I wrote a piece over at Forbes.com about some stuff I’ve been thinking about lately, specifically how to start to understand the shifts we’re seeing in social. Here’s the opening two paragraphs:
A few months ago I was asked to put together a presentation about the future of social. As would be expected, I was pretty overwhelmed with the topic and turned it over and over in my head trying to figure out the best way to approach the question. Whenever I find myself in a situation like this I turn to my personal intellectual hero and the person I believe to be the greatest media thinker of the 20th Century, Marshall McLuhan. While he wrote long before the web existed, his theories around how media evolves and interacts with culture are more relevant than they’ve ever been.
At the heart of McLuhan’s theories is his most famous saying: “The medium is the message.” Though like most things McLuhan it requires a fair amount of unpacking, at its core is the idea that we’re affected more by our interactions with the medium itself than we are with the content we experience on it. “The ‘message’ of any medium or technology,” McLuhan explained, “is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.” In his book “Understanding Media” he goes on to give an example: “The railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure.” In other words, it realigned personal expectations and culture and expanded the definition of local.
Four years ago (wow, that’s insane), I launched Brand Tags with a short little blog post on this site. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
In lieu of actually writing something interesting (which I haven’t done in a while), I’ve decided to release a 70% done project. It’s called Brand Tags and the idea is simple: You tag brands with the first thing that comes to mind. The idea came to me as I was working on my Brand vs. Utility presentation a few months ago. The thinking went something like this: If brands exist as the sum of all thoughts in someone’s head, then if you ask a bunch of people what a brand is and make a tag cloud, you should have a pretty accurate look at what the brand represents.
What happened after was all a bit of a whirlwind. There are about 30 comments on that post and the experiment ended up getting a lot of press (including an NPR interview, which is still the coolest media moment I’ve ever had). It was exciting and amazing and taught me lots about building a product and how people think about brands.
Two years later things had died down pretty significantly, partly out of my own interest waning and partly out of my inability to keep the scale of responses high without a steady supply of press. At that time I was approached by Ari Jacoby, who was working on a new company called Solve Media, which asked consumers to type in a brand message instead of a bunch of squigly letters in a CAPTCHA. Solve was interested in buying brand tags and was excited about offering up the tagging input across the web as part of it’s CAPTCHA program. I was excited to see my baby get a new life (and, obviously, to also get some money for what I had built).
We struck a deal and I became a shareholder in Solve. I also got some more confidence in my bank account, eventually leading me to make the leap to startup life and Percolate.
I say all that because Solve Media just announced the deal as well as their relaunch of the product today:
Enter Solve, which took some time to think about the best implementation of Brand Tags and then started building up the database of brand descriptions by rolling out this type of Captcha to 0.25% of its Captcha inventory — enough to generate tens of thousands of user-generated responses about a brand a day, Mr. Jacoby said. “We can get an unusually sample size overnight,” he said. The premise of Brand Tags is that a consumer’s perception of a brand is in fact reality, and one that could help measure the effectiveness of brand advertising online.
I’m excited to see something I built continue to grow on its own. I’m also excited that they finally got around to building the number one most requested feature: Export a tag cloud as an image for a PowerPoint presentation.
The last year has been totally insane. Right around this time in 2010 I left my job at Barbarian Group and gave myself two weeks before getting started on building a company for the first time. To say building a company is different than building a product is an understatement for which I can’t find the appropriate analogy. It’s been crazy and amazing and scary.
Over the last twelve months we’ve started to build a brand I believe stands for something in the industry, created a product some of the best brands in the world pay for and built an amazing team that all came over to my apartment the other night for the first Percolate holiday dinner.
Last week we got through a big milestone and pushed our 2.0 release. Iterating is the thing everyone talks about when they discuss product development and that’s what we did: Looked at the data and built a better product for our core use case (brands publishing content across social channels and their .coms).
Yesterday we announced that along with that release we also raised a round of funding to support the Percolate mission of helping brands create content at social scale. On Tumblr someone asked why we raised money if we were profitable (this is our first round of investment) and the answer is simple: We feel like we’ve found a big opportunity for brands and we’re going to run at it hard. That means hiring good people to both help us build the product (designers, product people, developers) and also to help us bring the product to brands (sales, project management). (Obviously if you do any of those things and are interested in working with us hit me up.)