Intrusion to Intent: Content is the Advertising

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Lately, I have been thinking about advertising – no, not as a business model for Zoho, advertising and work-oriented software don’t mix, in my opinion – but from the point of view as an advertiser ourselves, again not primarily related to Zoho. AdventNet, the parent company of Zoho, uses a variety of marketing channels, ranging from trade shows to search advertising, to popularize our software products. What we have noticed is that the ROI of internet advertising, outside of search, has been dismal and getting worse. I was reminded of this when I read the post by Jason Calacanis on falling advertising rates in social networking sites.

But this trend extends far beyond social networking. As a WSJ Online and NY Times online regular (30 minutes a day), I can safely say that I don’t recall any of the ad impressions on those sites in months. No doubt they have always been there, but I just can’t recall any. In contrast, I have watched CNN perhaps a total of 1 hour in the last 2 weeks and yet, I can recall at least a couple of ads from CNN. What makes TV advertising so effective is that it is so intrusive. In the other end of the spectrum lies search ads on Google, which has access to the most distilled form of user intent available, making it possible for ads on Google to almost become content.

Where in the spectrum do other forms of internet advertising lie? By their nature, intrusive ads on the internet don’t work – the user simply clicks away. Even when the prospect of some form of compelling content forces the user to stay (pre-roll ad on internet video, for example), pretty quickly users figure out they can switch to another browser tab until the ad runs itself out and the content becomes available.

Personalization and micro-targeting are thought to be the answer to this problem, but I am not persuaded. Let me give an example: let’s say I list reading & economics as my interests in my profile somewhere that is available to advertisers. Let me be even be more specific and list Austrian School economics. So could a publisher micro-target me to try to sell me a book? Here is the problem they would face: there are a number of specialized blogs that offer outstanding content on these subjects, and I am very likely to hear about books from these sites organically. People who post on these sites (both authors and commenters) are likely to be far more relevant than any computer algorithm could ever be in targeting my interests. So a prospective book publisher in these topics is better off providing real content to these sites to seed user interest than to run banner ads all over the place. In fact, in at least one case, the publisher of such books runs a fairly active content site, and I end up buying the books because I like the content offered in the site.

So here is what is going on in a nutshell: targeted advertising is competing for attention with targeted content, and content would win that contest every time, as long as intrusion is not possible. The only way for targeted advertising to win is to actually become content itself. That explains why Google search ads are so effective: they are a form of content.

Zoho Accounts

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za.pngIn this blog we talk about different Zoho applications and their features. But at the back-end, there is one little known module that connects all Zoho Applications – Zoho Accounts

Zoho Accounts took shape when we rolled out Single Sign-on for Zoho Apps. Since then, we added quite a bit of functionality enhancing Zoho Accounts which is included across all applications (check out ‘My Account’ link on the top right in any Zoho App). It is this module that enabled Google & Yahoo! sign-ins across Zoho Apps.

Zoho Accounts let you configure your personal settings that are common across all Zoho applications. The Contacts module lets you import contacts from multiple sources including your Google & Yahoo! Accounts. These contacts will be visible across other Zoho Apps like Zoho Mail. The Groups section lets you define groups that are common for all Zoho Apps. Once you have the Groups defined here, you’ll be able to share your Documents, Spreadsheets etc to those Groups.

The Accounts section has other functionality like configuring your Email IDs, resetting your password etc. If you configure Skype ID here, it’ll be shown in some Zoho Applications like Zoho Notebook when you share a Notebook with other users who use Skype. Zoho Meeting also integrates Skype.

As with other Zoho Applications, this module is improving at a rapid pace. Most of the enhancements in this module are not very noticeable because of the nature of this app. But this is a very important module that is going to play an important role when we integrate Zoho Apps.

Login to Zoho with your Google or Yahoo! Accounts

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google-yahoo-zoho.pngNow you can login to Zoho with your Google or Yahoo! accounts. Below the Zoho Sign-in section, you now have the option to login with your Google or Yahoo! accounts.

If you already have a Zoho account with your Google or Yahoo! email address, you will be logged in to the Zoho account automatically. If you do not have a Zoho account with your Google or Yahoo email address, then you have the option to either associate the Google or Yahoo email address with your existing Zoho account (under Accounts) or you can create a new one.

Apart from logging into Zoho with your existing accounts, you also have an option to import contacts from your Google and Yahoo! accounts to the Contacts section under Zoho Accounts.

This functionality is also useful for sharing documents. Now you can easily share your documents with your friends who have Google or Yahoo! accounts. They can login to Zoho with their Google or Yahoo! credentials and view shared documents without having to create new Zoho Account.

Here is a useful tip. Under, if you add your Gmail and Yahoo email addresses (under ‘My Email IDs’ section) and confirm them, you’ll be able to login to your Zoho Account with either your Zoho Account, Google Account or your Yahoo! Account.

Why this move?

zoho-lifehacker-poll.pngWe obviously want many users to try out and use our applications. Apart from that, we noticed that when users try Zoho, they prefer our apps to competition. This Lifehacker poll conducted few months back for example gives you a snapshot.

There are two takeaways from the poll like the one above (and other polls we conducted).

  1. Many users don’t prefer creating yet another account for yet another online app
  2. Users prefer Zoho to Competition when they try both (In case of the above poll, around 75% prefer Zoho)

We hope this little feature is useful. More than these polls, we want to hear from you if this is useful. Please do let us know your feedback.

Update: FAQs on this is available here. Also, this image gives you the flow.

RunMyProcess Integrates with Zoho

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Last week, we announced Huddle-Zoho Integration. Now, Business Process Management (BPM) software maker, RunMyProcess has become our latest API partner.

According to their CEO : “RunMyProcess is the glue needed by enterprise IT when extending to the web: deploying a web based CRM is a matter of days, but leaving it unconnected from the rest of IT is a matter of serious operational risk. The risk of unconnected web solutions can be avoided in a few ways: spreadsheets, accounting or CRM solutions can be linked to daily exchange rates, parcel delivery follow-up or customer scoring services, all of them mixed with human tasks for critical, non automated steps.”

Here’s a brief demo of how integration with Zoho helps RunMyProcess connect the dots. This is another great example of an API partner integration as well as the expansion of an ecosystem, with Zoho Creator as the catalyst for easy workflow and functionality. We’d like to thank RunMyProcess for integrating Zoho.

If you are planning to integrate Zoho into your application, please do let us know and we’ll be glad to help you. Other partners who integrated Zoho are listed here.

Zoho Creator Pricing “Strategic Blunder” & Lessons Learned

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Recently, we announced pricing for Zoho Creator, which we patterned after Zoho CRM, blithely assuming that since Zoho CRM pricing was exceptionally well-received – indeed, I confidently predict that within 5 years, no one will be able to charge $50-100 per user per month for CRM! – we will do fine with Zoho Creator as well. Indeed, we started receiving customer orders literally within hours of the pricing announcement.

While we provided a Free Edition in Zoho Creator, what we didn’t realize, of course, was the diversity of our user base in Zoho Creator, the most passionate & vocal among them called the pricing Zoho’s first strategic blunder. We had non-profits, independent developers, casual users and so on for whom the Free Edition wasn’t sufficient, and the pricing we announced was just not right. In hindsight, we should have known this: even within AdventNet, Zoho Creator is used in ways that we didn’t anticipate when we developed it. The foremost example is apps being used to organize internal events like cricket matches or movie outings, for collecting information on various participant preferences and so on. These kinds of applications are simply not worth paying for.

We apologize for missing key parts of the Zoho Creator constituency with our first stab at pricing. Now we have revised it significantly, and put a second draft, explicitly recognizing the diversity of needs. I have posted it in the same forum thread and summarize below.

I want to emphasize our commitment to a) keeping a generous free edition so the cost of entry is zero b) affordable pricing, designed to vastly lower the cost of IT to business customers c) Running our own business efficiently enough to turn a profit with (a) & (b). At AdventNet, we have a 12 year history of doing just that, and we have grown organically to this level.

Zoho Creator Free Edition & Independent Users Edition: it is based on personal user accounts, and it will have a limit of 5 free applications and a total of 200 MB of data and a bandwidth limit we are working out, with no shared user limit. We expect to revise the data/bandwidth limits upwards based on usage experience and as prices for these fall. The applications can be private or public. Developers can use this edition to test out their ideas free.

In practice, this will work much like how Zoho Writer or Zoho Sheet personal editions work today, with no sharing limit for number of users. They difference is that there is no administrative relationship among users, while an organization account provides for such administrative relationships, and therefore policy enforcement.

Beyond the free limit, pricing will be based on per application basis, because number of users is not tracked.

Zoho Creator Business Edition:
it is based on organizational accounts, as provided in Zoho Business, a limit of 5 free applications & 200 MB of data, with monthly bandwidth constraints to be specified. It will have a free user quota as well, based on Zoho Business Free Edition limits (likely to be 10 persons in an organization). The key difference is that unlike Free Edition, it will come with administrative policy options, and potentially some extra features to be decided in future.

Beyond the free user limit, pricing will be based on number of users basis, with bands of users. We will start at $5/user/month, and drop it to $3/user/month when we reach 100 users, with volume discounts. We will also announce a bundled package pricing along with Zoho Business when Zoho Business reaches general availability.

Once again, I would like to thank everyone who provided feedback. We don’t always get it right at first, but with your help, we will!

UPDATE : Here’s the new pricing model for Zoho Creator –

New Pricing Page for Zoho Creator & a Pricing FAQ.

Huddle Integrates Zoho

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huddle.jpgHuddle combines group collaboration, project management and document sharing using social networking principles. Huddle now integrated Zoho Applications for viewing and editing documents inside their application.

Huddle used our Remote API to integrate Zoho Writer and Zoho Sheet. This allows Huddle users to create, view and edit documents, spreadsheets within their familiar interface respecting Huddle’s security, permissions and workflow rules.


We’d like to thank Huddle for integrating Zoho and are looking forward to more such integrations. All our API Partners are listed here.

Zoho Wiki : Improved Free Plan, Domain Level Permissions etc

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Zoho Wiki’s latest update added the below goodies :

  • Free plan improved
    • Number of wikis per free account increased from 1 to 2
    • File attachment storage space for each Wiki increased from 10 MB to 25 MB
  • Domain and registered users permission settings
    • Provide permission to your domain users (your company/organization’s email domain) to create/edit/view/delete pages & post comments to your wiki. No separate invitation mail need to be sent, just signing up with Zoho is enough for accessing your wiki [a short help page explaining domain level permissions with a screencast]
    • Provide permission to Zoho’s registered users to create/edit/view/delete pages & post comments to your wiki
  • Set Permissions for Page Creation / Deletion
    • Provide permission to who can create pages in your wiki
    • Provide permission to who can delete pages in your wiki
  • Block Users
    • Block users who are mis-using your wiki by Zoho User ID or user email address
  • New Image options
    • See your latest uploaded images and thumbnail view of images
  • Delete file attachment versions
    • Delete unwanted versions of a file attachment. Comes in handy for reclaiming attachment space [Caution: you cannot revert back your content once you delete a version]

Try the new Zoho Wiki and we would love to hear your feedback comments.