Interview With Nooked CEO Fergus Burns

    March 9, 2005

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some very interesting RSS executives and CEO’s over the past few months.

One such CEO is Fergus Burns of Nooked. His company and business model are quite interesting so I thought I’d share a little more information about Fergus and Nooked here by way of a Marketing Shift Q & A. I recommend reading all you can about RSS & feed based marketing, imho it’s a growing trend that will have the same effect the search engines had on traditional marketing back in the day. The new push is pull, it’s all the rage.

Q: What is your background?

A: I’ve been working on Nooked for the past 3 years – previously I worked for numerous start-up companies in an advisory capacity. From 1994 to 2000, I worked for Microsoft – I started off on the engineering side of the house, and moved over into management after 3 years.

For a large part of my Microsoft career, I was involved in “content” driven products – Encarta, Streets & Trips, MapPoint, MSN – the one theme is my exposure and usage of markup technologies – from SGML to HTML to XML.

Q: What does Nooked stand for & How do you pronounce it?

A: Nooked is pronounced – Nuked. It’s a derivative of the Gaelic for News – Nuacht – pronounced – Nuked.

Q: How many employees are working on Nooked at this time?

A: We’re a small team of 10 people.

Q: How long have you been in the feed space?

A: I could claim that I’ve been dabbling with feeds since the CDF days. In all honesty we really started to get into RSS in 2001 – we started to see these cool aggregator applications appearing that meant that consumption was going to be ubiquitous over time.

Q: What is the business model behind Nooked?

A: The business model has been simple to date – we have a value proposition for corporations where they wish to publish their communications through RSS. They pay us a subscription fee to use our service – which is an on-demand, hosted service. We call that product our Nooked FeedWizard.

We have other service offerings that are coming out of lab – the basic premise is that we can monetize the publishing and consumption of enterprise communications, through different monetization models.

Q: Who is your target customer?

Our target customer at the moment is the VP of Marketing and/or Corporate communications Communications and/or Customer/Partner Ssupport – anyone at a CXO level whose responsibility it is communicate with customers onlinethe community. We also work with partners, such as communication agencies, who share the our same vision as ourselves, and who can work with the CXO levels to implement these forms of communications.

Q: How many feeds does your target customer currently have?

A: We offer each client on Nooked FeedWizard five Feeds “out of the box” as default. We can extend that number by any amount. The Nooked client base is growing every day – we have people using our service from all corners of the world. The number of feeds on the system is into the thousands at this stage, and we expect this to grow.

Q: Do you foresee a time when every user is given a unique subscriber url rather than a unique publisher url?

A: Yes, we do.

For the moment the focus and business demand, has been to provide a unique publisher URL – this is the standard implementation that we see on sites from Microsoft through to the likes of CNet.

In the future, publishers will want to get finer reporting and consumers will want a personalized experience from RSS, and the obvious way is to implement unique subscriber URLs. The only negative on this implementation, is that you create a significant bandwidth cost to both the publisher and the aggregator, which goes against some of the original principles of RSS.

By the way, Nooked supports both implementation scenarios.

Q: What mechanism is used to track stats on an RSS feed? Do you track unique clicks or do you also track views and crawler activity on each feed?

A: The primary mechanism at the moment is to track the click through activity. Using this metric, you can then drill down into time- based reporting, the source of the click through, the content or item preference, etc. Click through activity reporting has been made somewhat easier through the widespread use of the Google Adwords solution.

Views and crawler activity are also part of the reporting mix, but they are not as accurate as the click through measurement.

Q: Do you foresee a time when the number of subscribers to a company’s feed will surpass the number of email mailing list subscribers?

A: Yes, we do. We see RSS a complimentary channel to Emailemail, rather than as a replacement.

From a publisher perspective, email marketing has been simple – get people to sign up, push message out and measure the conversion/commercial impact. Publishers have also been working to a monthly/quarterly schedule which acts as an “excuse” to get their message out.

This has changed dramatically due to Spamspam, CAN Spam Actact, Email email virus, etc. Consumers are moving to a scenario where they will only use email for communications with individuals and groups within a closed environment. Email newsletter view and clickthrough rates are declining.

RSS gets around a lot of the problems of newsletter publication schedules, Spam, opt-in, Virus, etc – it’s a clean channel, which is 100% controlled by the consumer. If the consumer subscribes, you have created a communication flow, which can reward the publisher, as long as they don’t break that “trust”.

Q: Do you believe feed marketing and email marketing can coexist? Please explain?

A: Yes – they can co-exist. I think it will take a few years for people to move over completely. In the interim you need to have a hybrid solution – email gets sent out to people, but included is a link to the RSS feed (probably a unique url feed for that person). Over time the publisher will see the shift.

To help accelerate the market, we beta launched our Nooked Directory. We see it as a ‘Yahoo’ for corporate RSS, enabling people to easily find a number of feeds for a particular industry or business category. That is a problem people face today – how do I find RSS feeds? Can I have meta-feeds?

Q: How many paying customers does Nooked currently have?

A: Without giving away all our secrets, we’ve got a nice recurring revenue model at the moment – we’re seeing conversions every day from our free trial to the subscription service.
As we continue to enhance the Nooked offerings, and as the market adoption rate for RSS increases, we anticipate our customer base to grow even quicker over the next 6 months.

Q: If you could use a single word to describe RSS feeds, atom feeds, feed marketing in general and anything that has to do with xml syndication, what would it be?

A: That is a trick question – Conversations – would be my best attempt.

Interesting tidbits section

Q: Rugby or Football [European version]?
A: Football – but I also like Rugby

Q: Email Marketing or RSS Marketing?
A: RSS marketing

Q: Where do you live?
A: Ireland

Q: What cell phone do you use?
A: Sony Ericcsson

Q: What kind of car do you drive?

Q: Google or Yahoo!?
A: MSN :)

Jason Dowdell is a technology entrepreneur and operates the Marketing Shift blog.