get plenty of news (from mailing lists and Google Alerts)
  • I can forward blog posts without having to cut and paste — yippee!
  • I can easily mark things read or unread
  • Because I can read offline, I eliminate the frustrating problem of scanning alerts offline. (Many alerts happen in the blogs I follow thus I now typically have the relevant posts already in my RSS feeds folder.)
  • The performance hit, once it’s initially setup and cleaned up, isn’t bad

In fact, the only thing I dislike is that Outlook treats RSS folders a bit too much like regular folders. For example when filing email, recently accessed RSS feeds appear in the recently used folders list. (In my opinion, you shouldn’t be able to file anything in an RSS feed folder, but maybe I’m too much of a purist.)

Finally, as long as I was in a self-reflection on news mode, I decided to check out TimesReader, which is built in Adobe AIR. Impressions:

  • Boy, is it pretty.
  • I wonder if it’s a paved cow path. Are they making the online experience look largely like the newspaper to show they can, or because that’s the appropriate way to experience the newspaper online?
  • It’s “another world” to have to visit, and seemingly a closed one. I was surprised to see no embedded hyperlinks in news stories though not terribly surprised to see no way to bring other feeds in. As previously discussed, I’m trying to minimize my number of worlds.
  • I’m a big fan of the New York Times, a subscriber, and a frequent reader, but I doubt that I’ll use the current TimesReader very often. While I definitely prefer reading the TimesReader version over the regular website version, I’m not sure I really have time for either. Perhaps if and when there’s a TimesReader on the Kindle and I upgrade mine to the bigger screen size, then maybe I’ll be a frequent user. But for now, firing it up to read the paper in its own world is as luxurious as reading the Sunday Times cover to cover, which I love, but rarely have time to do.

When I began my RSS reading journey I’d never have guessed that it would end up in Outlook, but that’s where I am now and suspect where I’ll stay for a while.

Too Funny: Twitter Founders Interviewed in 140-Character Responses

Hats off to Maureen Dowd at the New York Times for the creative idea of interviewing Twitter founders Biz Stone (great name, reminds me of fishing guide Jack Trout) and Evan Williams in 140-character format.

Excerpt:

I was here on a simple quest: curious to know if the inventors of Twitter were as annoying as their invention. (They’re not. They’re charming.)

I sat down with Biz Stone, 35, and Evan Williams, 37, and asked them to justify themselves.

ME: You say the brevity of Twitter enhances creativity. So I wonder if you can keep your answers to 140 characters, like Twitter users must.

Clever idea. You can read the full article here.

Twazzup: A Nice Twitter Search Engine

As part of writing my previous post on swine flu, Twitter, and The Wisdom of Crowds, I ran into a nice, real-time, alternative Twitter search engine, called Twazzup, presumably as in, “what’s up?”

Most folks are probably aware of Summize, which was acquired by Twitter in July, 2008, and is now at http://search.twitter.com. I think Twazzup one-ups Twitter search in a few areas:

  • It shows you the TPH, presumably meaning tweets per hour, on a topic. Right now, “swine flu” is running at 6,667 TPH.
  • While they both show hot topics, Twazzup does a much better job of finding and suggesting related queries. For example, Twazzup is suggesting: Mexico, #swineflu, news, avoid. Twitter search is showing cool / nifty queries that aren’t related: #haiku, listening to, “is down.”
  • Twazzup shows a featured tweet (presumably using some authority mechanism), related pictures, and related news stories.

When using Twazzup, John Battelle’s database of intentions springs immediately to mind and frankly, because it’s real-time and it’s not just search phrases but little proclamations, I think Twitter/Twazzup does a much better job of sticking a thermometer in the public consciousness than a log of Google search phrases.

Using that thermometer what, besides swine flu, is on the public’s mind at present? Apophis, which is evidently an asteroid that might hit the Earth in 2036.

Gosh, folks are in an apocalyptic mood.

Stephen Arnold covers Twazzup here.

The Madness of Mobs: Twitter and Swine Flu

In talking about web 2.0, we often think about ideas like mass collaboration, a participatory web, the web as a communication platform, and generally speaking The Wisdom of Crowds in building and establishing knowledge.

I’m a big believer in the power of functional (or wise) groups to make better decisions than even the most talented individuals. I learned this first-hand years ago when I took LDP at the Center for Creative Leadership and we did a survival exercise similar to the one detailed in table 4 of this document. In our exercise, every individual — including a Brigadier General — was outperformed by the group in prioritizing a list of items necessary for wildnerness survival.

So I believe that groups guess jellybean jar counts better than individuals, that PageRank generally works for finding web pages, that feedback (used to) work on eBay (until they said sellers can only say positive things), that Diggs are useful way to identify interesting content, that Wikipedia is a great way to build an encyclopedia (particularly a technology one), and generally most of the other stuff I’m supposed to believe as good, web 2.0, Silicon Valley guy.

I believe this so much that we invited James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, to keynote our user conference coming soon on May 12-14, 2009. So I’m on board with the program.

But I also wonder about the opposite, what I’ll call The Madness of Mobs. From financial bubbles to looters to Spring Breakers to a dozen other examples, we can all find examples of where everything cuts exactly the opposite way: where a wise crowd transforms to a mad mob.

So I was quite interested to find this article, Swine Flu: Twitter’s Power to Misinform, which talks precisely about how the “mass brain” of Twitter appears to be shorting out when it comes to the topic of swine flu. Excerpt (edited for brevity, and bolding mine):

Thus, Unlike basic internet search — which has been already been used by Google to track flu trends — Twitter has introduced too much noise into the process: as opposed to search requests which are generally motivated only by a desire to learn, too many Twitter conversations about swine flu seem to be motivated by desires to fit in, do what one’s friends do, or simply gain more popularity.

In such situations this, there is some pathological about people wanting to post yet another status update containing the coveted most-searched words – only for the sake of gaining more people to follow them. And yet the bottom line is that tracking the frequency of Twitter mentions of swine flu as a means of predicting anything thus becomes useless. (However, there are plenty of non-Twitter options summed up nicely on Mashable)

Hum. I should probably cop a maybe-guilty plea on blogging on swine flu. Like moths to a flame, we bloggers are drawn to hot topics.

The article continues:

If you think that my concerns about context are overblown, here are just a few status updates from random Twitter users:

I’m concerned about the swine flu outbreak in us and mexico could it be germ warfare?

In the pandemic Spanish Flu of 1918-19, my Grandfather said bodies were piled like wood in our local town….SWINE FLU = DANGER

Good grief this swine flu thing is getting serious. 8/9 specimens tested were prelim positive in NYC. so that’s Tx, Mexico and now Nyc.

Be careful of the swine flu!!!! (may lead to global epidemic) Outbreak in Mexico. 62 deaths so far!! Don’t eat pork from Mexico!!

Swine flu? Wow. All that pork infecting people….beef and chicken have always been meats of choice

Be careful…Swine Flu is not only in Mexico now. 8 cases in the States. Pig = Don’t eat

If my reading list on Twitter was only restricted to the individuals who had produced the posts above, by now I would be extremely scared … In moments like this, one is tempted to lament the death of broadcasting, for it seems that the information from expert sources should probably be prioritized over everything else.

Now, I’m pretty sure the counter-arguments to The Madness of Mobs goes like this:

  • Not all groups are wise. The Wisdom of Crowds relies of wise groups.
  • You can’t cherry-pick the scariest contributions to argue that The Wisdom of Crowds doesn’t work. Much as the abortion page on Wikipedia is the result of a rugby scrum of passionate, oppositional forces, so will be the mass brain of Twitter on swine flu. You need to look at the whole picture.

In fact, Surowiecki outlines failures of crowd intelligence and finds root causes which include groups that are too homogeneous, too emotional, too centralized, too divided, and too imitative.

Hopefully, we’ll hear more from Jim on this topic at the user conference and, in the meantime, before enslaving yourself to The Wisdom of Crowds, ponder if your crowd is a wise one, and whether you’re actually dealing with The Madness of Mobs.

Related Information / Stories

Swine Flu Tracker Map

View H1N1 Swine Flu in a larger map

EContent on Why Corporate Bloggers Often Miss

Here’s a good, brief article on EContent, entitled Blogging: Why the Basics Elude Many Marketers, which provides a nice summary of why corporate marketing types typically fail when working in social media environments.

Except (bolding mine):

Because of the casual nature of the conversation, many companies seriously underestimate the strategy that goes into successful blogs. Publishing posts is just the beginning. Making sure that the content offered is substantive and engaging requires preparation. You’ll need to create an “editorial calendar” which maps out in advance what topics you will explore. From there, you can make decisions about which internal resources must be tapped to provide or augment planned content.

Remember to plan your content strategy with your target audience in mind, and don’t be afraid to add to the calendar as your audience uncovers interesting topics with the potential for further exploration. Once a solid base of posts has been published, corporate blogs should follow the same rules as any other blogs in terms of linking to and commenting on others in the blogosphere. Rather than assuming the company name will engage people, blog writers should be looking for ways to connect with readers. The whole point is to converse, not lecture.

The article goes continues, discussing how many marketers make the exact mistakes with Facebook groups or corporate Twitter accounts, a point that I found quite logical but of which I was less aware:

More recently, the social media stampede has turned toward Twitter, and companies are getting trampled there, too. The same “anti-marketing” strategy that applies to blogging should be applied here. There’s no point spamming people with your company message – you might as well be a telemarketer.