Friday, June 27, 2008

The N Shares 'What A Girl Wants,' Plus Insights From The Mr. Youth Teen Panel

Yesterday I attended my very first "What Teens Want"
conference, and while I could only leave work to attend a few sessions,
I managed to catch several really great speakers. Starting off the day
yesterday The N's "Millennial
Girl: What A Girl Wants," a fascinating study of more than 1,200
millennial girls, 600 millennial boys, and 400 post-millennial girls
about topics as varied as media, money, sex, and religion. Here are
some of the highlights:

Teens are impossibly self-confident

Millennial girls are overall satisfied with their appearances and
personalities, and when asked to describe themselves, most mentioned
"fun," "intelligent," and "attractive." Fifty nine percent believe they
are smarter than guys their age. Instead of naming celebrities or
famous athletes as role models (just 6% did), 34% look up to themselves
or no one in particular -- oh and despite how close to their parents
this generation may be, only 25% said mom was their role model.

Perceptions of success have changed

Girls pride themselves on independence, and hope for careers that allow
them to be "creative and expressive." Although most hope to get
married, they believe children will be the loves of their lives --
instead of spouses. On that note, just 40% consider themselves
feminists and 43% believe they will earn more money than their spouse.
Still, why they may not call themselves feminists, only 34% say they
have achieved equality with men, 85% think a double standard exists,
and 84% believe women are still discriminated against at work.

Girls are more stressed

Forty three percent of girls describe themselves as "stressed out"
(compared to only 19 percent of boys). Seventy two percent are stressed
about "the future," 72% are also stressed about school, 71% are
stressed over money and 61% over appearance.
(bummer). In fact, 86% of girls believe they had to grow up much faster
than previous generations; interestingly enough, the number jumped to
91% in the south.

*Additional stats taken from Cynopsis Kids reporting on The N's research.

At the very end of conference, I caught a Mr. Youth's
teen panel about brands and media. After chatting about how they never
really watch commercials because they're always doing other things, Mr.
Youth asked the teens if they had ADD. I was expecting all eight of
them to raise their hands, because it seems everyone on my
college campus insists they have ADD in order to get certain
prescription drugs. But not one claimed to have ADD - just that they
like to multitask for convenience.

Other observations from the Mr. Youth teen panel included:

Creativity is the most valued trait

When asked to describe their generation, a majority of the teen panel
mentioned the word "creative." Teens love to express themselves through
art, fashion, and technology - girls prefer blogging, while boys like
self-produced videos (echoes Pew's earlier findings)

Millennials love Victoria's Secret Not only was it ranked by
millennial girls as the number one brand, but it was mentioned numerous
times by teen panelists on the topic of brands that "get" the youth

Teens really aren't interested in virtual worlds No one
played Second Life, nor did any of their friends (one girl's
ex-boyfriend liked the game, but he was "kind of a dork" -- her words,
not mine)

Apple was easily the most-mentioned brand on the teen panel Teens couldn't stop praising them for their sleek products, cool campaigns, and catchy commercials.

Article Link

In Overhaul, Seeks a Path to More Fun

LOS ANGELES — The Walt Disney Company, concerned that its main Web site is not entertaining enough, is moving once again to overhaul

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Walt Disney Internet Group

Among the changes on the new, visitors can use a cellphone
to create a butterfly pet for an avatar in Pixie Hollow, a virtual
world built around the character Tinker Bell.

It will be the second recent
makeover for the company’s marquee site, which is still the top
Internet destination for children’s entertainment but faces increasing
competition from players like Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and WebKinz.

The changes, scheduled to take place over the next few months,
will introduce more free video to the site (including full-length
movies like “Finding Nemo”) as well as more games and things for
visitors to do with their cellphones. For instance, little girls (or
bigger ones) who create fairy avatars in a virtual world called Pixie
Hollow will be able to use their cellphones to create pet butterflies
for their fairies.

“I’m going to want to use my phone to feed
and love my butterfly all the time,” said Larry Shapiro, executive vice
president for mobile content. “That kind of emotional vesting is what
we’re after.”

No longer will the site ask youngsters to navigate
through categories like “Movies,” “TV” and “Live Events.” New options
will include “Games,” “Videos” and “Characters” and will emphasize how
to find immediate entertainment.

It is also no accident that
video search pages will look similar to those of YouTube: Disney
designers worked to incorporate certain YouTube hallmarks, figuring
that kids had grown accustomed to viewing Web video in that manner.

“It’s a repositioning of our digital front door,” said Paul Yanover,
executive vice president and managing director of Disney Online.

effort, code-named “Project Playground,” is the second retrofitting of in as many years, reflecting both the difficulty the media
giant has encountered online and the whiplash-fast pace at which the
medium is evolving.

The previous changes, a much more complex
effort that first appeared in January 2007, was intended to capitalize
more fully on hot franchises like “
Hannah Montana” while making the site easier to navigate.

modifications, which included the addition of social networking
capabilities, have been considered a success, increasing monthly unique
visitors to by about 40 percent, according to the Internet
audience measurement company comScore
Media Metrix. In May, attracted about 28.4 million unique
visitors, enough to rank as the No. 1 Web destination for children and
family-oriented Web sites, albeit by a slim margin.

But the
effort was too modest, particularly in the area of Web video, says
Steve Wadsworth, president of the Walt Disney Internet Group. “Our
initial instincts were right,” he said. “We just need to take it much

Of particular concern for Disney is how long the
average visitor spends on its site. In May, the average user spent 44.9
minutes on, according to comScore. In comparison,
Nickelodeon’s cluster of family and child-oriented sites kept May
visitors busy for 79.8 minutes, mostly because of the game site

the changes, Disney is trying to position its Web site more as a place
that entertains and less of one that exists to promote Disney wares.
Video is the central component of the effort. Two weeks ago,
started streaming one free full-length movie a week and holding special
events, like Monday’s streaming of “Camp Rock,” the latest Disney
Channel musical. (Disney said that “Camp Rock” broke a company record
for unique visitor traffic.)

Until now, the site has mostly
offered video clips and episodes of television shows. But more original
video is on the way. For instance, recent visitors to saw a
humorous video of the retired astronaut Buzz Aldrin clowning around with a Buzz Lightyear doll.

Wadsworth and his team are also working harder to link cellphones and So far, the company’s mobile offerings for youngsters —
notably constrained by the slow adoption of next-generation handsets in
the United States — have centered on casual games or personalization
items like ring tones. But Disney now sees an opportunity to create an
immersive experience that spans from the Internet to the cellphone.

Pixie Hollow, an expanding virtual world on that is built
around Tinker Bell. (Visitors create a fairy avatar and then mingle
with others in a fantasy world, playing games and decorating
make-believe houses.)

In the coming months, children will be
encouraged to log on to Pixie Hollow with their cellphones, which they
can use to create butterfly pets for their avatars — which they can’t
do online.

Scott A. Ellison, an analyst with IDC, a Virginia
market research firm, said that mobile offerings like those would help
Disney gain a competitive edge. “I think what they’re doing is really
advanced and will be very compelling to the target demographic,” he

Move over MySpace, Gaia Online is here

By the middle of last year, it was attracting half a million unique
visitors monthly; fast forward to last month, and that number is two
million. It’s not a traditional MMO like World of Warcraft; it’s not a
social game like There; it doesn’t originate from Europe like Habbo Hotel or from Asia like Cyworld. You haven’t heard of it partly because the San Jose company has kept a low profile.

Another reason you’re still likely in the dark: it’s primarily
designed for teens. But with online worlds all sizes and styles poised for an explosion, you’ll almost certainly hear a lot more about it soon.

It’s called Gaia Online,
and as a guy on a giant crane behind us tore down the giant Web 2.0
conference banner in Moscone West, I had a chance to sit down with CEO
Craig Sherman— formerly COO with, and an
Entrepreneur-in-Residence with Benchmark Capital, a main funder of
Gaia— for a furious round of questioning. How did Gaia grow so large so
quickly so stealthily?

“The world’s fastest growing online world hangout for teens.”

That’s the way Sherman and his team prefer to characterize Gaia, the brainchild of Studio XD,
a comic art firm which gave the site its anime-influenced look. Gaia’s
online world aspect (which launches in a separate Java-powered window)
is a series of virtual towns where Gaian avatars can socialize (up to
100 in a single space), with apartments they can own, and treasures
they can find. (No combat, however.) It’s just that 10% of total user
activity takes place in the world itself.

Gaia’s Many Experience Channels

The world is just a conduit to the larger activity on Gaia, says
Sherman: in addition, there are website arenas where users can upload
and rate each other’s artwork and other content (7-10% total activity),
or play multiplayer Flash mini-games with group chat (10-15% total
activity.) The largest cohort of activity (wholly 30%) takes place in
the Gaia forums, and here’s where the truly staggering numbers come in:
Averaging a million posts a day and a billion posts so far, Gaia’s
message boards (with topics running the gamut from pop culture to
politics) is second only to Yahoo in popularity.

Gold for Activity

A unique innovation is the way the company distributes its virtual
gold currency: instead of selling it for real money (as with There) or
allowing its trade on the open market (as with Second Life), Gaians are
automatically given gold for participation: You get gold for posting on
the Forums, for riding events, for uploading content, for exploring the
world. Subscribers are rewarded for engaging in Gaia, in other words—
and the reward incents them to engage in Gaia even more.

Gold for Auction

With the gold, Gaia subscribers can buy items, clothing, and accessories for their avatars, some sold by the company, but most of it sold via Gaian-to-Gaian auction. (They estimate some 52,000 auctions are completed every day.)

What pays in Gaia, however, stays in Gaia: the company strongly
discourages real money trading, and works with Ebay to curtail it.
That’s not to say Gaian treasures haven’t been sold online. “One item
sold for $6000,” says Sherman. “Wonderful to tell you, but bad for what
we’re trying to accomplish.”

Gold— for Gaia Interactive, Inc.

Instead of monthly subscriptions, Gaia Online sells “rare items”—
treasures, fantastically cool fashion accessories for player avatars,
and so on— two offered a month for $2.50 each. Subscribers buy them via
credit card, Pay Pay, cellphone—or cash on the barrel. (“We employ
someone full time whose job is getting dollars and quarters” out of
envelopes kids send them, Sherman notes.)

… but first, a world for our sponsors

The company’s other revenue source are ad campaigns created to run
within the world of Gaia. Before launching these, Sherman says, they
solicited subscriber feedback, to find out which potential advertisers
they wanted to see in the world— and which they didn’t. (Cool fashion
brands got the majority nod; big American auto companies, however,

Staffers work with advertisers to create, not passive billboards,
but an extended immersive experience. Gaia’s campaign for New Line
Cinema’s fantasy adventure The Last Mimzy, for example,
challenged their users to accomplish a series of tasks in order to get
their own special Gaian-only Mimzy (a super-intelligent bunny).
Hundreds of thousands of these Mimzyies were given out—meaning some
10-20% of their total user base jumped through the hoops to win the
advertiser’s prize. (By contrast, when Nissan began giving away virtual
versions of their cars in Second Life, far less than 1% of Residents took them up on the offer.)

The Secret to Gaia’s Success

Craig Sherman has been thinking what the value-proposition of his
site in the era of MySpace or Facebook. “In a world where teens are
constantly branding and packaging themselves” on sites like those, he
points out, “Gaia is where you get away from it all.”

Whether that remains the case when the competition reaches full roil
remains to be seen, but for now, the Gaia seems destined to keep

The Gaia Numbers: Demographics and Usage Patterns as of April 2007

300,000 log in daily, according to the company; average unique visit is two hours a day.

Average concurrency: 64,000 users. Maximum: 86,738.

85% of users are based in the US

10% are English-speaking but non-US (with 5% a nebulous Other)

Breakdown by gender: 55% Girls - 45% Boys

About 20% of subscribers put up their real life photo in their avatar profile.

Number of Gaia gold “millionaires”, as of last week: 1385

Article Link

Wall-E Sounds

Both R2D2 and Wall-E's voices were designed by Ben Burtt, not coincidentally. Wall-E takes the character of the voiceless, childlike robot and fills
it with so much humanity that you feel like your heart might just burst
watching it.

The first 40 minutes or so of Wall-E are almost completely without dialogue. Instead, the story is told visually.

[Apple reference]: Wally makes the classic Mac bootup sound when he turns on, and his love interest EVE looks like she was designed by Jonathan Ive.

Immediately, we realize this isn't your typical kiddie cartoon. No pop
culture jokes? No instantly-recognizable celebrity voices? This looks more like a beautiful, haunting sci-fi movie than a children's movie, because that's exactly what it is.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Microsoft To Buy Powerset? Not Just Yet.

VentureBeat is reporting that Microsoft has agreed to buy semantic search engine Powerset for somewhere around $100 million, which is the price we previously reported was being offered to the company.

Our sources have been saying this deal is highly likely since May,
but hasn’t actually been signed yet and could still be disrupted by the
ongoing Microsoft-Yahoo negotiations. Dave Wehner, a Managing Director at investment bank Allen & Co. (he’s the guy who sold Bebo for $850 million to AOL), is representing Powerset in the deal.

Powerset debuted at TechCrunch40 last fall and opened a showcase of its technology to the public just last month.

Powerset has raised around $12.5 million in venture capital, and is rumored to have taken another $8 million or so in convertible debt as bridge financing.

Article Link

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The How of Habbo Hotel

Comments (28)

did a small Finnish company create an online world which now boasts the
largest current active user base in Europe and North America (about 6.5
million)*, far larger than World of Warcraft (around 4.5 million, not
counting its Chinese audience)? Last week, Sulka Haro of Sulake Labs flew all the way to the Game Developer Conference
in Austin, Texas to explain how the teen-oriented, Shockwave-driven
Habbo Hotel has grown from a tiny 2.5D space of two rooms into a
massive place that last year made an estimated $77 million in annual revenue. (Much smaller earnings than Blizzard’s WoW, to be sure, but then, Sulake has a staff of just 300 to Blizzard’s 2700.)

Gamasutra was on hand to take great notes,
which is a good thing, because very few developers reportedly attended
Haro’s talk. (The phenomenal success of Habbo Hotel continues to
be criminally under-appreciated by the game industry.) Reading
Gamasutra’s coverage, I’ve gleaned five takeaways that
strike me as most valuable.