Google Seals AOL Deal

It’s official: Google is investing $1 billion in AOL and getting a five year extension on their contract to provide paid search results to the AOL network. So Google will remain by far the most important starting point for search engine marketers, probably for some time to come.

Microsoft’s AdCenter will provide better demographic targeting for advertisers in the near term (when it launches) but Microsoft will have to build its search traffic for this to matter very much.

Wikipedia’s New Competition

Wikipedia is providing “semi-protection” to articles that get vandalized often. New users won’t be able to edit these pages.

Meanwhile, Wikipedia co-founder Larry and serial entrepreneur Joe Firmage (who has Utah roots) have raised $10 million to create an expert-driven open source encyclopedia called Digital Universe.

It will be interesting to see if anything can stop the momentum of Wikipedia. I wouldn’t bet that Digital Universe will ever come close to catching up. That said, a commercially funded #2 player in the online encyclopedia space could very well be a financial success. And I think that it will be.

User generated video content

Al Gore’s Current has a very interesting business model. I’ve always been a fan of user-generated content business models (at Ancestry.com our most popular databases came from user submissions).

Current is turning user generated video into a broadcasting business. Co-founder Joel Hyatt predicts that in 5 years most of Current’s content will be available on mobile devices such as cell phones and iPods.

This is a company to watch, as it pioneers advertising models and user generated video content.

I like Yahoo Mail Search

I now have a fast full text search in my email. Yahoo Mail beta has a fast full text search engine. Must have come from the Yahoo acquisition of Stata Labs last October. This is extremely useful. Gmail also has a fast full-text search engine; but it doesn’t sync with my Blackberry so I only use it rarely. (I do keep all my Google Alerts in it.) So far, Yahoo Mail is the winner, although the CAPTCHA thing could cause me to switch to Gmail as soon as they work well with the Blackberry.

Yahoo Mail Beta

The new Yahoo Mail beta is a tremendous improvement on Yahoo Mail, which frankly I have been tiring of.

The new version is so much faster, the interface is much more like Outlook. I like everything except the CAPTCHA system which still requires me as a paying Yahoo Mail customer to enter text from a scrambled graphic image almost every time I send an email. It drives me crazy.

But overall, I’m loving Yahoo Mail, and I’ll probably stick with it if I can figure out how to eliminate the CAPTCHA stuff. Does anyone know how I can avoid that?

Pitching VCs to Get Valuable Feedback

Even if you don’t need to raise money, or if you know you probably aren’t fundable, you should probably get in the habit of hanging out with and pitching VCs regularly. Why?

Because VCs have more meta-data about who is doing what than any one else in the business world. They are on the front line of all the emerging technologies, the best new ideas, and they know hundreds and hundreds of entrepreneurs and funded companies.

I blogged last month about the phenomenal meeting that David Bradford and I had with Tim Draper of Draper, Fisher, Jurvetson, where he gave us a HUGE idea for FundingUniverse.com. That has started the ball rolling and our team is mobilizing around his idea.

Yesterday one of our teams had a meeting with a very successful VC who shared some excellent wisdom with us. Here are some tidbits:

  • He asked, “Who are you going to sell the company to?” We didn’t have a good answer. He said, “I never start a company without knowing who is going to buy it. And then I run the company with the intention of not selling to them, otherwise we stop focusing on our customer.”
  • “Laser focus on your customer and serve their needs. If you don’t know who is going to buy you, then you don’t understand your customer.”
  • “Who is your customer? How many have you talked to? What are the top 3 features they want?”
  • “Focus groups are a complete waste of time. They have made more companies go out of business … if you get the wrong panel, you won’t solve the right problems.”
  • Build a panel of customers from the kind of people that always say they knew what was coming. Nail the panel. Have them tell you what is coming and then work back from there.”
  • Must read book: “Getting It Right The First Time” by Internet Research Group
  • Our venture friend also told us about a great new technology that might fit into what we are doing.

    So bottom line was we got feedback on our business, our team, potential partners, and some pointed questions that will force us to better define our customers, systematically talk with more of them, and think about our exit and who will want to buy us as we meet our customers needs.

    So when is the last time you pitched a VC? What is stopping you from trying that right now? Make some phone calls. Use LinkedIn. Get introduced. Try your pitch and see what you can learn.

    Playing With Widgets

    Google has released its Google Homepage API and Yahoo recently introduced its Yahoo Widgets Engine (see CNET article). More toys for developers to play with. I remember back in 1999 or 2000 when Homestead enabled its home page builders to use something like 150 “elements” to customize their web sites.