Interview with Videoplaza CEO Sorosh Tavakoli: The shift from Old TV to New TV

From time to time we take our microphone (aka smartphone), meet up with interesting people from the Swedish web sphere and ask them a lot of questions to get new insights and broaden our horizon. In May we interviewed Alexander Ljung, the Swedish CEO of Berlin-based music startup SoundCloud. Now, a few days ago, we met Sorosh Tavakoli, the CEO and founder of Videoplaza, an expanding web company with roots in Stockholm but active on markets across Europe that is specialized in helping media companies to monetize videos on the Internet. And as you probably know, web video is exploding.

Hi Sorosh. What’s the most fascinating aspect of working with online video?
It’s the shift from what we call “Old TV” to the “New TV”. The Old TV meant that there was one broadcast and the same commercials for everybody. The New TV is delivered via Internet infrastructure, dynamic and very personalized, which means that the serving and targeting of advertisements works in a totally different way. You can show different ads to different people. How this is changing the media industry is very exciting and we are happy to be at the core of this development.

What exactly are you guys at Videoplaza doing?
We have developed an ad server solution for online video. Media companies like TV channels or newspapers can use our technology to embed different types of ads in their streaming videos. While we take care of all the technical process and make sure that there is always compatibility with the platforms being used to distribute the content, the media companies can focus on what they are best at: Produce and get the content and manage the advertising sales.

What is the biggest challenge for the the New TV?
The variety of platforms is a challenge. Web video is accessed in so many different ways, starting from regular computers and notebooks, media PC’s, Tablets like the iPad, mobile phones, via Internet-connected TV’s, gaming consoles like Xbox or Playstation as well as through dedicated streaming video boxes (soon there will be even “Google TV” and, if rumours are true, a new Apple TV platform). Instead of simply making sure that the traditional TV broadcast can be monetized properly with the help of ads like in the “good old days”, there is now a huge amount of platforms with different specifications that needs to be taken into consideration.

Tell us the background story of Videoplaza.
During my studies at the Royal Institute of Technology and the Stockholm School of Economics I did a research project at MMS, a company that does audience measurement of TV programmes in Sweden. The outcome of the project was a report about how people consume moving images, including all the digital methods of watching videos. Through MMS I had the chance to present this to the major TV stations in Sweden, and I learnt the fact that monetization of online video will be a huge challenge, a challenge that needs to be tackled in order to be able to develop legal alternatives to torrent and other illegal download sites. From that moment my brain was working. I wanted to help the media industry to find a way to bring content online and to earn money with it. Together with Alfred Ruth and Dante Buhay, the three of us thought about possible ideas, presented them to our contacts in the industry, and eventually found a solution that one big Swedish TV firm was willing to try! Voilà: In January 2008 we had our first client, started to develop the product and launched it two months later.

Like many other companies from Sweden Videoplaza started early to expand to Europe…
Yes, that was a pragmatical decision: Sweden is small. After half a year we had signed up most of the major Swedish TV/media companies as clients. In order to continue growing we had to look outside of Sweden. We started with the other Nordic countries. UK and France followed, and our next market entry will be in Germany. Most of the future growth will come from markets outside of Sweden. Our team has become pretty European as well and in fact we have a “No Swedish policy” for all communication.

What are your favourite apps or services (besides everything that is related to online video).
I like to check-in with foursquare. Actually me and my wife have a little competition there. But otherwise I have to admit that I’m not this kind of person anymore that in front of the computer for hours experimenting with new apps just for the fun of it. I’m always more focused on the business side rather than on the feature side. How can a service generate revenue, what’s the business model, how will it scale? In the end, if a web company can’t make money, it’s gonna die.

And the final (and for us at Twingly) very important question: Do you read blogs?
Yes, but only a few. I like and NewTeeVee. You can guess why…

/Martin Weigert

Soon even your grandparents will know what a check-in is

Imagine you are at a restaurant with 20 people, both family members and friends. You pull out your smartphone and tell everybody that you quickly have to check-in. How many of the people around you would understand what it is that you are doing?

As we have written about before, the check-in has become the default way for people using mobile services such as foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite or Loopt to tell the world where they are. Instead of the mobile phone monitoring their location automatically and publishing their whereabouts, users actively press the check-in button when they feel comfortable revealing their location.

But so far, these kind of location based apps have solely been an Early Adopter phenomenon, reaching only a few million people around the world (foursquare has less than 3 million users, Gowalla doesn’t even have 500.000 yet). Hence, the majority of people won’t associate the check-in term with web apps but rather with airports where checking in means leaving your luggage and getting your boarding pass.

Do the test: Ask your family, friends and colleagues what a check-in is. And then wait a year and do it again. You can be sure that the result will be significantly different. Why? Because Facebook, the world’s biggest social network with more than 500 million active users has recently launched a check-in feature called Facebook Places. At the end of last week the site started to roll-out the feature to users in the US, but we don’t expect it to take more than a few weeks or month to see the Places feature launching globally.

With Places, Facebook has finally done what many observers of the Internet for a long time have expected to happen: It has launched its own location service based around a check-in functionality. The feature works exactly as you would imagine: Depending on your coordinates you get a list of locations around you where you can check-in, or if the location does not exist yet you can add it. Every location has its own profile page which shows recent check-ins of other people.

Additionally, Facebook gives you an overview about where you friends are at the moment, making it much easier to meet up with some of your contacts who might be close to your current location.

By betting on the location trend, Facebook is bringing the concept of checking in and seeing where your friends are to the mainstream. So far, the biggest problem with the smaller services mentioned above is that not many people do use them, and for most users I know, the foursquare and Gowalla friends mainly consist of their Twitter peers, who not necessarily are their close friends. In fact, only very few of my “real” friends are using location based services, which means that I hardly benefit from the capabilities location based apps do offer in theory.

But I expect this to change, since almost all of my friends are on Facebook, and lots of them do own a smartphone. After having launched Places on a global scale, it won’t take too long until many of your closer friends will have tried the new feature, giving everyone new insights about favourite places and interesting locations. And since Facebook is providing existing location apps with a new API to integrate their functionality with Facebook Places, loyal foursquare or Gowalla users can continue to check-in with those services and will see their Facebook friends’ check-ins as well.

It’s for sure that Facebook embracing the check-in concept won’t be the final evolution step of location based services (background monitoring and automatic check-ins at favourite locations using Geofencing will become common in the future). But the move means that the whole idea of telling other’s where you are by using your mobile phone is brought to the masses, and the check-in as term will become as common as other expressions introduced by web services such as “to google” (which in several European languages is synonymously used for doing a web search) or “to poke”.

While we at Twingly can’t wait to try the new Facebook Places feature, it will be interesting to see how Facebook handles the inevitable privacy-related user backclash. While the possibility of telling all your friends where you for some users is reason enough to be concerned, Facebook didn’t make it easier for them by adding a potentially questionable feature which lets you check-in your Facebook friends (it’s required though that you have checked in at the same location). It’s possible to deactivate this feature but in best Facebook tradition the site made this process more complicated than necessary.

We’ll see if the feature will be abused by some who find it funny to check-in at some dubious location just to be able to tag their friends as well. It’s not impossible that Facebook might do some fine-tuning with Places before rolling it out globally. But in any case it’s only a matter of time until even your grandparents will understand what you mean when you tell them that you have to check-in.

/Martin Weigert

The Foreign Office UK tests Channels

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office UK – what or who is that you might think, surely some boring Government stuff. Government stuff, yes. Boring? Far from it.

FCO’s core function in (very) short is according to themselves to “promote and protect Britain’s interests abroad” . Now, that sounds like a modern version of the old colonial times, but in fact it isn’t. The FCO’s activities and offices in over 170 countries worldwide help Britain keeping a good relationship with other countries, including their 14 overseas territories like i.e. Bermuda or Pitcairn Islands. British people living abroad can get help and postgraduate students or researchers from countries across the world are granted scholarships by the FCO, which supports a positive development especially in poor countries.

Over the past year, FCO has thrown itself with enthusiasm into Social Media, realising that this is a great way of reaching out to people all over the world, not politicians, but rather normal people like you and me. In their blogs, their representatives around the world pick up a lot of current issues and discussions they encounter and which do not necessarily reach the daily news stream. A gem and great additional news source for everyone interested in global politics.

As part of their social media mix, a Twitter account was launched, and @foreignoffice is now the most mentioned and retweeted UK government department. FCO uses Twitter mainly for giving helpful information to their followers worldwide, this also includes promoting their blog articles about current issues. Over 17000 followers confirm that this has not been entirely useless…

In order to make it easier for people to follow their blogs and to see which are the most talked about topics, they now started testing Twingly Channels. Via their blog-RSS-feed all blog posts will be fed into the FCO-Channel. While you find all articles in chronological order under “Incoming Stories”, “Top Stories” shows only the ones most retweeted, linked by other blogs and commented on or simply “liked” in the Channel itself. So readers get an instant overview of “what is hot” among all the FCO-topics.

Like Jimmy Leach says in his blog post, this is not such a big thing really, especially since lots of Channel-features are still to be developed during autumn. But it will be very interesting to see how Channels can help FCO getting more readers engaged in discussions, either on their blogs or in their channel.

FCO also runs its own YouTube- and Flickr-Channels, and there are also Facebook Pages in several languages, take a look at the whole range. Jimmy is by the way the guy that pulled off FCO’s successful social media strategy and you can reach him on Twitter or on his blog. He loves dialogue and appreciates feedback.

If you are interested in global politics and want to know more about matters that are not big in daily news, then get subscribed to the FCO-Channel and feel free to comment and “like” articles there or directly on their blogs. Definitely let FCO and us know what you think. Commenting or tweeting are the best ways to reach us, or in our case, we collect your ideas and answer your questions here.

What do you think?

//Anja Rauch

Do you think before you tweet?

When you publish your ordinary 140 character messages on Twitter, it’s easy to forget who your total audience is. No, not only your followers on Twitter and those users who might have subscribed to your stream via RSS. In fact, it’s everyone on the Internet. Almost 2 billion people, who have access to your daily Twitter updates, if you didn’t set your account to private (which hardly anybody does on Twitter).

That’s pretty impressive, isn’t it? I hear you saying “Well, that’s the same for any public web page and blog”. Correct. But the difference is that it takes much longer and more effort to publish content on regular websites/blogs, and since you are not limited to those 140 characters, you write longer texts, and you have more time to think through what you have written before you press publish.

From my personal Twitter experience I can say that this is totally different on Twitter. Twitter is the leading tool of the real time web, and as such a communication channel where everything is about speed. Twitter is the place where news break first, and as we explained last week, the way Twitter works even helps spreading less important information to a lot of people within a very short amount of time.

But the nature of Twitter with quick messages that are being tweeted and retweeted in (near) real time comes at a price: quality and trustworthiness. While there are tweets that give the impression of being well thought through – especially of users who focus on humorous or ironic Twitter updates – the majority of tweets and retweets have been put together in a few seconds.

So because of that, and because everyone on the Internet can see your tweets, it really makes sense to always think twice before pushing something to Twitter – or at least to think once.

I would guess that every regular Twitter user knows the uncomfortable feeling of having sent a tweet that she/he regretted afterwards.

Since there is no way to edit a tweet, the only thing you can do is to delete it. Some Twitter clients offer a useful option to do that, but I also have used apps that didn’t. Instead, I had to rush to Twitter’s website, log-in to my account (when you are in a hurry, you might mistype your password twice before you succeed in loging in), and then delete the tweet. With a bit of luck, I was fast enough so that nobody of my Twitter followers did see my weird/stupid/incorrect tweet. Sometimes, I wasn’t.

Recently, Twitter has launched the new User Streams API and is now step by step rolling out access to it. If the API is enabled for your Twitter client, all the tweets are appearing in real ‘real time’. Before, it could take 30 seconds or longer for your personal stream to update with new tweets. It was rather a bulk updating process than a real time updating.

What that means is that it will soon become completely impossible to hide a tweet from your followers by deleting it. Because when everyone has access to the new API, your followers will see your tweet in the very second you sent it.

That means that thinking before twittering will be even more important in the future than it has been so far.

Because of this, I personally try to stick to some ground rules when sending a tweet. It doesn’t always work, sometimes the temptation of being first out with a specific information/news is just too big. Still, I think it is good to have some criteria in the back of your head while using Twitter. It could help you to avoid embarrassing situations.

These are my suggestions. Feel free to add a comment with your input:

  • Is there a link I can attach to my tweet to show the source of my information?
  • Does the information sound reasonable and realistic? What does my intuition say?
  • Do I offend people with the tweet (more than necessary)?
  • Have I been twittering about the same thing too many times?
  • Is the spelling/grammar correct?
  • Does this tweet fit together with my opinion in earlier tweets/blog articles, or do I contradict myself?
  • Could the information in my tweet be something that everyone already knows?
  • If I’m about to retweet somebody else, do I know this person (from Twitter)? How much do I know about her/his credibility?
  • Should I add a personal comment to my retweet in order to explain to my followers why I thought this information/link was valuable?

Of course the process of thinking through these points is something that happens within the fraction of a second, in best multitasking tradition. And as I said – it’s not always working, we are all humans and act like them. Nevertheless it has helped me to establish a basic quality assurance for my tweets. If I would stand in front of almost two billion people, I probably would be very careful with what I’m saying. So I think it can’t be too wrong if Twitter user’s think a second before they tweet.

/Martin Weigert

(Photo: stock.xchng)

How much does the Social Web care about Traditional Media Online?

That could be a question worth investigating, we thought. Not that we are the first ones to do so, but we decided to dig into that by using our new kid on the block, Channels.

As you know, Channels are now in open beta and free to play with. If you haven’t checked it out yet, then put this onto your list of fun tasks for your lunch breaks to come.

Anyway, we also had a play with it. We set up a news channel for each of a selected country, mainly based on the RSS of the biggest national newspapers. Then we took a look at which articles ended up in “top stories” of each Channel.

Which article or item gets listed as “top story” in a Channel depends on
– how many blog entries link to them
– how many mentions in microblogs like Twitter
– how old they are (publishing date)
– how many “likes” they get from Channel users
– how many comments they get from Channel users

Since Channels is quite new, there are clearly not many “likes” or comments from users yet. Which is nice for this little analysis right now. We will however launch more features quite soon, which will make Channels quite a powerful tool, and a very flexible one to use, too. So bear with us, please.

Now, these are our “candidates”:
UK Germany France Netherlands Spain Portugal Poland Sweden Norway and Italy.

What we wanted to see, was how blogs and tweets respond to news articles, thus pushing news into “top stories” and that way making them the headlines of the day in the social media sphere.

Comparing all these, there are quite some striking scenarios to look at. The strongest Channels in terms of linking blogs and tweets are without a doubt UK and Sweden. Taking a closer look at both, one notices that all top stories on the Swedish Channel usually have far more blog posts referring to them than tweets! In Norway it looks largely the same – almost all top stories get discussed more on blogs than on Twitter.

In the UK and Germany, news, it seems are increasingly more discussed on Twitter rather than on blogs. The majority of top stories in these Channels get partly a massive amount of tweets, but only a few blog posts refer to them.

That raises the question – is there a stronger blogging culture in Scandinavia? Here at the moment represented by Norway and Sweden? Do 14 million people (almost 5 million in Norway, about 9 million in Sweden) have more bloggers or better saying more active bloggers that link to news sites than a nation with over 60 million people like the UK? Or is it the “Twingly Effect” on our home grounds Sweden and Norway, as we sometimes secretly call it? In both countries almost all major newspapers show blog posts that link to them, most of them using our Blogstream solution, or, like Aftonbladet, their own solution.

It could also be simply a difference in culture. It is much easier and faster to share opinions via tweets in fast paced countries like i. e. UK and Germany, rather than typing up a blog post. From my own experience I know that life here in Sweden is much calmer, means one has the peace of mind to write up some more complex thoughts that need more than 140 characters. If you ask me, I think it is a good mixture of both.

What about the rest?

The Dutch and Spanish are tweeting and blogging quite a bit, too, articles being more quoted in tweets than blogged about. Same scenario with the Portuguese and French, just with a slightly lower intensity. In Italy and Poland we see few to no links, regardless whether they come from tweets or from blog posts. This scenario corresponds pretty much to what we know from friends in these two countries. Italy being more of a TV-country due to known reasons (watch i.e. Videocracy if you haven’t done so yet), and in Poland it seems the development simply isn’t that far yet. However, the Polish social media development will be really interesting to follow over the next year or two.

According to Channels, these newspapers are the celebrities in terms of who gets quoted most on blogs and on Twitter:

UK: The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph
Germany: Der Spiegel and Focus
Well mixed scenario with Le Monde Le Figaro Le Point and 20minutes leading
Spain: Another good mix with El Mundo and El País leading
Publíco (a customer of ours for Blogstream, we’d like to point out proudly)
De Telegraaf (another news site with Blogstream) and NRC Handelsblad
Norway: Verdens Gang (uses Blogstream)
Sweden: Dagens Nyheter Expressen (both with Blogstream) and Aftonbladet (running their own solution resembling Blogstream) lead.

It could be interesting to see if the described scenarios would shift in any direction, if some newspapers online would start using a trackback solution, start showing and promoting links from blogs linking to them. Could there be another increase of links from blogs for sites like Guardian or Spiegel? Or could other, even smaller newspapers become equally popular?

Would you like to share any thoughts or experiences on this? Go ahead. Especially when you think, we may have missed something important, be it a source in one of the Channels or anything else. On that note, we could unfortunately not take into account because of their pay-wall.

//Anja Rauch

How the Real Time Web made a Flower Pot become a Web Celebrity

Sometimes you just need to see the real time web in action to understand its dynamics and power. This was a thought I had when I last week witnessed the sudden rise of a meme in the German Twitter-sphere. Personally I have never seen something similar before in the German speaking microblogging world, at least not with this intensity.

Everything started with an inconspicuous flower pot that belonged to an elder care home in the German city of Münster. One week ago the pot was destroyed by an unknown person. For some reason the “story” made it onto the website of the local newspaper Münstersche Zeitung. Katharina Hövels, the woman who wrote the article, started working at the newspaper a week before and was unexperienced, the paper later explained in a follow-up piece.

At 11:04 pm on Wednesday, Ralf Heimann was apparently the first person on Twitter to publish the link to the article. His tweet was retweeted 36 times, which doesn’t include manual retweets, and it was his tweet that about 12 hours later, on Thursday around lunch, led to the Twitter meme carrying the hashtag #blumenkübel, which is German for flower pot.

I think I noticed the first #blumenkübel tweets at around 12 am, and it was like out of the blue that suddenly my complete Twitter stream was filled with this hashtag. What happened was that some people that did read the original article took the blumenkübel story and adapted it to other recent news events, while some others simply joked about flower pots in general or the fact that the incident was actually reported about.

The more people participated, the more who didn’t read the original article either started to joined or asked what the #blumenkübel thing was all about, which consequently led to a number of blog posts explaining what happened, both in German and even in English. That again helped to increase the number of #blumenkübel mentions.

Using our Blog Search engine we found almost 200 blog posts writing about the topic. According to the German blog and Twitter aggregator Rivva, 439 people retweeted the link to the original article. That is pretty substantial for Germany which only has about 270.000 active Twitter users according to this analysis. And let’s not forget that the actual story probably didn’t concern any of them.

At Twingly we quickly set up a Twingly Live Channel which at the peak of the #blumenkübel wave showed new tweets every second. It was impressive to watch!

According to the Twitter monitoring service Trendistic, the flower pot meme reached its peak around 2 pm on Thursday. After that the number of tweets containing the hashtag fell but rose again around 5 pm. If you follow Social Web topics you probably can guess why: After a few hours of #blumenkübel-mania, German mainstream media got curious and started to publish reports about how a flower pot became a star on Twitter, and that created new attention for the already diminishing meme. During that time, fake screenshots of CNN covering the broken flower pot and a YouTube video making fun of the flower pot’s fate had already hit Twitter.

The #blumenkübel hashtag actually made it into Twitter’s trending topics for a whole 5 hours, reaching position 4 at best, and increasing awareness of the flower pot tragedy on the other side of the Atlantic. Liz Pullen from What The Trend informed me on Friday that out of 492 trending topics during the past 7 days, #blumenkübel was the 30th most popular, which is remarkable considering the nonsense behind it and the small German twittersphere.

While Twitter was definitely the core of this meme, a Facebook page that was set up on early Thursday afternoon praising the flower pot grew to more than 2000 members on that day, and got even more attention after the national TV station Pro7 picked up the story on Friday evening (30 hours after the meme started). Today, the page has almost 10.000 members, which is significantly more than the number of tweets that was published with the #blumenkübel hashtag.

According to Twitter statistic apps such as What The Hashtag, Dwitter and, the hashtag was mentioned somewhere between 3000 and 6000 times from Thursday to Friday around lunch.

So, let’s draw a few conclusions: Twitter and the dynamics of the real time web allow a destroyed flower pot to become a celebrity in no time. It’s hard to explain the phenomenon if you haven’t been directly involved. It’s simply a lot of fun to see a meme grow, to be part of it and to help spread it. It’s an expression of the real time web’s (and the people’s) power. Just imagine how quick really important information could travel on the web if a stupid joke can.

It’s also obvious that Twitter is much faster than Facebook when it comes to viral distribution of information. One reason for that is definitely the more open environment at Twitter, even though Facebook is trying to compete with that. But that does not mean that Facebook does not have a purpose during the rise of an Internet meme. While Twitter is the core of the real time process, people afterwards go to Facebook to look for a group or page to join.

At least in the case of #blumenkübel, Twitter and Facebook didn’t compete but rather completed each other.

/Martin Weigert

Europe’s 50 most popular startups according to the blogosphere

Photo (CC): Eneko

In February, TechCrunch Europe published the latest version of its TechCrunch Europe Top 100 index, a list of most innovative and promising European/EMEA web and tech startups. The list which was compiled together with startup tracker YouNoodle Scores is based on a score for each startup which was created using a “sophisticated algorithm using information from thousands of online sources” such as traffic, mainstream media coverage, funding etc.

While waiting for an update of the list, we thought it would be cool to see how these companies rank considering their buzz in the blogosphere (similar to what we did with Twitter clients recently). By using data from our Twingly Blog Search, we measured the buzz these startups were able to create within the global blogosphere from May 1 to July 31. Here is the result with the rank of the TechCrunch Europe Top 100 in brackets – we only publish a top 50 list because the number of blog mentions of some of the other services was not significant enough to create a sound ranking.

01 Spotify (8)
02 Stardoll (5)
03 Dailymotion (2)
04 Tuenti (11)
05 SoundCloud (14)
06 TweetDeck (53)
07 Netvibes (17)
08 Twingly (75)
09 fring (26)
10 Shazam (28)
11 DailyBooth (54)
12 Tweetmeme (37)
13 eBuddy (10)
14 Nimbuzz (98)
15 Jimdo (84)
16 Miniclip (38)
17 Trigami (see here) (79)
18 Voddler (48)
19 Netlog (4)
20 Qype (27)
21 Layar (56)
22 Deezer (21)
23 sevenload (30)
24 ShoZu (57)
25 Trovit (67)
26 zanox (9)
27 Bambuser (51)
28 MyHeritage (19)
29 Vente-Privee (1)
30 FigLeaves (59)
31 Plastic Logic (16)
32 Skyscanner (41)
33 Zemanta (55)
34 eRepublik (45)
35 Swoopo (42)
36 brands4friends (77)
37 Wonga (52)
38 MobyPicture (58)
39 Zopa (40)
40 Doodle (62)
41 Rebtel (36)
42 Jolicloud (93)
43 Fon (29)
44 Modu (25)
45 Mendeley (61)
46 Twenga (47)
47 uberVU (66)
48 Markafoni (49)
49 amiando (88)
50 We7 (78)

Being able to make users blog about a web startup does not necessarily mean that its products or services are good. Furthermore, consumer oriented web tools and blog centric services usually get more coverage on blogs than business-to-business companies, which is why the list is dominated by these kind of apps. Having said this, publicity is a requirement for succeeding as a tech startup, so the startups in this list seem to be on track regarding user awareness!

In some cases the search results were interfered by Spam postings or articles mentioning the same word, meaning something else. We then had to remove a part of the findings, which led to a lower ranking. When you study the list keep in mind that this is not the one and only, definite ranking, but it for sure gives you some useful information about which services are being discussed the most in blogs all over the world.

We might start to publish this ranking regularly. If your Europe based startup is getting a lot of buzz and is missing in the ranking, or if you know a service that could be popular enough to appear on this list, please let us know in the comments, so that we can include it next time!

/Martin Weigert