Focus Melds Crowdsourced IT Analysis with Social Media
September 20, 2010 Alex Woodie
A new online venture called Focus is looking to shake up the status quo in the market for B2B and IT analysis with a business plan that combines social media mechanisms with mostly “crowdsourced” content. If all goes as founder and CEO Scott Albro plans–and it seems to be so far, considering www.focus.com is attracting 12 million people per month, according to Albro–the big players in IT analysis, such as Gartner, will be forced to change how they produce and distribute content.
Focus, which officially launched its Website in May, bills itself as a source of business and technology expertise that’s free to all users. Visitors to the site are encouraged to read the analysis of the experts that Focus has recruited, which Focus typically does not pay them for (hence the term “crowdsourcing”). Even content that the company pays for, such as the recent ERP and telephony buyer’s guides, are free to registered users. (Yes, registration is also free.)
User interaction is encouraged through the many Q&As sprinkled throughout the site and the “virtual summits” that Focus recently added. In the popular Q&A format, users often get multiple responses from experts with specific recommendations to their questions, such as “what CRM systems is best for my particular environment?” Focus currently targets eight industry areas, including IT (the biggest), sales, marketing, finance, customer service, operations, human resources, and small business.
The crowdsourcing approach to generating content works for two reasons, Albro tells IT Jungle. First, the experts that Focus recruits are genuinely interested in helping other people (the altruistic drive). Secondly, the experts are eager to get the exposure that Focus can bring to help their business and their careers (the self-promotion incentive).
Focus is similar in some respects to the popular social networking Websites Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, in that the Focus site is largely people-driven, with lots of people offering their opinions (as well as promoting themselves). “We do draw a lot of inspiration from the Facebooks, Twitters, and LinkedIns of the world,” he says. “We absolutely believe the Internet is going to a more social place, where who you know becomes very important for how you make decisions, even in a professional setting.”
The big difference between Focus and the popular social networking sites is Focus does everything within a B2B framework, and highlights the business knowledge an individual can offer other people. “We launched Focus to be a platform designed to help business and technology professionals make better decisions, and make better decisions in a social way,” he says. “We’re trying to not only allow people to make better decisions based on who they know, but also allow people to make better decisions based on what they know. That’s hard to do on Twitter or LinkedIn.”
So far, the business plan seems to be working. Focus has about 5,000 experts registered, and attracts about 12 million people to the Website every month. But the more important figure, in Albro’s opinion, is the 850,000 people that have become registered Focus users. “We have a long way to go before we’re Facebook, but it’s not bad for a site that we released a little over a year ago and only officially launched five months ago,” he says.
If Focus continues to grow, it will help the company’s advertising business and allow Focus to scale its operations and expand into new topic areas. (For all the talk about social media breakthroughs, breaking old business models, open source content generation, and democratizing access to content, Focus still makes money in the traditional B2B media manner–selling advertisements and sponsorships. It’s a tough business to be in, as IT Jungle knows).
“One of the interesting things about our business is we have no shortage of people who want to create content and cover different topics,” Albro says. “The capability of this business to scale and cover lots of different markets is one of the more exciting things. I think you see that with most crowdsourced businesses. That will open up lots of new markets for us that our sales organization can go in and sell advertising to.”
If the Focus business plan pans out in the long run, the IT analyst “dinosaurs,” as Albro calls them, may want to seek shelter–or at least draw up some new business plans that don’t require customers to spend $10,000 or more for a report, and more effectively incorporate the social and technological breakthroughs enabled by the Net.
“We think of the Gartners, the Forresters, and even the McKinseys and Bains–the big consultancies of the world–as being companies that haven’t necessarily embraced, and aren’t necessarily well-suited to embrace, all the positive changes that the Internet has brought to so many other industries,” Albro says. “That’s the kind of antiquated model that seems pretty ripe for disruption. And that’s really what we’re trying to do with Focus.”
Albro, who lists “knifefighter” as one of his duties in his Focus bio, seems to share a particular disdain for Gartner and the $1.1-billion-company’s cloistered business model, which restricts access to the content its 700 analysts generate each year for its for 7,000 clients.
“We’re really trying to open up that closed world of the Gartner Group,” he says. “They put up barriers around that content, some really restrictive pay walls, in an effort to make the content look extremely scarce, so they can go charge a very small set of customers a lot of money to get access to the content, the expertise, or the advisory services.”
The Internet has already had a huge, irreversible impact on consumer media. People simply don’t pay for content, such as music, newspapers, or magazines, once they realize they can get it for free online. Albro is betting the same thing is happening in B2B media market, which he pegs as generating something north of $200 billion per year. Considering that some major players haven’t yet adopted their business models to the Internet, they may be ripe for disruption.