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Does Facebook Hate Christmas?

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Linkbait title aside. This is the story of a holiday card gone wrong because of Facebook's advertising rules.

Backstory: I work at a co-working space in Washington, DC called Affinity Lab. This happened to one of my co-workers, Mike who works at a company called ISG.

His company created a virtual holiday card and shared it on Facebook. It seems innocuous enough. In his words 'it's a no brainer to boost posts for $5, it goes from 10% to 100% for us.' This wasn't the first time he's done this and he's never had any issues. He just wanted all his clients to see the post.

And then it wasn't boosted.

And then this notification came through.

So the issue was too much text in a holiday card.

So we checked out with Facebook's tool. And it was astonishing how they calculated that it broke the rules. I can imagine a lot of content that is really awesome that you couldn't promote if this rule is really strictly enforced (every infographic ever?). I understand the spirit of the rule, but in practice it seems quite flawed.

Benchmarking Asynchronous PHP vs NodeJS Properly

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I had fun this evening working on this with Samuel Reed. Performance and programming language choice is always a hotly debated topic and it's always fascinating the explore. It was truly interesting to see async php code. I know NodeJS is known for it, but PHP really isn't at all.

The actual article is here: http://reviewsignal.com/blog/2013/11/13/benchmarking-asyncronous-php-vs-...

GoDaddy Purchased the Domain Name Market Today

Today is an interesting and perhaps historic day in the domain industry. GoDaddy has acquired Afternic and SmartName from Name Media. Name Media is probably best known for the BuyDomains brand. They own one of the largest portfolios of domain names in the world at nearly 1 million domains.

GoDaddy is the largest player on the consumer side of the domain market by a wide margin. However, they aren't the biggest player and/or have serious competition in a lot of the secondary and domainer markets.

Domainer / Secondary Markets

Market Large Players
Domain Registration GoDaddy
Selling Domains (Secondary/After Market) Sedo, Afternic, BuyDomains, GoDaddy, DomainNameSales
Expired Domains NameJet, SnapNames, Pool, GoDaddy
Domain Parking/Monetization InternetTraffic, Google, Yahoo, Sedo, (many more)
Domain name Conglomerates Demand Media, Marchex, GoDaddy, Name Media, Oversee

Why Most Of These Markets Don't Matter Anymore

The expired domain names market is drying up as companies switch to pre-release agreements. With pre-release, the registrar where the domain is kept automatically sells off the domain and there is no competition. As GoDaddy grows bigger, they will capture more of the this market automatically in the long run.

Domain Parking and monetization has seen a pretty steady decline since about 2007-2008. Consolidation is happening, the market is shrinking. The vested interests are large portfolio holders, which GoDaddy doesn't have like all of the other conglomerates.

The Conglomerates with the exception of GoDaddy all have their own domain name portfolios. They are focused around monetizing their assets rather than customers. Almost all the conglomerates have failed to see major growth (Demand Media just turned its first profit in 2012).

What Does Matter?

With GoDaddy's acquisitions from Name Media today they have taken a serious foothold in the secondary market. Afternic is one of the largest markets and GoDaddy is probably on equal ground in terms of selling domain names from Premium Listings (pre-acquisition), although they don't publish any numbers that I could find. If we were to assume Sedo, Afternic and GoDaddy were similar in size, GoDaddy just became the dominant player by 2:1.

Why does it matter?

GoDaddy's strategy has long been economies of scale and cross-promotion/cross-selling products/services. They dominate the consumer side of the market and have the audience to sell products to. Now they own the market for secondary sales as well. They already charge a minimum 32% commission to sell a domain name with them. My intuition tells me they've struggled with getting the best inventory and streamlining the process to their liking. This isn't the first time we've seen them partner up to sell secondary market domain names, they tried it once before with Domain Distribution Network but there hasn't been much talk about the results. There was even a short termination between the companies over the deal. This deal expired on June 7, 2013 according to DNN. I could find no evidence of it being renewed.

Meanwhile, Afternic has solved this problem. AfternicDLS has a deals with many of the biggest registrars: Network Solutions, Register.com, Enom, Moniker, Name.com, and more. This solves the listing and selling problem. Their current Premium Listings only work for domain names at GoDaddy. A lot of domainers don't use GoDaddy and don't want to put their domain names there. Acquiring Afternic solves the technical and business problems that may have blocked GoDaddy in previous attempts to gain more of the secondary market.

What About SmartName?

I am not as sure about the SmartName play for GoDaddy. They could be trying to make a more serious run into the domain monetization space with a parking platform. They could be looking to upgrade their auction platform. Both of these could improve their bottom line, and it makes them more attractive as a larger one-stop shop for domain services.

Conclusion

GoDaddy is now the biggest player in the domain name sales channels both for new registrations and selling in the secondary market. With the upcoming release of new gTLDs, they couldn't be better positioned to sell more domain names and make more money. It doesn't hurt that they offer fairly comprehensive offerings for business owners such as web hosting, email, marketing and more. Economies of scale are real and GoDaddy is taking advantage of them more than anyone else in the business.

Consumers may actually be the big winner here. If this gets executed well, the customers who use GoDaddy will get access to a larger inventory of domain names listed on the secondary market and purchasing them may become as easy as registering a new domain name.

Update

(9/20/2013) I made a mistake with saying the auction platform was Smart Names, it's actually Afternic. Also, someone linked me Godaddy's auction stats. They don't give dollar values, only sales volume. So it's still apples to oranges to pears with Sedo/Afternic/GoDaddy.

I have also received a lot of criticism because of the company in question comes off in a positive light. My startup tracks GoDaddy's reviews and it's overwhelmingly negative. I understand a lot of people don't like them for a multitude of reasons. That being said, the point of this article was to acknowledge a very prudent business move by them. I went into this open minded and came out surprised. I think this is a win for consumers in the short to medium term because it's reducing the friction and pain involved with buying domains in the secondary market. It makes it far more accessible and easy than it ever was before with a brand consumers recognize. Consolidation of the secondary domain market also puts a downward pressure on domain prices if it stays integrated as an option versus buying new registrations. The consumer who is thinking about spending $10 is far less likely to spend $100,000 instead. But $100, $500, $1,000 may be more reasonable and likely to induce a sale on the secondary market.

Analyzing the EIG (HostGator, BlueHost, HostMonster, JustHost) Outage

I just published an article looking at the impact of the major outage that occurred yesterday (August 2, 2013) when EIG's Provo, UT datacenter failed. I also predict what to expect based on previous major outages.

There was definitely a major spike in data produced and I got down to analyzing it.

Full Story: http://reviewsignal.com/blog/2013/08/03/service-interrupted-a-look-at-th...

National Day of Civic Hacking: Exploring Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Data

This weekend I participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking.

The project I decided to work on was working with the CFPB data (and also used some census data).

Background

The CFPB released a large complaints database that contained information about what type of financial products people are complaining about. It also gave information about where the complaints came from, what they were complaining about and resolution information. Some of the data was released literally a day earlier. So I was given a chance to take a look at, analyze and visualize information that nobody has really seen yet.

It was an exciting and interesting opportunity. Since it was very fresh data with little to no previous work, much of what I got to do was more general analysis. I created a handful of graphics (click them to see full size) and maps (click to use the map) which I have included below:

What products are people complaining about the most?

The biggest product people are complaining about is mortgage related products. There is a category for other mortgages that people can choose and it seems most people seem to select that. I wasn't sure why until I looked at the issues people were having.

What are the most common issues people have?

Foreclosure, Loan Modification and Collection. Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense. I probably don't care what type of mortgage it is when they are trying to take my house away. This particular issue dwarfed everything else, so I had to use a log scale to even see what the other issues people were facing.

What are the most common issues people have? (log scaled)

This gives a more in-depth picture of the issues, but the first graphic really shows you the most common and/or pressing financial issue for people.

Which companies had the most complaints?

Then I explored which companies were receiving the most complaints. This data is NOT normalized. That means that just because a company has more complaints doesn't make it worse than one with less. For example, if company A had 10 complaints and 100 customers and company B had 5 complaints and 20 customers, company B would be worse (if we measured complaints as a % of customers). I didn't have easy access to a database with any dataset that would normalize these banks, so this is for curiosity more than any meaningful insight. It probably is a proxy for the largest players in consumer finance though.

[MAP] Where are the complaints coming from in the US? (Normalized for state population)

This map shows where people are complaining the most. DC won that dubious honor. Maryland, Delaware, New Hampshire, California and Florida were also high on the list. All the numbers were adjusted to reflect complaints relative to population of a state. So we can clearly see there are differences and we can probably make educated guesses for some of them. DC for example is probably the highest because of the highest awareness of CFPB (since it's based in DC). Maryland probably has a high awareness too. Florida and California had big real estate bubbles and perhaps were hit especially hard. New Hampshire and Delaware are a mystery to me, although a woman from New Hampshire at my event told me that she complained to the CFPB and told all her friends as well. Perhaps an above-average awareness of the CFPB caused the higher complaint rate.

Top 10 Companies by Complaints and their Disputed Resolution Rates

Next I explored disputed resolutions. Companies alert the CFPB when the matter is resolved and consumers are allowed to tell the CFPB they were not satisfied with the resolution. I graphed the top 10 companies by complaint volume and what their disputed resolution rates looked like. It's interesting to see such big differences between companies but without further information about how they handle disputes, it's impossible to say anything confidently comparing one company to another.

[MAP] Disputed Resolutions by State

Finally, I created a map graphing disputed resolutions by state. There was a surprisingly large variation between states. Alaska, for instance, had a disputed resolution rate of over 26% while Wyoming had a measly 16%. I have no idea why, but it's interesting and worth looking into further.

Conclusion

I had a lot of fun exploring this fresh set of data and there is a lot more to be learned from it. I want to give a big thanks to Ana from the CFPB and Logan from the Census Bureau who attended the event and helped participants navigate the data provided their respective organizations.

Hurricane in the Cloud: How Hurricane Sandy Impacted Web Hosting Companies

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I just wanted to share the newest blog post, titled Hurricane in the Cloud: How Hurricane Sandy Impacted Web Hosting Companies, on the Review Signal blog

Reverse Engineering Startup Press: How and Why TechCrunch Covered My Launch

After my startup's launch was covered by TechCrunch I was asked by a lot of people how it happened. People wanted copies of my pitch to learn from. It was as if I had discovered some arcane secret. But I didn't believe that. All I had done was read a couple blog posts from other startups with copies of their pitches (Thanks Jason L. Baptiste, Vinicius Vacanti, Leo Widrich) and one journalist who shared his thoughts (Thanks Sean Blanda). So instead of saying here is the magical way to get press, I wanted to find out what journalists really thought of my pitch and how it could be done better. They receive hundreds of emails from people trying to get their attention and I wanted their advice and expertise. I also wanted to know why the author who covered me on TechCrunch chose to write about me. How did I win the press lottery? In this post, I will share their thoughts and opinions.

Let's begin with the actual pitch:

Subject: Exclusive Story Opportunity: Could Twitter replace review websites?
Hey Eldon,
We talked briefly at TC DC meetup and I showed you a quick demo of my startup: Review Signal.

We're planning to launch on September 25 and you're the first journalist I've reached out to and I'd be happy to give you guys the exclusive on our launch.

What is Review Signal?
Our goal is use the conversations on social media to build a review site and bring a new level of transparency to the (sometimes? often?) shady review industry. We've started with the web hosting industry (probably the shadiest of them all) and plan to expand after launching (we're in data collection mode for a few more niches like domain registrars). At launch, we will be the largest web hosting review site around by at least an order of magnitude (maybe two) with over 100,000 reviews.

We also have a 45 second video explaining how our system works:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPpwbZWLwJQ

You're welcome to login to our private beta (username: xxx, password: xxx at ).

If you're interested please let me know and I'd be happy to follow up with any information or questions over email or phone.

What happened after I sent this email? I got a response from Klint Finley, who Eric Eldon had forwarded my email to.

Eric forwarded this to me -- I'd love to get the scoop on this. Are you available Friday?

I will skip sharing mundane details because everything of importance was handled over the phone after the first response. I told him about what I was doing and answered some of his questions. And the article came out the day we launched.

What did the journalists think?

The opinion I was most curious to read was Klint's. He is the one who wrote about Review Signal. I was thrilled when he said he would be willing to participate in this article. Please note this is his opinion and his alone. They do not represent the opinion of TechCrunch or any other publication.

Klint Finley

For a startup launch I think pitching to the press is really not all that hard: blogs like TechCrunch and The Next Web are always looking to cover new startups. The important thing is to have something worth writing about. Offering an exclusive always help grab our eye, but it's not always necessary.

The pitches I've seen fail are 'yet another...' for spaces that have long since ceased to be exciting and don't have anything else to sex them up (well known founders, a sizeable investment, a really interesting new spin on the idea...)

If the pitch sounds too much like "It's like Foursquare, but better and built by someone you've never heard of," I don't think that many people are going to pay attention at this point. If you don't have a name or a big investment you've really got to get that differentiation in there early.

I like the "it's like X for Y" type of pitch format, but not everyone does. But telling me "We're an HTML5 mobile app framework with some really advanced features" won't tell me much. Telling me "We're like PhoneGap for building Foursquare-style apps" is going to be a bit more attention grabbing.

The subject line of an e-mail is really important. To be honest, I didn't think your subject line was very good. I probably would have missed that e-mail entirely if Eric hadn't flagged it for me to check out. But once I opened the e-mail and saw that it was about using Twitter sentiment analysis to rank web hosts, I was really interested since web hosting, sentiment analysis and data mining are interests/beats of mine.

Which brings me to the importance of finding the right person for a pitch. This can be hard. Since you think of your company mostly as a b2c company and I write mostly about b2b and dev tech, it might not have been obvious to pitch directly to me. Again, luckily Eric saw it and thought, correctly, that it might be something I'd be interested in.

Some of the pitches I've gotten recently that I wrote about came directly to me and mentioned articles I'd written before. Sometimes I see this stuff and it's totally left-field and vague, like "I see that you once wrote something about 'cloud,' I too am in the cloud business." But sometimes I'll luck out and someone will e-mail me something along the lines of "you once wrote that it would be interesting to see a company doing X... well, that's what we're doing!"

So, in summary: do something awesome, make sure you explain your differentiation, put that in the subject line of your e-mail, and send it to the right person. Easier said than done.

Klint also pointed out that “this would be just one journalist's preference.” So I also decided to get a few more opinions and approached other journalists I've talked to in the past.

Ville Vesterinen and Miikke Kukkosuo, Arctic Startup

Ville:
Was not too bad at all. Nice job! My critic:

1) It's a bit too long. Journos might just skip if it's too many lines to read.

2) I'd answer your headline by 'How:'

Miikka:
I have pretty similar thoughts as Ville.

Headline could be slightly sharper. 'How' is good. Or maybe even something edgier if you can think of something else.

I got a bit lost in the explanation, wasn't too easy to follow it. Depends a lot on the reader I guess how it's received - very big sites like TC might get so many mails that they move on quickly, a bit smaller ones probably would try to make sense of the message even if it takes a bit more time.

I think it would be enough to state the problem&market you're tackling, and why you will rock. Make it easy to read and understand, go straight to the point.
For example:
The review industry is shady. We will change that using social media conversations to bring a new level of transparency. At launch, we will be the largest web hosting review site around by at least an order of magnitude (maybe two) with over 100,000 reviews. Then we'll expand to more niches.

Carl Pierre, InTheCapital

I would take out the Could Twitter replace review websites part and just write exclusive story opportunity, maybe include your name in the subject line too so they remember who you are.

Um...the first part is cool, I would probably avoid mentioning the demo part, just say "we talked briefly at TC DC meetup and you gave me some good points on my new startup, Review Signal."

Then you should probably just say that you talked about providing an exclusive for your launch, and wanted to share the information with them before you go live.

Probably avoid the part that says, What is Review Signal, I would probably skip to something like...

Here is a quick refresher as to what we do:

- bullet point
- bullet point

Trust me, nobody likes slogging through paragraphs for info, especially as a journalist who gets bombarded with pitches constantly. Keep it succinct, short, and with key information in bullet points.

Again, this won't guarantee that you'll get a story, but it should hopefully significantly improve your chances.

From talking to the journalists, the basic recommendation seems to be:

  • Do something interesting
  • Explain why you're different
  • The subject line is your one chance to communicate why someone should care
  • Target the right journalist
  • Explain your idea clearly
  • Keep it short

I have to thank all these journalists for taking the time and participating. I had a great time talking to them and getting feedback about the pitch. I learned a great deal and hopefully this helps others too.

If you have any other tips please feel free to share them in the comments.

ICANN's GAC Early Warnings Released about gTLD Applications

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https://gacweb.icann.org/display/gacweb/GAC+Early+Warnings

Some interesting reading ahead for people interested in internet policy and domain names.

A couple fun stats:

Country with the Most Objections: Australia (90)

Most Objectionable gTLD: Africa (17 countries objected)

Facebook's New Monetization Strategy - Best News for Domain Owners in Years?

Guest Post I wrote for DomainNameNews

I was reading Mark Cuban's thoughts about Facebook trying to get him to pay to reach his fans. It's an interesting opinion and one I can empathize with. The crux of it is this picture:

Brands have spent millions of dollars getting people to 'Like' their brands. Now, Facebook is asking them to pay more to reach the audience they already paid to build. It feels fundamentally unfair because Facebook has changed the rules of the game half way through.

Of course, there is another perspective to consider: the users. They probably don't want every brand spamming them. There is some ambiguity to the word 'Like'. Some would argue it's not a laissez faire situation where brands are free to advertise to every user as much as they want. Facebook's EdgeRank is supposed to improve the user's experience by curating what users see in their feed (and it just so happens that more money greases the EdgeRank wheels).

That's a quick synopsis of the article. Let's get back on topic.

Why is this important to domainers?

Mark Cuban is advocating for brands to maintain more control over the way they communicate with their audience. He's promoting Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and MySpace (no joke!). It's not mentioned in the article, but there is still only one place that the brand still maintains full control: their domain name(s).

I've argued in the past that domains are becoming less necessary as brands opt to use social networks for their primary web presence. Facebook has about one sixth of the world's population as users. It's easier to manage, easier to share content and easier to reach your audience (assuming you have money to spend).

This is a real kick back from brands. Maybe it's just one guy. Maybe not. But it should be a good reminder that when you buy into these social networks, you're potentially making a deal with the devil. They control the rules and you are beholden to them and the changes they decide to make in the future. Your relationship with your fans is moderated by someone else.

In the developer community we worry a lot about building our software on top of someone else's platform. We've seen Twitter take out competitors it didn't like and restricting their API to control what developers can do. Perhaps it's reckoning time for brands. Maybe they will experience the risk they've put themselves at by investing into social media on platforms they don't control and that don't have an established business model.

Let me be clear: I don't think this will stop brands from using social media. However, it may be the first of many tiny cuts in Facebook's business model which moderates how it will deal with brands. Some brands may decide to try to control their fans' experience more and invest in their own domains. At the margin, there may be some increased demand for domain names. Which is good news for domainers and the first good news I've seen in a while for the industry. I think the longer term outlook is still fairly grim for most of the industry, but end user demand is the only bright spot in my mind.

How to get a logo for $30

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Logos are a trap. Let me explain that statement: they are a place many startups get stuck. A logo is what identifies you. It's the symbol that takes up space in a customer's mind when they think about your company. There is no symbol that is more connected to your company than a logo. This traps entrepreneurs because it drives many of us to want the perfect logo.

This is how I got Review Signal's logo created in 3 days from start to finish for $30.

review signal - web hosting reviews

Step 1. Write down what you're looking for in a logo

The formula I generally follow is:

  • What is the name of your company?
  • What style of logo do you want? (text/icon/character/etc)
  • What does the company do?
  • What sort of associations does the name have?
  • What am I trying to communicate with the logo?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What color(s) do I want?
  • Is this for web and/or print?
  • What are some examples of logos you like?

Optional:

  • Links to current designs/mockups.
  • Any other information that might be relevant about your business or in regards to the designer (eg. if you liked a particular they designed before)

Step 2. Go to Fiverr's Logo Design category

Step 3. Find some designers with logos you like and hire them

Make sure you pass along the information you wrote in step 1. Make sure to follow any special instructions they might have. Also double check the deliverables to make sure you get a source file, generally .psd/.ai, in addition to .jpg/.png/.gif.

One concern that comes up is does this count as work for hire and who owns the rights? Fiverr says this:

Buyers are granted all rights for the delivered work, unless otherwise specified by the seller in the gig description. Fiverr retains the right to use all published delivered works for Fiverr marketing and promotion purposes.

So just make sure the designer hasn't revoked your ownership and rights.

I ended up hiring 6 that I liked ($5 x 6 designers = $30).

Step 4. Get revisions

Most of them include some number of revisions, often that number is 1. They also may deliver a few variations/options for you to choose from. This step can be hard because you will get results asynchronously. Your instinct will be to see all of them before asking for revisions. However, Fiverr only gives you 48 hours to accept or decline work after it's been delivered. Ask for the revisions you want on the logo you like most or think could be the best after revision.

If you can get feedback from users/friend/anyone in between these revisions, do it.

I received 11 logos from the 6 designers.

Step 5. Get feedback

I ended up with 11 options. I ran a survey about which logo people liked the most. The one my respondents chose also happened to be the one I liked most, so I was set. If they don't agree with your personal opinion then you have a tougher choice.

Step 6. Get back to building your startup

Exhibit A: Logos Received

Winner First (Pre-Revision and Post)











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