Daily Archives: September 23, 2009

PR people: 10 ways to screw up @techcrunch’s embargo policy

TechCrunch is famous for not accepting PR people’s embargoes.

I’m always shocked that PR people care in any way about this, because there are so many ways to force TechCrunch (and anyone, really) to abide by embargoes. Here’s my favorite ways:

1. Copy Evan Williams (CEO/Co-founder of Twitter). Twitter didn’t launch in a tech blog. Or, if it did, it didn’t matter. I didn’t hear about it from any of the tech blogs. Ev, yesterday, even said that if he launched at Demo or TechCrunch that the judges would probably have panned it. So, how did they launch? They handed it out to friends and let their friends evangelize it. I remember first hearing about it from Eddie Codel. Face-to-face. No PR needed. No embargo needed. No “launch date” needed. I remember hearing about Qik from a friend of the company in an Apple store on a Saturday night. Same thing.

2. Brute force. Hire 10 PR people, call 10 journalists/bloggers at the same time and brief all of them at the same time. You really only need 10 people to launch a huge amount of coverage anyway.

3. Take Arrington’s own advice. He left this one in the comments on his post. Release it to everyone on your own corporate blog and then email everyone and say “take a look.”

4. Release the news in a press conference. This is how I learned of Google’s Open Social. I was in that press conference with Arrington. The embargo ended during the conference. We both had posts up in less than 20 minutes (and I was using Qik to live broadcast it).

5. Just give the exclusive to TechCrunch. Heck, that’s what most PR people do nowadays. It won’t bother us.

6. Promise bloggers a special feature that they will get to talk about first if they keep their mouths shut. Yelp did just something like this with me. They put a cool augmented reality easter egg into the product. So, after everyone else had talked about the app I was able to share with everyone something exclusive. It got covered in every single tech blog too, which gave Yelp a double dose of coverage.

7. Promise Arrington that if he keeps the embargo he’ll get an exclusive interview. This works especially well if you are Google or Facebook. But, if you are an interesting company, like, say, Gowalla, I’m sure there’s something you can offer TechCrunch that they’d be interested in over and above the news of your new iPhone app.

8. Donate $1,000 to a charity if Arrington keeps his mouth shut (will cost you maybe $5,000 to keep a few big bloggers in line). Make it public. That way he’ll look like a loser if one of his writers breaks wind first.

9. Sponsor a party at TechCrunch’s headquarters. That way if the news leaks it’ll look bad if TechCrunch doesn’t cover it. We did that with Building43, luckily the other writers stuck with their embargoes and everything worked out, but if it hadn’t you’d still have the launch party to get news.

10. Launch at a conference that all the tech writers from all the different blogs and publications like and will cover anyway, like LeWeb or Web 2.0 Summit/Expo.

What are some other ways you can mess with Arrington’s embargo policy? And how come so few PR people are writing about creative ways to deal with TechCrunch’s policy? (If you come up with some good ones, link to them in my comments).

UPDATE: since one of these really was just giving up, I’ll give you an 11th one. 11. go to a place a lot of Twitterers and bloggers hang out (like the Twitter Conference that ended today) and tell everyone you like the news and see how it leaks out. I did that with my news about leaving Microsoft and told probably 10 to 15 people. I told them on a Saturday and asked them to keep it quiet until Tuesday. Well, of course the news leaked, but not the way you’d think. A guy I didn’t even know leaked the news first and then we were off to the races. Within 72 hours Waggener Edstrom, Microsoft’s PR agency, told me I had gotten millions of media impressions with hundreds of articles and blogs.

Antifeatures: big mistake that location app developers make

This week I got a press release from Gowalla. It went on and on about how much better its feature set was than Foursquare, a point of view backed up by one of my favorite tech writers, Zee, so I gave it a second chance.

Why did they claim it was better?

Because their app forces users to use the GPS in their phone to check in. Foursquare does not, the press release says. That is all true.

If you read that you’d think that Gowalla was going to run away with the prize, right?

But, sorry, it won’t work out that way.

Here’s why. This “feature” is actually an anti-feature.

“What in heck’s name are you talking about Scoble?”

Well, they didn’t do their homework. On the Gillmor Gang last week Kevin Marks of British Telecom nailed it. He told us that people are freaked out by location-based applications.

Every time I show these apps to people they invariably respond with freaked out replies like “I would never use this.” Or, “stalkers would love these.” Or “something nasty is going to happen to someone because of these.”

This is a completely different response than those who I first showed, say, Twitter too. They responded merely with “that’s lame.”

You can get over being lame. You can’t get over your potential users being freaked out.

So, here’s why this is an antifeature for these apps, and probably lots of location apps (let’s talk about how Twitter is handling location troubles later):

1. Both of these apps are location games. You check in. You get virtual points. Your friends know where you are. This freaks people out. But only one app FORCES you to tell people exactly where you are when you check in: Gowalla. This is going to turn off a lot of people, plus it makes checking in a LOT harder. While staying in Sequoia Hospital I was able to check in with Foursquare, but not Gowalla (because my GPS didn’t work inside Sequoia).
2. Most people, when they play location games, want to add some “fuzziness” to their location. For instance, I am at home right now. The closest address to me is the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay (I’m walking distance away from it). On Foursquare I check in there. Which lets me “win” mayorship of the Ritz, plus it lets me add some fuzziness to my actual location. On Gowalla it forces me to check in at my real address, if I want to let my friends know I’m in the neighborhood. My friend Luke, who lives nearby, could use this to know when I’m home and available for going surfing, for instance.
This makes Gowalla considerably less fun, too. One part of a location-based game is presenting people as you’d like others to see you. It’s a lot more interesting to check in at the Ritz every night than my actual home address, which, to tell you the truth, I’d be a little freaked out to report to everyone (and if I’m freaked out, imagine how freaked out the average user is).
3. These two games have two significant challenges and Gowalla’s approach will cripple them in both. The challenges? 1. Get users. 2. Get those users to add locations.
Why are those challenges? Well, if you are a normal user, try to use these systems, and you try it in your home town and no locations are there, you get pissed off and leave. Even I behaved this way, ignoring Foursquare until just recently, despite it being hot at SXSW with lots of my friends. I checked in this afternoon at Rite Aid, a pharmacy in Half Moon Bay. Both systems didn’t have that location. I added it, but adding it in Foursquare had fewer screens. Why? Because of the GPS requirement. And, Foursquare has a LOT more users. Why do I think that is? Partly because it was out earlier, but also partly because it is, well, more fun to play because it doesn’t require exact use of the GPS. The people I’ve shown both systems to tell me they are more likely to join Foursquare. Oh, and I got a nicer reward for adding a new place into Foursquare than Gowalla, which made Foursquare more fun and made it more likely I’ll add the other weird places in my town.

The more I look at it, the more I’m convinced that the strict use of the GPS in Gowalla makes it significantly less likely to gain users than Foursquare will get.

That’s why I call this feature an “antifeature.”

Now, I do admit that there will be disagreement with me. Zee, for instance, thinks that Gowalla is hot because of this feature. I think he’s misjudged it and time will tell who is right.

Oh, as to Twitter, did you see how they added “fuzziness” into the location? They are deleting location information after 15 days.

Twitter is also making the system opt in. User control is very important in getting users over their fears of revealing their location. Most users are freaked out by these features, so user control and fuzziness are the two most dominant and needed features.

What do you think?