What the Yahoo-Microsoft deal might mean for startups

There has been a lot written about what a Yahoo-Microsoft deal might mean for startups. Most of it is focuses on how it takes out two out of the three players who compete for buying startups. Yahoo and Microsoft will be preoccupied for a little while, to say the least. I just saw a contrary viewpoint from Marc Andressen and find myself in agreement with him. Marc points out that the triumverate (Google, Yahoo & Microsoft) are not the only ones who do the acquiring. He lists Amazon, AOL, CBS, Cisco, Viacom and several other acquirers. So its not as if the startup M&A market is suddenly drying up. Second and more importantly, he points out that building a startup to get acquired is foolishness anyway. And to want to get acquired by particular companies is even more foolish. I often meet entrepreneurs and realize that they are hoping to flip their startups in a year or two, and turn a neat profit. In fact, when I heard Paul Graham speak at FOWA, that seemed to be his message as well. The picture he painted was of two twenty-year olds who build something, move to Silicon Valley, live on Ramen noodles and flip the startup in 2-3 years. If that is your model, then you will mourn the preoccupation of the two potential acquirers (especially if you were targeting them for the flip). But if are focused on really building a great product and a great company, then this does not change anything.

For SlideShare, we made a decision early on that we want to change the way that people share presentations, and build a great company. This news did not change anything for us.

Online editing will take a decade, but its time for sharing office docs

With all the hype around Google docs, it’s good to finally see some stats about their market penetration. TechCrunch today reported results of a survey conducted by NPD: A 73% of Americans have never heard of web-based Office suite (e.g., Google Docs), 94% have never tried one, and only 0.5% have actually switched to one. The survey results don’t surprise me. In fact, I would have guessed that even fewer people would have tried / heard of a web-based Office suite.

In a year of running SlideShare, we have realized how particular people are about the end look & feel of their Office documents (especially their presentations). If SlideShare does not render an image or a font, or messes up some graphics/charts, then our users tell us about it!. We get complaints about the particular shade of purple, and the title that does not look quite right. Makes sense, people work hard on their documents and they want the finished product to have a certain look and feel. I have tried several online Office authoring apps and while they are great when I need to collaborate during the creation process, the latency is annoying when you are working on the document yourself, and the application feels hopelessly limited when you are in the final (production phases). I have used Google Docs & Zoho for word and spreadsheet documents with some success, but was not able to make much headway with Google Presently because the look and feel are much more important for presentations (and no, I don’t see Presently as competition – reasons are described below).

This has been our hypotheses to begin with – that the tools and mindset are not quite there for large-scale shift to online authoring of Office documents. But there is no such barrier to sharing of documents online. SlideShare was the first office document sharing site on the web. We started with the premise that people want a quick and easy path to sharing their presentation documents. And so far, it seems like people do want to do that (look at SlideShare stats below).

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Ratio of creators to viewers for SlideShare

I was just running some stats for SlideShare and realized that the ratio of creators (people who upload slideshows) to viewers (who visit SlideShare.net) is just south of 1%. This fits in well with what Bradley Horowitz’s Content Production Pyramid described, with some caveats.

First Bradley also talks about the synthesizers. I have yet to calculate those numbers for SlideShare. However, SlideShare is an active bookmarking community (we have 2.7 tags per slideshow), so those numbers are likely to be meaningful. But a lot of the synthesis is also happening on the web. As people link to and embed slideshows, they add metadata about those slides. Some of the metadata is captured on SlideShare (e.g., we links back to all the embds). But a lot of it cannot be captured easily.

Secondly, the number of viewers is probably an underestimation in an era of widgets. Slideshows are embedded all over the web. Each embed leads to more views which our system does not directly capture.

Google Analytics and problems with AJAX, Flash sites

I spent part of my weekend trying to understand Google Analytics (GA) – mostly why GA shows such low engagement metrics for SlideShare. Every other measure tells us engagement is much higher. Finally I figured out the reason: we use a lot of AJAX and flash, and our media files are served from Amazon S3. So you can view a slideshow for half hour on Slideshare, you can comment, favorite and do many other activities. And none of them would get recorded on Google Analytics which is only recording page to page movement, and only for actions that happen on SlideShare.net (all the slide activity on Amazon S3 is not being captured!).

We started using GA recently and just did an out of box install. To give it credit, GA is very convenient, and rapidly becoming a standard for site statistics. But its out of the box install does not account for the way many modern websites work.

– Distributed Infrastructure: File serving from Amazon S3 is common
– Flash based for media files
– Lots of AJAX for on the page interaction

After spending time on the problem (including reading this book), we have figured out workarounds for most of the the issues. And while GA is flexible enough to accommodate us, it does not make it easy. Out of the box, it seems set up for old school HTML pages where you move from page to page, rather than mini-actions within page. Also, many of the options seem to be for ecommerce sites (tracking steps through an ecommerce funnel etc.) rather than for social (Web 2.0 to use a cliched term!) sites.

My advise – if you are going to use Google Analytics, spend some time upfront to understand how to customize both the analytics code and your own site. Don’t begin collecting data before you do that, or you will get a very biased picture of your site. Also, to do it right, you will end up integrating with GA much more deeply than simply placing some javascript in your pages.

Running a data-driven social software site

SlideShare began with an idea. We built it on instinct, launched it. People liked it, it grew. Our active users wrote to us, blogged, sent us feedback about what they liked or did not like. We took that into account as we planned features.

Its great to listen to active users, but it can bias you towards the superuser. As our userbase is growing, we need to take into account the different user segments, the people who don’t blog and write to us.

There is only way to keep in mind all the user types, to end the endless debates within the company about what we need to do next. And that is to be driven by data. Period.

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Slidecasting as a general way to synch web audio and visuals

Jay Feinberg articulated much better than I did in my previous post, what the implications of slidecasting are. He tried to post this as a comment, but turns out my commenting system was broken.

One comment about the web and audio: there is a standard, or, at least, emerging standard, way to connect together multiple segments of audio: the playlist (and the XSPF standard playlist format). And, a slideshow seems very similar to a playlist in the way that you have discreet elements stiched together to form a linear presentation.

From a music / arts perspective, I would imagine that the most interesting possibilities would be the most web-like, e.g., that any one slide could connect to any playlist of multiple audio tracks, any one audio track could connect with any presentation of multiple sides, or one audio track could just connect with one side.

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Designing Slidecasting: a new multimedia format for the web

When SlideShare launched it was a place to share PowerPoint on to the web. TechCrunch called it the “YouTube for PowerPoint”. And while it was not my choice of words, I did not disagree! Yesterday, we moved beyond that initial description. SlideShare is now a place to share and create a new multimedia format: Slidecasts!

Slidecasts are a mashup of slides with audio. As it was pointed out time and again, slides by themselves can feel bare. Our users wanted to add voice tracks, music etc.

We did not just want to add audio to slides. We wanted to create a multimedia format suited to both creation and consumption on the web. What does that mean? The main developer on the project Kapil and I debated this time and again. We were inspired by the philosophy of “small pieces loosely joined“. For video, the visual and audio stream are generally recorded together. For Slidecasting, we wanted the multimedia format to suit the nature of the web, where multiple streams (slides and audio) can be loosely or tightly coupled.

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The SlideShare karoake randomizer

Fun project of the week was to work on a karoake randomizer to help you use SlideShare to run a ppt karoake event. You enter a tag from slideshare. It grabs all creative-commons licensed slideshows for that tag. If the slideshows allow download of the original file, it shows that link. All you need are some volunteers for presenting!

The SlideShare Karoake Randomizer is the first tool that uses our just-released API. We are open sourcing it so that you can use it as you like. Its available on our new API site SlideShareToys. And the code is available through Google code hosting.

The SlideShare Karoake Randomizer will be used for the first time today at the Creative Commons Salon in San Francisco! If you are in SF, come by this evening to Shine and watch the pptkaroake in action. Or maybe volunteer to present to a random slideshow. I am told that a critical element of pptkaroake – beer will be available!

PowerPoint Karoake at Creative Commons Salon on July 11th

If you missed the PowerPoint Kaorake at etech this year (I wish I had been there). Or if you were there and want more, then come by to the Creative Commons Salon in San Francisco on July 11th. Danny O’Brien will moderate the event. SlideShare is helping pull it together – actually, the only thing we are doing is to build a randomizer for randomly pulling slideshows for the event! (Ya, that’s a fun design project!)

Slideshows will be pulled from ones that have been shared with a Creative Commons license on SlideShare. If you want your slide deck to be considered, then upload to SlideShare, tag it “pptkaroake”. Also make the original file downloadable. If you plan to come by, then RSVP to this upcoming post for the Creative Commons Salon. For a great description of PowerPoint Karoake, go to Heathervescent.

Google buys Zenter (or the online powerpoint space heats up)

I am taking a break from reading blogs, techmeme etc. (try it sometime – its like having a mini-holiday without going anywhere), so it took an email from a friend to find out that Google bought Zenter, another one of those Paul Graham startups. Zenter was focused on online powerpoint authoring, with some community features. There was speculation on TechCrunch that this was an HR buyout – that they just wanted the team, while VentureBeat thinks its for Zenter’s browser based editing and polling features.

I think its curious. Eric Schmidt pretty much demoed Google’s PowerPoint clone at Web 2.0 expo. Why buy another PowerPoint company when their own app is almost ready? What did Zenter have that the Google PPT clone did not? I can speculate (and have some theories), but we will find out soon.

online_powerpoint

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