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Fish image via Ivelin Radkov

The story of Zite has been a whirlwind. We launched on March 9, 2011, and closed our acquisition by CNN on Aug. 30 of the same year — just under six months later.

But acquisition was not our original plan. We never built the company with the intention of getting acquired. When we launched Zite, we were thrilled to get such a great reception from the press and hundreds of thousands of new users. Our goal was to use that influx of users to secure series A funding to build a team and compete effectively in a crowded market. But fate intervened, and we got an attractive acquisition offer from CNN, a company that believed in our vision. In hindsight, I can see that there were a few really smart things that we did that made us an excellent acquisition target.

My goal for this article isn’t to give you a silver bullet for getting your company acquired, but rather to offer some insight into what I think are the key reasons that Zite was able to move from launch to transaction in such a compressed timeline.

  • Have a huge product launch — It doesn’t matter how good your product is if people don’t know about it. Once we believed we had the right product, we marketed it very hard. We spent much more money on PR surrounding our launch than was fiscally prudent at the time (we were risking future payroll) because we realized that we had one chance to tell the world that Zite was awesome. This paid off in spades: On launch day, we had print articles in The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, plus dozens of other fantastic pieces. This yielded us top billing in the App Store for free applications, and 125,000 downloads in the first week.
  • Put your best foot forward — We focused much of our product design on the first minutes of the user experience. We knew that if a user never saw our amazing personalization technology, we’d lose them, and they’d think we were just a “me-too” news reader. We put our technology front and center by designing a simple, intuitive set-up experience that yielded immediate delight and serendipity.
  • Have technology that is incredibly difficult to replicate — You’re not going to get bought if the acquiring company thinks they can build the product themselves. Zite had the advantage of almost six years of R&D (we were formerly called Worio), but until we became Zite, we were a technology company with a product problem. Instead of continuing to use the technology on a failed product, we pivoted to Zite. We also seized the opportunity to launch on the iPad, which is the perfect delivery device for the technology.
  • Have a clear vision — We had a vision to change the way people consume information. Zite (the product) and personalization are components of that vision, but we proved that we were not a one-trick pony, and we were excited about innovating on news delivery.
  • Disrupt the market — CNN noticed Zite after we received a cease-and-desist from major media companies, including Time Inc. (which is a cousin of CNN, since both are owned by Time Warner). My boss jokes, “If all of the media companies were able to get their lawyers to send you a letter, then you must be doing something right.” At the time, we weren’t sure how we would work with publishers, and publishers weren’t sure of the value of Zite. We’re now on solid ground with publishers, since they have realized the value of Zite as a discovery engine — but at the time it was a great boost to our visibility among the exact same executives who would later give us an offer for the company.

I want to stress that none of the above points are a guarantee that your company will get acquired — let alone be successful — but they certainly influenced CNN’s decision to buy Zite and, ultimately, our success to date. Look for ways you can integrate these tips into your start-up, and even if you aren’t acquired quickly, you will certainly build a better long-term offering for whatever market you choose to address.

Mark Johnson is CEO of Zite. He was an adviser to the company for almost two years, prior to taking the CEO role. He brings a strong product and technology background, with experience at several successful search start-ups: Powerset (natural-language search, acquired by Microsoft), Kosmix (categorized search, acquired by Walmart), and SideStep (travel search, acquired by Kayak). Most recently, he led product at Bing in San Francisco.

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In the United States, two out of every three searches go through Google, which serves up a total of three billion search queries per day. "Googling" has become so ubiquitous that the company has become a verb in English (and in other languages, too).

Given that most of us use Google several times a day and may also use it to send e-mail, to plan our calendar, and to make phone calls, questions commonly arise about how all of that data is used. Google has said that it needs access to such large amounts of data as a way to “make it useful” and to sell personalized ads against it—and to profit substantially in the process.

However, a March 2012 study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that two-thirds of Americans view a personalized search as a “bad thing,” with 73 percent of those surveyed saying that they were “not OK” with personalized searches on privacy grounds. Another recent poll of California voters recently reached similar results, as “78 percent of voters—including 71 percent of voters age 18-29—said the collection of personal information online is an invasion of privacy.”

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Wikidata, the first new project to emerge from the Wikimedia Foundation since 2006, is now beginning development. The organization, known best for its user-edited encyclopedia of knowledge Wikipedia, recently announced the new project at February’s Semantic Tech & Business Conference in Berlin, describing Wikidata as new effort to provide a database of knowledge that can be read and edited by humans and machines alike.

There have been other attempts at creating a semantic database built from Wikipedia’s data before – for example, DBpedia, a community effort to extract structured content from Wikipedia and make it available online. The difference is that, with Wikidata, the data won’t just be made available, it will also be made editable by anyone.

The project’s goal in developing a semantic, machine-readable database doesn’t just help push the web forward, it also helps Wikipedia itself. The data will bring all the localized versions of Wikipedia on par with each other in terms of the basic facts they house. Today, the English, German, French and Dutch versions offer the most coverage, with other languages falling much further behind.

Wikidata will also enable users to ask different types of questions, like which of the world’s ten largest cities have a female mayor?, for example. Queries like this are today answered by user-created Wikipedia Lists – that is, manually created structured answers. Wikidata, on the hand, will be able to create these lists automatically.

The initial effort to create Wikidata is being led by the German chapter of Wikimedia, Wikimedia Deutschland, whose CEO Pavel Richter calls the project “ground-breaking,” and describes it as “the largest technical project ever undertaken by one of the 40 international Wikimedia chapters.” Much of the early experimentation which resulted in the Wikidata concept was done in Germany, which is why it’s serving as the base of operations for the new undertaking.

The German Chapter will perform the initial development involved in the creation of Wikidata, but will later hand over the operation and maintenance to the Wikimedia Foundation when complete. The estimation is that hand-off will occur a year from now, in March 2013.

The overall project will have three phases, the first of which involves creating one Wikidata page for each Wikipedia entry across Wikipedia’s over 280 supported languages. This will provide the online encyclopedia with one common source of structured data that can be used in all articles, no matter which language they’re in. For example, the date of someone’s birth would be recorded and maintained in one place: Wikidata. Phase one will also involve centralizing the links between the different language versions of Wikipedia. This part of the work will be finished by August 2012.

In phase two, editors will be able to add and use data in Wikidata, and this will be available by December 2012. Finally, phase three will allow for the automatic creation of lists and charts based on the data in Wikidata, which can then populate the pages of Wikipedia.

In terms of how Wikidata will impact Wikipedia’s user interface, the plan is for the data to live in the “info boxes” that run down the right-hand side of a Wikipedia page. (For example: those on the right side of NYC’s page). The data will be inputted at data.wikipedia.org, which will then drive the info boxes wherever they appear, across languages, and in other pages that use the same info boxes. However, because the project is just now going into development, some of these details may change.

Below, an early concept for Wikidata:

All the data contained in Wikidata will be published under a free Creative Commons license, which opens it up for use by any number of external applications, including e-government, the sciences and more.

Dr. Denny Vrandečić, who joined Wikimedia from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, is leading a team of eight developers to build Wikidata, and is joined by Dr. Markus Krötzsch of the University of Oxford. Krötzsch and Vrandečić, notably, were both co-founders of the Semantic MediaWiki project, which pursued similar goals to that of Wikidata over the past few years.

The initial development of Wikidata is being funded through a donation of 1.3 million Euros, granted in half by the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, an organization established by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2010. The goal of the Institute is to support long-range research activities that have the potential to accelerate progress in artificial intelligence, which includes web semantics.

“Wikidata will build on semantic technology that we have long supported, will accelerate the pace of scientific discovery, and will create an extraordinary new data resource for the world,” says Dr. Mark Greaves, VP of the Allen Institute.

Another quarter of the funding comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, through its Science program, and another quarter comes from Google. According to Google’s Director of Open Source, Chris DiBona, Google hopes that Wikidata will make large amounts of structured data available to “all.” (All, meaning, course, to Google itself, too.)

This ties back to all those vague reports of “major changes” coming to Google’s search engine in the coming months, seemingly published far ahead of any actual news (like this), possibly in a bit of a PR push to take the focus off the growing criticism surrounding Google+…or possibly to simply tease the news by educating the public about what the “semantic web” is.

Google, which stated it would be increasing its efforts at providing direct answers to common queries – like those with a specific, factual piece of data – could obviously build greatly on top of something like Wikidata. As it moves further into semantic search, it could provide details about the people, places and things its users search for. It would actually know what things are, whether birth dates, locations, distances, sizes, temperatures, etc., and also how they’re connected to other points of data. Google previously said it expects semantic search changes to impact 10% to 20% of queries. (Google declined to provide any on the record comment regarding its future plans in this area).

Ironically, the results of Wikidata’s efforts may then actually mean fewer Google referrals to Wikipedia pages. Short answers could be provided by Google itself, positioned at the top of the search results. The need to click through to read full Wikipedia articles (or any articles, for that matter) would be reduced, leading Google users to spend more time on Google.

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Last week, we covered the story of Camping Alfaques, a Spanish vacation spot whose owner recently sued Google in a local court. His concern: top search results that feature grisly images (note: thumbnail versions of a few appear in a screenshot below) of dead bodies from an old tragedy. Such cases have so many implications for the future of search engines and the companies who depend on them that we spoke to the owner of Camping Alfaques to learn more about his situation. He told us what led him to sue Google, how much the case matters to him, and why he doesn't want anything "deleted" from the 'Net—just relocated.

Mario Gianni Masiá, now the owner of an oceanfront vacation spot called "Camping Alfaques" in southern Spain, was a child in 1978 when a tanker truck exploded into a fireball on the road just beyond the site. 23 tons of fuel ignited, immediately turning 200 campers to ash and badly burning several hundred more. Safely on the other side of the camp, Mario was unscathed.

Photographers descended, of course; pictures were snapped, graphic shots of bodies stacked like charcoal, carbonized arms rising from the earth. Newspapers covered the deaths. A movie was made. But 30 years is a long time, and while memories of the disaster never vanished, visitors to the campground didn't have the most shocking images shoved in their faces just for planning a trip.

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It is often the case in interaction design that the best solutions simply get out of the way, allowing the user to achieve their goal and get on with their life. With Google Maps, this is certainly the desired outcome. Geographic navigation and search should be smooth, efficient, and ultimately straightforward. When this is successful and the product works as it should, the nuances and details behind these experiences can often go unnoticed, written off as algorithmically derived and invisible.

Since its launch in 2004, Google Maps has come a long way from its relatively simple beginnings as a simple pannable and zoomable road map of the United States and United Kingdom. Today we display business and transit networks, three dimensional cities, natural terrain, and much more. It is a map that serves pedestrians, motorists, tourists and locals alike. Soon it was not only used it as a "clean" map for wayfinding and browsing but also as a base for overlays, search results, directions, and personal customization—with sources from all over the web. In the same vein as Google's mission, we are organizing the world's information in a geographic context.

The work and evolution behind this ambitious undertaking is a combination of design vision, product strategy, engineering prowess, and ethnographic and usability research. Our User Experience team comprises a small group of designers, researchers and prototypers in offices around the globe. The research and experience gained in these diverse locations give us insights into real-world usage and help us better serve the needs of our users.

The breadth of our collective work, whether it's anything from helping a local business connect more meaningfully with their customers to helping you find your gate at the airport on time, is harmonized by our common goal to deliver a more complete picture of the Earth. From its roadways and cities to weather patterns and natural wonders, our team is attempting to capture the complexity and variance of these multiple systems in a product that just about anyone can use.

To accomplish this vision, we work in our studios flipping between sketchbooks and whiteboards, Photoshop and Fireworks, visualizing user scenarios and creating new design concepts quickly and in high-fidelity. We complement this process by hacking rendering specs and tweaking Javascript to produce interactive demos. Occasionally, we will even turn to programs like Apple Keynote and Adobe After Effects to quickly demonstrate interactive transitions and animations. These lightweight models give us the ability to test and experiment with highly interactive designs without demanding the resources of a full engineering team. As the design process continues, these prototypes (and static design mocks) are crucial in our early "cafe" usability studies where we often walk a user through a single-outcome user "journey" (e.g. getting directions or finding a hotel).

1.jpegA snapshot of Google Maps' design evolution 2009 (top) - 2011 (bottom). click for more information.

Synthesizing all of this information in an approachable and aesthetically pleasing way carried obvious challenges. As the product grew and evolved, the map varied widely from one country to another, and the universal familiarity and usability that made Google Maps a success was being undermined by complexity and "feature creep." To better understand which of these variances were useful, we audited the map styles, colors, and iconography of maps all over the world with the help of local users. We examined the leading online and offline mapping providers in each country, in addition to researching local physical signage and wayfinding. This undertaking provided us with a look at mapping as a local exercise—with cultural, ethnic, and region-specific quirks and nuances.

2.jpegOur global cartography audit in progress.

With this research in mind, we came to the realization that there was little consistency between this collection of maps and no real indication of a common "correct" palette for color and style rendering. By unifying and simplifying our own Google color palette down from hundreds to a small handful of colors, we were able to produce an experience that provided familiarity and uniformity as you browse the world.

3.jpegA sampling of our color palette studies and refinement.

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Online gamers should always generate an average of $3 of value per hour, regardless of the game they are playing, according to comments made by former EA executive Bing Gordon.

Now a partner with venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, as well as a board member of Amazon, Ngmoco, and Zynga, Gordon insisted the metric was necessary for "an illusion they're creating value".

Speaking to GamesBeat, Gordon used specific examples of earning gold in World of Warcraft (based on its worth on the black market) and generating $3's worth of gifts or coins per hour in FarmVille.


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Google Science Communication Fellows Workshop: Crafting Your Story in the Digital World

Google Science Communication Fellows Workshop Crafting Your Story in the Digital World Presented by Adam Baker, Sean Askay, Bing Chen, Natalie Villalobos, Will Luers June 13, 2011 About the Speakers: Adam Baker, User Experience Strategist Adam is a user experience designer at Google, which he joined in late 2007. After some time working in Search, he spent nearly two years at Google.org, working on projects related to public health, climate change, and "big data." Presently, he teaches design to engineers and product managers. Before Google, Adam worked with startups, RIM, and Apple. Adam studied art, design, psychology, and languages in his native Canada. Sean Askay, Google Earth KML Outreach Evangelist Sean is a Developer Advocate on the Google Earth Outreach team, aimed at helping non-profits use mapping technology. He specializes in the creation of innovative data visualizations using in Google Earth. Sean studied Biology as a undergraduate and has a Masters degree in Environmental Science. Bing Chen, YouTube Creator Initiatives & Platform Marketing Bing is part of YouTube's new YouTube Next team, charted with identifying, cultivating, and promoting aspiring content creators and new media companies--whether they be filmmakers, musicians, sportscasters or cooking show hosts. He leads and co-leads initiatives such as the organization's individual creator investment arm, content creator thought leadership efforts, and the YouTube Creator Institute. Bing spent his <b>...</b>
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About

What has been seen cannot be unseen, or simply cannot be unseen, is a catchphrase used to signify one’s incredulous reaction to a revelation of anomalies found in any given image. In similar vein to When You See It…, this widespread axiom suggests that one literally cannot forget or get rid of memories after visually experiencing displeasing photos or videos. While it originated with shock sites and images created with disturbing intent, the phrase can also be applied to images with hidden designs that you continue to notice after they have been pointed out, for example the arrow within the Fed Ex logo.

Origin

Although the phrase itself has been used for years to describe the inability to forget emotionally trying experiences[6], its online usage began sometime in 2005. One of the earliest examples appeared on the Tribe Magazine forums[4] to describe Tubgirl on November 3rd, 2005. In 2006, a thread on the eBaum’s World Forum[5] was started, asking other users to share some images that cannot be erased from their minds.

Spread

Usage picked up in 2007[13], coinciding with the creation of a demotivational poster featuring the phrase in caption. It was also used to describe looking at 4chan for the first time on the inCrysis gaming forum.[1] Ten days later, it was used in a comment[2] on a Neatorama post, also in reference to Tubgirl. In October 2007, humor blog Blame it on the Voices[3] used it in a photo description, but the image has since been removed.

The single topic blog Can’t Be Unseen[7] was registered in September 2009, focused on photos juxtaposing one image with a second pointing out its design flaws or hidden imageries. In 2010, several blogs began using the phrase as a tag for visually striking or odd images including the Daily What[8], Geekologie[9] and Blame It On The Voices.[10] Buzzfeed[12] highlighted a series of images that cannot be unseen in 2011 and Tumblr tag[11] also hosts a collection of these photos

Notable Examples


Search Interest

Search for the phrase began in October 2007, with “cannot be unseen” overtaking in popularity in November 2009. However, they both have similar search patterns, with matching peaks and drops.

External References

[1] inCrysis – 4chan is full of terrorists!!!!!!!!!!!!111

[2] Neatorama – Comment using “what has been seen…”

[3] Blame It On The Voices – Elvis Camel Toe

[4] Tribe Forums – Cannot be unseen

[5] eBaum’s World Forum – Things that you can’t unsay

[6] Third World Traveler – Excerpts from Power Politics, 2001

[7] Can’t Be Unseen – Home

[8] Geekologie – Posts tagged “cannot be unseen”

[9] The Daily What – Posts tagged “cannot be unseen”

[10] Blame It On The Voices – Posts tagged “cannot be unseen”

[11] Tumblr – Posts tagged “cannot be unseen”

[12] Buzzfeed – 21 Things That Cannot Be Unseen

[13] GenMay Forums – post requesting "Cannot be Unseen cat

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