The Idea Dude


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The blog, your digital message in a bottle

We've been focusing on web desktops the last week or so. With Netvibes and Google under our belt, our sights turn to Windows Live. None of them are perfect and each has quirks that have us tearing our hair out or what's left of it. Nevertheless, they are strong indicators of where the next battleground will be, i.e. the next generation Web desktop. Even as consumers, we are starting to outsource our digital assets. From keeping our precious email on our harddrives, we now think nothing of giving our inboxes to Google, Yahoo or Hotmail for safekeeping. We post our photos to Flickr and even our blogs reside on someone else's servers. So it's no stretch of the imagination to see one day, all our digital property will be found everywhere except in our homes. Hence the beginnings of a new battle of owning your web desktop. Eventually, our computers will come full circle becoming like the terminal consoles of yesteryear except they're in color.

Those of us with children do well to heed their digital behavior. My kids in their teens hardly use email anymore preferring to instant message each other. I suspect like fax, email will never go away but the now generation and beyond will prefer to drop into each other's digital space and leave their friends private or public messages. While the intention is the same as email, I believe the behaviorial change is significant. Whether you like or dislike social networks like MySpace and its lookalikes, it is indicative of a new digital social order. Owning a blog is just a fragment of your web persona. I have no doubt that blogs will evolve to become complex conversations and collaborations. We'll probably look back one day and compare our blogging technology to something close to the time when we put messages in bottles and cast them out to sea hoping someone will find them...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

If you got it, flaunt it...

Working with blogs everyday gives us a unique insight into that whole world both from a reader and a writer's point of view. To be honest, I've been so busy, that it's hard to catch up on reading what's happening in the tech world. Having to work with TheGoodBlogs every minute is like making an achoholic work in a bar. I see so many interesting titles I know I just have to read but must refrain otherwise I would lose 10-15 minutes being enriched by someone else's writings. The feedback from others who have been gracious and brave to try us is the same. They admit to clicking on TheGoodBlogs on their own pages simply because they see things and bloggers they've never seen before. Even on a limited scale, I feel we have already proved our concept. It does work and it does provide value. It is sweet vindication for many sceptics who didn't get it when I told them I wanted to help even out the playing field for the blogger long tail.

There's so much still to do and everyday comes with a learning and bucket of new features. Hopefully, I will have time to share some of our insight as to what drives traffic on websites. For today, I'll share one. Choose your title very carefully. Often we blog like it was stream of consciousness that is left unedited and unadulterated. That may be fine but if you're trying to attract traffic, having a lame title for your entry or having one that is too long is doing you a serious injustice. Think like a newspaper reporter and what the headline should be. Never reveal everything in your title. Like a good flirt, leave something for the imagination. When a casual reader looks for content, you have about 100 milliseconds or airtime as he or she sweeps the page with their eyes, the question is where will they stop?

If you got it, flaunt it...

Friday, August 25, 2006

The pink or the blue pill

This week saw us adding support for Netvibes. It allowed us to access readers who are not bloggers but nevertheless wouldn't mind a block showing blogs they would never otherwise see. Mark Evans commented today that Rojo seems to give priority to A-listers. It is a dilemma for all of us who are involved in the blogging industry. Unfortunately, most people are lemmings (in a nice way) in our behaviorial patterns. We like to go with the flow. Read what other people are reading, watch the television programs others are watching. Makes sense as part of our social survival. You certainly do not want to go to a party and not know who the Desperate Housewives are or not know what Michael Arrington is thinking if you're at a tech conference. On the other hand, if you only frequent the restaurants rated the best by someone, you'll never discover that tiny restaurant tucked way back in the alley that serves authentic Italian food. So do we take the blue pill and work the A-list or take the pink pill and work the long tail.

At TheGoodBlogs, we think it is a mix of the two, but what we'd like to be known eventually is this is the place to find the next Blogosphere superstar in the making. We're like the talent scouts showcasing folks who would otherwise never get the chance to show their stuff. Will that mean that the A-listers will eventually shun us because we are partial to the good blogs that are not the A-blogs? Well, a look at MySpace where most blogs are like a teenager's bedroom says, who really cares? As long as people can connect to other people through the medium of words, then isn't that what the blogosphere is all about. When you come across a blog that simply says, "I'm tired, hairy and I smell", it may shock a tech blog reader, but somewhere, there is a seriously overworked mom that can identify with the post and will draw solace that she is not alone.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Show me the money...

Catching up on my blog reading, there is definitely a buzz about the role of bloggers on the Internet. Mark Evans had a sobering post today basically commenting on how bloggers don't make money or at least a lot of it. If you look at the limited success of success of Boing Boing as the premier site, which pulls around a cool $1 mill. a year, it is hardly the stellar results one would expect from the Technorati #1. Then there's the blur between what is really a website and what is a blog. There are instances of bloggers who have created advertising blogs that earn enough to keep the blogger doing it on a full-time basis. The answer is really about context and search.

If you're a blogger like Mark or even Techcrunch, I doubt you get a lot of click throughs to Google simply because their readers go there for insight and comment. They are not people who look to Mark for advice on how to choose their next dog or which is the best television. The similar principle applies probably to religeous, political, leadership sites etc. I generalize now, but I think you get the idea. What is the mindset of the reader when he lands on your blog. If it is to look for product information, he will likely click on a Google ad because he is already primed to buy.

So it's really back to Mark's earlier question, when you start the blog, is it to connect, to build brand or to make money. Reputation is a legitimate currency. It's different strokes for different folks. There is no doubt, blogging will become as ubiquitous as email as a broadcast voice to an audience you may never meet. No man is an island as they say, bear in mind, that's where all bloggers have to start...your own personal island.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The People's Revolution 2.0

This week has been frenetic, keeping me from doing 2 of the 3 things I love best. To read blogs and to blog. The third one which is ironically the one that causing the disproportionate allocation of time was devoted to writing code for TheGoodBlogs.. It was a very relevant week with some part of the blogosphere abuzz with the relevancy of blogs and bloggers started by Kent Newsome, commented by Nick Carr and subsequently permeated into conversations from other great blogs like Mark Evans and Jeff Clavier. Mark and Jeff are circulated by TheGoodBlogs and incidently, that's how I stumbled upon the conversation. It works!

This is the time for TheGoodBlogs. Everyone who comes across it and me, asks the inevitable question, what's your business model? That question for Tealeaf and me is only relevant in the context that if we don't make some money sometime in the future, it would be a devastating loss for me (and my longsuffering family) and I believe the blogosphere. We didn't take money like many Web 2.0 companies because we believed it would force us down paths that didn't jive with our vision. What's our vision? To find the good blogs, to level the playing field and promote folks like Ken, Nick, Mark and Jeff...and of course me. For us, this is our Cluetrain, we feel like revolutionaries, perhaps 2006 is our 1789.

Perhaps we should adopt French Revolution slogan, "Liberty, equality, fraternity or death". Liberty because we all have the freedom to blog and share our ideas. Equality because TheGoodBlogs will strive to give everyone fair exposure to each other. Fraternity because unlike an aggregator, our success is determined by the support of the unsung bloggers. Death, because if good bloggers fade away because they were unheard, the world, especially the Internet, would be poorer place.

To all the good blogs out don't have to blog every day or every hour or get 16,000 hits per day like Guy Kawasaki. You are good because you took the time to add something in your own way to the Internet. It is there forever, and whether 1 or 1,000 people find you, it really doesn't matter, as long as someone will find you someday and he or she will draw inspiration, comfort or knowledge from that small piece of real estate, you call your blog.

Let a thousand bloggers bloom, I say!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Who will be the next American Blog Idol?

Yesterday, the blogosphere was abuzz with the discussion on why people blog and who cares about the b and c-listers and is the blogosphere really as active as people make it out to be or is it the Hollywood of the Internet where a few actors make an obscene amount of money and the rest work in diners in the hope they will become the next American Blog Idol.

Ultimately, the people will decide who is a good blogger. But good bloggers are not necessarily about quantity of posts or quality of posts. It is about finding the right matches. As they say beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Someone may find a technology blog too boring prefering to get the dirt on where Paris Hilton was last seen. Others enjoy the rantings of a programmer who can't make .Net work on his computer. Check out the newsstand to see how many niche magazines are out there, from classical music to antique watches. To brand the blogger as a single stereotype is where we are all making the mistake. Hence we have a spate of blog aggregators who believe they can find the best blogs. While it is easy to find the first 100, then what? when you get to a thousand, was the first 100 really that good compared to the rest and are they still blogging, and do they remain good?

My observation is that there will always be people so passionate about their craft, work, hobby they will take the time to create content and find people to create communities. These people will continue to labour over their passion over many years and it is their passion that will keep the group going regardless of number. TheGoodBlogs is a terrific way of keeping these small communities connected. Perhaps it is community of photographers sharing their latest pictures or a political party driving a network of blogger supporters. The point is they truly understand their audience. That is where I believe aggregators no matter how well-intentioned will not succeed. They cannot be passionate about 500 categories and they really don't care about the blogger with 10 visits a day. It is no more than the old paradigm of sticking ads on the bulletin board outside the supermarket. TheGoodBlogs in some way tries to be the instant messenger of the Blogosphere. In the coming weeks, we hope that some of these communities will come and test drive TheGoodBlogs and see how we can build a cohesive network of community buzz.

The long tail is an age-old characteristic of nature, akin to the survival of the fittest, we will never eradicate it but it doesn't necessarily mean it has to be irrelevant.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

10 things you should know about starting a Web 2.0 company

Guy Kawasaki has recently been partial to constructing lists of 10. Here's my list for anyone wanting to know about starting a Web 2.0 company.

  • #1: Make sure you pick the right people because chances there will be less than 5 of you to start with, you'll need 200% from each one and you'll spending more time with them than anyone else in your entire life including spouse and children.
  • #2: Chill out but don't sell out. While you lit the candle, you need others to feed the fire. It's important to get many perspectives to your idea rather than guard it jealously or be afraid someone may steal it or break it down. On the hand, make sure you take every comment with a pinch of salt. By definition, a visionary sees things that others don't. You just hope that they will see it sometime since you're as good as your last customer.
  • #3: Fail fast. Or build 10 and throw away 9. If you got it right the first time, you probably took too long to get there which means that it may be irrelevant by the time you reveal. If you embrace failure and the possibility of failure, it's never so bad when it happens and it will happen.
  • #4: Find outside advisors who don't work with you daily. When you're working on the same thing 24 hours a day, everything looks like nail because you have a hammer. You need others to tell you that pink is not the color for your website or that no-one can figure out what that icon you spent 6 hours on really means.
  • #5: Plan for resistance. For every one that loves you and your idea, 100 others will tell you it sucks. You're goal is to find the people who you can please most of the time, that is your customer base.
  • #6: Don't forget the value equation. i.e. The value must be sufficiently larger than the change you are asking people to make otherwise you will never get adoption. In a world where people have very little time, even making people sign in only after receiving a confirmation email from you could cost 20-40% of your potential traffic because they don't bother waiting a day or even a couple of minutes.
  • #7: Don't ship code before you leave work or before the weekend. Murphy's Law says it will be break when you are not looking.
  • #8: Share the blame. It's irrelevant which side of the boat you're sitting if you're collectively sinking. It's more important to figure how to fix it.
  • #9: Don't be afraid. Everyday you will read about a new competitor, a new product that rivals yours. There's usually enough to go around. If people were afraid of Microsoft, there would be no Linux or Firefox. Focus on what value you bring to your community. Yep, think of your customers as a community not as a cash cow.
  • #10: Make sure this is your passion. While you could justify working for companies you hated because they paid you lots of money, chances are you're living on a shoestring in your Web 2.0 gig. You're definitely not doing it for the money, not yet anyway. If Friday is your manic day because you have so much you still want to do, you're passionate, if for you it's a manic Monday, this isn't what you really want to do. Get out while you can!

BTW: Make sure you're always in beta...people don't hate you so much when you screw up!

Web 2.0 - the ultimate software smorgasbord

Being part of TheGoodBlogs as a member brings a certain level of responsibility. At least I feel that now more so than ever. In the past, I would wait for that moment of inspiration or an event or article that grabs my attention. Now, I feel a need to contribute to the network more often and also think about what I want to blog about. Dare I say it, there is a sense of community. To blog irresponsibility not only impacts me but my fellow bloggers with whom I share TheGoodBlogs podium. Maybe there is something to TheGoodBlogs!

Being a small shop has so many advantages. We can be reactive and adaptive by the minute. The changes we make are overnight (one of our trusted advisors paid me the ultimate complement saying it was "frighteningly fast", you gotta love that! (so are our mistakes). I can tell you about shutting down servers on the wrong day or forgetting to point to images that are accessible to the outside world, or moving code around and creating unforeseen anomalies. Yes, it's all dirty linen but so common, I'm not afraid to share. The beauty is that we can have a culture of failing fast, not being afraid to try things, shipping prototypes...because the key is not about writing the most wonderful, secure, robust code that nobody may like but finding software recipes that users will like. Web 2.0 is like smorgasbord of software, all free to try and let the audience decide if we're going to be the next new thang.

One of the interesting insights we have gleaned so far is that our network shows us that there is a portion of readers who do not have Javascript enabled on their browsers. The percentage is not insignificant and can range between 15-20% depending on the day. So many of the widgets we put on our blogs today are Javascript based, we forget there is a portion of our readership that may never see them. A good example would be Google Adsense. 10-20% of your readers may never see the ads, but then maybe all the savy readers who click on your ads always have Javascript enabled! Food for thought!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

One man's trash is another man's treasure

Currently, our commitment to TheGoodBlogs definitely keeps us up at night. Not only from the perspective of rolling out features a mile long in record time but rather living up to our name. Mark Evans and others have asked the question, "how do you know you are circulating the good blogs?" Anytime, we exert some editorial control, we effectively become the censors of the blogosphere. Failure to do so also means we let in a floodgate of blogs that may not be relevant to a particular reader.

In reality there are two perspectives, for the blogger, quality is the issue, to ensure that he is putting his name to a list he approves. For the reader it is about relevancy, reading something that he or she finds interesting. The problem with quality is that it is subjective like driving an American muscle car instead of a European one or wearing Gucci instead of Gap. The problem with relevancy is you need to understand reading habits. Amazon, does this well analyzing buying habits because they can correlate purchases, pretty much putting your money where your mouth is. We have a harder time figuring out if a reader sent by TheGoodBlogs liked something he read. Polls or opinions are rarely answered making the statistics not representative.

Having run the program for over 10 days now, it is yielding some interesting data. The most encouraging is that people do find TheGoodBlogs relevant and the number of people clicking through to other good blogs is equal or better than many ad campaigns. The real question is what are the click through characteristics of other domains and other communities. That is the exciting challenge that lies ahead. Nevertheless, I am convinced that when a reader arrives on your blog, many do wonder what to do next after reading your well-crafted message. Especially if there was nothing new. That is where TheGoodBlogs comes in.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Can't see the forest for the trees...

Kevin Burton's dismissal of Technorati's numbers made some interesting reading today. His contention is that the 50 million blog's number is grossly exaggerated and that a majority of them are not active. He is right of course, in that the numbers are wrong. Firstly, they only represent a view from Technorati which should only serve as an indicator and not the de facto statistic of the blogosphere in general. For example, it doesn't take into account 10's of millions of Asian bloggers who probably don't even know Technorati exists. Secondly, there is a difference between blogs that are not updated often versus those that are truly dead. If you count the number of splogs, or blogs that were created on a whim and have only one entry, I'm sure you will be amazed at the number.

Whether you feel the number is 10 million or a hundred million is kind of moot because it is already a large number. Which brings a whole host of Web 2.0 startups looking to aggregate, prune, select only the best for you. Most of these are out there to select the very best blogs. But they face a similar dilemma, how do they keep up looking for the good blogs and what happens to blogs that no longer are good. Ergo, they are trying to capture an elephant that is growing larger and quicker than the cage they are trying to build around it. Pretty soon, their 10 good blogs become a 1000 blogs and gradually, the perceived quality suffers. Or else, they stick to the 10 good blogs and never do their readership justice to the other 10,000 potentially good blogs out there.

I believe that missing link is that there isn't a gigantic cloud called the blogosphere out there. It is more an archipelago of blogs, islands connected by common readers. Communities get built around these islands forming constellations but nevertheless it isn't one big mass or mess as it is usually portrayed. That's why it seems crazy to talk about what is a good blog. One man's meat is another man's poison. The key is to help communities grow and provide infrastructure for readers to become island hoppers. If you are going to help solve the blogosphere monster you're not going to solve it using a centralized approach, you need to empower the blogger and the people who build the blogger communities. That's what we are really trying to do at TheGoodBlogs. Just as eBay became a faciliator of buyers and sellers rather than be 'the e-commerce antique store', so do we strive to become the facilitator of bloggers and their readers.

On a closing note, creating TheGoodBlogs, has been an entirely rewarding but equally draining experience. We have been so consumed in getting it right, we have scarely had personal lives in the last 6 weeks. Now's the time to stick a couple of quotes over our computer monitors like that one from Benjamin Franklin, He that can take a rest is greater than he that can take cities or Chuang Tzu, Men cannot see their reflection in running water, but only in still water.

Time to take a break, have some green tea and read a couple of good blogs...

Monday, August 07, 2006

Post launch reflections

TheGoodBlogs launched quietly last week. We didn't spend any marketing dollars or the customary press releases. We wanted to put our toes in the water and test out our audience. We were pleasantly surprised. Perhaps the maxim, 'you can't keep a good idea down' is true afterall. We've had a surprising number of queries and visits to the site. This week, we're faced with more work, juggling with sending out beta invites, putting in our next round of enhancements and generally being open for business. While many technology blogs serve as commentaries of emerging Web 2.0 ideas, I think over time, this one will be biased to the other side, i.e. what is it really like inside a Web 2.0 company. Sharing our challenges, anxieties, paranoia, success and hopefully not to many failures.

The post-launch syndrome is an interesting one. The last 10 days has been anxious ones, not to mention the long hours, gathering feedback, making last minute tweaks. The aftermath that follows is the typical trough that follows the preceding high. Now we have some time over the weekend to reflect on what we have done. I'm reminded of the classic Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, where the little fella throws up a balloon full of water, catches it and gets thoroughly drenched. His insight to his whole adventure? How can something seem so plausible at the time and so idiotic in retrospect. While it does describe some of our prototypes, luckily, it doesn't describe what we have launched or our vision. Nevertheless, there is the feeling of reality. The weeks of hypothesizing whether this is a great idea or how many people will get it is moot. We've launched and to an extent, we are now at the mercy of the blog gods. It is scary, make no doubt about it. But to not try would be a personal traversty I could not live with. I wake up every morning with a sense of urgency and excitement, there is so much to do, so much more we can improve, so many bloggers to reach. I need to temper that stress and exercise patience...the blogs will wait for us. It is not a phenomenon that will disappear any time soon.

To those who will visit TheGoodBlogs, I hope they realize it is a work in progress, we make no claims to understand it all. But we do bear the passion or burden of trying to make the whole blog space, more understandable and accessible and generally helping readers beat a steady path to all the good blogs...

Friday, August 04, 2006

The inaugural flight of TheGoodBlogs

This week saw the unveiling of TheGoodBlogs. Our fledgling startup that we so lovingly nurtured and laboured over the past several weeks is now in the public eye. Whether this baby will eventually be a swan or an ugly duckling is irrelevant right now. We are just so excited to give back to something that has pulled and tugged at our internal chords for many years, a passion called blogging. I remember reading the beginnings of in real time, the trials and tribulations he went through before most people even knew what a blog was. I grew to love the ability to share on a web page, my thoughts, my experiences and my pain. The need to share and understanding 99% of the blogging community face similar challenges became the seed of TheGoodBlogs.

Right now, all that matters is that after many years in the software trenches building companies and teams for other people, I've finally found the combination that gets me up every morning, blogging, distributed computing, writing great software and doing it with a great friend, Tealeaf. We all have different measures of success, for some it is money, for others it is reputation...for me, it is about empowering the blogger and helping good bloggers become known. Good bloggers are good regardless of their readership and I'm out to help them find that spotlight. If I am able to drive readers to your blog that you would not have gotten otherwise, regardless of whether it was one or a hundred than I have succeeded. In time, I would love to be the most efficient and effective network to promote bloggers, right now, it's to simply find a few good blogs.

I've gone through many gigs, business plans, business models and yet this one feels like The One. Perhaps it's because I am surrounded by good people on this adventure whether they are partners, family, bloggers, advisors, mentors. They all see a long lost spark in my eye. One of my closest mentors said just this week, "You have no business plan...but you have to do this for your own sake". That's good enough for me...

Hope to see you on TheGoodBlogs!