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A year ago this month AOL acquired Goowy which included the Goowy desktop and the YourMinis widget creation tools. Goowy was one of those companies (like Feedburner) that had great potential and I was a bit disappointed when they went under the AOL umbrella. Back in October AOL announced that the main YourMinis site was going to be discontinued but widgets would continue to work.
Update: In the comments, Gary Benitt from yourminis/AOL notes that they have removed the ads and are working on better ads and will also make an announcement when the ads begin again. Thanks Gary!
On our sister site HTMLCenter, we run a Yourminis widget which includes the latest posts from CN (you can see two examples below). When I did my cruise around the sites this morning something made me do a double-take. The Yourminis widget now has an ad inside the widget! But not only is it any ad, it’s a completely non-targeted ad. And on the first load, it was that ^%$&@$*@$ stomach ad. Unlike many of the major tech blogs, I absolutely refuse the run the stomach ads that seem to be everywhere. I spent hours making sure they never appear on any of my network of sites. I’d be ok with an ad in the widget as long as the ad was targeted and I could provide a banned companies list.
I was on a panel last summer in Washington where we discussed widgets and widget advertising. I believe widget advertising will still be huge this year. Why? Exactly for reasons like this. You find a widget you like and install it into a popular post. You don’t come back to check the widget each day and so you missed the fact that the company jammed an ad (or other content) into the widget without notifying you. This is going to be a hot topic this year especially if the economy continues to decline.
The example I used on the panel included the following: let’s say you install a widget for a new movie that’s coming out in theaters. What happens to that widget once the movie has left the theater? Does the movie company have the right to change the content of the widget without notifying the site owner? Once consumer brands realize that by getting a user to install a widget they own a piece of real estate for free "for life" brands will start creating widgets on an exponential scale. Why pay for just a simple ad unit when you can push out a widget at the same time?
Part of the issue with widgets is that unlike ad networks, there’s no real record of where the widgets are posted and who is the site contact. I strongly believe that widget creators have a responsibility to notify the site owners when content in the widget changes. Even if it means they need to go to every single site where the widget is installed and send a contact inquiry.
I am certainly disappointed in the method yourminis decided to go about jamming the crappiest possible ads into the widgets on HTMLCenter. The widgets will be removed tomorrow and I highly doubt I will use another widget from Yourminis/AOL in the near future.
AOL is announcing today that they are acquiring webtop Goowy. The deal also includes widget maker yourminis. Financial terms were not disclosed. I didn’t realize this but apparently AOL worked with Goowy to provide original widgets for myAOL.
I’ve said so many times already (ok one more coming) that widgets are 2008′s hottest area and AOL obviously agrees. The news that yourminis widget technology will be built into AOL’s Platform A ad network also makes sense. Last week at the panel I moderated, Heath Row from Double Click spoke about their Widget Ads product.
Alex Bard, CEO and co-founder of Goowy said, "The platform and services we’ve built are an obvious fit with AOL’s ad-supported Web strategy, and we look forward to expanding our widget offerings across the AOL network." One of the first interviews I conducted on CN was with Bard. It’s worth listening to as he provides input on the VC process and some of the learnings he found with starting Goowy.
If another company is looking to acquire a great webtop/widget provider, check out Schmedley – it’s a great build.
I have been playing with goowy for a while now and checked out the new yourminis product as well. I am actually considering moving my mother onto goowy as it is so easy to use and will be better for confinement than winxp. I gave Alex Bard, one of the founders a call to discuss goowy, yourminis, getting vc money and more.
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Below is a partial text transcript of the audio interview. Please listen to the audio for the entire discussion.
Allen: Can you provide a brief background about yourself?
Alex: I started in the Internet space in 1996 and joined a company that built chat and bulletin board software and I was one of the early members. I ran customer solutions for them and then the company was sold in 1999. I then moved to the West coast and we started a new company e-assistglobalsolutions focusing on .com’s. We raised $72 million in our first year and was on track to build a really great exciting company. Unfortunately the dot bomb came and the when the dot.com’s closed, our revenue streams slowed as well. Spent the next 4 years in a very competitive CRM environment with companies like Siebel. We sold the company in 2004 and then took some time off to figure out what I wanted to do next. Then I started goowy with 3 other e-assist members in 2004.
Allen: What do you think is the biggest difference between 1996 Internet and 2006 Internet?
Alex: I think the plumbing is the biggest difference. If you look at 1996, most were still using modems and the hardware and bandwidth, everything was cost-prohibitive. Today you have wireless broadband and servers that cost close to nothing. Browsers have evolved, etc. Plumbing is much more mainstream than it was in ’96. Look at Geocities, now MySpace.
Allen: What the heck is a goowy?
Alex: The way we came up with the name is that a lot of the rich-Internet applications back in 2004 didn’t have rich interfaces. GUI is graphical user interface and so goowy after GUI.
Allen: Who are the competitors in your space that you consider real competitors and what is your sales pitch over the competitors?
Alex: Historially we had one product, a WebTop. A WebTop is a desktop inside the browser with a set of personalization tools to manage your life all in this really multimedia interface. As for competitors, I would say it really is a broad array spanning from Google Gmail to what Yahoo has to what some startups are doing. That was one of the challenges early on is that we were taking on so many competitors in so many verticals.
The sales pitch is that it is a much more rich multimedia environment and that it travels with you. No matter where you use it, you can manage it from one environment.
YourMinis is a personalized dashboard of widgets that you can configure to get data across the Internet. I would say a netvibes or pageflakes would be competitors. YourMinis came out of goowy and we believe experience matters and it is much more enhanced than just a plain personalized start page. On top of that we let people access YourMinis in 3 different ways, you can access it in your browser, you can access it as a headsup display using a plugin to your browser which is really cool one click add with microformats to YourMinis and the third way is a desktop application. All three ways will be completely synchronized.
Allen: What’s yourminis and how come you decided to make it separate from goowy?
Alex: It is interesting, some people love goowy because it is this complete environment that surrounds you. So for some people that is a great experience. For some people they have committed to other products for email or file storage, but they love the yourminis feature out so you can use your current apps and then add on yourminis as well. We didn’t want to force anyone to have to choose.
Allen: Any thoughts about goowy or yourminis on my iPod?
Alex: It is a really interesting question. We are looking at moving yourminis and some of the goowy functionality onto wireless devices. So it is certainly something we are looking to in the near future.
Allen: Are you looking for this to be a mainstream tool or mainly for the tech sector?
Alex: Definitely a mainstream tool. I think that as people look at it, it will mean different things to different people. When you start looking at mainstream users, widgets are becoming more a part of users daily interaction. We give them a different way to access these widgets to make them more portable. We spend a lot of time on what that end user interaction is.
Allen: How are you monetizing the app?
Alex: There are a couple of ways. In goowy we monetize four ways: subtle advertising, transactional revenue (partner minis i.e. Amazon, iTunes, etc.), premium services and potential licensing deals.
On the yourminis side is some advertising, transaction revenue piece and having people sponsor minis. We can go to a company like Nike and have them sponsor the sports tab.
Allen: Can you talk about the VC process – any tips for those listening who want to get vc money?
Alex: VC today is very different than back in the 90′s. In the 90′s you couldn’t build a fully scaled application without significant backing. Look at reddit, they built the application for less than 100k, and there are so many apps that you can build for little money with actual users before going after any vc money. I think you need a steel stomach now and take the risk to commit yourself to 9-18 months of not being paid but being passionate and going out an executing it. You definitely don’t need the type of money you needed back in the 90s.
Allen: What have you learned in the last 9 months since your first round of vc?
Alex: I don’t know what we have learned since we raised vc. I think we do some things differently than others. Today, after we did our fund raise, we are still very spend thrifty. We are still operating with a small company mentality.
Allen: What is the biggest mistake you have made so far with goowy?
|“My advice is to find a narrow focus and users in that focus and execute very effectivetly to that key before you go and expand.”|
Alex: I think it is trying to be everything to everyone. You can get into this place where you listen to the early adapters. They are the ones that you have to listen to as they will carry you forward. When you try to please everybody you wind up pleasing no one. And we had to step back and of course still listen to the community but pass their requests through a filter.
My advice is to find a narrow focus and users in that focus and execute very effectivetly to that key before you go and expand.
Allen: Where is goowy/yourminis going in the next 1-2 years?
Alex: Well here is what I am really excited about in the yourminis space. I think wireless is a huge application still and that in the US. People in Europe and Asia are much more comfortable using wireless than in the US. I look at getting yourminis onto your wireless device.
I also look at extending yourminis outside of the browser, perhaps to your Tivo on your TV.
And of course listening to what our members say and what happens in the industry.
Allen: Anything else to add?
Alex: Our official launch of yourminis is next Monday. We are really excited about it and we would love for anyone to come and check it out and let us know how to make it better.
Thank you Alex for spending the time with me today. I am going to have my mom try goowy next time I see her. Maybe we can finally get her away from AOL :)
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