Thursday, October 1, 2009

Week 4 sucker bets: Time for Vegas to turn it on

Last week: 1-2
Overall: 2-5

Vegas is losing. There's no doubt about it. Don't expect that to continue.

The Bears should have lost in Seattle, but thanks to a Jeff Reed-esque performance (just ask Jim Mora) by Seahawks kicker Olindo Mare, Chicago survived their Northwest excursion. The Jets also came back to beat the Titans, but, as my headline stated last week, the Texans couldn't take care of the Jaguars at home.

Now on to this week:

Buccaneers +7 at Redskins
Seems like an awfully big spread for a team that beat the lowly Rams by only two points at home a week before losing to the Lions. Apparently the bookies have no faith in Raheem Morris or Josh Johnson. You probably shouldn't either, unless those dressed as pigs start cheering for Tampa, which is a definite possibility.

Giants -8.5 at Chiefs
I personally like the G-Men in this one. They're easily the best team in the NFC. But why isn't the line at least 10? The worm is just bobbing, waiting to be bitten. Seems too easy. Probably is.

Bengals -5.5 at Browns
The Browns look like the worst team in football after losing to the Ravens (who might be the best), 34-3 last week. Cinci is coming off a huge win against the Steelers.

Re-enter Derek Anderson; exit Brady Quinn. This is a rivalry game at home. Expect the pound to be loud. If the Bengals win, it's got to be by less than five.

Also expect SBT to have its first winning week of the season.

If only we could protect Zlinger

Over the summer I changed the name of this blog from "From Boston to Badgers" to "Boston, Badgers, Business and Banter" to expand my horizons from sports to other areas of interests. I'm not a one-dimensional person, but my writing had been so since I started writing for the MetroWest Daily News four years ago (until I went to Prague). I wanted to change that.

Still, I find myself writing about NFL sucker bets and Scott Tolzien, essentially eliminating the "Business and Banter" aspects of the blog.

This time, let's talk business.

For my entrepreneurship class in Prague, I came up with an idea that I thought could change the Internet. It was a class project, but as it progressed, I realized just good my idea was. I started getting really into it and promised myself that I would pursue it further when I got back to the States in May.

Everyone I explained it to thought it was a great idea. So I pitched it to my lifelong friend, Glenn Alterman. Glenn was the kid reading "PC World" when we were 10, while the rest of us were trading baseball cards. When I have a problem with my computer, I don't call Dell or Best Buy, I call Glenn. And he always fixes it. So when Glenn gave an enthusiastic approval, I knew I had something to work with.

So I talked to another friend (from Camp Cedar, ironically) of mine, Dana Lampert, CEO of Wiggio, a growing online social network that he started in the Cornell Business School. I essentially wanted to follow in Dana's footsteps, so we met over the summer at Starbucks in Sudbury, Mass. He explained to me about angel investing and what I wanted was a technical co-founder to develop my site, among other things.

I started getting really excited. I brought a notebook to my sister's high school graduation and drew what I wanted to site to look like while she gave her speech as class president (that's a lie, I put the notebook down while she spoke). Glenn and I spoke every day while driving to our respective internships about monetization and marketing ideas. We figured we needed to draft a business plan before we went searching for a technical co-founder. Here's what I wrote:

Zlinger is a revolutionary Internet social media outlet designed to organize online reading content for users. The Internet combined with the blogosphere is simply too vast to manage on one’s own. Zlinger eliminates the isolation of Internet reading, as it creates an interactive media platform for all of its users.

Zlinger is free, and allows users to become their own media outlet, an interactive online personal newspaper. Each user’s profile page is organized by sections, marked as tabs at the top of the page. These tabs are personalized based on content preferences. User A may have Sports, YouTube, Economics and Politics tabs on his page; User B may have Red Sox, Technology, Music and Sports Columnists on his. Tabs can be as general or specific as the user chooses.

These tabs are designed to organize read material. Users then add links (called “Zlinging”) to material from around the Net, using personalized headlines, under the respective tabs, creating an archive of links to articles within the same genre. User C has now created a personal Web newspaper with personalized sections. The next step is the interaction. Other users can now access User C’s account and Zling links using their own headlines that they think User C may like. Now the network is in place. Users Zling links on their own pages, as well as on others’. Users can also view others’ pages, to see what has been posted in order to take them to links that they may have not otherwise found.

Privacy settings are extremely important for Zlinger. Users “Follow” each other, like on Twitter, as opposed to “Friending” them, as on Facebook. This enables users to view anyone’s page without refusal. To prevent clutter and spam, users must approve followers to be able to post on their page, but it can be viewed by anyone. Like Twitter, followers need not be approved by the followed user. This allows User D to view Shaquille O’Neal’s Zlinger account without Shaquille knowing, although User D count not post on Shaquille’s page unless previously approved.

For example: User E is a sports fanatic, but is recently interested in Ben Bernanke’s monetary policy. User E is not familiar with many economic blogs or sites, but his friend, User F reads dozens of related material every morning. So instead of searching the Internet aimlessly for accredited economic content, User E goes to User F’s Zlinger account, because he knows that User F posts the best economic material every morning before work. Zlinger allows users to specialize in certain content areas, then reap the benefits from others’ expertise in different areas. Zlinger is designed to inform the eager, yet uninformed Internet reader. Zlinger’s target market is Internet readers of all ages and demographics. If you read any kind of Web content, you will benefit from using Zlinger.

Not only is Zlinger revolutionary in organizing Web content, its monetization plan is state-of-the-art as well. Typical Web advertisements include a picture thumbnail and a brief description of a given company or site, which brings you to the homepage. Today, most content-driven sites have automated Twitter accounts that tweet links that are posted on the site to generate more traffic. This Twitter accounts will are the basis of Zlinger’s monetization plan.

When users sign up for Zlinger, they are asked to fill out a quick and easy questionnaire about their different demographics, such as age, hometown, university, favorite sports teams, political views, religious views, occupation, etc. This information’s privacy is guaranteed by Zlinger – in order to persuade those users reluctant to divulge that information – and essential for marketing purposes. This anonymous information is used to attract clients to buy ad space on users’ Zlinger pages. Clients will buy space on specific user pages based on demographic. Clients do not choose space based on users’ names, which keeps the demographics separate from the users’ real names. For instance, NESN can buy space on all Red Sox fans’ pages. NESN’s ad will show up on User G’s Red Sox (or sports, should NESN choose to pursue that, too) page, but not his Finance page.

Prospective ad-space buying clients are predominantly content-driven sites. They will be charged on a per-click basis, much like Google Adwords. But instead of having generic ads that links to a company’s homepage, the ads will be the company’s automated Twitter account, with direct links to articles. So as the company’s Twitter account updates with new linked material, so does the ad located in Zlinger. This way, related content can be found inside users’ accounts, generated by the users themselves, and by external companies and sites that pay for space. Zlinger has just become a premier destination for organized Web content.

The final unique feature Zlinger offers to its users is its homepage, which works similarly to Facebook and Twitter feeds. But instead of being updated as followed or friended users update their pages, Zlinger’s main feed is made up of newsworthy topics of the day. Users then Zling links into topic pages for other users to view. For example, Manny Ramirez gets suspended for using steroids. Countless media outlets and blogs write their perspective. It becomes a hot topic added to the Zlinger homepage, where users can Zling content in from around the Web, allowing users to find content they normally wouldn’t find on a topic that interests them.

Zlinger has now created a win-win network for content-hungry users and content-driven sites anxious for traffic. It allows formerly unknown sites to be found, while organizing material all over the Web in all fathomable genres, created by the users. Zlinger is 100 percent user-driven.

Zlinger has just organized the unorganized.

The frustrating thing is that I still think Zlinger could be the next Facebook. Like international trade, it allows people to specialize in their content expertise, while relying on others' in different realms. That, or it would be a perfect addition to Twitter, as people could tweet content to one another and keep it organized under the appropriate tabs.

The problem is that there's no way to protect the idea. Conglomerates like Google would evolve Google Reader into our idea and put us out of business. Twitter would never sign an NDA to listen to our idea. And if we pitched it to them without one, they'd take the idea and run with it.

That's the issue with the Internet; protection is very hard to come by, just ask MySpace.

So although I still believe the world needs Zlinger, our efforts have all but stopped since August. It's just too risky to spend all that time and effort into creating something that can be essentially stolen overnight.

Still, Internet content needs to be organized better. Hopefully Google Reader evolves into what I wanted Zlinger to accomplish, for society's sake.

All I'll say is, "I told you so."

And for the record, this will not be my last entrepreneurial attempt. One day I'll strike gold, mark my words.

(On a related note, I've been slacking on the Zetcasts, mostly because my Internet is less than useful in my room. Hopefully I'll fix that this weekend so I can produce more shows. The first one with Frankie V went decently well.)