Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Early Adopter Problem: To Techcrunch or Not to Techcrunch

Any site that has a social component has to face the early adopter problem. The early users on your site will determine the size, growth, demographics, and culture of your site. As the creator of a site with any social component, you must take this into consideration.

If I was the CEO of a company that had a social component, I'd weigh the consequences of bringing the early adopter/Techcrunch crowd into the fold before the culture of your site has been strongly established. Getting a few thousand early users fast could cost you hundreds of thousands of users later on.

Below are some examples of the effect of early adopters on social networks.

Friendster - Example 1 - Demographics
Take for example, Friendster, yesteryear's favorite social network. Most of Friendster's audience is in the Philippines. Why? Because of one early user (no.91) on Friendster named Carmen. She's a Filipino hypnotherapist living in San Francisco with a lot of Filipino friends.
So what's the problem? Friendster can't monetize Filipino users, but they take up a significant share of Friendster's resources. Obviously, this observation does not speak to Friendster's downfall which has been covered quick well elsewhere, but I find it an extremely compelling example of the unforeseen effect early users have on a social site.

Myspace - Example 2 - Culture
Myspace has always been dominated by casual acquaintances. It was voted the #1 social network to meet a random hookup. People try to accumulate the most friends in hopes to appear more popular, accepting invitations for people they never met. Reminds me of partying in LA. And surprise, surprise, Myspace gathered their earliest users by throwing parties in LA and inviting the partygoers to signup for Myspace. In this example, the entire culture of Myspace was the result of early promotional activities. Myspace did not target the early adopter crowd. In fact, early adopters generally abhorred Myspace for its poor technology and ugly layouts. As a result, Myspace's culture ended up being defined by users that more closely reflected the mass audience then the typical early adopter, and I believe that contributed greatly to its success with the mass audience.

Digg - Example 3 - Size and Growth

Digg's ultimate size is limited by its appeal to a niche audience. Okay, so this one is a prediction rather than an example. Digg's growth is going to peak soon, if it hasn't already. Why? Follow me on this. Digg users are techies (err...I mean heavily educated males/females). There's a limited supply of techies, and by now we've all heard of Digg. Kevin Rose introduced techies into the system early by debuting on The Screensavers, a TechTV program. However, this was a calculated choice as the management intended to appeal to techies, assuming that they would get better growth out of the box. Techies provided the early content which attracted more geeks. Feedback loop. Now techies dominate Digg and it would be impossible to change that without alienating them. Unfortunately for Digg, most people don't care about DVD encryption, programming languages, or Star Trek.

As a company creating a massive multiplayer online game, we've been thinking a lot about who would provide the ideal early users, the users that will define our culture. It's not an easy choice. The key is to define the audience you want to ultimately reach. In our case, we're reaching for a broad userbase, so attracting early adopters may be counter-productive. It may take us longer to grow initially, but in the long-term we'll be able to growth larger. I think it's a worthwhile compromise, especially if you're building a company for long-term growth and not just a quick flip to a larger company.

Ironically, I'm sure every single reader of this blog is an early adopter. I write a blog about startups, the games industry, and make frequent Techcrunch reference. Typical early adopter fodder. Gulp. I hope you all will forgive me for not handing out beta invites.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hot or Not Takes on Myspace: Adds Social Networking Features

I haven't seen this announced anywhere yet, so I thought I'd mention it. It appears that Hot or Not is taking on Myspace, by adding social networking features.

They've added a feature called a super profile, which despite its moniker is pretty basic. Here's what it contains: profile picture, friend list, guestbook, and a blog. Standard fare.

I could not find any search capability, but considering that Hot or Not's core feature has always been browsing users one at a time, I imagine moving to a search oriented site might not be in the cards.

The other feature that the Hot or Not super profile offers is a hotlist. No, not a list of the hottest Hot or Not users, *sigh*, but instead a space where you can added branded badges, i.e. a Gucci logo, or in my case, a Starbucks logo. The idea is that people can identify themselves by their brand affiliations. Just like in real life.

The guys over at Hot or Not have clearly been watching the viral growth of Tagged and Peerflix. They've adopted similar strategies. They provide a tool that allows you to connect your other social networks to Hot or Not. I assume this just sends out a mass of invites, because frankly I wasn't ready to take the leap of connecting all my social selves.

I'm still not sure what usefulness a Hot or Not social network is going to offer. Though I'm curious to find out. After all, Hot or Not's core benefit is that it gets people laid. If adding social networking to their core offering helps people get laid then it'll be a huge winner.

Of course, just like a typical social network, it's already being spammed by the webcam babe contigent. I got two messages today, both from girls who wanted me to check out their profile. Of course, their profile contained unsubtle come-ons to visit their private sites.

As Markus Frind, founder of Plentyoffish pointed out, social networks are the new dating sites. Hot or Not may have been feeling the crunch and decided to join the revolution rather than have their cake eaten. In any case, Jim and James are smart guys, it'll be interesting to watch how the new Hot or Not evolves.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Puzzle Pirates v. Club Penguin

Sony is looking to buy Club Penguin for $500 million. Club Penguin is a virtual community for kids where the players can earn currency playing minigames. This is pretty much the best news I could have possibly heard, as our business model is pretty similar. So, yay for me.

I've been tracking Club Penguin since December when we started the company. I found it via, an aggregator of web minigames. It was miniclip's most popular game at the time. It was one of two massive multiplayer games listed on miniclip. the other was Yo Ho Ho! Puzzle Pirates, a pirate-themed (duh) MMO where players earn currency playing puzzle type minigames. Overall, Puzzle Pirates is a much better game than Club Penguin. More attractive graphics, great game design, more features. All around a more engaging experience.

Both games use similar marketing techniques, relying on word-of-mouth and referral traffic from their listings in large game portals, like miniclip.

Yet Puzzle Pirates has less than a 1/20 of Club Penguin's traffic. So why does the better game have less users?

The answer is pretty obvious. Club Penguin loads 100x faster. Puzzle Pirates took ~5 minutes to load on my new-ish laptop via an extremely fast internet connection. Club Penguin loads in eight seconds on a shared connection at a cafe.

Unfortunately, users won't wait for better content. Daniel James, CEO of Three Rings, the company that makes Puzzle Pirates, indicated that 2% of visitors they receive via Miniclip became registered players. I think 2% is correct, Daniel will probably correct me if I'm wrong.
I'd feel pretty comfortable speculating that Club Penguin's conversion rate is probably around 20%.

My advice for anyone doing anything on the web. Optimize for loading time. You'd think we'd all learned that lesson from the days of dial-up, but it bears repeating. Optimize for loading time. When you're making great content, it's easy to believe that the users will wait for the content because it's so tasty. The fact is that fast and ugly wins every time.

I'm willing to bet $100 that Three Rings' new virtual world, Whirled, will load like lightning. Daniel's been bragging about how ugly it is.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Digg Who?

So I'm looking through the program for a play that a friend of mine is in and in the special thanks section, I see listed Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson. Interesting, I think, Digg is sponsoring blackbox theater production in SoMa. So I point this out to my two friends, a girl who does enterprise software sales, and a guy who teaches English. Neither has even heard of Digg, let alone Kevin Rose. Nor were they interested in what Digg offered. BTW, Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson are the founders of, a news aggregator where people submit and vote on new stories.

And again, I'm reminded the huge gap between Silicon Valley's perception of itself and its impact on most people's lives. No matter how many cover stories a company like Digg receives, it's still not going to be relevant to the way most people live. I think this applies to most Web 2.0 companies, as well. Facebook excepted.

Some people may ask, how is an online game company relevant to people lives? That's easy: everybody like to have fun. People have been playing games since the dawn of man, they're not about to stop now.

Friday, May 11, 2007

How to Pick a Good Lawyer.

I have no fricking clue. I wish I did. I tried to find out, I really did. I asked around, posted to forums, did a google search. I even visited the websites of some law firms, and that was pretty painful.

Here's the piece of advice that resulted of my inquiries: if you find a lawyer that you like, then hire him. I guess, it's difficult to find a likeable lawyer?

Unfortunately, I had the opposite problem, I've found too many likeable lawyers. And I blame Noah Kagan and Tony Chung. Those jerks put together a networking event called LawYours last night at the Spago in Palo Alto. Check out if you want more details, maybe they'll do it again. For all you blogosphere groupies out there, Michael Arrington gave a brief talk, and you missed it. If you don't know who Michael Arrington is then you're probably not looking for a tech startup lawyer.

So, I spent the night rubbing up against lawyers from the Valley's finest firms, and without fail, they were personable and smart. The freely flowing Chardonnay may have helped with that. Regardless, it's going to be hard to pick one. I'm staring at a stack of business cards right now. *sigh*

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Nexon's Kart Rider Finally Comes to America - Domination Expected.

That's right kids, the most popular MMO of all time just hit our cybershores. Kart Rider is in closed beta for now. Sign up and you might get a taste of the game that 120 million people around the world think is pretty rad. Warning: you have to use Internet Explorer to access their site, and you'll have to download a 182MB setup file, and have Direct X 9.0 installed before you can play. The game is going to have to be pretty amazing if Nexon expects the famously impatient American user to jump those hurdles.

I'll let you know what I think, if the file ever finishes downloading.