Sep
14
2021
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LinkedIn launches a $25M fund for creators, will test Clubhouse-style audio feature in coming weeks

When LinkedIn first launched Stories format, and later expanded its tools for creators earlier this year, one noticeable detail was that the Microsoft-owned network for professionals hadn’t built any kind of obvious monetization into the program — noticeable, given that creators earn a living on other platforms like Instagram, YouTube and TikTok, and those apps had lured creators, their content and their audiences in part by paying out.

“As we continue to listen to feedback from our members as we consider future opportunities, we’ll also continue to evolve how we create more value for our creators,” is how LinkedIn explained its holding pattern on payouts to me at the time. But that strategy may have backfired for the company — or at least may have played a role in what came next: last month, LinkedIn announced it would be scrapping its Stories format and going back to the proverbial drawing board to work on other short-form video content for the platform.

Now comes the latest iteration in that effort. To bring more creators to the platform, the company today announced that it would be launching a new $25 million creator fund, which initially will be focused around a new Creator Accelerator Program.

It’s coming on the heels of LinkedIn also continuing to work on one of its other new-content experiments: a Clubhouse-style live conversation platform. As we previously reported, LinkedIn began working on this back in March of this year. Now, we are hearing that the feature will make an appearance as part of a broader events strategy for the company very soon.

“We’ll be starting to test audio with a small pilot group in the coming weeks,” said Chris Szeto, senior director of product at LinkedIn, who heads up its audio efforts. “Given the trends in virtual, hybrid events we are also working on making audio part of our overall event strategy rather than a standalone offering, so that we can give people more choice about how they want to run and engage with their audiences.”

Notably, in a blog post announcing the creator fund, LinkedIn also listed a number of creator events coming up. Will the Clubhouse-style feature pop up there? Watch this space. Or maybe… listen up.

In any case, the creator accelerator that LinkedIn is announcing today could help feed into that wider pool of people that LinkedIn is hoping to cultivate on its platform as a more dynamic and lively set of voices to get more people talking and spending time on LinkedIn.

Andrei Santalo, global head of community at LinkedIn, noted in the blog post that the accelerator/incubator will be focused on the whole creator and the many ways that one can engage on LinkedIn.

“Creating content on LinkedIn is about creating opportunity, for yourselves and others,” he writes. “How can your words, videos and conversations make 774+ million professionals better at what they do or help them see the world in new ways?”

The incubator will last for 10 weeks and will take on 100 creators in the U.S. to coach them on building content for LinkedIn. It will also give them chances to network with like-minded individuals (naturally… it is LinkedIn), as well as a $15,000 grant to do their work. The deadline for applying (which you do here) is October 12.

The idea of starting a fund to incentivize creators to build video for a particular platform is definitely not new — and that is one reason why it was overdue for LinkedIn to think about its own approach.

Leading social media platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook and YouTube all have announced hundreds of millions of dollars in payouts in the form of creator funds to bring more original content to their platforms.

You could argue that for mass-market social media sites, it’s important to pay creators because competition is so fierce among them for consumer attention.

But on the other hand, those platforms have appeal for creators because of the potential audience size. At 774 million users, LinkedIn isn’t exactly small, but the kind of content that tends to live on there is so different, and maybe drier — it’s focused on professional development, work and “serious” topics — that perhaps it might need the most financial incentive of all to get creators to bite.

LinkedIn’s bread and butter up to now has been around professional development: people use it to look for work, to get better jobs, to hire people, and to connect with people who might help them get ahead in their professional lives.

But it’s done so in a very prescribed set of formats that do not leave much room for exploring “authenticity” — not in the modern sense of “authentic self”, and not in the more old-school sense of just letting down your guard and being yourself. (Even relatively newer initiatives like its education focus directly play into this bigger framework.)

With authenticity becoming an increasing priority for people — and maybe more so as we have started to blur the lines between work and home because of COVID-19 and the changes that it has forced on us — I can’t help but wonder whether LinkedIn will use this opportunity to rethink, or at least expand the concept of, what it means to spend time on its platform.

Oct
01
2020
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Oracle’s TikTok and Zoom deals won’t move cloud market share needle significantly

While the overall cloud infrastructure market is booming having reached $30 billion last quarter worldwide, Oracle is struggling with market share in the low single digits. It is hoping that the Zoom and TikTok deals can jump start those numbers, but trying to catch the market leaders Amazon, Microsoft and Google, never mind several other companies ahead of it, is going to take a lot more than a couple of brand name customers.

By now, you know Oracle and TikTok were joined together in unholy acquisition matrimony last month in the acquisition equivalent of a shotgun wedding. In spite of that, Oracle founder and chief technology officer Larry Ellison gushed in a September 19 press release about how TikTok had “chosen” his company’s cloud infrastructure service. The statement also indicated that this “choice” was influenced by Zoom’s decision to move some percentage of its workloads to Oracle’s infrastructure cloud earlier this year.

The mechanics of the TikTok deal aside, the question is how big an effect will these two customers have on the company’s overall cloud infrastructure market share. We asked a couple of firms who closely watch all things cloud.

John Dinsdale, chief analyst at Synergy Research Group, wasn’t terribly optimistic that they would have much material impact on moving the market share needle for the database giant. “Oracle’s cloud infrastructure services growth has been consistently below overall IaaS and PaaS market growth rates so its market share has [actually] been nudging downward. Zoom may be a good win but it is unlikely to move the needle too much — and remember Zoom also buys cloud services from AWS,” Dinsdale told TechCrunch.

As for TikTok, Dinsdale, like the rest of us, wasn’t clear how that deal would ultimately play out, but he says even with both companies in the fold, it wasn’t going to shift market share as much as Oracle might hope. “Hypothetically, even if Zoom/TikTok helped Oracle increase its cloud infrastructure service revenues 50% over 12 months, which would be a real stretch, its market share would still be nearer to 2% than 3%. This compares with Google at 9%, Microsoft 18% and AWS 33%,” Dinsdale said.

He did point out that the company’s SaaS business is much stronger. “Broadening the scope a little to other cloud services, Oracle’s SaaS growth is running roughly in line with overall market SaaS market growth so market share is steady. Oracle’s share of the total enterprise SaaS market is running at around 6%, though if you drill down to the ERP segment it is obviously doing much better than that,” he said.

Canalys, another firm that follows the cloud infrastructure market says their numbers tell a similar story for Oracle. While it’s doing well in Saas with 7.8% market share, it’s struggling in IaaS/PaaS.

“For IaaS/PaaS, Oracle Cloud is at 1.9% for Q2 2020 and that isn’t moving much. The top three providers are AWS, Azure and Google Cloud, who have 30.8%, 20.2% and 6.2% respectively,” Blake Murray from Canalys told TechCrunch.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Google hired Diane Greene five years ago with the hope of accelerating its cloud infrastructure business. Former Oracle exec Thomas Kurian replaced her two years ago and the company’s market share still hasn’t reached double digits in spite of a period of big overall market growth, showing how much of a challenge it is to move the needle in a significant way.

Another big company, IBM bought Red Hat two years ago for $34 billion with an eye toward improving its cloud business, and while Red Hat has continued to do well, it does not seem to have much impact on the company’s overall cloud infrastructure market share, which has been superseded by Alibaba in fourth place, according to Synergy’s numbers. Both companies are in the single digits.

Synergy Research Q2 2020 cloud infrastructure market share graphs

Image Credits: Synergy Research

All that means, even with these two clients, the company still has a long way to go to be relevant in the cloud infrastructure arena in the near term. What’s unknown is if this new business will help act as lures for other new business over time, but for now it’s going to take a lot more than a couple of good deals to be relevant — and as Google and IBM have demonstrated, it’s extremely challenging to gain chunks of market share.

Aug
19
2020
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Just what would an enterprise company like Microsoft or Oracle do with TikTok?

By now you’ve probably heard that under pressure from the current administration, TikTok owner ByteDance is putting the viral video service up for sale, and surprisingly a couple of big name enterprise companies are interested. These organizations are better known for the kind of tech that would bore the average TikTok user to tears. Yet, stories have persisted that Microsoft and even Oracle are sniffing around the video social network.

As TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton pointed out last week, bankers involved in the sale have a lot of motivation to leak rumors to the press to drive up the price of TikTok. That means none of this might be true, yet the rumors aren’t going away. It begs the question: Why would a company like Oracle or Microsoft be interested in a property like TikTok?

For starters, Oracle is a lot more than the database company it was known for in the past. These days, it has its fingers in many, many pies, including marketing automation and cloud infrastructure services. In April, as the pandemic was just beginning to heat up, Zoom surprised just about everyone when it announced a partnership with Oracle’s cloud arm.

Oracle isn’t really even on the board when it comes to cloud infrastructure market share, where it is well behind rivals AWS, Microsoft, Google, Alibaba and IBM, wallowing somewhere in single-digit market share. Oracle wants to be a bigger player.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has successfully transitioned to the cloud as well as any company, but still remains far behind AWS in the cloud infrastructure market. It wants to close the gap with AWS, and owning TikTok could get it closer to that goal faster.

Simply put, says Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, if Oracle combined Zoom and TikTok, it could have itself a couple of nice anchor clients. Yes, like the proverbial mall trying to attract Target and Nordstrom, apparently Oracle wants to do the same with its cloud service, and if it has to buy the tenant, so be it.

“TikTok will add plenty of load to their infrastructure service. That’s what matters to them with viral loads preferred. If Microsoft gets TikTok it could boost their usage by between 2% and 5%, while for Oracle it could be as much 10%,” he said. He says the difference is that Oracle has a much smaller user base now, so it would relatively boost its usage all the more.

As Mueller points out, with the government helping push TikTok’s owner to make the sale, it’s a huge opportunity for a company like Oracle or Microsoft, and why the rumors have weight. “It’s very plausible from a cloud business perspective, and plausible from a business opportunity perspective created by the U.S. government,” he said.

While it could make sense to attract a large user base to your systems to drive up usage and market share in that way, Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that just by having a large U.S. tech company buy the video app could make it less attractive to the very users Microsoft or Oracle is hoping to capture.

“An old-guard enterprise tech company buying Tiktok would likely lessen the appeal of current users. Younger people are already leaving Facebook because the old folks have taken it over,” Leary said. And that could mean young users, who are boosting the platform’s stats today, could jump ship to whatever is the next big social phenomenon.

It’s worth pointing out that just today, the president indicated support for Oracle, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The publication also reported that Oracle’s billionaire owner Larry Ellison is a big supporter of the president, having thrown him a fundraiser for his reelection bid at his house earlier this year. Oracle CEO Safra Catz also has ties to the administration, having served on the transition team in 2016.

It’s unclear whether these companies have a genuine interest, but the general feeling is someone is going to buy the service, and whoever does could get a big boost in users simply by using some percentage of their cash hordes to get there. By the way, another company with reported interest is Twitter. Certainly putting the two social platforms together could create a mega platform to compete more directly with Facebook.

You might see other big names trying to boost cloud infrastructure usage, like IBM or Google, enter the fray.  Perhaps even Amazon could make an offer to cement its lead, although if the deal has to go through the federal government, that makes it less likely, given the tense relationship between Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the president that surfaced during the Pentagon JEDI cloud contract drama.

Apple has already indicated that in spite of having the largest cash on hand of any company, with over $193 billion, give or take, it apparently isn’t interested. Apple may not be, but somebody surely is, even some companies you couldn’t imagine owning a property like this.

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