Even with 84 million uniques each month, About.com tends to fly under the radar. But there is change afoot since IAC bought out About.com from the New York Times last year, most notably the appointment of Neil Vogel as CEO. We brought in Vogel, as well as Chief Strategy Officer Scott Kim (who also served as interim CEO for the past few months), to discuss how About might be changing in the foreseeable future.
Neil has only been at About for a little over a month, but he has big plans. It’s a three-pronged approach really, involving social, mobile, and user experience.
Where social is concerned, Vogel mentioned that About hasn’t ever given the vertical any “water or sunlight,” which means it’s a huge opportunity to leverage thousands of expert guides (content producers) and the massive flood of traffic coming to the site each month.
He also revealed that 25 percent of About’s mobile traffic comes via mobile, and “it’s not cannibalistic traffic either, it’s a clear growth over the desktop traffic we’re seeing.” Confusing math aside, Kim explained that the mobile strategy doesn’t involve an app, since SEO is the primary driver of traffic to About.
“The goal with mobile is the same as desktop, which means that we need to have the best possible user experience so people will travel throughout the site,” said Kim.
I asked if SEO was enough for About, or if there are plans to bring users in more directly.
“SEO is a thing now. As the internet evolves, SEO will become less and less of a thing as Google and Bing are getting better and better at what they do,” said Vogel. “They want to give you the best content possible when you want to solve a problem, and we have great content.”
More important than how the consumer gets there, Vogel and Kim are concerned with keeping the user there. According to the dynamic duo, the plan isn’t a huge, monumental redesign.
“It’ll be 1,000 small things we do,” said Vogel. “If you look at what we’re doing 12 months from now next to where we are today, it will look like we did something drastic, but we didn’t. We’re going to do it one new thing at a time.”
After considering one of About’s greatest challenges, this plan actually seems much more logical. See, About is one of the top medical sites on the web, and it’s also one of the top food sites on the web. Vogel explained that it’s hard to get inspiration from competitors when you compete in so many verticals.
“The good news is there are a lot of ideas,” he said. “And the bad news is there are a lot of ideas.”
Five years after being started as a back-bedroom project by Michael Acton Smith, Mind Candy, the company that came up with the hugely successful Moshi Monsters kids game, has achieved a lot. Unusually for most UK consumer startups, it’s reached across the globe to become a global brand attracting 80 million registered users, up from 50 million in 2011.
Clearly this has been good for growth given that Mind Candy’s 2011 declared sales were £29m. But though tonight it celebrates its success with a lavish party for staff and guests, the company itself stands on a precipice, and the precipice is called mobile. That said, the company knows this, and plans to launch three brand new gaming worlds in the next few months.
In the company’s favour is a self-aware CEO. Acton Smith knows Moshi’s mobile and tablet, and its mobile offering is pretty weak, given that its target audience of young kids has switched almost overnight in the past two years to tablet-based games like Angry Birds, Plants And Zombies, Heyday and the rest. Moshi has done very well in licensing its characters for merchandise, generating half of its revenues from licensing and royalties deals this way – but that can’t last for long if the games themselves don’t satisfy its young audience.
Mind Candy CEO Michael Acton Smith admits that web site traffic has slowed as tablets have taken off, but he says the company is well positioned for the mobile future. Mind Candy has had a total of $10 million in funding from Index Ventures, Accel Partners and Spark Ventures.
While Moshi Monsters has 80 million registered users, it declines to release monthly active users, a metric used by most gaming companies today. It sounds like its getting ready for that shift of position.
Speaking to TechCrunch, Acton Smith said the company was making a big shift to a mobile strategy and that it was “vital that we crack this.”
Indeed, it’s looking like a seismic change at Mind Candy. Acton Smith says three entirely new worlds are being created which will build “entirely new IP.”
Moshi Monsters, however, will be kept “evergreen,” develop further onto mobile, and a full-length movie is slated for launch later this year.
“We are hiring aggressively for this” says Acton Smith.
The new games will be more broadly aimed at families, so parents playing alongside kids. “We’re big fans of Pixar and how it created movies aimed at the whole family,” says Smith, who has gained a reputation as a quirky and creative character, and is sometimes described as the Willy Wonka of London’s tech scene. The moniker works after a fashion – the Mindy Candy office boasts a tree house and a slide.
Moshi Monsters started out as an online world of adoptable pet monsters for boys and girls aged 6-12 back in 2008. It slowly crept to 1 million users before taking off in the summer of 2009 and growing by 1 new registered user per second. Moshi is biggest in the UK but has a global fan base. The top five territories are English speaking (UK, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand).
Mindy Candy has been on a roller coaster ride – almost closing in late 2008 when the business ran out of cash after blowing its initial funding on an Alternative Reality Game called Perplex City before Acton Smith sketched out the first Moshi Monster in a London cafe.
Important question to all entrepreneurs and small business owners: Is your online media strategy dedicated to traditional desktop and laptop users? Have you invested adequately in a strategy to drive access to your business via mobile devices? If the answer is yes and no respectively, well you are putting yourself in the undesirable position of missing out on the next wave of online business communication.
The good news is that you are not alone. The fallacy that most businesses continue to suffer from is viewing mobile as an intermediary medium between the client and their website or an SMS campaign tool at the most. Even gargantuan businesses like Facebook have been hit with this reality. While more and more users are accessing Facebook on their mobile devices, the company, as yet, has been unable to replicate the success of its desktop based advertising on the mobile platform.
Enter Brian Solis, a digital analyst, sociologist, self proclaimed futurist and published author of books such as ‘What’s the Future of Business’ and ‘The End of Business as Usual’ who states that the effervescent mobile devices – smartphones and tablets, are now worthy of having their own client engagement experience. With more than 100 million smartphone users (as of 2011) and an expected base of 90 million tablet users by 2014 in the U.S alone, this is one creamy pie that the business owners can ill-afford to not grab a bite of.
As an end user how often have you tried to access a website on your mobile and it fails to function with the same veracity as on the desktop? Booking tickets, paying your bills, renewing your insurance online can be nerve wrecking experiences on a mobile device, with no surety of the transaction actually going through or worse still your credit card being debited while the website flashes a transaction failed message.
Brian in his latest post asks the crucial question – with technology and customer behavior evolving, are you evolving your digital strategy as well? Mobile apps, besides being the new form of information exchange, are changing the way businesses do business. My colleague Vincenzo Ravina’s recent article on Smallbiztechnology regarding how the hotels are now catering to mobile users, also showcased a great example of this. The iConcierge App developed for Radisson allows its guests to use their mobile devices to plan their itinerary, request for room services, book additional services like a spa, check flight details and book a cab.
Ask yourself the basic questions of who in your business is responsible for driving the mobile platform, what is the experience of your customers on mobile devices and how well is it integrated with your social media and website? And even though you may feel that you need to do a lot more before you can invest in a highly developed mobile platform, make sure it’s part of the overall growth strategy chalked out for your business.
The post Is Your Business Delivering a Seamless Customer Experience on Mobile Devices? appeared first on Small Business Technology.
Facebook doesn’t own a mobile operating system, and that’s a problem. Developers don’t need Facebook to build apps, and it doesn’t get a 30 percent cut of payments. But today Facebook acquired Parse, and while it’s not an OS, it’s the next best thing. The mobile-backend-as-a-service could keep Facebook top-of-mind for developers when they pick an identity provider, integrate sharing, and buy ads.
If you wanted to make a leap of faith, you could speculate that Parse (read our full story on the acquisition) could become the plug-and-play backend of a Facebook mobile OS focused on making things easy for developers. That’s not out of the question far down the road, and is bolstered by Facebook’s recent acqhire of the Pieceable team who had built mobile app development and in-browser preview platform.
But building its own formal OS would go against a core tenet of Facebook’s mobile strategy — being a social layer that rides on top of iOS and Android, rather than a direct competitor.
Starting a completely new operating system would be a massive, risky bet for Facebook. It’d be expensive and draining for a relatively little company compared to Apple, Google and Amazon. Getting developers to build another version of their apps for a set of Facebook OS devices that doesn’t have traction could be a tough sell. Again, not impossible in a few years, but a serious gamble anytime soon. But for now Parse will help Facebook get closer to developers.
The “Everything But An OS” Strategy
Facebook is on a mission to get as much of the value of owning an OS as possible without actually building one. Mark Zuckerberg has explained that he only wants to build things that can benefit big chunks of its user base. That’s why it didn’t manufacture its own phone, and that’s why it hasn’t made apps that require a forked version of Android. When you have a billion users, building something with a potential to reach only 20 million of them just isn’t big enough. Facebook wants to make the world more open and connected, not just a chunk of it.
We saw one prong of this strategy with the launch of Facebook Home. It wanted to be the first thing people saw and the most frequent thing people did on their phones, but without too much resource expenditure or having to start an app store from scratch. So it built a homescreen/launcher replacement app that could run on a standard version of Android.
Another component is Open Graph. It makes it simple to add Facebook sharing capabilities to any app. It may not have the native sharing built in at the OS level, but it can still get content flowing into the news feed that it can put ads next to. And it is baked into iOS 6 at the OS level thanks to a partnership with Apple — also a part of the strategy.
Facebook might not earn a 30 percent cut when you download an app from Google Play or the App Store, but it does make money when you discover which app to actually download through its new mobile app install ads. Those stores are now cluttered with hundreds of thousands of apps, and until a developer climbs on the charts it’s hard to get found. So Facebook is aggressively positioning itself as the paid gateway to app discovery as an alternative to having its own app marketplace.
Parse Unites Facebook’s Dev Package
So Facebook has all these parallel universe parts of a mobile OS. Now Parse will tie them all together. Facebook’s Director Of Product Management Doug Purdy called it the third pillar of the Facebook Platform, but to me it also feels like a doorway to the first two pillars of identity and ads. Facebook will continue operating the backend solution, which currently serves over 60,000 apps. Now they’ll be paying their monthly subscription fees straight to Facebook. So base-level, Facebook is making more money from developers, while also helping to get more great apps built.
Then, just by the nature of using a Facebook-branded product, developers may be more likely to use the rest of the Not-FbOS stack, such as relying on it as an identity provider which strengthens the need for a Facebook account among users. They might build in more sharing hooks that deliver ad-monetizable content to the news feed. And it might encourage them to consider buying Facebook install ads to get their app downloaded. The strategy of getting tighter with developers is a popular one right now, considering Twitter’s recent purchase of Crashlytics.
While many developers immediately fretted that Facebook would meddle with the service, Purdy tells me its plan isn’t to mess with what works. You might be skeptical, but Facebook surprised the world this last year by now screwing around with Instagram. That won’t necessarily stop some developers from ditching Parse because they don’t want Facebook’s eyes on its data.
Still, Parse creates a powerful synergistic vector from which to promote the rest of Facebook’s platform services. Eventually, I suspect Facebook will feature its own services a bit more within Parse. Perhaps that means even easier integration of identity and sharing for Parse-backed apps. Or Parse developers could get free credits for app install ads that could get them hooked on the traction booster.
The concept of a more complete and unified suite of platform services should excite investors, and having such a stable of great mobile talent around clearly enticed Parse’s founders.
Being too dependent on the desktop was a huge mistake for Facebook. It had to spend a billion dollars to kill the threat of Instagram and turn it into an asset. Now we’ll see if throwing everything but the kitchen operating system at mobile is enough, or whether Facebook will remain a second-class citizen on the small screen.
[Image Credit: AppleInsider]