Wikia and Big Think: Contrasts in user-generated content concepts

January 7, 2008

The New York Times today featured articles on two nascent web sites: Wikia Search and Big Think.

There’s an intrinsic marketing problem in launching any site built around user-generated content:  The site is useful only once there’s lots of user-generated content, which is really hard to get until you have lots of users, which you achieve by getting lots of press coverage for your new site.  But of course, the PR drives people to a bare bones site that doesn’t showcase the site’s vision very well.  The more interesting question is whether the core concept will be compelling once the site is well populated.  In this case, I think there’s one potential winner and one site that’s missing the mark.

First a little background:

Wikia Search (by Wikia, the for-profit sister organization of Wikipedia) launched the alpha of its search engine today. The idea behind Wikia is laudable – it will rely on the user community to fine-tune search results by allowing users to rate search results for quality and relevance.  To his credit, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales admits that people using the search engine “should understand that they are part of the early stages of a project to build a ‘Google-quality search engine.’” Read the article. 

The Times also featured a large article on Big Think – a kind of YouTube for intellectual ideas.  It features video interviews with public intellectuals from a variety of fields, broken down into short snippets on various topics.  Users can post comments, creating an online debate, and also post their own original ideas. 

Of the two sites, Wikia Search has much less value as of today – the search results are laughable and the features to allow users to refine the content aren’t really there.  Yet I can easily see its potential. 

Big Think worked diligently to pre-populate its site with interviews of intellectuals and celebrities ranging from John McCain to Calvin Trillin, to Alan Dershowitz.  But I have a much harder time ever seeing it succeed as founder Peter Hopkins envisioned it:  “a web site that could do for intellectuals what YouTube did for bulldogs on skateboards.”  The sad truth that is that most people are pretty darn dull when they’re giving a monologue to a camera.  The short snippets are banal and the longer pieces are downright tedious.  (No, I didn’t check out every single example — but enough)  The big opportunity is to figure out how to empower the user community’s version of Charlie Rose or James Lipton to truly engage with Alan Dershowitz or you or me.  Till then, Big Think will have a bigger problem than just chicken and egg.


Friending a company on Facebook

November 7, 2007

Like a zillion other people this morning, I’m poking around on Facebook to check out the new Facebook Ads.  As one part of the strategy, Facebook is now allowing companies to build pages on Facebook to connect with their audiences.  i.e. just like I have a Dottie Hall page, now Microsoft, Apple, Coca-Cola or other companies can have their own pages.

The idea is very powerful.  Companies that find very fun ways to engage with their customers, in a Facebook-appropriate, not too commercial way, will find it a valuable tool for building communities.  But it definitely has a long way to go. 

The press release says that 100,000 Facebook pages launched on November 6.  I’d love to see a list of all of them.  Thus far, the only way I can find a “page” is to search on the company name, then know to go to the Pages tab (the other tabs are People, Groups and Events).  I checked out the pages for Coca-Cola, Verizon, Microsoft and Apple (which has 6 pages).  At this point, all of the efforts are extremely modest, as though these were thrown together very quickly. The press release says Coke will be featuring the Sprite brand, along with a Sprite Sips application, but I don’t see any sign of it yet.  I’ve added Coca-cola and Microsoft to “my products” – essentially “friending” them I guess.  We’ll see what happens next.

As a side note, “pages” is the odd name for the new category of Facebook page for these company or product pages.  The whole organizing concept of Facebook is the page (e.g. People create their own Facebook pages), so it is discordant to call these corporate profiles “Pages” – a non-parallel construction.  I’m sure someone thought “company” or “product ”or “business” was too limiting, but they were wrong. 

James Teng’s Eclipse 500

September 14, 2007

Here are some new photos of James Teng as he is taking delivery of his Eclipse 500, to follow up on my earlier post about James.

CEO Vern Raburn presents James with the key to his plane. 


James with the aircraft acceptance crew.


Customers humble me

September 11, 2007

Last week, assuming all went well, James Teng took possession of Eclipse 500 Tail # N168TT. James was one of Eclipse’s earliest customers, having placed his deposit for an Eclipse 500 on the very first day we started taking orders – May 26, 2000.

At that time, we emailed back and forth quite a bit because James lives in Singapore and was unable to place his order in a person, a somewhat arcane requirement that we had put in place. He graciously accepted that he would be at the “end of the line” on that day. In one of the most amazing experiences of my career, we took orders for more than 200 aircraft on a single day in 2000, and James was awarded position #159 (Why it was 159 instead of 200+ makes sense if you understand the various sales programs we had in place. I won’t try to get into that here.)

That was just the start. James and his wife Irene have been among the most stalwart supporters of Eclipse. While I was with the company, they flew in from Singapore for every significant event and we saw more of them than we saw of many of our domestic customers. Their support never wavered despite Eclipse’s significant setbacks, the most notable of which was a two-year delay when Williams International failed in developing the original EJ22 engine.

I had not communicated with James since my departure from Eclipse in mid 2005, so I was thrilled when he sent me an email about the imminent delivery of his airplane. Here’s a photo of James and Irene at the Naples Flight Center and a photo of their Eclipse 500. (click on the images to see them larger.  I haven’t figured out how to display them full size yet.)

james and irene James Tengs airplane

To James and Irene: Congratulations on your jet. And thank you from the bottom of my heart for sticking with us through thick and thin.