Friday, March 28, 2008

Wow!

I’ve just gotten back from our announcement of Ringside Networks at OSBC and SNAP in San Francisco. The feedback and encouragement was very nice, and it seems we may have hit a need in the market. We are only at Beta level right now, but will be in production by June. Hopefully we will have a couple of sites up and running our software in the next week or two.

Our team worked very hard – a big thank you to Rich Friedman, Jason Kinner, Mark Lugert, Mike Schachter, Bill Reichert, Brian Robinson, Jeff Kiesel, Rich Frisbie and the dozen or so “Friends of Ringside” who helped us get so much done. I’ve always believed that killer teams can produce a lot in a short period of time – and this team has delivered. Try out the software today by downloading it here.

Here are some of the highlights from the press and blogosphere:

“This sounds incredibly cool. It means that existing corporate websites can be made socially aware.”
http://www.cnet.com/8301-13505_1-9900858-16.html

“Ringside Networks on Tuesday plans to announce an open-source server for running social applications on existing Web sites, Facebook, and other social-networking destinations in the future.” – Martin Lamonica, CNet
http://www.news.com/8301-10784_3-9901685-7.html

Social Apps Set Free: Ringside Networks to Port Facebook Apps to Web… That's just the beginning. The goal is to offer a system that integrates social applications across any site on the web. – Marshall Kirkpatrick - http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/ringside_ports_facebook.php

“If you've thought about beginning to socially network on the web but aren't quite sure how to harness the power, a new application from Ringside Networks may be of help. The application makes it simple for any website or business to incorporate Facebook applications into the sites.” – Kristina Knight – Biz Report
http://www.bizreport.com/2008/03/new_application_makes_social_networking_simple_for_businesse.html

Ringside Networks today announced the first Social Application Server in open source that seamlessly integrates Facebook applications with a Web site. I think Ringside Networks is onto something. – Peter Varhol – RedmondMag.com - http://redmondmag.com/reports/article.asp?EditorialsID=684

The company is making it particularly easy for coders to build and run applications on Facebook’s platform by utilizing it’s so-called “social application engine,” which enables the transfer, or “sharing,” of Facebook user information. - Paul Glazowski
http://mashable.com/2008/03/24/ringside-networks/

The new company's product will enable integration of social networking applications into any Web site. – Daryl Taft, EWeek - http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Application-Development/Ringside-to-Unveil-Social-App-Server/

This new offering is extremely useful for companies because they will be able to rapidly integrate with multiple social networks. Ringside is positioning themselves for enterprise level social development. Figuring out how to integrate with existing social networks is a complex task for businesses and this new application could make the process substantially easier. – Nick O’Neill – allfacebook, the unofficial facebook blog. - http://www.allfacebook.com/2008/03/facebook-opening-up/

Slashdot
http://tech.slashdot.org/article.pl?no_d2=1&sid=08/03/24/2350201

Ringside Networks is going to unveil an open-source social application server to help customers seamlessly integrate Facebook applications with any Web site. – Michael Hickens – Ziff-Davis Enterprise
http://blogs.eweek.com/epiphanies/content/enterprise_20/nothing_to_lose_but_boredom.html

I think that they are onto something big with two interesting differentiators: 1) open source and 2) the ability for the resulting app to run both on websites and in facebook. – Edwin Khodabakchian - http://edwink.devhd.com/2008/03/25/ringside-networks/

Ringside Networks, launching this week, is focused on building technology that bridges the gap between social and business applications and does so through an open source product offering. – Javier Soltero, Hyperic http://www.hyperic.com/blog/hyperic/2008/03/24/ringside-seats-for-enterprise-20/

In this case, the business model is doubly interesting, as it aims at a hybrid of SaaS and in-house technologies: part of the pitch is that social applications are too important to be captive to third-parties. – Greg Pavlik - http://gregpavlik.blogspot.com/2008/03/social-not-working.html

Ringside Networks is going to be a very interesting company that complements Drupal in useful ways. The notion of an open source social networking application server is new, but I think Bob Bickel is onto something. – Jeff Whatcott, Acquia - http://jeffwhatcott.com/drupal/content/open-source-business-conference-day-1

Ringside has built an open source platform which existing business sites or any site really, can use to integrate Facebook applications into their own sites. Businesses can thus bring a key social awareness into their sites, leveraging the network to increase their brand presence and extend their corporate identity. - Killer Startups - http://www.killerstartups.com/Web-App-Tools/RingsideNetworkscom---Socializing-Corporate-Websites/

Open Source "Social App Server" Might Crack Garden Walls? Companies that want to build social applications (for runners sharing times at Runlicious) or socially aware marketing programs (like Jeep owners sharing pictures and videos) will be able to use social servers to develop the whole thing on their own websites. Their brand on their site instead of their brand on Facebook next to the "get help for your gambling problem" advertisement.– Jim Stogdill, O’Reilly Radar - http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2008/03/open-source-social-app-server.html

Ringside Networks, el nuevo Open Source para redes sociales http://www.mp3dseo.com/ringside-networks-el-nuevo-open-source-para-redes-sociales/

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ringside Networks Brings the Power of Social Networking to Every Website

Today we launch the Beta version of our Ringside Networks Social Application Server. This is the first open source platform that enables businesses to weave social capabilities directly into their existing websites while seamlessly integrating with social networks such as Facebook. The open source software is available for immediate download at www.ringsidenetworks.com and www.ringsidenetworks.org, the corresponding open source community website.

Companies have spent far too much time and effort building their brands, websites, content and applications to hand over social networking to some third party. Ringside Networks gives them a way to get control over this important new way of interacting with their users and customers, while still being able to tie into the big social networks.

By integrating social networking as an integral part of the user experience of corporate websites, companies will be able to directly engage their global communities, enabling them to interact and communicate like never before. Benefits include more compelling user engagement, increased customer and brand loyalty, and transparent insight into vibrant community interactions that extend and grow through friend and associate recommendations.

What is a Social Application Server?

Unlike the many white label social networking tools on the market today, the Ringside Social Application Server allows companies to build and integrate custom social applications directly into corporate websites. This provides three primary advantages:

• Maximizes existing investments by making corporate websites and business applications socially aware.
• Ensures social applications can be customized to meet the unique needs of your business.
• Leverages your existing corporate website brand, look and feel.

Key highlights of the Ringside Social Application Server include:

Social Application Engine: Enables website developers to quickly build, customize and deploy their own social applications as well as the included set of standard social applications such as user profiles, friends, groups, comments, ratings, favorites, events, etc.

Social Intelligence: Allows business owners to gain insight into their customers, users, relationships, groups, and interactions taking place on their website.

Facebook Compatibility: Enables any Facebook application to run on the Ringside Social Application Server with minimal changes. For Facebook developers, this provides the ability to develop applications on their laptops and deploy to Facebook and/or any website.

Federated Social Graphs: Provides the ability to integrate a Ringside-based social graph with other social networks, such as Facebook with full user authentication and security, as well as appropriate use according to the Facebook Terms of Service.

Extensible API and Tag Library: Enables developers to extend Facebook’s API and Markup Language, as well as define their own application-specific APIs and Tags in order to handle custom behavior and improve website integration.

OpenSocial Compatibility and Interoperability: Provides the ability to seamlessly work with other social networks such as MySpace, Hi5, Orkut, and Bebo in a standard manner. This support is planned for future versions of the Ringside Social Application Server.

Jonathan Otto, developer of many Facebook applications including Runlicious and the popular “I Am A” series stated, “We have been an early adopter of the Ringside Social Application Server. It delivers on the promise of making Facebook development easier. The real win for us, however, is being able to control and deliver our applications to other websites, unlocking major new sources of revenue for our company. For example, we will now be able to allow any running store to easily integrate with our Runlicious application for a subscription fee, as well as control advertising through these websites.”

Facebook Interoperability and Federated Social Graphs

Since Facebook opened up their API in May of 2007, more than 19,000 applications have become available. The Ringside Social Application Server implements the Facebook API, as well as the Facebook Query Language (FQL) and Facebook Markup Language (FBML). This enables any Facebook application to run on the Ringside Social Application Server with only a few simple changes — unlocking three powerful use cases:

1. New social applications can be developed and deployed on both your website and on Facebook simultaneously — greatly expanding the reach of a website into a large and vibrant user base.

2. Facebook applications can now run on any website using the Ringside Social Application Server and are no longer limited to just running on Facebook.

3. Facebook developers can develop and test their social applications on their own laptop using the Ringside Social Application Server, and then, simply upload their applications to Facebook for deployment.

In addition to running Facebook applications, the Ringside Social Application Server enables social applications to have strong interoperability with Facebook. For example, if a Ringside application user also has a Facebook profile, then the social application running on a corporate website can communicate interactively with Facebook. This allows the application to post to that user’s Facebook profile or to communicate via Facebook to that user’s friends. Likewise, the user's interactions via Facebook can also be communicated to their Ringside friends, providing an integrated view of a “federated social graph.”

Opening up Social Networking

The Ringside Social Application Server opens up Social Networking to existing websites and new applications. The software is being released under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) — a free and open source license. The LGPL allows any website to use and any software vendor to bundle the Ringside Social Application Server, while encouraging everyone in the community to give back changes and improvements, in order to make the community and the software that much stronger. Active participation by the Facebook developer community is expected — enabling the open source project to keep pace with the rapidly changing Facebook API. The use of LGPL also keeps the promise that the software will always be free and in open source.

Monday, March 24, 2008

March Madness

We have a bit of March Madness at Ringside getting ready to launch tomorrow. But for the rest of the country, it is the NCAA college basketball tournament - and of course CBS Sports big deal with Facebook.

CBS has provided this year's bracket system on Facebook (a Facebook application). Hundreds of thousands of Facebook users (including my 11th grade daughter) have made their choices and anxiously compare themselves to the rest of their friends, or within their high school or across the world. CBS is going to make $25 Million this year from on-line advertising of the tournament, and the Facebook crowd is a big channel for them. It also engenders the type of engagement and virality we have been talking about in this blog.

Come tomorrow when Ringside Networks launches our Beta open source project, folks like CBS will have a common platform that they can build applications like this on. A platform that will enable them to build one application that runs on both Facebook and their web site. A platform that will let users interact across both environments. A platform that enhances the engagement of your existing website users and promotes word of mouth spreading into other social networks.

By the way, I love the "Boss button" on the webcast site - it brings up the following image very quickly...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Social Networking for Every Web Site

Next week Ringside Networks will release a Social Application Server in free and open source that will allow any web site to take advantage of social networking.

I read this blog from Mark Brooks that says we may be on the right track.

“Consumers are sick and tired of being advertised at. Traditional advertising is dead. If you can't afford the time to have ambassadors and evangelists for your brand converse with your users directly through social networks, your brand will die.”

Ringside Networks is going to enable any web site to enhance their communications with their user base by creating and deploying social applications, and expand it beyond by allowing web sites to integrate with the large social networks like Facebook.

More coming on Tuesday, March 25th!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Open Source Meets Social Networking

Next week we will bring open source to the Social Networking market.

I was questioned about the choice of this by a friend who said something along the lines of open source being good for markets that were already established – referring to Red Hat, JBoss and MySQL as examples where the open source project was a business driven way to undercut the pricing of larger vendors in $Billion markets. He was implying that open source was not good for new markets or for innovation.

Obviously, I don’t see it quite that way. We at Ringside Networks view Open Source as a way to not only bring innovation to the market, but as a way to enable others to unlock the power of social networking in new and innovative applications. Open source has proven to do this in the past (remembering these is the only advantage I can think of being old). I figured that I would share some examples…

UNIX was the first big example. When AT&T first developed the initial versions in 1969, there were certainly existing operating systems. However, they really were not open enough and adaptable enough to enable the range of applications that the Bell operating companies needed to develop and deploy. Bill Joy, one of the key drivers of the Unix Berkley Software Distribution (BSD), joined three Stanford guys to start up a little company called Sun based on BSD in 1982. The innovation that was unlocked by UNIX could at least partially be credited with bringing on the distributed computing era.

CERN’s early open source efforts of an httpd server (1990-91) was the beginning of the web. Marc Andreesen picked up on this lead with the open source Mosaic browser (1993), and later Apache took over the lead on the NCSA web server in open source. The Web would never have happened without these open source innovators.

Even Red Hat, JBoss and MySQL had their roots in pure open source projects. They were used by many governments, universities, start-ups, large software vendors and established corporations to unlock new applications.

Having been a part of the JBoss success story, I can speak personally about the thousands of applications that would never have used enterprise Java had not JBoss existed. Certainly JBoss did not get paid by 95% of the user base, but the market that was created by JBoss was what supported the eventual financial success of JBoss.

Time will tell if the Ringside Networks open source offering will help users unlock similar market potentials in the social networking space. Watch for our announcements next week. Get involved and let’s see how far this next era of innovation will take us.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

On-Line Advertising Spending up 28% in 2008

Good blog by Henry Blodget giving data on the continuing shift of advertising revenue to on-line. Last year on-line was $18B out of the total $58B according to this market data.

Again, I ask if there is real return on this that creates a competitive advantage?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Search Advertising vs. Social Applications

In an earlier post I argued that search marketing is a break-even business for those investing in it. In this post I want to get down to some hard numbers and determine where the break-even is for investing in your own social networking tools.

Analysis 1: Let’s look at the costs of search advertising. The costs range from $0.10 to $5.00. Here is a sample average cost currently on Google:
$0.55 – “Nike”
$0.85 – “running shoes”
$0.72 – “social networking”

Commerce sites have a range of making a sale from a click-thru typically between 1 in 50 to 1 in 250. In the case of “running shoes”, the cost would then be 50 X $0.85 = $42.50. Figure a pair of nice running shoes is about $100, with a gross margin of about 50%. So an on-line retailer would make $7.50 gross profit. And that is for an excellent conversion rate and not counting the overhead of fulfillment and running the business. If the rate falls to 1 purchase in 60 click-thrus, then it is a loss. Competitors simply bid up the rates such that search marketing takes the profit away from e-commerce companies relying on it to win new customers, and it does nothing for retaining customers.

Analysis 2: I have some data from a web site. It has 235,000 unique visitors (about 30,000 come from search advertising) and 3.8 million page views per month. There is a registered user base of 80,000. They currently do a lot of search marketing (about 20-25% of total revenues!) and spend about $25 to get a new customer. Let’s assume that we add a set of social networking applications, and the cost of that is $100,000. We would need to produce 4,000 customer orders for the cost to be equivalent to advertising. There are three basic ways to produce those 4,000 new orders:
1. 5% of the 80,000 current users make an additional purchase.
2. 3 % of the 155,000 monthly visitors who are not members make a purchase.
3. 5% of the 80,000 current users invite a friend, who then makes a purchase.

Can a set of social applications that engage users more (have current registered users and site visitors (1 & 2) use the site more) translate to a 3-5% increase in purchases? Or will 5% of registered users really convince their friends to buy from this site via referrals? Maybe some combination? Of course it depends on the product or service that is being sold. But since the $100,000 is a one-time expense, after the break even time of 1 month or 1 year, the return is pure profitable business. None of what occurs in Analysis 1 above where the search marketing eats your profit each time you attract a buyer.

Again, I am not saying there is not a need to do search marketing. However, it seems that the 3-5% improvement via social applications is something that a creative marketing and advertising team could deliver.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Creative Advertising

I had a number of comments about my last post. People thought I was saying that advertising did not deliver a competitive advantage.

Let me state clearly – creative, targeted advertising is a competitive advantage. My point was that social networking might be a more efficient way to spend at least part of the advertising dollar.

Taking your own web site to a higher level by introducing a social context is something that aggregates value directly to your business. How you go about that still needs that very high level of creativity that the advertising industry has always delivered. In fact leaving social applications to a bunch of software developers is probably not the right method to getting a return on social networking.

Think of social networking as an integral part of your advertising program. Think about how social can take advertising to the next level. It is not just putting an ad on TV, a newspaper and a web page. It is about how to really engage your current customers, how to get them to involve their friends or colleagues. It really enables a whole new generation of advertising.

Look at www.jeep.com or www.babycenter.com for ideas on what to do to get people more involved and think about how you could take your advertising spend to a whole new level and target market – your customers and their social network. Look at the tools and games. And take it to the next level even.

As an example, look at the baby naming application at babycenter. This could become "social" by extending it to invite friends to vote on potential names. And imagine if that could be done on the babycenter website as well as and on Facebook and other large social networks. That would be creative advertising by J&J!

Friday, March 7, 2008

On-line Advertising - No Competitive Advantage

As pointed out in my previous blog, online advertising is a BIG business, and social networking is becoming a significant part of that market.

The question is whether spending ad money with a social network is really the best way to take advantage of Social Networking. Is it better to spend at least some of that money on your own company’s web site to add social networking capabilities?

Let’s look at Search Advertising. It is based on a model that takes all of the profit from competitors. Company A and Company B will both bid up the price of the ad for an item that they both sell until the point that they do not make a profitable return. I know there are many e-commerce businesses who sprung up and took advantage of early leadership in search ads, building up spending to be 25%+ of their total revenue. They initially made money as they built up sophistication on using Adwords, finding profitable keywords ahead of their competition – but those advantages decrease over time. Then Company A and Company B are forced to continue spending at the high rate to continue to generate the non-profitable revenue that they now need to keep their volume up for their overall business. No wonder Google has grown so fast and profitable as it “Does No Evil” (except drain the profit from e-commerce companies by creating an efficient market).

Spending money on a banner ad on a social networking site will have similar consequences. Company A and Company B will both bid for the same targeted profile users or groups on Facebook up until that click-thru produces negative results. Of course banner ads have always had the same problem, and the benefit of a more targeted user or group in social networks offers only temporary competitive advantages until other competitors show up to advertise on that site. Good for the Social Network, but not a competitive advantage for the business.

Finally, advertising has always had the negative attribute of being a continuous expense. Businesses have always looked to retain customers as their low cost alternative and hope for the magical “word of mouth” that give very large competitive advantages.

In comparison, extending your company web site with social networking applications can truly build value in your own brand. As discussed in a previous post, social applications can bring large value to your web site with increased:
- Engagement of your users
- Loyalty by having your users be involved
- Virality within your own site and the larger social networks
- Moving from Personal to Social interactions

These basic values help you keep your existing customers and enable the most powerful method of marketing – “word of mouth”.