Reinventing HOTorNOT, Part II

Reinventing HOTorNOT, Part II

Monday, July 02, 2007

1 + 2 = 3. Our new product strategy

ok, enough blabber about why we needed to change, let’s talk about what we are doing.
These 2 points are the genesis of the long term strategy for our company, which I explain in part 3 of this post.

1. We are about connecting people
2. Our name sets wonderful context for sharing opinion on anything

Add these together and you get

3. HOTorNOT enables people to share their opinion on anything, and helps connect people around those opinions.


(You’ll note that our prior business fits into that category, if you replace “anything” with “pictures of people”.)

We
are confident that if we stay true to this mission, we will make
products that will impact a large number of people’s lives in an
utterly positive fashion.

Plus, the timing is right. Based on
the way we plan to monetize these communities, the main thing really
missing to support this empire was the emergence of online brand
advertising. Last year we realized this last remaining piece was
starting to happen.

Overview of HOTorNOT Hotlists

3
years ago, we started testing our current rating interface and had
friends rate pictures of shoes on a scale of 1 to 10. Not surprisingly
it was pretty boring, so we quickly realized our future might involve
building a different interface. To that end, we came up with our new Hotlist product.

The
concept: wouldn’t it be cool if users could, as a means of self
expression, display pictures of the things they think are HOT on their
HOTorNOT profile? Kind of like how people like to put posters of things
they like on their walls, or how people like to wear t-shirts with
logos of things they like.. it can be anything.. bands, tv shows,
movies, clothing brands, colleges, products, even non-tangible ideas!

Each
picture (what we are calling “Stylepix ™”) can be anything that a
person associates with as an element of his or her own style.

In
essence, Hotlists are a form of having visual keywords. Visual keywords
are different from text keywords (“aka tags”) in that with text, the
more information a user adds, the less anyone else wants to read them.
With pictures, people are more likely to look, they are able to
comprehend the data faster, and they will remember the list better than
they would a text list.

For example, here is a screenshot of my HOTorNOT profile with my top 8 “Stylepix” at the bottom. If you clicked on the “Show All” link, it would take you to a page with my entire Hotlist

One
cool part about the system is that when you are looking at someone
else’s Hotlist, if you see something that you like, you can add it to
your own Hotlist simply by clicking on a plus sign that appears over
the stylepix. You can try it out yourself by taking a look at my Hotlist.

We
recognize of course that this sort of functionality should not be
limited to HOTorNOT users alone so we created exportable widgets too.
Here is an example of one:

By
enabling people to add Stylepix to their profiles, people are able to
define themselves through a collage of entities that already have well
known attributes. In other words, I am expressing my “james hong brand”
as a mashup of many other well known brands that I identify with. It
doesn’t have to be just brands, by the way… we encourage people to list
anything they identify with. If you hate corporations, then be sure not
to stick any company brands on your Hotlist. That’s cool with us.

So
HOTorNOT is now enabling everyone on the web to define themselves with
pictures. As a Hotlist user, all you have to do is browse other
people’s Hotlists or search our directory
and hit plus signs. Yes, you could do this yourself manually if you
wanted to, but doing so is prohibitively tedious whereas building your
Hotlist is actually a lot of fun. The beauty is that only one person
has to bother submitting a picture to create a stylepix, but everyone
benefits. Because of this, the directory is already fairly
comprehensive.

How does the User benefit?

1.
Hotlists are a means of self expression. In a world where everyone’s
social networking page starts off looking exactly the same as everyone
else’s, this concept becomes very important. The response in usage we
have had so far indicates that many users like this product a lot.

2.
By understanding what a user likes and doesn’t like, we are hoping to
do some serious data analysis to start letting them know what other
things they would probably think are HOT and NOT. In a world where
users are willing to tell us more about them, we should be able to give
them more tailored information back. General lists are cool, but
tailored lists are cooler.

For example, remember how America’s
Funniest Home Videos used to always be a highly rated show on Nielsen’s
lists? I pretty much hated that show. On the flipside, I loved Veronica
Mars, a show that just got canned. People are individuals who have
individual taste. Lists should honor and respect that individuality.

In doing so, we are going to connect people not only to other people, but to other things that they would like too.

3. We are building communities around each Stylepix, enabling people to find and communicate with each other.

This
is actually the coolest part about what we are doing. It is still super
rough around the edges, but I think the concept is demonstrated a bit
by what we’ve built already.

Each
Stylepix submitted to the system (they are ALL user generated) has a
Stylepix page that will become the basis of a community. Want to find a
NY Yankees fan who might have tickets to sell? No problem. Want to find a Hot Girl that likes Linux? Believe it or not, also not a problem.

Not
only will the Stylepix page connect people to other like-minded
(like-styled?) individuals, it will also provide a place for people to
talk about the Stylepix and share their opinions. Over time, we plan to
do some really cool stuff on these pages to make interaction more fun
and more interesting.

Here’s something else a bit different: our
goal is not to build these communities for HOTorNOT’s users only. We
are happy to overlay these communities on top of existing social
networks and connect them all. In fact, we already have over 500,000
people on Facebook are already using the Hotlist product, and they can
communicate on the Stylepix page with any other Hotlist user whether
she comes from Facebook, HOTorNOT, or anywhere else we distribute the
system to. There are a lot of cool things we are going to do with the
data in addition to the cool communities we are building, and we are
fine with the entry points to the system being distributed rather than
centralized.

If you want to try building a hotlist for your Facebook profile, click here.


How is this a business?

Turning
away from a subscription model is hard because it is a simpler
business. We know we created value for our users because over 15% of
free members ended up paying for it. How does our new strategy fit in
with making money?

1. Improving Ads on HOTorNOT

First,
making this move will enable us to raise the effective CPM rates on our
site. If I know you are interested in computers, I can show you techie
ads instead of random "punch the monkey" ones. Even better, if you
happen to be on a stylepix page, that ad can become even more targeted.
Are you on the Verizon Wireless page asking people if Verizon has good
coverage in Memphis? Maybe Sprint would like to show you an ad. In
essence, HOTorNOT pageviews used to have little context for targeting
and few themes for channelization. With this data and with these
communities, we will have plenty of both.

2. Use the data collected to build a superior Brand Ad Targeting Engine

The
way brand ads are targeted today is based on inefficiencies of
historical media platforms. Making advertising decisions based on the
information that I am an Asian male, aged 34, living in San Francisco,
with a 60% chance of being in the $75-100k income bracket is better
than nothing, but still limited. The industry evolved to that standard
because that was the best targeting publishers could provide.

We
think the future is a lot richer than that, and we think knowing what
someone’s style is (what bands they like, what clothing brands they
like, what beers they like, what music they like, what whatever they
like) can help us give them a better experience. If you are going to be
shown ads, the ads might as well be interesting ones that start
bleeding into being content. (Ever notice how fashion magazines are
often half ads… and how people actually ENJOY looking at those ads?)

We
know from experience that brands cluster. People also cluster (remember
high school?) And finally, people-clusters cluster around
brand-clusters. By utilizing a wealth of explicit user preference data,
we think we can ultimately make your advertising-supported experience
on HOTorNOT suck less. In fact, maybe we can make it useful and
enjoyable. And if we’re really ambitious, we can do it outside the
confines of our website too.

3. Helping Buyers. By connecting
people who may be able to answer questions about the products they love
to people who might be making purchase decisions, we can start helping
people who are in the market to buy things. We believe the
conversations that will happen in our Stylepix communities can be used
to extract a lot of valuable information for people who are trying to
decide, for instance, whether the iphone is
worth getting now or not.

4.
Market Research. There is a large industry centered around giving
marketers high level, aggregate data about their brands. Who likes
their brand, what other things correlate with their brand, how is their
brand trending over time, in specific locations or among a specific
demographic. Most interestingly, we can also figure out who the
trendsetters are.. which people tend to add the next big things first,
and what are they adding now? We think we can bring Coolhunting to a new level.

In closing…

So
there you have it! :) We believe the shift we are making is pretty
large. It was emotionally more difficult than we thought it would be to
pull the trigger on so drastically reinventing our company. But we’ve
gotten some encouragement along the way.

We’ve gotten a lot of
validation on our new plan from people that we respect immensely. We’ve
gotten a lot of interest from big companies that want to get involved,
both from the data side and from the community building side. But the
best sign of validation comes from our users who are signing up like
crazy and telling us they love what we are doing. Fundamentally that is
what matters most.

If you are a programmer and are interested in joining us, please check out our jobs page!
Not only will you get involved in our plans, you will have the
opportunity to learn everything you need to know to create and run your
own web company.

This post was part 2 in a series, to learn more about our company’s changes, be sure to see part 1 too.

posted by james @ 3:58 PM

 

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