Marketing department uploads, legal department serves takedown notice

This just happened. A big company approached us with a take down notice for a few slideshows. We responded and suspended the slideshows. The people who had uploaded protested. Turns out they were from the same company as the “big company” except from the marketing department. I see this happening again and again. Individuals from big companies want to embrace SlideShare (often web-savvy individuals, folks from marketing depts). The Legal and IT depts want to hold them back. Legal because they want every action to go through a set of legal hoops. IT because they have the “Made inhouse” syndrome and think they can build inhouse whatever web tool people are using outside.

Size and diffusion of responsibility already make it hard for corporations to be nimble and agile. Legal and IT depts make them even more backward thinking than they already are. Yes, both have their uses, but they don’t get the web, and especially how the consumer web has changed things for the enterprise by changing the individuals inside it.

Tufte joins SlideShare board of advisors; No more bullet points

We are thrilled to announce that Edward Tufte the renowned author, academic, and speaker best known for his pioneering work on the display of quantitative information, has joined the SlideShare board of advisors. It took us a while to convince him to join our advisory board – given his “PowerPoint is evil” credo, but we convinced him that he SlideShare needed him to put an end to bad presentations.

Read our blog announcement about Tufte joining here.

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).

Continue reading

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.