Posts from April 2007

The Highline - NYC's Next Great Park


  High Line 
  Originally uploaded by bitpuddle.

The Gotham Gal and I have had the pleasure of working and living near some of NYC’s great parks – Washington Square, Union Square, Madison Square, and now The Hudson River Park. We’ve been involved in funding the renovation of both Madison Square Park and Washington Square Park.

Yesterday we got a preview of NYC’s next great park, The Highline. For those of you who don’t know what The Highline is, it’s the elevated rail line that was built in the 1930s, down the lower west side of Manhattan. Here’s a brief history of it. What’s left of it now runs from Gansevoort Street up to the Hudson Rail Yards between 30th and 34th Street on the far west side.

There’s a long story behind the fight to save The Highline from destruction (Giuliani’s administration) to turning The Highline into a park (Bloomberg’s administration) but it basically goes like this. Two guys, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, met at a community board meeting to discuss the demolition of The Highline in 1999 and decided to do something about it. They formed Friends Of The Highline and eight years later and close to $120mm in funding, their dream is becoming a reality.

But it’s going to take another $50mm in private donations to finish the job. That’s where we (and you) come in. We decided to get involved in this amazing project recently and the first step was getting a tour of The Highline. We did that yesterday and I took dozens of photos which I cannot share with you because I promised not to publish them as a condition of being allowed to take the tour.

But if you want to see The Highline, head over to Flickr. There’s even a Flickr Group called The Highline which has over 200 great images to see. I went through all of them this morning and tagged my favorites in delicious in case you’ve only got time for a few photos.

The renovation of The Highline has already begun and phase one is fully funded. Phase one is from Gansevoort to 19th/20th Street and 10th Avenue. Phase two construction is also underway but it is not fully funded. That’s from 19th/20th Street up to 30th Street at the south end of the Hudson Yards. Phase three would be the wrap around Hudson Yards, but it’s not even clear if that portion of The Highline will survive the drive to develop Hudson Yards. Here is a flash slide show of the design of The Highline. It’s pretty fantastic.

But as cool as the design of The Highline is, what is there already and has been preserved is the star of the show. It’s a 18 to 30 foot high walkway through the cityscape of the lower west side of manhattan. The view of the city that you get from that perspective is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. And I’ve lived in NYC for almost 25 years now.

If you want to help close the deal on this amazing project, join Friends Of The Highline. You can donate here, but if you want to get involved and do more you can volunteer and/or help raise the seriously large sum of money that’s needed to finish the job.

If you live on the lower west side of manhattan, you should really get involved in this. Between the Hudson RIver Park and The HIghline, this neighborhood is going to go from the most underparked neighborhood in manhattan to one of the most wonderfully parked neighborhoods in the world.

#NYC

The Banner Is Back

Early last year I spent a couple posts talking about search versus banner advertising and suggested that banner ads were going to come back strong after years of playing second fiddle to search/CPC. That was the thesis behind my badly executed Yahoo (YHOO) trade.

Yesterday’s announcement of Google’s (GOOG) $3.1bn acquisition of Doubleclick says to me that the banner is back, big time. And here’s why. There is infinite demand for search/CPC inventory at a price. Search/CPC is bought on a measured ROI basis. If you know what a click is worth to you, you’ll pay up the that price for as many as you can get. But beyond that, you can’t buy more.

Many marketers have reached the point that they can’t easily buy more search. It’s getting harder. Keyword markets are becoming efficient and supply and demand are coming into balance. Of course, that alone doesn’t mean that all the other money will move into banners. Banners also need to produce measured returns.

But, banners carry branding value that text ads don’t. The return on investment measure is not as cold and hard with banners. And the big branded advertisers that are leaving TV and print in search of better performance on the internet want to be able to brand with their ads. And they want to control where those ads are run. They’ll pay more for those two features.

So branding/banners may grow faster than search/CPC in the coming years, or at least grow as quickly.

And for Google, the law of large numbers is catching up to them. How do you grow a monster at monster growth rates? Get into the other big bucket of money on the web. And the best way to do that is the buy the infrastucture that serves up all these banners. Doubleclick. New York’s best known internet company.

The big winner here is Hellman and Friedman, the private equity firm that the guts and brains to buy Doubleclick for $1.1bn including (I think) $400mm of cash. They sold off the email business to my former portfolio company Epsilon Interactive for something like $100mm and owned the ad serving and related businesses for net $600mm. That’s a 5x in a couple years and a $2.5bn gain if my math is right. And maybe they used leverage as well. If so, it could have been much more. Well done!!

#stocks#VC & Technology

FeedBurner Rocks (continued)

Just the other day I suggested to the person managing a brand new blog that they convert their feed from headlines only to full posts. The blogger said, "then how do I track the number of views we get on our posts?"  Good question, simple answer. Run your feeds through FeedBurner. When you run your feeds through FeedBurner, you get stats on your feed audience that are as good and sometimes even better than you can get on your web audience.

But FeedBurner’s utility is not limited to small bloggers. Just today, FeedBurner announced that AOL has agreed to run hundreds of its feeds through FeedBurner. Here’s the post on the FeedBurner blog explaining the details of the relationship.

It doesn’t matter if you are a single blogger with ten subscribers to your feed or one of the biggest companies in the online world. When it comes to managing feeds, FeedBurner rocks.

#VC & Technology

My Tour Of IAC's New Headquarters

I had breakfast with a friend and afterwards we went over to his office in the new Frank Gehry designed IAC building and I got a tour. It’s the closest thing NYC has to Silicon Valley’s Googleplex, although the free food seems to be limited to a bagel bar on friday mornings (which looked great).

Here’s a clip I found on IAC’s very own Vimeo which shows the inside of the building. Nick Denton ran this video on Valleywag several week ago.

A look inside the new IAC Headquarters on Vimeo

#VC & Technology

Firefox Users Are Rich Young Men

Ok, now that I have your attention, let me point to a great first blog post on the brand new comScore blog, called comScore Voices.

Instead of the traditional "hello world" that most of us have done, Gian Fulgoni gets right to the matter at hand which is telling us about ourselves. comScore is the leading Internet measurement firm and I have been very fortunate to have been involved in the development of this company for the past eight years. comScore knows more about the people that use the Internet than any other company in the world and they are now going to start blogging some of the stuff they are learning. That’s a fantastic addition to the blog world.

In his first post, Gian reports some demographic data they’ve gleaned on Firefox and IE users. To nobody’s surprise Firefox skews male (55% of its users are male versus 50% of IE’s users). Firefox skews young (22% of Firefox users are younger than 22 versus 13% of IE users). And maybe most interesting, Firefox skews wealthy with about 50% of its users making more than $75k per year (39% of IE’s users make over $75k).

Ff_vs_ie_chart2_2

Check out the entire post for lots more charts and data.

comScore is one of the most misunderstood companies that I have ever been involved with and they’ve taken their share of swipes on the blogs in recent years. I have used this blog to come to their defense on numerous occasions, but now I don’t have to anymore. They can tell their side of the story themselves and I expect that they will become a lot less understood pretty quickly. I am looking forward to that.

#VC & Technology

Phillip Pearlman, Sam Zell, Valleywag, and me

Phillip Pearlman is a hedge fund manager, stock blogger, and psychologist who I read occasionally. I am not sure if I started reading his blog first or he started reading my blog first, but in any case Phil sent me an email yesterday pointing to some comments Sam Zell made recently in regards to newspapers and Google.

If all of the newspapers in America did not allow Google to steal their content, how profitable would Google be?

Phil suggested, and I agree, that Sam’s a savvy and tough businessman and might actually have the guts to take on Google. But Phil and I disagree on how that fight would likely end.

And I must point out that Google doesn’t "steal" the newspapers content, but more on that below.

Then I saw that Nick Denton was taking the defense of Sam Zell. Nick’s a smart guy so I read his post, In Defense of Sam Zell, a few times.

Here’s one paragraph from Nick’s piece.

What if a collection of newspaper groups got together, a little like
NBC and News Corporation have combined in video, and negotiated terms
with the more compliant internet companies such as Yahoo? Yahoo agrees
a larger revenue share for hosted newspaper articles; the print groups
block Google’s search engine in return. Unless Mountain View agrees to
the same terms. It’s not that preposterous once you think about it.

The video thing is completely different. In that case, YouTube is showing the entire video, not pointing to it on NBC’s website.

Maybe Nick’s talking about Google News. It’s a business he knows a fair bit about since its pretty similar to his previous company Moreover. But even Google News doesn’t showcase the entire news story. It’s a headline aggregator for the most part with a small two/three line blurb from the article.

But Google News is not Google. If you look inside of Google, there is only one and a half businesses that really matter. Search and ad networks. Search being the one that really matters. And ad networks is the one that matters more and more every day.

If Sam Zell blocked Google from crawling all the Tribune papers, I doubt Google would miss a beat. I would bet that less than a tenth of one percent of all searches and clicks on Google are related to Tribune newspaper content. If all the newspapers followed suit, I doubt Google would miss a beat. I would bet that less than one percent of all searches and clicks on Google are related to newspaper content.

Ad networks are a different story. Newspapers are probably a bit more important to Google in the ad network business. But most newspapers use Google to monetize their remnant inventory. If they had a better option for that inventory, they’d move in a nanosecond. But they don’t. Viacom has decided to go with Yahoo! for this business instead of Google. They will pay a price for that as Yahoo! will not monetize their remnant inventory as well as Google. Maybe over time Yahoo! will catch up, but in the short run, a move away from Google for remnant inventory costs you money. Maybe Sam Zell will lead the newspaper industry away from Google and into the hands of Yahoo!.

But even if he did, I think it won’t cost Google much. What Google realizes and Sam Zell might not is that the web is full of great content and less and less of it every day is coming from newspapers. And more and more of it is coming from people like Phillip Pearlman, Valleywag, and me.

#VC & Technology

Delicious Joins The MyWare Camp

Longtime readers of this blog know how much I love to spy on myself. I use last.fm to record all of my music listens and I showcase them on this blog. I use the attentiontrust firefox extension to record my clickstream and search history and I used to showcase them in the root widget. You can now follow my clickstream as a channel in the attentron software.

I don’t do this just to be an exhibitionist. I find great value in keeping track of my online activities and looking back at them to understand what I find most valuable and interesting. I don’t use the internet or any other medium in some regular rote way. I don’t use a feedreader, I follow links. I move back and forth from iTunes, to last.fm, to the hypemachine, to rhapsody when I listen to music. I read the Times in paper form some days, oneline other days, and not at all many days. I read techmeme, then valleywag, then techcrunch, then om malik, then nothing, then everything.

But over time a pattern emerges. I have certain favorite blogs (this one being my favorite and I am serious about that). I have certain favorite musicians which you can see on my left sidebar. That list is not something I made up. It’s calculated by last.fm based on my listening history. I have favorite websites.

And that’s where delicious comes in. Delicious rolled out a new feature with the release of its new firefox extension. If you select the delicious toolbar as one of your view options in firefox, you will then get the option to show recently bookmarked URLs or most visited URLs. I selected most visited. Delicious is now tracking your web visits, and showing you (and only you) the most used websites on your toolbar, there to be clicked on. Awesome, awesome, awesome!!

I found Joshua on IM yesterday afternoon and chatted with him a bit about this. I told him that within a week the “most visited” toolbar looked a lot like my firefox bookmarks toolbar. “nod” was the reply. Typically cryptic response.

Firefox bookmarks are a manual representation of the sites I find most valuable. These are the ones I’ve taken the time to bookmark and put onto my toolbar. And I have put 40 URLs into my firefox bookmarks toolbar. 17 of them are visible on the toolbar, the others are in the dropdown box. I manage those 17 actively in an attempt to keep the most valuable sites in one click territory.

My most visited list from delicious contains 13 URLs right now. 9 of them are also right above on the visible firefox bookmarks toolbar. I bet that within another week or two, they will be identical.

Then what? Do I move the ones on the delicious most visited list into the dropdown box so in my firefox toolbar I have the next most popular list?

It seems to me that delicious and firefox could take the next step and make these two lists work together in some way. Allow me to mix manual bookmarking and implicit bookmarking and display the combined results in some way that’s most useful to me.

Anyway, I think this is a big step in the right direction for delicious. I once asked Joshua why he didn’t allow voting in delicious. He said that tagging was voting. A tag was a yes and anything else was a no. Well they just added a second vote in delicious. A click is also a yes. And a lot of clicks to a given URL is a big yes.

And I am glad to see it.

#VC & Technology