Monthly Archives: November 2019
In this new, short video on Hero Academy Hanapin’s Senior Account Manager, John Williams, breaks down the setup and options in Google reporting, things you need to keep in mind, and how you can design your reports.
Read more at PPCHero.com
Cloud Foundry, the open-source platform-as-a-service that, with the help of lots of commercial backers, is currently in use by the majority of Fortune 500 companies, launched well before containers, and especially the Kubernetes orchestrator, were a thing. Instead, the project built its own container service, but the rise of Kubernetes obviously created a lot of interest in using it for managing Cloud Foundry’s container implementation. To do so, the organization launched Project Eirini last year; today, it’s officially launching version 1.0, which means it’s ready for production usage.
Eirini/Kubernetes doesn’t replace the old architecture. Instead, for the foreseeable future, they will operate side-by-side, with the operators deciding on which one to use.
The team working on this project shipped a first technical preview earlier this year and a number of commercial vendors, too, started to build their own commercial products around it and shipped it as a beta product.
“It’s one of the things where I think Cloud Foundry sometimes comes at things from a different angle,” IBM’s Julz Friedman told me. “Because it’s not about having a piece of technology that other people can build on in order to build a platform. We’re shipping the end thing that people use. So 1.0 for us — we have to have a thing that ticks all those boxes.”
He also noted that Diego, Cloud Foundry’s existing container management system, had been battle-tested over the years and had always been designed to be scalable to run massive multi-tenant clusters.
“If you look at people doing similar things with Kubernetes at the moment,” said Friedman, “they tend to run lots of Kubernetes clusters to scale to that kind of level. And Kubernetes, although it’s going to get there, right now, there are challenges around multi-tenancy, and super big multi-tenant scale”
But even without being able to get to this massive scale, Friedman argues that you can already get a lot of value even out of a small Kubernetes cluster. Most companies don’t need to run enormous clusters, after all, and they still get the value of Cloud Foundry with the power of Kubernetes underneath it (all without having to write YAML files for their applications).
As Cloud Foundry CTO Chip Childers also noted, once the transition to Eirini gets to the point where the Cloud Foundry community can start applying less effort to its old container engine, those resources can go back to fulfilling the project’s overall mission, which is about providing the best possible developer experience for enterprise developers.
“We’re in this phase in the industry where Kubernetes is the new infrastructure and [Cloud Foundry] has a very battle-tested developer experience around it,” said Childers. “But there’s also really interesting ideas that are out there that are coming from our community, so one of the things that I’ve suggested to the community writ large is, let’s use this time as an opportunity to not just evolve what we have, but also make sure that we’re paying attention to new workflows, new models, and figure out what’s going to provide benefit to that enterprise developer that we’re so focused on — and bring those types of capabilities in.”
Those new capabilities may be around technologies like functions and serverless, for example, though Friedman at least is more focused on Eirini 1.1 for the time being, which will include closing the gaps with what’s currently available in Cloud Foundry’s old scheduler, like Docker image support and support for the Cloud Foundry v3 API.
More than 12,000 attendees gathered this week in San Diego to discuss all things containers, Kubernetes and cloud-native at KubeCon.
Kubernetes, the container orchestration tool, turned five this year, and the technology appears to be reaching a maturity phase where it accelerates beyond early adopters to reach a more mainstream group of larger business users.
That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of work to be done, or that most enterprise companies have completely bought in, but it’s clearly reached a point where containerization is on the table. If you think about it, the whole cloud-native ethos makes sense for the current state of computing and how large companies tend to operate.
If this week’s conference showed us anything, it’s an acknowledgment that it’s a multi-cloud, hybrid world. That means most companies are working with multiple public cloud vendors, while managing a hybrid environment that includes those vendors — as well as existing legacy tools that are probably still on-premises — and they want a single way to manage all of this.
The promise of Kubernetes and cloud-native technologies, in general, is that it gives these companies a way to thread this particular needle, or at least that’s the theory.
Kubernetes to the rescue
If you were to look at the Kubernetes hype cycle, we are probably right about at the peak where many think Kubernetes can solve every computing problem they might have. That’s probably asking too much, but cloud-native approaches have a lot of promise.
Craig McLuckie, VP of R&D for cloud-native apps at VMware, was one of the original developers of Kubernetes at Google in 2014. VMware thought enough of the importance of cloud-native technologies that it bought his former company, Heptio, for $ 550 million last year.
As we head into this phase of pushing Kubernetes and related tech into larger companies, McLuckie acknowledges it creates a set of new challenges. “We are at this crossing the chasm moment where you look at the way the world is — and you look at the opportunity of what the world might become — and a big part of what motivated me to join VMware is that it’s successfully proven its ability to help enterprise organizations navigate their way through these disruptive changes,” McLuckie told TechCrunch.
He says that Kubernetes does actually solve this fundamental management problem companies face in this multi-cloud, hybrid world. “At the end of the day, Kubernetes is an abstraction. It’s just a way of organizing your infrastructure and making it accessible to the people that need to consume it.
“And I think it’s a fundamentally better abstraction than we have access to today. It has some very nice properties. It is pretty consistent in every environment that you might want to operate, so it really makes your on-prem software feel like it’s operating in the public cloud,” he explained.
Simplifying a complex world
One of the reasons Kubernetes and cloud-native technologies are gaining in popularity is because the technology allows companies to think about hardware differently. There is a big difference between virtual machines and containers, says Joe Fernandes, VP of product for Red Hat cloud platform.
“Sometimes people conflate containers as another form of virtualization, but with virtualization, you’re virtualizing hardware, and the virtual machines that you’re creating are like an actual machine with its own operating system. With containers, you’re virtualizing the process,” he said.
He said that this means it’s not coupled with the hardware. The only thing it needs to worry about is making sure it can run Linux, and Linux runs everywhere, which explains how containers make it easier to manage across different types of infrastructure. “It’s more efficient, more affordable, and ultimately, cloud-native allows folks to drive more automation,” he said.
Bringing it into the enterprise
It’s one thing to convince early adopters to change the way they work, but as this technology enters the mainstream. Gabe Monroy, partner program manager at Microsoft says to carry this technology to the next level, we have to change the way we talk about it.
Netgear has released the first updated Canvas digital art from from Meural since acquiring the company last September, and the next-generation connected frame comes with some decent quality-of-life improvements as well as a new, additional size. It’s not a dramatic change from the original Meural Canvas, but it means that a product that was already great is now even better.
The Meural Canvas II from Netgear comes in two sizes, including a smaller 16×24-inch frame that provides a 21.5-inch diagonal picture (starting at $ 399.95), and a 19×29-inch frame with a 27-inch diagonal display (starting at $ 599.95). Both screens are 1080P full HD resolution, and both feature ambient light sensors (which are relocated to a better location under the mat that surrounds the screen for improved light detection) that will automatically adjust the brightness of your image to make it appear more natural and less like a screen.
The Canvas II features built-in Wi-Fi, which is also upgraded with this generation (Netgear, which makes routers and other Wi-Fi products, seems to have brought its expertise to bear here) and they offer new Ethernet connectivity, as well as full-size SD ports. They also can hang either vertically or horizontally, and a new accessory mount for this generation (sold separately) allows for even easier switching between the two orientations via simple rotation.
For the virtual art collector
Meural is controlled primarily from the Meural companion app, though you can also access a web interface to accomplish much of the same thing from a desktop browser. The app features curated collections of artwork, which is available both via a paid monthly subscription and via direct, one-time purchases. One of the changes that the Meural service has undergone is that the subscription membership now gets you some, but not all, of the art available — some premium content is still an additional charge. It’s definitely not as good from the user’s perspective as when everything was free once you’d paid the subscription fee, but paying monthly still nets you 20GB of cloud storage for uploading your own art, discounts on the stuff that is available for purchase and access to a much larger library than you get without any membership.
Subscriptions go for either $ 8.95 per month, or $ 69.95 per year, and they’re probably plenty to satisfy most casual art lovers who just want some recognizable or interesting works to adorn their walls, and want to be able to change that on a fairly regular basis. And when you use the art provided through Meural’s various collections, you can take a look at credits and descriptions right on the display — available quickly via a motion control swipe up gesture made possibly by the sensors built into the frame.
A note on those motion controls — they allow you to navigate between artwork, and even change playlists and access a menu of other options related to the frame. Basically, you wave your hand near the bottom of the Meural to make this work, and it’s great when it does work, but it definitely takes some learning to figure out how and where to swipe to make it reliably respond. It’s convenient that it’s an option, but controlling the display with the iOS or Android app is a lot more pleasant, generally speaking.
The built-in library that Meural provides is definitely a selling point, and Meural is regularly adding new art collections, both for paid purchases and to build out the library of those works available included in the subscription. It just added a bunch through a new partnership with Marvel, in fact, including movie posters from a long list of their cinematic universe releases.
For the amateur/enthusiast/pro photographer
The primary reason I think the Meural Canvas II is a fantastic product has very little to do with its subscription-based art collection, however. Instead, it’s all about the flexibility and convenience that the Canvas provides when it comes to displaying your own photos. It’s incredibly easy to upload your photos from your mobile device or your desktop, and you can organize them in playlists, add descriptions and titles, and crop them manually or have the frame crop them automatically to display in its 16×9 aspect ratio.
As a display for your own photos, the Meural Canvas II is hard to beat: It’s a lot more flexible and cost effective than getting high-quality prints made, as you can rotate them out as often as you feel like, and the display’s color rendering and matte finish, while obviously not as good as a professional photo print, is nonetheless very pleasing to the eye. When you take as many photos as we collectively do now, but seldom have anywhere to show them off, the Canvas provides the perfect opportunity to ensure they have a great place to shine at home.
The included SD card reader means it’s easy to load up images and put them on the Canvas locally, but I also found that uploading from whatever Wi-Fi-connected device I had access to around the house was easy and fast (again, seems like Netgear’s core expertise came into play here). The ability to quickly change the orientation, which is fast and simple even without the rotation mount accessory, is another big plus for your own photos, as it means you can show off both portraits and landscapes.
Oh, and the ability to load your own artwork isn’t limited to just your photography, of course — any image in a standard format, including animated GIFs, can work on the Meural, which means it’s really only limited by the scope of what’s available on the internet.
Between the frame options, which you can swap out for different color options eventually when they’re sold separately, and the ability to upload your own content to the Canvas, it’s easily the most customizable piece of home decor you can find right now. For some, opting to move up to something like Samsung’s The Frame TV might be a better option, but that’s much larger, much more expensive, much heavier for mounting and not as flexible when it comes to playlists and your own curation of art to display.
The Meural Canvas II provides largely the same visual experience as the generation it replaces, but the other improvements make this a much better product overall, with faster, more reliable Wi-Fi connectivity, improved motion controls, more flexible on-device storage and new mounting options. If you like some variety in your wall art, or you’ve just been trying to figure out how to do something interesting with all those pictures you take, the Meural Canvas II is a great option.
If you work in digital marketing, you’ve probably heard the phrase “longtail keyword”. You might also know there’s some debate around what it actually means.
Many believe keywords that are longtail mean they have a lot of words in them. It’s the difference between “swimming pools” and “swimming pool installation in Boca Raton, FL”, the latter being considered the longtail.
However, the length of the keyword isn’t necessarily what we’re referring to when we say “longtail”. In reality, long tail keywords just have to be extremely specific – it just so happens that longer keywords tend to also be more specific (hence the confusion around the definition).
But why do we care?
Because longtail keywords are so specific, fewer people tend to search for those particular keywords, which might deter some people from trying to rank for them, because they consider it a waste of time.
But, this is where the opportunity lies. Longtail keywords tend to not be as competitive because of their low volume, so if you’re able to create content that ranks for a variety of longtail keywords relevant to your business, the traffic you do get is much more qualified.
Take the pool example that was shared above. If someone is searching for “swimming pools”, we have no idea what it is they’re looking for. It’s so top-level that they could be looking for anything – The number of swimming pools in America? Nearby swimming pools? The cost of above-ground swimming pools? Who knows. What we do know is that they’re still in a very information-based part of their searching journey.
Now, if someone is searching, “swimming pool installation in Boca Raton, FL,” it certainly sounds like they’re looking for help installing a swimming pool. And if that’s a service you offer and you’re ranking for that keyword, chances are the searcher is going to see your website.
So, longtail keywords might not be searched often, but they’re also not as competitive to rank for, and people searching for those terms are usually much further down the funnel and more likely to convert.
Finding long tail keywords to rank for
Now that we know what longtail is it seems easy enough, but how do we find these terms? There’s not enough search volume to appear in the majority of keyword tools. And, if you’re working for a client you might not know all the ins and outs of the industry they’re in.
This is where content creation becomes a mixture of art and science.
Look at places where your target audience spends time in order to research what they care about and how that matches your brand. I also recommend you explore the following for inspiration on what topics to cover:
- Forums (like Reddit, Quora, and Yahoo Answers)
- Comments on related news articles
- Online courses (here’s a guide)
- Google Autocomplete and related searches
No matter where you look, as yourself: What questions are my audience asking, and how can I answer them?
Implementing a long tail content strategy
You may want to target each longtail keyword with a unique page, but that probably isn’t the best way to go.
You could end up creating many thin articles targeting hyper-specific terms, which makes for a sprawling and ineffective content strategy.
Fortunately, a single page can rank for several terms. Mapping out various H2s and FAQs on the page is going to be all that you need to do to get a couple of similar topical terms on one page.
So, take a look at all of the longtail keyword ideas you came up with, and see which ones are similar enough to be nested under a slightly broader post.
Getting long tail strategy buy-in from your organization
Admittedly, it’s not as “sexy” to rank for something like “swimming pool installation in Boca Raton, FL” than it is to rank for the general and very common term “swimming pools.”
Sometimes management or clients get fixated on ranking for those top-level terms because it feels like a win, but remind them about this stat from Ahrefs – 60.67% of all “search demand” is created by 0.16% of the most popular keywords.
So, nearly 40% of that search demand is generated by the other 99%+ longtail queries.
Ranking for longtail keywords means you’re reaching your target audience when they’re nearly ready to buy, and if you can illustrate that, suddenly it becomes a proposal that’s difficult to halt.
The post Long tail keywords: Why they matter so much in content strategy appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
Facebook is building its own version of Instagram Close Friends, the company confirms to TechCrunch. There are a lot people that don’t share on Facebook because it can feel risky or awkward as its definition of “friends” has swelled to include family, work colleagues and distant acquaintances. No one wants their boss or grandma seeing their weekend partying or edgy memes. There are whole types of sharing, like Snapchat’s Snap Map-style live location tracking, that feel creepy to expose to such a wide audience.
The social network needs to get a handle on microsharing. Yet Facebook has tried and failed over the years to get people to build Friend Lists for posting to different subsets of their network.
Back in 2011, Facebook said that 95% of users hadn’t made a single list. So it tried auto-grouping people into Smart Lists like High School Friends and Co-Workers, and offered manual always-see-in-feed Close Friends and only-see-important-updates Acquaintances lists. But they too saw little traction and few product updates in the past eight years. Facebook ended up shutting down Friend Lists Feeds last year for viewing what certain sets of friends shared.
Then a year ago, Instagram made a breakthrough. Instead of making a complicated array of Friend Lists you could never remember who was on, it made a single Close Friends list with a dedicated button for sharing to them from Stories. Instagram’s research found 85% of a user’s Direct messages go to the same three people, so why not make that easier for Stories without pulling everyone into a group thread? Last month I wrote that “I’m surprised Facebook doesn’t already have its own Close Friends feature, and it’d be smart to build one.”
How Facebook Favorites works
Now Facebook is in fact prototyping its a feature similar to Instagram Close Friends called Favorites. It lets users designate certain friends as Favorites, and then instantly send them their Facebook Story or a camera-based post from Messenger to just those people, each in their own message thread.
The feature was first spotted inside Messenger by reverse engineering master and frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong. Buried in the Android app is the code that let Wong generate the screenshots (above) of this unreleased feature. They show how when users go to share a Story or camera post from Messenger, they can instantly send it over chat to everyone on in their Favorites, and edit who’s on that list by adding up to 10 people manually or from algorithmic suggestions. For now Favorites isn’t an audience for sharing Stories like Instagram Close Friends is, but you could imagine Facebook expanding Favorites to have that functionality down the line.
[Update: Facebook had originally confirmed Favorites was for sharing via Stories, but later corrected itself saying posts are sent to Favorites via Messenger.]
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to me that this feature is a prototype that the Messenger team created. It’s an early exploration of the microsharing opportunity, and the feature isn’t officially testing internally with employees or publicly in the wild. The spokesperson describes the Favorites feature as a type of shortcut for sharing to a specific set of people. They tell me that Facebook is always exploring new ways to share, and as discussed at its F8 conference this year, Facebook is focused on improving the experience of sharing with and staying more connected to your closest friends.
Unlocking creepier sharing
There are a ton of benefits Facebook could get from a Favorites feature if it ever launches. First, users might share more often if they can make content visible to just their best pals, as those people wouldn’t get annoyed by over-posting. Second, Facebook could get new, more intimate types of content shared, from the heartfelt and vulnerable to the silly and spontaneous to the racy and shocking — stuff people don’t want every single person they’ve ever accepted a friend request from to see. Favorites could reduce self-censorship.
“No one has ever mastered a close friends graph and made it easy for people to understand . . . People get friend requests and they feel pressure to accept,” Instagram director of product Robby Stein told me when it launched Close Friends last year. “The curve is actually that your sharing goes up and as you add more people initially, as more people can respond to you. But then there’s a point where it reduces sharing over time.” Google+, Path and other apps have died chasing this purposefully selective microsharing behavior.
Facebook Favorites could stimulate lots of sharing of content unique to its network, thereby driving usage. After all, Facebook said in April that it had 500 million daily Stories users across Facebook and Messenger posting from the camera, and the same number as Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status.
Before Instagram launched Close Friends, it actually tested the feature under the name Favorites and allowed you to share feed posts as well as Stories to just that subset of people. And last month Instagram launched the Close Friends-only messaging app Threads that lets you share your Auto-Status about where or what you’re up to.
Facebook Favorites could similarly unlock whole new ways to connect. Facebook can’t follow some apps like Snapchat down more privacy-centric product paths because it knows users are already uneasy about it after 15 years of privacy scandals. Apps built for sharing to different graphs than Facebook have been some of the few social products that have succeeded outside its empire, from Twitter’s interest graph, to TikTok’s fandoms of public entertainment, to Snapchat’s messaging threads with besties.
A competent and popular Facebook Favorites could let it try products in location, memes, performances, Q&A, messaging, live streaming and more. It could build its own take on Instagram Threads, let people share exact location just with Favorites instead of just what neighborhood they’re in with Nearby Friends or create a dedicated meme resharing hub like the LOL experiment for teens it shut down. At the very least, it could integrate with Instagram Close Friends so you could syndicate posts from Instagram to your Facebook Favorites.
The whole concept of Favorites aligns with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s privacy-focused vision for social networking. “Many people prefer the intimacy of communicating one-on-one or with just a few friends,” he writes. Facebook can’t just be the general purpose catch-all social network we occasionally check for acquaintances’ broadcasted life updates. To survive another 15 years, it must be where people come back each day to get real with their dearest friends. Less can be more.
Software will eat the world, as the saying goes, but in doing so, some developers are likely to get a little indigestion. That is to say, building products requires working with disparate and distributed teams, and while developers may have an ever-growing array of algorithms, APIs and technology at their disposal to do this, ironically the platforms to track it all haven’t evolved with the times. Now three developers have taken their own experience of that disconnect to create a new kind of platform, Linear, which they believe addresses the needs of software developers better by being faster and more intuitive. It’s bug tracking you actually want to use.
Today, Linear is announcing a seed round of $ 4.2 million led by Sequoia, with participation also from Index Ventures and a number of investors, startup founders and others that will also advise Linear as it grows. They include Dylan Field (Founder and CEO, Figma), Emily Choi (COO, Coinbase), Charlie Cheever (Co-Founder of Expo & Quora), Gustaf Alströmer (Partner, Y Combinator), Tikhon Berstram (Co-Founder, Parse), Larry Gadea (CEO, Envoy), Jude Gomila (CEO, Golden), James Smith (CEO, Bugsnag), Fred Stevens-Smith (CEO, Rainforest), Bobby Goodlatte, Marc McGabe, Julia DeWahl and others.
Cofounders Karri Saarinen, Tuomas Artman, and Jori Lallo — all Finnish but now based in the Bay Area — know something first-hand about software development and the trials and tribulations of working with disparate and distributed teams. Saarinen was previously the principal designer of Airbnb, as well as the first designer of Coinbase; Artman had been staff engineer and architect at Uber; and Lallo also had been at Coinbase as a senior engineer building its API and front end.
“When we worked at many startups and growth companies we felt that the tools weren’t matching the way we’re thinking or operating,” Saarinen said in an email interview. “It also seemed that no-one had took a fresh look at this as a design problem. We believe there is a much better, modern workflow waiting to be discovered. We believe creators should focus on the work they create, not tracking or reporting what they are doing. Managers should spend their time prioritizing and giving direction, not bugging their teams for updates. Running the process shouldn’t sap your team’s energy and come in the way of creating.”
All of that translates to, first and foremost, speed and a platform whose main purpose is to help you work faster. “While some say speed is not really a feature, we believe it’s the core foundation for tools you use daily,” Saarinen noted.
A ⌘K command calls up a menu of shortcuts to edit an issue’s status, assign a task, and more so that everything can be handled with keyboard shortcuts. Pages load quickly and synchronise in real time (and search updates alongside that). Users can work offline if they need to. And of course there is also a dark mode for night owls.
The platform is still very much in its early stages. It currently has three integrations based on some of the most common tools used by developers — GitHub (where you can link Pull Requests and close Linear issues on merge), Figma designs (where you can get image previews and embeds of Figma designs), and Slack (you can create issues from Slack and then get notifications on updates). There are plans to add more over time.
“We started solving the problem from the end-user perspective, the contributor, like an engineer or a designer and starting to address things that are important for them, can help them and their teams,” Saarinen said. “We aim to also bring clarity for the teams by making the concepts simple, clear but powerful. For example, instead of talking about epics, we have Projects that help track larger feature work or tracks of work.”
Indeed, speed is not the only aim with Linear. Saarinen also said another area they hope to address is general work practices, with a take that seems to echo a turn away from time spent on manual management and more focus on automating that process.
“Right now at many companies you have to manually move things around, schedule sprints, and all kinds of other minor things,” he said. “We think that next generation tools should have built in automated workflows that help teams and companies operate much more effectively. Teams shouldn’t spend a third or more of their time a week just for running the process.”
The last objective Linear is hoping to tackle is one that we’re often sorely lacking in the wider world, too: context.
“Companies are setting their high-level goals, roadmaps and teams work on projects,” he said. “Often leadership doesn’t have good visibility into what is actually happening and how projects are tracking. Teams and contributors don’t always have the context or understanding of why they are working on the things, since you cannot follow the chain from your task to the company goal. We think that there are ways to build Linear to be a real-time picture of what is happening in the company when it comes to building products, and give the necessary context to everyone.”
Linear is a late entrant in a world filled with collaboration apps, and specifically workflow and collaboration apps targeting the developer community. These include not just Slack and GitHub, but Atlassian’s Trello and Jira, as well as Asana, Basecamp and many more.
Saarinen would not be drawn out on which of these (or others) that it sees as direct competition, noting that none are addressing developer issues of speed, ease of use and context as well as Linear is.
“There are many tools in the market and many companies are talking about making ‘work better,’” he said. “And while there are many issue tracking and project management tools, they are not supporting the workflow of the individual and team. A lot of the value these tools sell is around tracking work that happens, not actually helping people to be more effective. Since our focus is on the individual contributor and intelligent integration with their workflow, we can support them better and as a side effect makes the information in the system more up to date.”
Stephanie Zhan, the partner at Sequoia whose speciality is seed and Series A investments and who has led this round, said that Linear first came on her radar when it first launched its private beta (it’s still in private beta and has been running a waitlist to bring on new users. In that time it’s picked up hundreds of companies, including Pitch, Render, Albert, Curology, Spoke, Compound and YC startups including Middesk, Catch and Visly). The company had also been flagged by one of Sequoia’s Scouts, who invested earlier this year
Although Linear is based out of San Francisco, it’s interesting that the three founders’ roots are in Finland (with Saarinen in Helsinki this week to speak at the Slush event), and brings up an emerging trend of Silicon Valley VCs looking at founders from further afield than just their own back yard.
“The interesting thing about Linear is that as they’re building a software company around the future of work, they’re also building a remote and distributed team themselves,” Zahn said. The company currently has only four employees.
In that vein, we (and others, it seems) had heard that Sequoia — which today invests in several Europe-based startups, including Tessian, Graphcore, Klarna, Tourlane, Evervault and CEGX — has been considering establishing a more permanent presence in this part of the world, specifically in London.
Sources familiar with the firm, however, tell us that while it has been sounding out VCs at other firms, saying a London office is on the horizon might be premature, as there are as yet no plans to set up shop here. However, with more companies and European founders entering its portfolio, and as more conversations with VCs turn into decisions to make the leap to help Sequoia source more startups, we could see this strategy turning around quickly.
Summer camp for adults and beloved tech-free weekend getaway Camp Grounded ground to a halt in 2017. Its big-hearted founder Levi Felix who’d espoused the joys of trading screens for nature walks was tragically killed by brain cancer at just age 32. Left in his wake was mourning community who’d lost their digital detox rally just as everyone was realizing the importance of looking up from their phones.
As an attendee, I’d been impressed by how the founder (known as Professor Fidget Wigglesworth at camp) used playfulness and presence to transport us back to childhood, before we got hooked on the Internet. But he also broke people’s addiction to shame, mandating that anyone who screwed up in a sports game or talent show announce “I’m awesome”, and be met with a cheer from the crowd, “your awesome!”
Luckily, one of Felix’s elementary school friends Forest Bronzan wants to write a happier ending to this story. Almost three years after it went into hibernation follow its creator’s death, Bronzan has acquired Camp Grounded and its parent company Digital Detox .
Camp Grounded will relaunch in May 2020 as two back-to-back weekend retreats at Northern California’s gorgeous Camp Mendocino. Attendees will again leave their devices in Tech Check lockers run by hazmat-suit wearing staffers, assume nicknames, and stop the work talk. They’ll get to play in the woods like technology never existed, indulging in Camp Grounded favorites from archery to arts & crafts to bonfire singalongs about enthusiastic consent. However, to simplify logistics, Camp Grounded won’t hold sessions in New York, North Carolina, or Texas any more.
The company will also organize more four-hour Unplugged Nights in cities around the country where partiers can switch off their phones and make new friends. The idea is to give a broader range of people a taste of the Grounded lifestyle in smaller doses. Those interested in early access to tickets for all of Digital Detox’s events can sign up here.
Meanwhile, Digital Detox will start a new business of education and certifications for K-12 schools, coaching teachers and parents on how to gently reduce students’ screentime. Schools will pay per student like a Software-As-A-Service model. Through research by a few PhDs, the company will recommend proper rules for using tech in and out of the classroom to minimize distraction, and empathetic penalties for violations.
The obvious question to ask, though, is if Bronzan is just some business guy coming to coin off the anti-tech trend and Felix’s legacy. “I’m not Apple coming in and buying the company. This isn’t a tech acquisition” Bronzan insists at a coffee shop in San Francisco. “I knew Levi before anyone else knew Levi. We went trick-or-treating and played in school band together. I want to the first Digital Detox summit, and brought my company year after year. I’ve been involved from the begginning, seeing Levi’s passion and inspiration.”
Fidget had an innately soothing camp counselor vibe to him that Bronzan doesn’t quite capture. He’d previously built and sold Email Aptitude, a CRM and email agency, not an event or education business. But he truly seems to mean well, and he’s earned the support of Digital Detox’s team.
“My mission was to find someone that was as excited and ferocious as Levi and I were when we started Digital Detox to further it as a movement” says Brooke Dean, Felix’s wife and co-founder. “It was imperative that the person running DD and CG had actually experienced the magic. This person had to be more than a lover of camp and nature, they also needed the hard skills and successful track record of running a company. Forest is stable, business-minded and also finds value in that very unique magic.”
Bronzan tells me the acquisition includes a cash component (“We’re not talking eight figures”) and a capital investment in the business, both funded by his email company’s exit. Two other individuals and one company had also expressed interest. Dean and Felix’s brother Zev will retain equity in the company, and she’ll stay on the board of directors. The trio are launching the Levi Felix Foundation that will donate money to brain cancer research.
While moving into education might seem like a left turn for Digital Detox after throwing events since 2012, Dean says “Levi was planning on going back to school and was deeply interested in being an academic in this field. We always believed that there needed to be evidence in order to convince the masses that being outside and connecting with other human beings ‘IRL’ is critical to our health and longevity.”
Some alarming stats the organization has already uncovered include:
- 77% of people check or pretend to check their phone to avoid talking to others
- 38% feel less connected to their partner or close friend due to cell phone use
- Nearly 20% check their phone while having sex
“We want to eventually be the central source of tools on how tech is affecting lives and relationships at all age levels” Bronzan tells me. It’s zeroing in on how compulsive behaviors like endless scrolling increase anxiety and depression, and how parents glued to their devices train children to not be present. The father of two kids under age five, Bronzan knows a weekend at camp in your 20s or 30s is too little too late to seriously address the crisis of fractured attention.
Digital Detox’s new CEO says he’s heartened by the progression of some of Felix’s ideals, as with the Time Well Spent movement. The screentime dashboards launched by tech companies don’t do enough to actually change people’s actions, he says, though “They’re at least making some effort.” Digital Detox plans to launch a comprehensive quiz to determine how addicted you are to your phone, and Bronzan says he’d happily work with tech giants to integrate his company’s research.
On the camp for adults front, we’ve seen Burning Man go mainstream but lose some of what made it special including a lack of cell phone reception. It’s now common to see people on the playa staring at their phones, talking about work, and stressed about the clock — all of which are prohibited at Camp Grounded. Festivals like Coachella seem to get more corporate and less mindful each year. That leaves plenty of open space for Digital Detox to fill with purposeful breaks from the default world.
Bronzan also wants to introduce more surprise and serendipity to the event calendar. Camp Grounded will experiment with a “Mystery Trip” where eight to ten people sign up to be whisked away, only receiving a confidential briefing package the day before they show up. The point is to extract people from their routines where unhealthy habits manifest. Without connectivity, Camp Grounded hopes people will forge new connections in their minds, and with each other.
It’s still early days in the world of voice search, and yet already this new type of device and search engine use is – according to comScore – expected to account for up to 50 percent of the global search market next year. That’s a major shift in consumer behavior in only a few short years.
Digital assistants are becoming increasingly prominent in our homes and on mobile devices, and their ubiquity will only increase.
But where exactly is the brand play in voice search? How developed is the opportunity, and what specific strategies do brands need to apply to benefit from this trend? Let’s take a look at the current state of affairs and, more importantly, where things will go in the next few years.
The current focus on position zero
When you hear marketers talk about voice search today, you probably hear a lot of talk about Position Zero, also known as the featured snippet. This is the content that Google offers in the top search results position in hopes of directly answering a search query. In the desktop and mobile screen worlds, the top content is followed by a host of other search results. In the world of voice search, position zero is everything – the only information that will be relayed to the user. As such, especially for businesses, getting to position zero has become the new imperative. Exactly how to do that, however, is still an open question.
As with all things in the search space, best practices for optimizing for position zero are going to evolve over time. But businesses looking to be a step ahead when screenless search becomes the new norm are focusing on a few key areas:
- Relevance through data: Being the most relevant for a given voice search is all about giving the search engine what it needs to tailor response for the user – a user whom the voice assistant knows intimately. The more context offered, the higher the likelihood that a digital assistant will pair your business with a potential customer. For example, if you’re a restaurant, this means ensuring the engine can find accurate information on digital profiles regarding not just location and hours, but also customer ratings and reviews as well as details like whether you’re pet-friendly, offer patio dining, feature gluten-free options, and more.
- Feed the featured snippet: If you want to be the featured snippet to a given query, make sure your website and profiles provide complete, succinct answers to the questions most likely to lead people to your business. This could be within the first paragraph of a blog post, in an FAQ on your site, or in various other areas of content.
- Prioritize schema: This is SEO 101, but it’s even more important for voice search. Make sure your site is following an agreed-upon structure for how search engines read content, as organized via Schema.org.
While these basics can help businesses increase their relevance for voice search today, we’ve only seen the beginning of what voice search will mean for digital marketing efforts in the future. How will this transformative shift play out over the next few years?
The beginning of the curve
Despite the rise in voice search behavior, the business models that will evolve around this opportunity are still emerging. Right now, the biggest tech players in the world – Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook—are investing deeply in voice search for three reasons:
- Voice search represents a core technology that can extend across business lines.
- It represents a transformative user experience that reduces friction and moves people away from screens.
- Voice search represents a major new way of tapping into emerging markets like India and Southeast Asia, where mobile devices and behaviors are overwhelmingly dominant.
Big tech is investing in voice search for the above reasons, but they’re not really monetizing it yet. That’s going to change in the next couple of years, and when it does, an industry and vendor community will spring up around their monetization models quickly, just as we saw with SEO and SEM in the past.
When the realm of voice search and voice advertising takes shape, it will be the brands that are experimenting now that are poised to win. Now is the time to test and learn, regardless of whether businesses are able to reliably demonstrate the ROI of their efforts today. Every minute invested in better understanding emerging voice search behaviors and opportunities, particularly as it relates to how a brand’s target audience is using voice search, will pay dividends in the voice-dominated future.
There’s no question that voice will rule the future of device interactions. The only question is whether your business will emerge as an early leader in this space in the coming 24 months – or whether you will be forever playing catch up.
Ashwin Ramesh is the founder and CEO of Synup, the NYC-based Intent Marketing Cloud that helps consumers find the right information about them on the web, mobile, and voice search.
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