Quantcast getting better and better

I’m a huge fan of Quantcast. I’ve blogged before that it may be the best free tool for online marketers.

And now it’s even better.

Two weeks someone showed me that whenever you are looking at a web site, to see how much traffic it has, that there are two arrows that PREVIOUS and NEXT, so if you are looking at the 100th most popular web site, you can click on NEXT and see the 101st most popular.

So I spend a couple hours scrolling through the 200 most popular web sites, looking for those that appeal to an the demographic our company is targeting. So I wanted to find very high traffic sites that we could advertise on, or partner with somehow.

I found a dozen excellent sites that I had not heard of before.

But now, on the Quantcast home page, you can now easily see the top 100 highest traffic web sites, and then the next hundred, the next hundred, and so forth.

I can’t wait till Quantcast allows you to enter in your audience profile and have it show you all the sites that match your audience that you should be advertising on, and then enable you to purchase ads quickly on those sites.

I wish Quantcast would buy the old Top9.com web site, with its thousands of helpful categories, and update it with their current data. Top9.com became one of the very popular web sites for marketers years ago. It was powered by data from PCData.com, then it disappeared. Here is a snapshot of Top9.com from the Way Back Machine.

When I worked at MyFamily.com and our properties were ranked us as one of the top 50 web sites in the world, we had plenty of capital to pay for services like Media Metrix, Netratings, and later Comscore. These services cost tens of thousands of dollars per year, but gave us tremendous insights into media buying and affiliate recruiting possibilities, as well as some competitive intelligence. I especially liked the reports on Netratings that could show us where our competitors were getting their web site traffic from.

A couple years ago I blogged about Five Things Most Entrepreneurs Can’t Afford. This was one of my most popular posts that year. The second item on the list was “third party measurement services” like those I’ve mentioned above.

Amazingly, Quantcast provides most of the value that these super expensive measurement services offer, and it is disrupting the industry at the perfect time–Comscore has filed to go public and Hitwise was just acquired by Experian for $250 million.

Quantcast isn’t going to make money selling their measurement data. Paul Sutter, the cofounder of Quantcast says that audience measurement is a few hundred million dollar market, but media buying is a few hundred billion. Quantcast is planning to help marketers reach their niche target markets through the use of their data. And I’m sure they’ll get a portion of the media buys, as marketers and web site publishers use their tools.

This is going to be very exciting to watch.

With Quantcast raising $5.7 million in venture capital in March, and with thousands of sites signing up for their free “quantified publishers” program, their data gets better and better.

Comscore has filed to raise $86 million in their IPO (see the Comscore S-1 ). I wonder how hard that will be given what Quantcast is now doing to the industry. I suppose Comscore could change its business model, and do the same thing Quantcast is planning to do. But it is always harder to steer a large ship in a different direction. So in the new world, Quantcast would clearly have the advantage since they’ve been designing this business model from the ground up.

Smart entrepreneurs will spend many hours mining the Quantcast data looking for marketing/advertising opportunities among the thousands of high traffic web sites whose demographics and psychographics match their own.

These are good times for entrepreneurs.

(One other fun web site, a mashup called Attention Meter, lets you see data from Quantcast, Alexa, Compete, and Technorati.)

International Genealogy and Search Engine Rankings

For many years I have wanted Ancestry.com to go international, since the world population is more than 20 times larger than the U.S. population. I felt that a Rootsweb-type model could be done in virtually every country of the world, followed at sime time, by an Ancestry-type subscription model. The one (a user generated content model) would lead to the other (a premium database model.)

Note: I left the company in February 2002 and have no inside information about the company or its plans.

Since the company hired Tim Sullivan as its 6th CEO in 8 years (I was the first, then hired my brother Curt, who was replaced by Greg Ballard, and then Dave Moon, Tom Stockham, and now Tim Sullivan), there are strong signs that Ancestry is going international, and in a big way. It’s very exciting for me to watch. I’m very pleased with the German web site that Ancestry launched, and of course the company has done great things in the UK and Canada.

When I first learned about Tim Sullivan, I heard that in his previous role as CEO of Match.com he had helped Match.com go into 27 countries, or something like that. So I suspected this was coming. This is a very good thing for the company as well as for genealogists worldwide. Tim has made a number of very good decisions in the past year, and in the past few months I’ve seen an acceleration of good moves being made by the company. I’m very encouraged.

When I decided to get back into the genealogy industry full-time, just a few months ago, we decided to try to focus on things that were not being addressed yet by the larger companies in the genealogy space. We have started beefing up our international search engines, and working on user generated content features that will be rolling out in the coming weeks. In addition, I’m planning to travel internationally to work with content partners worldwide. I have several such trips in the works.

Even though we are a small company, we have a generous approach to working with content partners and an incredible online marketing team that is generating more traffic and customers every month, so our royalty pool is becoming sizeable. We know we will make a good partner for many international content owners.

One of our keys to success internationally will be search engine optimization that will enable us to attract visitors from all over the world to our web pages with no marketing costs. With pay-per-click costs increasing, natural search becomes the key way for a company to grow and grow profitably.

Our efforts in this regard are beginning to pay off. We rank #1 on MSN.com for “china genealogy“, “chile genealogy“, “kenya genealogy“, “philippines genealogy“, “portugal genealogy“, “tonga genealogy“, “turkey genealogy“, and “vietnam genealogy.” We rank in the top 10 in Google, Yahoo and MSN for many other countries already. And as we roll out genealogy web pages for every town and city in the world, and for every surname in the world, and as our users beginning sharing content with each other, all of this content will be optimized for search engines as well as for mobile phones.

After leaving MyFamily.com in 2002 I ran an internet marketing agency called 10x Marketing that did search engine optimization, pay per click marketing, and affiliate marketing for many companies. And our World Vital Records team has excellent skills in these areas as well.

So keep an eye on World Vital Records and our forthcoming FamilyL— web site, as our natural search rankings continue to grow our total web site traffic will get very robust.

We know that having 13.8 million pages of content indexed by Google, like Rootsweb does, almost all of it user generated, is a great way to attract millions of monthly visitors, the way Rootsweb does.

We have only 17,400 pages indexed by Google right now, but this should grow by two orders of magnitude this year as our strategy begins to play out. And when it does, we will become a significant participant in the international genealogy space.

The best free tool for internet marketers in years

My friend Spencer sent me a link to Quantcast.com this morning and I tried it out and then made in the centerpiece of my training today at the Provo Labs Academy.

This is an incredibly powerful tool that provides demographic information on the visitors who visit your site, your competitor’s sites and any one of 20 million other web sites. It’s like the wonderful free Alexa tool combined with the extremely expensive data that comes from high end internet traffic companies like Comscore or Hitwise–but the Quantcast service is free.

You can see the age, gender, income, and education level of your site visitors. The power here, of course, is not to just get free data about your own site visitors, but to use this tool to find hundreds of other sites with similar demographics for media planning and buying purposes.

It also includes keyword research. You can see the keywords your site visitors are likely to search for. You can find other web sites that your site visitors tend to visit.

I know I will be spending many, many hours using this service.

At the Academy, one of the members expressed concern about how Quantcast would make money. I have no doubt that hundreds of thousands of internet marketers will get addicted to their free services, so that if they roll out premium services, they’ll have a willing audience to sell to.

I’m not sure a more important free service has launched since Goto.com (later Overture and now Yahoo Search Marketing) started providing its free keyword suggestion tool for search engine marketers.

This takes that concept to an entirely new level. I applaud the team behind this incredible new Quantcast service and predict that it will spread very quickly. The user interface is excellent. It’s fast and easy to use.

My first hope is that their premium service will provide access to “more….” data under each category that they track. But for now, I’m very excited to use Quincast for genealogy purposes, and to encourage all the Provo Labs portfolio companies to use it as well.

In our Academy training today we also discussed direct mail list brokers who can provide extremely targeted mailing lists for promotional purposes. We discussed Microsoft’s efforts to one-up Google with better demographic targeting and behavioral targeting on AdCenter, which is possibly because they have some demographic data on their 263 million Hotmail users, and they combine it with search engine query histories for each customer.

A few other topics we covered include:

  • Microsoft getting into Web Analytics with a free service to compete with Google Analytics
  • How to use Clickatell‘s SMS services to provide your customers with valuable opt-in SMS alerts. We discussed some potential uses of this service.
  • How some merchants are using Google’s $10 bonus for new Google Checkout customers to advertise “$10 off of our product when you sign up for Google Checkout.” (NY Times article from December).
  • Netflix is now letting its customers stream 1,000 movies as it finally launches its online movie rental service. Netflix has 70,000 DVDs in its rental library.
  • Skype’s founders are backing the launch of a potentially industry changing online peer-to-peer television platform called Joost. It’s been code-named “The Venice Project” for some time now; but Joost is now in beta. Based on this week’s Alexa chart for Joost, I would say this project has the most hype potential and therefore may be the single most disruptive play in online video to date. Skype’s founders first launched KaZaa, then Skype (sold to eBay for $2.6 billion plus.) The chances are good that this company will sell for even more than Skype after it gets its 50-100 million users; after all television is a much sexier industry than telecommunications. It’s too early to tell for sure, but I wouldn’t bet against this company and its backers.

I wanted to talk about several other things, but we ran out of time. They included:

  • Google may someday put advertising kiosks in Malls to compete with the OnSpot Digital Network.
  • Millennial Media, a mobile advertising network raised venture funding this week. It will compete with AdMobs (the leader I think) and Third Screen Media.
  • Geni.com launched this week with a very cool web 2.0 family tree builder application. They got TechCrunched and got a huge spike in traffic. (See the Alexa Chart for Geni. Also, see the 5-year chart for MyFamily.com and Geni.) It will be very interesting to see how much stickiness they have over time.
  • Bloglines may still be the most used RSS reader, but Google Reader may be catching up.
  • Popular Science’s best of CES 2007 included the Nokia N800 internet tablet, the Ion iProjector (plug in your video ipod and project!), the OQO Model 02, and the Garmin Astro 220 (used by hunters to track the location within 10 miles of their hunting dogs, who have mini trasmitters on them. Would this work with kids?)
  • MTVu acquired RateMyProfessors.com (900,000 professors rated, 10 million annual student visitors). They now have the 2nd highest trafficked college interest network.
  • Microsoft will be embedding hyperlinks in online video by this summer.
  • How Flixster got 5 million registered users for its social network around movies.
  • This week was an especially good week with news and announcements for internet entrepreneurs. It’s impossible to keep track of all of them, but with the help of my Google Reader and it’s 100 RSS feeds and my network of hundreds of business friends who pass along news, and my Blackberry which I can use any time to search Google News, we do a pretty good job at the Academy of covering the major ones.

Answer: Yes

I asked the question in my last post, “Will Compete’s toolbar become an essential tool for internet marketers.” After 15 minutes with the tool, and after watching the excellent Flash presentation about what this service aims to do, I answer with a resounding, “Yes!”

My favorite slide in the Flash presentation was this:

Free Image Hosting

I checked out the one year history on several of my companies and several other sites; at first glance, the traffic data seems quite reliable. For example, here is the trend data for three popular genealogy sites.

15 minutes isn’t enough to integrate something into my daily workflow. But it is enough time for me to decide that I’m going to start using it every day so I can see if it sticks.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, I am inviting all the internet marketers that I know to try Connect’s Toolbar, look at their traffic data, and post comments about whether you think this will replace Alexa, first, and also, how disruptive this new service will be to Hitwise, Comscore, and Netratings.

Will Compete’s Toolbar become an essential tool for internet marketers?

Bill Gross, one of the world’s most prolific entrepreneurs and an inspiration to me for more than 10 years, officially launched Compete.com today. (See the Alexa Chart for Compete.com.)

I just downloaded the Compete toolbar. The graphics indicates that 2 million people are already sharing their clicks so that we can all know better what sites are popular and what sites we can trust.

The two essential toolbars that I install on every PC I use are Google’s (mainly for the page rank and backward links info, and for convenience of searching) and Alexa’s. Every internet marketer needs both of these toolbars.

Just yesterday I read that some industry experts were complaining about how everyone who can’t afford a high-end reliable web site analytics program like Hitwise or Comscore use Alexa to see how popular web sites are. Alexa’s data is not statistically very reliable, even with 10 million downloads of its toolbar. But Alexa data shows up in almost every VC pitch these days.

So if Compete can provide better data than Alexa, we’ll all be better off.

My favorite industry statistics web site of all time is Top9.com. It used data from PC Data, but it had the best categorizations and the easiest UI of all the web analytics companies. But it hasn’t been updated since 2001.

Note to Bill Gross: please buy Top9.com and start powering it with the data you gather from Compete.com.

MyFamily.com Alexa Chart

It is interesting to look at the 5-year Alexa chart of MyFamily.com–a web site that was a high-flying pioneer in user generated content, photo sharing, free voice chat, and viral marketing; but which has been neglected in both development and marketing for nearly 5 years. Now that MyFamily.com has opened an office in Seattle and is recruiting web 2.0 developers and experienced internet marketers, you wonder if this web site will make a resurgence.

While we’re at it, here is the chart for Ancestry.com, the chart for Rootsweb.com, the chart for genealogy.com, and the chart for familysearch.org from the LDS (Mormon) Church.

It would seem that people are losing interest in genealogy. ;)

I hope not, because WorldVitalRecords.com launched its subscription web site today. Starting with several dozen databases, WorldVitalRecords.com is seeking to become a significant player in the genealogy industry over the new few years. We add at least one new database to our web site every day. The subscription fee is only $49.95 per year; but since we are just getting started, we are offering a 2-year subscription for $49.95 during the month of October.

We have a wonderful content acquisition team and advisors who are finding databases around the world that we can digitize or license. We also have on our team the two engineers that wrote the original search engine at Ancestry.com and prepared the first 3 billion records that Ancestry.com has online. We are excited to re-introduce many of the original ideas and practices of Ancestry.com and MyFamily.com to see if we can help people worldwide connect with their families.

Our current effort is small, but with the support of customers who believe in what we are trying to do, and of partners who want to provide access to their content to our customers, we hope we can make a mark.

We will be starting our search engine marketing and affiliate marketing programs in the coming weeks, and launching some incredible new databases and features — so stay tuned.

Please check out our vital records databases, tell us how you like the online mapping features that we have associated with most of our databases, and let us know what you’d like to see us do next. We have hundreds of ideas that we hope to implement in the future, but your input matters most to us. So please tell us what you want to see!

Note: I have not been associated with MyFamily.com in any official capacity since leaving the company in February 2002.

Ancestry Ups Affiliate Commissions

I just got an email from Ancestry announcing new affiliate commission and better support for affiliates starting on August 1st. The new commissions include 5 tiers and get top affiliates up to 50% commissions. Plus, the call center now has a way to track phone calls and credit affiliates for generating the calls.

This is probably the best marketing move I have seen MyFamily.com make in the past few years. This should really motivate the top affiliates. Years ago, when I was running all the online marketing, our affiliate channel was our biggest channel and our lowest cost source of new customers. Rewarding affiliate partners with better commissions and credit for phone orders is a very good move.

Kudos to whomever championed this change in affiliate commissions!

(I hope some of the top Ancestry affiliates will comment on the changes…)

(Note: Although I founded MyFamily.com and Ancestry.com and initiated affiliate marketing there, I am currently not affiliated with MyFamily.com in any official role, and my opinions are simply private thoughts.)

While I’m blogging about MyFamily (for the first time in a long time), I might as well mention that I found it very interesting that the Seattle office is trying to hire Web 2.0 engineers for a long-overdue MyFamily site redesign. At a recent family reunion I fielded all kinds of complaints from relatives who are having problems with the current MyFamily.com site (which really hasn’t changed much in five years.) I get pretty excited when I think about what MyFamily.com could be doing with this property. It’s going to be exciting to watch. Seattle is also looking for a marketing director (for this property) that also has affiliate marketing experience. I tried to spearhead the launch of an affiliate program for MyFamily.com more than five years ago, but it never got a high priority from the company.

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

What Motivates Me To Be Foolish

No company likes anyone to break news for them. Companies like to control their own news and get their own press coverage. The blogosphere is upsetting to corporate executives everywhere. Many bloggers have lost their jobs over what they have written. It’s an interesting time.

Against that backdrop, I felt compelled the other day to mention that MyFamily had layoffs and no media (and only 1 blogger) had reported it.

Why did I do that? I have many friends at MyFamily.com, including investors, board members, and executives, as well as many employees that I care deeply about and am close friends with.

I feel a lot of concern and grief for everyone affected by these layoffs. I know how painful it is for everyone, including those who are still employed, but who lost close friends to the RIF.

I’ve been wondering why I blogged about it, when I know it will get me in trouble and make me more unpopular in certain circles.

First, I grew up in an anti-corporate environment, at least I think I did. I grew up thinking business was evil. My father, a world renowned classificationist and engineer (one of a few Utahns ever elected to the National Academy of Engineering), and a faculty member at BYU for 35 years did consulting for some of the largest manufacturers in the country. And I got the sense that he really disliked corporate politics and policies and greed.

And of course I studied the writings of Hugh Nibley, Brigham Young, and others who believed that materialism and greed were grave sins, and that no one should possess that which was above another, that the “earth is full and there is enough and to spare” if people would love and care about one another, we could overcome poverty and much suffering. Ok, so I am a total idealist, even now.

I thought academia was the right career path for me, so in college I started studying political science, then switched to international relations, and then finally Russian. Back then, the Soviet Union was an evil empire, and the very epitome of materialism and top down control of everything. I wanted to be a Sovietologist and study the power of the Politburo. I got my degree in Russian from BYU and then started a Masters program in Library Science.

At that time I caught a vision from BYU President Jeffrey Holland (from his speech, “Towards a School in Zion”) that changed my life. He said all the truth in the world should be gathered and made accessible to everyone. From his powerful words, and from what I knew from working at Folio, my brother’s search engine company, I felt that in the era of computers it would be possible to gather up all knowledge from throughout the world and put it at everyone’s fingertips.

This kind of “information democracy” as my brother Curt would put it, could help level the playing field and lead to more economic equality. At least, that would be the hope.

In 1990 I got started unexpectedly down an entrepreneurial track by co-founding with Dan Taggart a CD ROM publishing company called Infobases. Our mission was to identify all the greatest texts in every field of human knowledge and digitize them and make them available affordably to everyone.

For many years we successfully pursued that vision. Along the way, unfortunately, Infobases had big layoffs almost every year. We had to layoff family members and friends. This is the thing that I most dislike about business. It is so painful to cause someone to lose their job, or rather, to have a company that can’t support all its employees (in our case most likely because of poor, inexperienced management), and so you have to choose who stays and who goes.

By 1996 I realized that I was an entrepreneur for life, so I started reading and studying everything I could about business and best practices. I wanted to understand why some companies succeed and why some fail.

By 1998 Dan and I were running Ancestry.com, a successful internet subscription service. We owned 97% of the company. And we got to cash flow positive in June and July 1998 (with a run rate of around $3 million per year) before raising our first $1.3 million in outside capital from Utah angel investors.

So we were on top of the world. We were running a dot com, we owned almost all of it, it was profitable and growing incredibly fast. And then we entered the world of venture capital, hyper growth, and the internet bubble.

We were ill prepared for what would happen over the next few years as the board of directors changed and management changed and our stake in the company went from large to very small.

Fast forward a few years and the company we founded (now called MyFamily.com) is an internet success story. The company is the leading genealogy company in the world, I believe, and is providing vast genealogical data to users around the world, particularly in the US, Canada and the UK.

The new CEO is outstanding. The management team is extremely talented, and the company has a bright future.

But then these layoffs happen, which caught so many people off guard.

So why would I blog about this company news when I know people will be upset with me for doing so? Why would I be so foolish?

First, I wanted to invite some of the laid off employees to apply for world at Provo Labs. We’ve already started getting resumes.

And I also want to let all the laid off employees anywhere know about some great online resources for job seekers. LinkedIn.com is an essential tool for business networking today. Use it and get everyone you know using it. SimplyHired.com is a great way to find jobs. I searched the 4.4 million job listings for internet jobs in Utah County and found 194. I also encourage everyone to start attending DevUtah.com Geek Dinners, Provo Labs Entrepreneur Breakfasts, Phil Windley’s CTO Breakfasts, UVEF, and other local networking events where you are most likely to find companies that are hiring.

Second, I feel passionate about free information flow in business. Remember the whole information democracy thing?

Some corporate PR departments don’t really tell anyone what is going on. And some constantly spin out good news, regardless of what is really going on.

MyFamily is an example of a company that doesn’t say very much about what is happening. There are just a few recent press releases.

On the other extreme was Infospace during 1998-2000. Infospace had one of the most effective PR machines in history. While their stock price soared during the dot com bubble they release a positive release virtually every week announcing either a significant partnership or new customer, or a milestone that they had achieved.

Perhaps a lot of that was fluff. So a $30 billion company sunk quickly after the bubble burst to a more modest billion or half-billion valuation.

I think companies should be open and communicate often with their constituencies, both good news and bad.

I have blogged previously that every CEO should have a blog.

I know that there might be legal complications with this idea, but there are also problems with companies not communicating. Sooner or later there will be court cases on CEOs and company blogs. (Let me know if this is already happening.)

The government requires publicly traded companies to file quarterly and annual reports with the SEC. The goal here is at least enough transparency for investors to properly value a company.

If there is more transparency and more equal access to information, there seems to be less of a chance for abuse, manipulation, and greed to create winners and losers.

But privately held companies are not required to file SEC reports. And they aren’t required to issue press releases or to disclose anything to anyone. (Although I’m sure investors and perhaps employees have some information rights–I just don’t much about this.)

Warren Buffett, the world’s greatest investor, seems to spend most of his time reading annual reports looking for value companies to own or invest in. According to Motley Fool, all investors should “[read] a company’s annual report and SEC filings, [listen] to a conference call, [attend] a management presentation” and “[visit] the company.” But Motley Fool also claims that since everyone has access to this information, no one gets a comparative advantage from doing these basic things.

(I disagree. I bet that more that more than 90% of investors don’t do any of the these things: read SEC filings and annual reports, etc. I think most investors rely on tips from friends and don’t take the time to do any homework.)

But Warren Buffett also believes in what Philip Fisher (his other mentor) called “scuttlebutt” in his classic 1958 book, “Common Stock and Uncommon Profits.”

The business “grapevine” is a remarkable thing. It is amazing what an accurate picture of the relative points of strength and weakness of each company in an industry can be obtained from a representative cross-section of the opinions of those who in one way or another are concerned with any particular company. Most people, particularly if they feel sure there is no danger of their being quoted, like to talk about the field of work in which they are engaged and will talk rather freely about their competitors. Go to five companies in an industry, ask each of them intelligent questions about the points of strength and weakness of the other four, and nine times out of ten a surprisingly detailed and accurate picture of all five will emerge.

It is equally astonishing how much can be learned from both vendors and customers about the real nature of the people with whom they deal. Research scientists in universities, in government, and in competitive companies are another fertile source of worthwhile data. So are executives of trade associations.

So to gain an advantage over other investors, Fisher said you should create your own scuttlebutt network.

But in my utopian/idealist worldview, scuttlebutt networks should also be as open and transparent as possible.

If the goal is to get rich, then individuals will obviously not share scuttlebutt with others. But if the goal is information democracy leading to more economic equality, then people will freely share it.

So what enters the picture in the 21st century to create a more open business grapevine? Open source programmers, open content projects, bloggers, and podcasters, who are often motivated more by the ideals of information democracy than they are of getting personally rich or famous.

A lot of people do a lot of things for the good of others because they love doing it, it makes them feel good, and they love the feedback and thanks.

After realizing from the MyFamily layoff scuttlebutt that many public and private companies don’t really tell the outside world what is going on, Provo Labs has decided to launch an SEC search engine (kind of like what 10kwizards did a few years ago) and combine it with an open scuttlebutt network of bloggers for thousands of companies.

We do want to avoid the stock market manipulation and hype that become common with Raging Bull, Silicon Investor, and Yahoo’s stock message boards during the bubble.

We hope to find responsible journalist types who can adopt a company and find and report information on a daily basis that will help the outside community (employees, investors, partners, etc) learn the truth, both good and bad, about what is going on inside each company.

I have been in meetings with people who have detailed knowledge about the operations of a company and who are trying to buy stock from shareholders who don’t have any knowledge about what is going on inside the company. (I’m not talking about MyFamily.com here!)

Fortunately, other people in the meeting reminded everyone of the ethical need to communicate openly with the other shareholders before purchasing their shares.

Even with information transparency, there will always be buyers and sellers of stock for all kinds of reasons, business and personal.

So that is what motivates me to be foolish, and to potentially upset friends and stir the pot. This whole experience has led me to form a new company that will try to promote information democracy in the world of business (both public and private).

We bought the domain www.unofficialblogs.com yesterday and might use that to launch our scuttlebutt network.

Your ideas and feedback, as always, are welcome.

Google Alerts

One of my favorite free web services is Google Alerts. I have more than 200 keywords that I track now. I find more value in this than in RSS feeds, which subscribe me to lots of content that I don’t really want. Almost all of my Google Alerts give me content that I really do want.

One exception is the keyword “GPS”. More than half of the hits seem to be coming from the UK news where GPs seems to mean “General Practictioners” (there is even a magazine called GP), so most of the hits are false hits. I’m trying to track news about GPS (Global Positioning Satellite).

I’m asking every Provo Labs incubator employee (and as many portfolio company employees as possible) to take the time to set up Google alerts on every keyword they think they should track: publishers, competitors, top web sites, topics, people, partners, etc.

Next time we have a mixer, I’m going to ask every attendee to show me their Alerts keyword list, and the best one will win a $100 bill.

I’ve lectured many times to college students and I tell them that it may turn out over the course of their professional life that the single most important thing they can ever do if they want to be a world expert in something, if they want to succeed in their career, is to have the best possible Google keyword alert list, so that they never miss an important news story about anything they are interested in, from over 4,500 new sources around the world.

I say this because you are what you read and watch and hear — and if your information diet is purely random, broadcast-to-the-masses whatever, then you will consume a lot of fluff.

But if you focus on consuming content you’ve defined as important (based on topics) from all the world’s news sources, you can really get ahead in your field.

Plus, it takes seconds to add any new term to your Alerts.

Now imagine your Google Alert list when it can be applied to TV, Radio, magazines, blogs, and other media types, and when you can weight your keywords by importance.