First genealogy post in a long time

Today my World Vital Records team let me see a sneak peek of what they have been working on for the last few weeks. We’ve been talking with genealogists around the world, attending conferences, and trying to create our company strategy. We have been acquiring large and small databases.

There are so many wonderful companies and individuals in the genealogy industry that we are excited to partner with. We have been telling everyone that we are going to build the #2 genealogy company in the world. I guess we’ll see if we can pull that off with the help of good partners and customers.

Now I’m sitting here thinking I have one last blog post in me before I start my weekend. I’m wrestling with this question: “should I let my readers since a tiny sneak peek of what my development team showed me today?” Or should I wait till next week when we actually official launch our version one web site?

On the one hand, I really want to start the weekend now. Tonight is the Freedom Festival gala dinner. This is my favorite annual event in Provo, Utah, a very patriotic and inspiring evening where we celebrate supporters of freedom from around the world.

Tomorrow night, American Idol winner Taylor Hicks will be performing at the BYU Football Stadium in the annual Stadium of Fire event, the most popular event of the Freedom Festival. I actually edited the Wikipedia article about Provo when we found out Taylor Hicks would be here.

Last night, would you believe, we could hear him rehearsing at the stadium well into the night?!? I live very close to the football stadium and it was amazing to have world renowned Taylor Hicks just down the street.

On the other hand, I’m exciting about our new online genealogy initiative. I’m excited, 10 years from the date we launched the first searchable SSDI database at Ancestry.com, to be back in the industry, with a great team, some funding, and a goal to help people all over the world find their ancestors in the vital records of the world.

It’s kind of neat to see a glimpse, even one screen shot, of what our new web site might look like. (It’s so much more interesting than just reading a press release that says we are planning to do something.) Our site is not ready for primetime, but still, it inspires confidence when you start getting a little peak at what our team will be able to do.

So should I pack it in now and go get all dressed up for the gala, or should I link to one page on our development server just to give a few people over the weekend the chance to take a peak and comment on what they saw?

It’s really not a big deal. We are really just barely getting started. But at the same time, it is the first thing our team has done. They are excited about it. And it is the beginning of a long-term commitment to online genealogy that we hope will produce significant results in years to come.

So I think I will actually just link to one record and invite you to look at one screen shot. The final design is being finalized this weekend. The initial databases for our launch are being prepped. But I don’t see any harm in creating the first link to the site

Okay, I just got off the phone with two of our World Vital Records executives and neither of them mind if I link to the dev server, so here goes. (Again, we haven’t done anything world changing yet, but we are taking the first step. When we launch Phase II of our World Vital Records strategy in the coming weeks, we will be doing something extremely important for the industry. At least we hope.)

So here is a link to my grandfather’s social security death index entry.

Some of the web design isn’t even complete and I can’t guarantee that everything will function right, since this is just being hosted temporarily on a development server. But here it is. Tell me what you think. Tell us what you hope to see us do at World Vital Records that isn’t being done elsewhere. And most of all, please give our content and development team some emotional support and kudos for the efforts they are making to provide a valuable service to the genealogy community.

After all, it’s kind of a David and Goliath world in the genealogy industry right now. Anyone would be nuts to try to start an online genealogy company when it’s already game over, right? (Mary Meeker actually said it was “game over” in this space clear back in 2000, because MyFamily.com was already the clear winner in the space. And since then, MyFamily acquired both Rootsweb and Genealogy.com/Family Tree Maker, firmly consolidating its position as the world leader in this industry.)

But we aren’t saying we’ll ever challenge them in any significant way. We’re just aiming to be #2 in this space. Like Avis, we’ll have to “try harder” to actually get a foothold in this industry.

But with this first link to this first record, we are pledging to try hard, and we are hoping to make a difference.

Note: I left MyFamily.com in February 2002, so I have no official role at the company and all of my opinions are simply my own. (I’m supposed to make this clear every time I mention them in my blog.)

WebEvident Offers PPC Management

WebEvident, one of Provo Labs portfolio companies, provides SEO technology that is used by companies around the world to manage their keyword optimization strategies and improve their search engine rankings. But recently we’ve added Analytics Based PPC Management to the mix of services.

PPC means pay-per-click. We help you find dozens or hundreds or thousands of keywords that you should bid on, so that people searching Google, Yahoo, and MSN will find your ad and click on it. You only pay when someone clicks on your ad. You don’t pay for just impressions.

Management means that we do all the work for you. You give us a budget. And we do all the work, reporting back every step of the way.

Analytics means that we’ll set up your web site analytics program to give us feedback on which keywords are generating leads or sales for you. The beauty of online marketing is that you can track everything and know what works and what doesn’t work. Traditional advertisers know that “half of their advertising dollars are wasted–they just don’t know which half.”

Now you can know.

If you are interested in an analytics-based pay-per-click strategy being developed for you, contact our team at WebEvident and ask for a free SEO analysis and report.

Explosive Growth of Online Video

Revenge of the Nerds

Here’s an excerpt from this Fast Company article showing how explosive the online video industry is:

With some 18 billion videos streamed online in 2005–up 50% from 2004–it’s not surprising that new businesses are sprouting up around this digital explosion. Each day on YouTube, more than 40 million video views are delivered and 35,000 new clips are uploaded. Google and Yahoo have video search sites and large caches of moving content. Apple’s iTunes Music Store sold 12 million video clips for $1.99 each over the span of just a few months. A new company out of Berkeley, California, called Dabble is vying to become a micro movie studio for the masses by inviting users to create, remix, browse, and organize video online. These aggregators are fast becoming the central nodes of an entirely new video marketing and distribution system, one far from Hollywood’s control.

Like Wayne Gretzy reportedly said, “I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.”

If you want to have fun and make it big, start a company in a fast growth industry. Do something new, something innovative. Don’t just go copy some other business model that anyone else could do just as well. Be different. Be cutting edge.

At Provo Labs (an incubator), we try to invest in areas where there is significant growth. Starting a business in an explosive growth industry gives you a much better chance to get to profitability than if you are trying to compete with a lot of other players in a no-growth industry, where you are all fighting each other for the same customers.

But with online video, there will be billions spent in this space over the next few years, and a lot of new companies will succeed. Look at what has just happened in the last six months. YouTube’s Alexa chart is the best I have ever seen. It validates the online video space like nothing else.

It’s really quite exciting for us to have a startup company in the online video space. We can benefit from YouTube, Google Video, and even the increasing popularity of video iPods.

Our company 10Speed Media began last year as Blastyx, a renegade video company patterned after Microsoft’s Channel 9.

In addition to renegade videos we will be launching some new technology and an innovative distribution model in the next 60 days.

The company is building a great management team. We are working with some great customers, and our revenues are growing each month. We are launching a major partnership with a well known online company in July. We have some new technology and distribution announcements coming soon as well.

We think we have a very cool and unique business concept. Nothing is unique on the internet for long, however, so we know we will be in a race with players large and small.

If you want to get a flavor for the kind of work 10Speed Media can do, check out this video our team produced for the Winter at Westminster program, hosted by YouTube.com.

I launched 10x Marketing, a search engine marketing company, back in early 2002. We were pretty early in that space and the company has been fairly successful.

But our feeling is that 10Speed Media is catching this online video wave even earlier than 10x Marketing caught the search engine wave.

Hopefully 10Speed will end up 10x or 100x bigger than 10x Marketing.

(Don’t ask me why we keep starting companies that being with 10. Originally it was because in any alphabetical list, digits are ranked higher than letters. So 10x outranks just about any other company, including AAA Plumbing.) If you look in the yellow pages, most companies seem to start with an A. You always want to be listed first.

Well online, the numbers help a lot. Back in 1997, at Ancestry.com we were very happy when AGLL (American Genealogical Lending Library) changed its name to Heritage Quest. That gave us a slight advantage whenever people showed genealogy companies in an alphabetical list.

The advantage today is much smaller that it was a few years ago because a lot of directories are not alphabetical anymore, they are sorted by something else. Like Google’s directory is sorted by Page Rank. (See this example from Google’s Directory of Online Broadcast Video Shows.) Other directories are sorted by popularity. So this 10x strategy really isn’t a big deal anymore. (And the branding is getting confusing!)

Shutterfly Files for IPO

A few highlights from the Shutterfly S-1:

  • $83.9 million in revenue last year with net income of $28.9 million (But $24 million was from a one-time tax benefit recognized in Q4 2005. The revenue growth is strong year over year.
  • They have stored more than 900 million customer photos in their archives.
  • They have sold 300 million prints in 11 million customer orders.
  • 84% of their customers are female.
  • This is a bit surprising to me.

  • 98% of the revenue comes from the U.S. Even more surprising. Who is doing online print processing internationally?
  • 4.1 million unique visitors in May 2006

Since I tend to focus on marketing strategies, here is the text from the S-1 about Marketing, Advertising and Promotion:

We use a variety of advertising, direct marketing technologies, channels, methods and strategic alliances to attract and retain our customers. These methods include direct marketing over the Internet, e-mail marketing to prospects and existing customers, search engine marketing, and traditional direct marketing mailings such as postcards and seasonal catalogs. In addition, because many of our products are either shared via the Internet or given as gifts, the appearance of our brand on the products and packaging provides ongoing distribution as well as viral advertising.

We place advertisements that cater to women and families on websites and in publications, contract for targeted e-mail marketing services and contract for advertising placement on leading search engines. We also maintain an affiliate program under which we pay program participants for referral sales generated from hyperlinks to our website from the affiliate

Omniture IPO!

I’m so happy for everyone associated with Omniture for successfully completing its IPO today. The shares opened at $6.50 and ended the day up slightly at $6.53 per share. Visit Yahoo Finance for more. This high tech IPO is a big deal for Utah, which needs more IPOs. And Omniture now has a war chest to help it maintain its leadership position in the web analytics space. This is a great company with a great product that many of my companies (and many of the really big online companies) rely on for real-time decision making, and for optimizing revenues.

Full Disclosure: I am a shareholder in Omniture. Do bloggers have to disclose that when blogging about a publicly traded company? Somebody tell me the rules …

Phil Burns and Provo Labs Consulting

Phil Burns, whom I have described in the past as a Web 2.0 native that makes me feel like an old, slow, immigrant, is now heading up one of the most exciting things we are doing at Provo Labs. He describes in a recent blog our new Provo Labs Consulting services and how we will are utilizing our employees, our portfolio companies, and their extended networks to provide excellent technology and business solutions for its customers. Phil is on fire with this concept. He has had a very successful career as a business analyst and applications developer. But never has he had hundreds of resources (our employees, their contacts, our portfolio companies, and all their solutions, including hundreds of open source projects and Web services APIs) at his fingertips. His ability to solve business problems is magnified many times because of all these connections and resources. As Phil is able to hire more developers and consultants, if he can train them to think like he thinks, and act as quickly as he acts to match up solutions (people and companies and software that we know) to problems (business needs), this system may become the greatest asset we have at Provo Labs, because we’ll use it for customers as well as for our own startup companies.

Senator Clinton Hires Experienced BLogger

The New York Times reports that Senator Clinton’s campaign has hired an experienced political blogger. The 2008 Presidential Election is going to heat up the blogosphere in the next two years. But I’m really afraid most of the candidates won’t actually do it right. I’m afraid they’ll try to use the web as a top-down communication tool, and not a giant listening device and organizing device that actually empowers citizens to be involved in government. The Dean campaign really energized voters, most of whom are dissatisfied with both political parties. (According to Joe Trippi’s book, the number is 70%.) The web offers hope for politics and government, but only if it is used in the right way.

After I finished Joe Trippi’s book in July 2004 (which ought to be required reading for every political candidate in this country) I wrote this impassioned post about how the internet will affect politics and government. It may be one of my best posts ever. Unfortunately, our political social networking site iCount was never fully funded or fully developed. So it sits today as a site that aggregates political feeds. Fortunately, Phil Windley has kept it alive. When Provo Labs has more bandwidth, perhaps we should revitalize it.

I hope to see the day when most elected officials and political candidates in this country have their own blog and actually write their own posts and read feedback from their constituents. I would love to see them continually in touch with the people they represent and serve.

My hopes for our political future are inspired by my own personal experience at MyFamily.com, where I was in touch in a remarkable way with millions of customers. One of my favorite things to do at MyFamily.com was to write daily surveys on any imaginable topic to see what our users thought about things. We had about 100,000 users logging in each day back in 2001. And we had a pop-up survey that came up whenever someone logged in. So we could get 6-8,000 responses per day on one or many surveys.

I wrote more than 300 surveys in a one or two year period. I knew what my customers thought about digital cameras, genealogy, languages classes, cooking, hobbies, how many yearbooks they had in their homes, what genealogy software they used, their plans to buy a new computer, how many had high-speed internet, scanners in their homes, how many relatives they kept in touch with, where they planned to vacation next summer, etc, etc, etc. And those are just a handful of the survey topics that I can remember off the top of my head.

I could write a survey, post it, and within a few hours have more than 1,000 responses. It was amazingly powerful! I felt completely in tune with my customers needs, wants, desires, plans, thoughts and feelings. (To supplement the quantitative feedback from these surveys, we did weekly phone calls with actual customers and we read emails and listened to calls in the call center for qualitative feedback.)

(The only thing close to this feeling that I’ve felt since is from blogging. But the feedback I get is on a much smaller scale. I can’t wait to have 10,000 blog readers a day and a survey tool that will allow me to do the same thing. I love to know what people think about new ideas. But that may never happen.)

Imagine if every elected official could get 1,000 responses from constituents on any question that came up. A personal, instant poll. And imagine if they could write their own survey questions, point to it from their blog, and get the survey results in hours as well as comments on their blog to provide them with texture.

The web provides this power. The question is, will any candidate embrace it and use it in a way that empowers the rest of us and could create the most energized campaign in history?

Read my 2004 post and tell me what you think about all this. Which candidate do you think will be the darling of the blogosphere in the 2008 election?

The Future of Cell Phones: Point, Click, Learn

Here’s a great NY Times article about how Japanese cell phone users are able to point their specialized phones at buildings and monuments and get information about the location. More than 700,000 locations have information or advertisements associated with them already. or A San Francisco-based company called GeoVector is involved. This is exactly the kind of advance I have been hoping for, so that worldhistory.com, with its growing database of geocoded data, can find a way to deliver it to cell phone users. I’m looking forward to more advances in the U.S., but according to one of GeoVector’s founders, Peter Ellenby, they may be slow in coming here. (Release 1.0 interviewed him late last year.)

While I’m at it, I ought to mention two other interesting location-based services. One is Plazes.com, a German web 2.0 startup with funding, 5 employees, some traffic growth and an API. The other is Socialight, run by New York-based Kamida. It allows people to create StickyShadows, or geotagged notes, which can be viewed by others when they visit the same location later.

My favorite book about society and mobile phones is Smart Mobs. Can anyone recommend any other books about where mobile phones and location based services are heading?

Blog Promotes Mitt Romney in 2008

I recently found a great blog promoting Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate for 2008. Mitt and his team saved the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics from financial disaster. As Governor of Massachusetts he has not only helped the state go from major deficits to a budget surplus, but he is vigiliant about helping the state stay out of the red. He vetoed $290 million in spending just this past week. I wonder what he, as a brilliant investor and business strategist — a turn-around artist really — might be able to do for the United States with its ominous $8.4 trillion debt. That would be fun to watch.

My guess is that if Romney were elected President and had a line-item veto (President Bush called for a line item veto last week in his radio address), he would use it effectively and in no time get our national spending in line with our income. I can’t imagine any other president could do as much to reduce our national debt as Mitt Romney, given his amazing background in business, and his desire to be of public service in the tradition of his father.

(Hey, I just realized how fun a Mitt Romney vs. Bill Gates presidential election would be. It would be so much more interesting than John McCain vs. Hilary Clinton! And I understand Gates might just be available in 2008 …)

According to Wikipedia, all but 7 state governors have a line-item veto.

Buffett and Gates Team Up To Solve World Problems

I noticed two interesting articles in the NY Times today. The juxtaposition made me think.

One article says up to $2 billion in taxpayers money has been wasted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It gives several examples of how money has been misspent.

When the government steps in to manage any program, especially when it tries to do it quickly (in response to the public demand for relief!), I think it is inevitable that fraud and corruption and mismanagement will result in squandered funds. The government is simply not as efficient as the private sector. And when waste and fraud happen, everyone blames everyone else. (Except no one will blame the public for demanding the Katrina funding in the first place.)

Contrast this with the personal responsibility that Bill Gates will be taking for the $31 billion donated by Warren Buffett to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. One of the goals of the Foundation is to find cures for the 20 leading diseases in the world. Gates will be leaving Microsoft in 2008. Imagine the good he and Melinda can do with $61 billion. Imagine how carefully they will invest these funds and measure the impact that their investments are making.

The Times reported how seriously Bill Gates is taking this donation from Buffett.

Later in the exchange, which was in front of 200 philanthropy executives, scientists, students and a few reporters, Mr. Gates got in his own reflection on the partnership. “It’s scary,” he said. “If I make a mistake with my own money, it isn’t as big as making a mistake with Warren’s money.”

If Worldhistory.com had an editorial page (we don’t yet) and could highlight the most important news stories, the ones that will make it into tomorrow’s history books, I would wager that the Bill Gates retirement story and the Warren Buffett $31 billion donation will be key factors in some future textbook’s chapter on how the world’s major diseases were eradicated. This is an incredibly exciting story! I can’t wait to watch it unfold.

I applaud Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates for these bold moves and I wish them well in their new focus on philanthropy. I’m especially excited that Melinda Gates mentioned microcredit in her discussion of the Foundation’s goals, since it is such a promising approach to alleviating poverty in the developing world.