Global Grind: Missing The Mark

January 15, 2008

in Uncategorized

Lately I’ve been tossing GlobalGrind.com around to some of my friends, asking their opinions and giving them a few observations of my own about the site. These particular friends of mine are Black, web-savvy individuals who run the gamut of designers, content producers, and/or backend developers. They know their stuff when it comes to the web, especially Web 2.0.

My observations:

  • GlobalGrind.com was in alpha phase testing during the summer of 2007. I registered for an account back in July, and began setting up camp because I beta test everything whenever I can.
  • In its alpha phase, the site was nothing more than a thinly designed startpage, with default feeds consisting of urban websites like XXLMag.com, allhiphop.com, etc.
  • Russell Simmons backs the site.
  • It raised $4.5 Million in venture capital in September 2007.
  • A thin and paltry post from the site’s blog claims they “redesigned” the site, when in fact, they switched up business models. It now looks like a digg clone, only the labels have been switched out for more “urban” audiences.

Needless to say, looking at the final product, my friends and I were less than enthused. In fact, we’re confused as to what is going on over at Global Grind headquarters.

Global Grind Presents… Clones
The site claims they recently redesigned, but it appears as though they passing off a digg-clone as a redesign. Anybody with half a brain on the web knows they went from the startpage model to a digg model. This is not switching out CSS files, or fancying up some XHTML. Everything is different on this site. Where is my startpage that I spent time putting together on the alpha site? Gone, and without an e-mail to let me know it would go AWOL during this “redesign.” Global Grind does not care about its users.

I’m not mad at them for jumping on the startpage fad. That was somewhat of an interesting idea, and startpages have some way to go before they get played out. But don’t insult your users by claiming a “redesign,” especially your beta testers. Your beta testers are some of the most important people you want to listen to, and it’s important to keep lines of communication open at all times.   

Design
Why does the design look derivative? It looks as though they bought a generic template, and filled in the blanks. The logo doesn’t connect the product (alpha or beta versions) to the name for me. Frankly, the site design is tacky and has poor UI, UX, IA, and OPP. This applies to the previous design too, though I may have given it a pass because most startpages have wonky design elements.

Show Me The Receipts

The greatest thing about the Facebooks and Googles of the world is that
you can start out with very low overhead and make millions. Global Grind raised $4.5 Million from Accel Partners, with Russell Simmons adding his own undisclosed investment funds to the project. Where did all this money go? In a recent episode of Run’s House, Russell pitches the site to his brother, Rev Run, and asks him to invest in the company. Russell retorts that he spent a lot of money in “Schmuck Insurance,” which sounds like he just asked someone to write up some hefty NDAs and Non-Compete paperwork. Did this so-called Schmuck Insurance cost $4.5 million? Because looking at this site, I have no idea where else the money went.  Copy the digg concept (people copy digg all the time *cough*MySpace News*cough* and it doesn’t seem to catch on), switch out a few category labels…..what else is there to spend $4.5 million on? Definitely not design. Is all of the money going to marketing? Did they take out a Super Bowl ad? Open up a new office building? I’d like to note, Digg raised its first $2.8 Million in VC funding, ten months after it launched. Meanwhile back at the ranch, GlobalGrind has $4.5M+ out the gate and this is what they have to show: a broken site, cloned and derivative to the max?

Think Different
The lack of innovation on Global Grind is disheartening. The switch from startpage to digg model isn’t the disappointment, as much as it looks as though they tried to create a Black/hip-hop version of something else with poor execution (BET, anyone?). Flickr started out as a MMOG, and managed to flip the business into a photo managing/social website. Startups flip the script all the time, that’s part of startup culture: chaos, uncertainty, and constant revisions. GlobalGrind copies the ideas of others, throws some Black people/hip-hop in the mix and then asks for more money. Where is the innovation? Aside from the startup mindset of innovation and creativity, what about hip-hop’s element of innovation, being different, doing your own thing?

Honestly Reflecting
I thank people like Tiffany B. Brown and Cyde Smith for stepping up and offering some trained analysis on the disappointment that is Global Grind. I think Global Grind boosters are nothing short of those following the Simmons brand, going off of Russell’s business savvy. To a certain extent I can’t blame them, however, Russell himself knows that everything he blesses doesn’t turn into gold. I can’t hate on Russell Simmons, and I’m not. I greatly respect the man, and I can identify with him. I just finished reading his last book and loved it, I like Rev Run & his fam, and I especially love Kimora (read & loved her book too). Nobody loves the Simmons fam as much as me, trust. I just need Russell to take a good look at who he has on his team, because right now, this looks sloppy and unprofessional. I hold Russell to a high standard, and I expect him to look like he knows what he’s doing–especially with $4.5M+ in hand.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Trula January 16, 2008 at 11:17 AM

Interesting post. Do you think the template stuff will have an impact on their target audience? which I’m guessing is teenagers and early 20somethings.

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j. brotherlove January 16, 2008 at 11:20 AM

You hit all the nails on the head! But you know, the saddest part is I expected nothing better from GlobalGrind’s alpha site.
It’s as if the talented black web community and black folks with deep pockets (or access to funding) are swimming in different waters.
You and I could’ve have chosen 5 friends on Twitter and come up with something more innovative in half the time with a quarter of the money they spent.

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Liz January 16, 2008 at 11:23 AM

@Trula:
Honestly, there are plenty of startups out here who have template derivative style and design…but at some point after funding (if they get funded) they get their act together. Poor UI will impact their target audience, on some level, I think. It’s the reason why MySpace continues to try and improve their UI, as slow as their updates come.
On a design level, perhaps I am being nitpicky. On the other hand, like I said I expect more from Russell Simmons and a highly funded product. You can fudge a bad design and poor UI when you’re broke, or the first one to the party with a great idea. Global Grind is neither of these.

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Liz January 16, 2008 at 11:42 AM

@j.brotherlove
You are so right about the different waters! The only reason I cared enough to write this post is because I keep seeing awesome Black businessmen launching poor websites. They have the know-how to get celebrity backing and money, and then you pull up the URL and it’s like what happened? Damon Dash’s BlockSavvy comes to mind. Do they know anybody who knows anything about Web 2.0 at all? Meanwhile, I am toiling away tooth and nail on a startup for under $10K that I can barely get off the ground due to lack of resources, and I know plenty of intelligent Black web professionals in similar situations.
You’re right, the minds on Twitter could do awesome things if we had the kind of money Global Grind is (apparently) burning.

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Shawn January 16, 2008 at 12:02 PM

This is a very disheartening project at best. Being in the same boat as j.brotherlove, it truly saddens me to see projects like this in existence. The sad part is not so much the project itself and lack of direction, but the names behind it. I know Russell Simmons did not become the man he is today but blindly backing startups like this. And the same thing goes for Damon Dash. The fact that Global Grind is run by the former CTO of BET is equally disturbing.
Everyday I run across a variety of sites that have little or no direction and even worse execution. This one really hits home because its my own people, and I know how hard it is for “us” to get ahead in this game. My question would be, who’s original idea was this entire project? Additionally I’m very curious to know how someone as business savvy as Russell Simmons can back something, without being able to concretely describe what it actually does.

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Bill Cammack January 16, 2008 at 3:57 PM

Well, I’m not a designer, so I can’t speak on the coding aspects of GG, but having checked out the site and clicked on a few topics, my first question was “Is this still under construction?”. The only two things that jump out at you are the banner ad and the ad in the *generous* sidebar. The entries themselves are crammed together with a little picture. I was wondering “Where’s the content?” and then I remembered you called it a Digg Clone and noticed the icons for yay or nay on each “post”.
Regardless of how it’s coded, it doesn’t LOOK like a professionally-created site. If that’s all it takes to get funded to the tune of a few million….
“Where does Homey sign?” 😀

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Michael January 16, 2008 at 4:42 PM

Great post Liz. You really nailed everything I’ve been thinking about GG for a while. I initially saw it when it was a start page and even then I had issues with it. Not only was it a poor copy of NetVibes / PageFlakes but I also found the whole “hip-hoppers (read Blacks) need hand holding” theme a bit offensive. I can choose my own feeds just fine — thank you very much!
I’d forgotten about the site until I saw it on Run’s House the other day. So I was shocked when I went back to the site and saw it morphed into a Digg clone. Besides all that’s been mentioned above, I was also struck by how few votes the stories on the front page were getting. They must about 100 active users, if that. I’m afraid Rev Run may never get his money out of GG.
Having said all that, since you like beta testing I’d love for you to check out FaveBot.com , the site I recently launched.

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Testbet January 17, 2008 at 8:18 AM

Quick question for you all? If you have the talent, the time and the skills why can’t you do your own version of GG? As they say: “you build it and they will come.”
BTW, Russell did not get the money for GG. In fact, many people are leery of his internet endeavors, therefore ACCEL’s investment was not due to the Simmons name but to the actual product. Everything Russell does not turn to gold and ACCEL is aware of that and would have not thrown their money into a site they felt would be dead in 11 months.
I assume that the everyone knows this is the same ACCEL who has invested in Facebook. Mark Zuckerburg’s classmates were calling him a MySpace wannabe and look at him now. He’s laughing all the way to the bank.

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Testbet January 17, 2008 at 8:19 AM

Quick question for you all? If you have the talent, the time and the skills why can’t you do your own version of GG? As they say: “you build it and they will come.”
BTW, Russell did not get the money for GG. In fact, many people are leery of his internet endeavors, therefore ACCEL’s investment was not due to the Simmons name but to the actual product. Everything Russell touches does not turn to gold and ACCEL is aware of that and would have not thrown their money into a site they felt would be dead in 11 months.
I assume that the everyone knows this is the same ACCEL who has invested in Facebook. Mark Zuckerburg’s classmates were calling him a MySpace wannabe and look at him now. He’s laughing all the way to the bank.

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Testbet January 17, 2008 at 8:29 AM

Liz,
I like your site and your insights into GG. I wasn’t feeling GG’s original format. I’m not a tech person therefore, I couldn’t get w/the boxes and all that other stuff. However, my girlfriend loved it and told me to keep an open mind. Now, we have the best of both worlds. I go to “Dicovered” and she heads straight to “Globalview”. My question to you is: GG kept some elements of the pageflake/NetVibes model, but simply incorporated them with a Digg model. What is the problem?
Obviously, you are talented and have something to say. Why don’t you go to GG’s site and give them some honest feedback? I don’t like BET.com because I don’t like BET. I am excited that there is finally a site that is geared toward my demographic and actually allows me to get the news from our perspective. I look forward to “speaking” w/other positive Black people like yourself.
Much love

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Liz January 17, 2008 at 10:08 AM

@Bill, yes design aside, I need the site to actually function in the places that *should* function. That’s the bottom line as for as professionalism.
@Shawn, BET.com never impressed me before this last overhaul they had, so I am not too surprised.
@Michael, thanks for dropping by! I will definitely check your site out and hit you up via e-mail.
@Testbet, Thanks for clarifying the Accel process, which makes sense to an extent, but is not an excuse as to the current mishaps on the site. I’ll give GG more of my time and do some feedback on the site, as I would like to see the project get better because I know it has so much potential.
Thanks everyone for all your input on this topic!

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Joy January 17, 2008 at 2:52 PM

Your web savvy insights not withstanding, I would caution you all to be careful what you wish for. What a struggling start-up may lack as far as backing/funding, it makes up for in autonomy. Before criticising too harshly, ponder this: How might a backer/financier impede your techno-creative process?
That said, I believe they revamped the site in the first place in response to user feedback. So I think those on the technology end of GG would welcome your brand of informed and sophisticated techno-savvy feedback. If you can see the potential and need, I hope instead of just holding clandestine critique court, you guys “in the know” have also “spoken (your) truth to (Global Grind) power” (or you will); and you’d also be so inclined to give Global Grind the time and chance to respond and evolve.
That would distinguish your criticism as constructive.

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Testbet January 17, 2008 at 9:09 PM

Sorry my comments posted twice. Told you I’m not a tech person.

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Andre January 18, 2008 at 5:38 AM

Then again, some of these people are still in the mindset that if we have a website up, we are a few steps ahead of the game in any regard. The whole “if we build it, they will come” mentality.
Maybe they are underestimating what their audience wants to see. I’m sure enough quality feedback, like what you wrote here Liz, might make a difference.

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Lynne d Johnson January 18, 2008 at 6:30 PM

Liz
I’ve read what Tiffany posted, what Clyde posted, and what’s been posted at BlackWeb2.0. When I first got invited to the Alpha, I didn’t go back. I saw that it was a site for which I wasn’t the intended user. Not because of the content, but because of the way the functionality worked. So with this redesign, and real launch, I’m feeling the same way too. But this time for another reason — do I need an urban digg? As I said on Tiffany’s site, blackplanet already attempted this, and it didn’t work for them.
One great product that GG had that I don’t see anymore was its relevance engine. It offered a certain type of discovery that was fresh and new. But what I think happened was that the intended audience gave feedback and they didn’t get the RSS Reader approach that was originally there. As far as design goes, yes the site looks a little elementary, but that’s exactly what I thought of Facebook when I first saw it.
I don’t know Navarrow Wright personally, but what I hear in the industry is that he knows his technology. The thing is this, if they can figure out a compelling product — one that their target wants and needs, it won’t matter what the design is like, or even what the business model is. Nowadays technology is the driver of business, and people in this space need to deliver compelling products — ones that are user focused in terms of UI (user interface). The question that these leaders need to ask themselves before they even consider design is what am I asking the user to do. Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability takes on this task very well.
If they did their homework, performed usability tests and studies, and this was the end result of what their target wanted, then the site isn’t for us. But of course if they didn’t answer the simple questions of want, need, and whether the user has to think too much — then it’s a no win.
Truth is, there’s a lot of room in the urban space for many offerings. Some will work for some of us and some will work for others of us.

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Shavar January 19, 2008 at 12:46 PM

Great article/blog post Liz. Excellent write-up. Looking forward to reading more from you.

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shaver March 25, 2008 at 2:13 PM

R Simmons keeps trying the Trump school…put a lot of bets out there, one of them is bound to hit….lie about your sucesses and lie about your failures….Trump 101 lots of marketing and bullshix, no talent

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Globalgrind News June 27, 2008 at 8:31 PM

Many people are saying how bad this site is but they are not giving it credit for what it’s trying to do. What people has to remember is that myspace, youtube and even yahoo had problems in their first year as well. It is a young site and needs time. I wish them luck.

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Q February 2, 2009 at 3:43 AM

It is great to have the big brand names on GG but what really wakes people up is when an unknown comes in with good content gives it away for free and is championed by a site like GG.
http://globalgrind.com/source/www.imdb.com/365694/fever-the-prologue/
Now we have done just that! What if GG picked it up and championed it, the cost of our movie which we are giving away for free online on GG far exceeds the risk, but then a lot of models on the web in the early stages was about giving cool content or sharing that for free so we share the link below with you for free….
http://globalgrind.com/source/www.imdb.com/365694/fever-the-prologue/

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Jamal February 3, 2009 at 11:33 AM

It’s troubling to see that 1 year after liz’s article, the situation remains the same and more money have been spent for nothing. Crazy.

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