The Idea Dude


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The power of diversity

I like what Mindy Adams was saying about how to 'clue in' to online. One of our dilemmas has always been how narrow should a category be. I'm always concerned that one of our bloggers may see something on their blogs they didn't feel was consistent to their focus or theme. Usually, when that happens, I search within to find out how I would respond when I see a post that I particularly didn't care for.

Mindy thinks that one of the biggest mistakes news people make is that they stay in their own field. Journalists (dare I say bloggers) need to spend time in other areas to gain a wider awareness of what people are saying and getting excited about. I was encouraged that someone else shared the same point of view as I did. Diversity is what adds richness to our lives. Anecdotally, I remember being a social invalid in my younger years because I had so immersed myself in software unless you spoke in bits and bytes, you would not find me interesting and vice versa.

So rather than cringe when I see a post on TheGoodBlogs that didn't seem to fit, I now see it as an opportunity to discover something I never knew about. I think, it is also a question of tolerance and humility. To tolerate a point of view and interest that may not be personally interesting but to recognize that as one more voice in the blogosphere it is no less relevant than your own. Then to be humble to know that one can learn as much as you can teach, and it, in fact, may be pre-requisite.

Friday, October 27, 2006

1+1 = 200

Whew! This week was the wildest ride ever. The users just kept coming and we just kept working. How do we build our customer base? One blogger at a time. By that, I mean we actually go to each member site and check if the widget works on IE, Firefox and if necessary Opera and Safari. It takes a lot of time especially if there's some issue with the site. More often than not, it's not our widget but something else but we take the time of figure it out and reach out to that blogger. Why? it's important that we add value to each blogger. That's what we're all about. Hence, we spend a lot of time personally answering emails, check style sheets, revising our statistics every couple weeks, adding features like our promote bar when you click on a story in the widget. Makes for very long but nevertheless satisfying days (and sometimes nights!) I've always believed that to build a business you need to build a community and an understood value to that community. Once that is established the rest have a habit of taking care of themselves. Just opening TheGoodBlogs to a wider audience has helped us learn a number of things. I'll share more of that in the days to come.

Back to my blog title, why 1+1=200. It kinda goes hand-in-hand with Ian Delaney's wonderful post today on rules of engagement. (No pun intended). One of our members liked a story from another member, posted it on Stumble Upon and it resulted in over 170 clicks to that story. This isn't like winning a lottery and we've seen this happen before. Another aspirational example was one of our members was voted onto the Netscape homepage, she received many thousands of clicks over the following 3 days.

What did I learn from this? Every click counts, because you never know who is the one visitor who will enjoy a particular story and carry it to his/her own community. Back to my rhetoric that the blogosphere is an archipelago of blogs each blogger, being a proverbial island but is connected to the rest through the dynamic travels of the readers (tourists?). Sadly (for us at TGB), because we may never catch the second level of indirection (e.g. circulating a link to post within another community), many of readers that could sourced to a click through the TGB widget may never be attributed to us. It does explain, anecdoctally, why some members are reporting increases in their feedburner subscriptions but they couldn't explain why since they were not doing anything fundamental different in their blogging behavior.

But Ian's point is profound. It's not about the number of visitors to your site. With proper SEO and a promiscuous personality, you can over time achieve that. If that's what floats your boat, get a MySpace account and hop on a MySpace train, you're guaranteed to have many fairweather friends. Rather for me, it is about engagement, making sure that those who do arrive at your blog find it consistent and relevant to their interests. If you can touch just one heart or provoke just one thought a day through your blog, the accumulation of your contributions over time will be significant. After all, is that not what communities are about?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Driving readers to your blog

Gentlemen, start
engines! TheGoodBlogs is officially open to the public for business. Less than four months ago, all we had was an idea, an inkling that we could do something profoundly different on the blogosphere. Interestingly enough, we have come full circle ending up in the same tiny office Tony and I shared 5 years ago (alas 9/11 and the death of dotcoms crippled our ability to raise any cash then). This time we got a couple of breaks, sound guidance from long time friends and mentors, Bert Amato and Dennis Bennie, some terrific advisors like Mark Evans and Jeneane Sessum and a bunch of fine bloggers in multiple continents who took the brave step because I think they saw our vision.

Through our technology, bloggers have promoted each other a staggering 2.5 million times and circulated thousands of additional readers. For us to watch this on a daily basis is way cool. The best part is that, like some of the best Internet disruptions e.g. eBay, it is community driven. I've been in enough startups to know that the market is fickle and the best laid plans can meet untimely ends. But today, we like our chances...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Net reality, where are your eyeballs?

I had an interesting discussion with a veteran advertising executive last week. His catch phrase was, "the most watched TV program today is the Internet at 17% viewership between 7pm-11pm". While we both recognized that the Internet consists of essentially infinite channels, it was nevertheless telling that a substantial chunk of what was thought to be prime time television is steadily being eroded. Even on television, the hunger for reality TV seems insatiable regardless of whether you were watching the Food Channel, the Home Channel, Discovery or one of the major networks. Shows like Survivor and Fear factor were just the beginning. Perhaps it is just plain cheaper to film ordinary people in ordinary or extraordinary situations but I think there is a real trend towards watching reality TV...which is perhaps why this generation is seeking their entertainment on the 'Net.

So what is more real than YouTube, blogs, MySpace, flickr and the like. Or participating in multiplayer games like Counterstrike, Battlefield 2142. My kids hardly send email. It's all instant messenging these days. Even your instant messaging title is no longer a staid title but is a mood reflector. Rather than send an email to her friends, my daughter elected to change her IM title for the day to "I'm out, call me after 3pm". How's that for innovation from a pre-teen. I guess my point about the Internet today is that it is an experiential environment that people can be voyeurs or more often participants ad hoc unscripted conversations. Despite what people are saying about the worth or usefulness of MySpace, we would be naive to ignore how today's generation and tomorrow's generation is using the Internet.

I left the meeting with my advertising friend with a strong conviction that even the blogosphere will be transformed in the next 2 - 3 years beyond what it is today. Your blog will become your space where people want to hang out and chat, comment, contribute, pretty much like a typical MySpace profile. The excitement that followed is that while TheGoodBlogs was a great service to all bloggers, we were only scratching the surface of what was achievable. The analogy here would be that most content portals are like movie theatres, inviting patrons to visit because of great content. TheGoodBlogs is more like your television set inviting your friends and readers to find information/enlightenment/entertainment on your blog and to hang out in your house.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Webstats don't lie

Had an interesting question on webstatistics over the weekend. I was trying to track down the disparity between our statistics and some webpackages that claimed 5 times the traffic. Here's a note why the web statistics from your hoster may not be what you think it is. That is not to say the numbers are wrong but the interpretation of them should be done with care. The most important number for all bloggers is obviously the number of readers that visited your blog. We believe our numbers are an accurate reflection of this since we get called once every time we appear on a blog within a browser page. That would be our definition of a reader visit. Here's where we start to deviate from the webstats that your ISP is showing you.

  • Unique visits. This should be the same as our number right? Not always. Every page usually loads 4-5 (sometimes more) additional files including stylesheets, scripts, images etc. But unique means they should all collapse to one IP. Well, yes and no. If the web hoster had multiple servers and each had it's own web stat package and they present you a number by simply adding the stats from each webserver, unique is not unique anymore. If they performed simple round robin load balancing, your 5 requests from one page and one IP would be spread evenly across multiple servers each registering a unique hit. Unless they have a common web stat database which would be performance bottleneck, each webstat package doesn't know about the others. You final count for each visitor if you had 5 servers? 5 unique visits.
  • Total pages. This can be severely bloated because of web crawlers. It's pretty hard for web hosters to exclude them from their statistics because web crawlers may use more than one server and IPs change all the time. At the same time, web masters do want all the stats because they need to know the total number of pages that are being requested whether it is a human reader or web crawler. So if your blog pages have many links to comments, archives and other blog entries, the crawler will add a significant number of pages to your total. It is not uncommon for large blogs to have as much as 100 links to it's own domain. So each time a crawler comes to your site and follows the links, your web hoster is logging a couple hundred pages. The number of web crawlers vary but not limited to the big 3 or 4 search engines. A popular site may get 10-20 a day if not more.

The best way to get a true reflection of who your readers really are is actually using something external like Sitemeter or TheGoodBlogs because it doesn't get aggregated with the total number of support files and web crawlers that may visit your blog. Again it is important to stress that the numbers that web packages are designed to give you is to help you with performance and bandwidth so they will often include all the stuff that are not related to the number you want, the number of unique blog readers.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Find stuff without really looking

Looking through the posts today, there seems to be much discussion about blogging vs journalism (all found on TheGoodBlogs, hurray!). Covered by Kent Newsome and Mediangler to name a few. It seems we are in some ways responsible for creating conversations within the TGB network as I do now.

On the same vein there is an interesting talk by David Weinberger on how blogs propagate links to external pages where traditional online media like New York Times have links that point internally to other pages. His point was that bloggers have no fear about linking to others whereas major online media properties are afraid of you leaving their sites. The video can be found on Jeneane Sessum's blog. David used Jeneane's blog as an example of the extensive links in her posts and her blogroll. It was unfortunate David didn't get to see TheGoodBlogs because that would have reinforced his speech somewhat since Jeneane was actively promoting other bloggers through TGB. Ah well, maybe someone will David about us and he'll include us in his next speech.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dot com deja vu

Having lived and died (figuratively) during the dot com, the Google/Youtube does smack of the exuberance of late 90's to me. Neither YouTube nor MySpace had business models beyond advertising yet both commanded valuations that would put traditional enterprise software deals to shame. However, I like what Michael Urlocker pointed out in his recent post on the matter. He quoted Peter Drucker's old adage that the only valid definition of business purpose is to create customers. In the case of YouTube and MySpace, their customers are advertisers and their assets are eyeballs, millions of them.

Mike nailed it when he says that YouTube succeeds because it is immediate gratification, quick fixes, reality TV, social relevance and is contextually sound. I've pushed the concept of value - change required = adoption very often in this blog. i.e. the value of something must be far greater than our requirement for our customers to change the way they work or behave, otherwise adoption will not happen. For YouTube, the value may not be huge, but the barrier to entry is just a click away and usually, the gratification is over in minutes. Your commitment to action is a no brainer compared to choosing say a movie in which you may have to sit through a couple of hours to realize it wasn't worth it after all.

The biggest question is whether they can be true to their purpose and make money. Only too often, companies die because the need to make money takes them away from the fundamental purpose of their existance in the first place.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Risk of Discovery

One of the premises of TheGoodBlogs is that of discovery. Exposing the long tail to a wider audience by introducing new blogs and blog entries on your blog page. Of course, that comes with a risk, you may see something you like or you don't. Sounds simple, there is a choice, click or not to click. However, I suspect many bloggers are concerned about who is promoted on their page and less so as to who is promoting them. I imagine that is due to the fact that the blog is a web reflection of your persona. Just like you care about what brand of clothes you wear, you care about what or who your blog is associated with. We care about it too.

If you look at Digg, YouTube, MySpace, a common complaint I've heard is that much of what you see is irrelevant, you spend a lot of time clicking on stuff that you don't care for. Yet it is that total anarchy and openness that has created vast audiences. Pretty much volume over quality. Like democracy, everything is open for abuse. A quick search on the Net will show tips on how to get on Digg's front page or how to achieve better scores in the search engine. I've written else where that the long tail is not one giant blob but rather a large collection of niches. Finding, defining and managing each niche is really the challenge for us today. As I write, the road for TheGoodBlogs is becoming clearer, I think the path is that of distributed self-regulated communities...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Mark Evans joins B5Media

I don't usually blog about individuals, but every now and then someone comes along and makes an impact on your life and your business. When we started TheGoodBlogs, Mark Evans was our first adopter. I was impressed with his boldness and willingness to try new things. He wasn't hung up on whether we would succeed or fail or whether we had technology that was robust and stable. He was intrigued enough by the concept (and hopefully my pitch) to give us a shot. Subsequently, he managed to find time to give us some pretty good pragmatic advice that has helped us shape TheGoodBlogs.

So when I read about Mark this morning (picked up the story through TheGoodBlogs of course!), I was extremely excited to learn that he is joining B5Media to continue doing on a full-time basis two things he knows and loves, Web 2.0 and blogging.

Congratulations, Mark.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Maybe there is no box?

Michael Urlocker has a great post on truths for innovators. These are the ones I like the most. I agree innovation is not about technology, innovation can be anywhere in your business, a process, a strategy, a piece of code. It's about the ability to take a different perspective and do something different to get an advantage over what is perceived to be the current norm. I'm not sure about paying people to fail. I think we should encourage people to try different things and not fear failure. But to pay people to fail, hmmm. Failing in love with your own ideas is a big no, no. It's hard to have the discipline to question every assumption we make. What was good yesterday may not be good today. Also agree with not blindly believing what your customers tell you, watch them instead. Their habits tell you more about what they actually do than what they would like to do.

We always tell our employees to think out the box, but who put the box there in the first place. Maybe there isn't any box....

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Digital graffitti

Came across an article recirculated by Fast Company. I like what Bradley Horowitz from Yahoo was saying about social networking. He maintains that social networking is not a product or a company but a feature that lives in service of some other purpose. "The spirit of social computing is the concept of leaving value in your wake." We all want to do that whether it is through quality journalistic style blogs to YouTube postings. Heck, even the cavemen did it. Blogging is perhaps digital graffitti where we all put something out there for others to see. It is meant to invoke an emotion or at least an opinion. Why watch reality TV when you can get it on MySpace blogs and YouTube videos.

I liked Hadyn's comment on a previous post about blogs facilitating conversations. Perhaps blogs will become the modern day cooler talk areas where readers and bloggers gather to share some wisdom, gossip and anything else that takes their fancy. It did stop me for a moment to think about how TheGoodBlogs widget could be far more than a blog promoter, could it be a place for conversations too?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bloggers who need bloggers

Sometimes you wake up in the morning and wonder if you're really making a difference and what would the world be like if you weren't in it. This was that kind of morning. When looking to blog, you need content, which means you need awareness of what is going on around you,i.e. context and relevance Some find it with Yahoo news or their favorite feeds or invariably Techcrunch. I realized that I'm starting to use TGB for my own inspiration. Having personally swopped emails with many of our members, I've come to know and respect each one for their opinion and writing style. So this morning, when perusing my TGB widget, I found Mindy's excellent blog on Online Journalism referencing Mediangler, I knew in some small way TheGoodBlogs is making a difference on the blogosphere, connecting not just readers to bloggers but bloggers to bloggers too.

It's tough to do, in a space where new content aggregators pop up everyday. See Mark Evan's post on his dilemma whether to allow another aggregator use his content.. Google arrived when the world was relatively simple, when links were links and blogs were blogs. In part, they helped create the complexity we see today via their Adsense network encouraging people to add pages (many of very little value) in the hopes of making what was portrayed as an easy buck. Syndication is not a new thing, newspapers do it all the time getting news on niches that they would not cover themselves. The Reader's Digest offers bounties on original articles, jokes and what not. But it is the sheer volume and noise that is making digital world a far tougher place to navigate. I would argue that adding another content aggregator is not helping the situation but exacerbating the problem.

One thing is for sure, subscribing to 10-20 feeds and managing them is becoming harder each day. Taking the television paradigm, most people have low attention spans, they need choice, hence the channel flipping habits we see today. I see TheGoodBlogs as your blog television, allowing you to flip channels, getting random content in a particular niche. If you flipped the TGB dial a couple of times, it's hard not to find anything that would grab your attention and quite often, it's a place where you never have been before. We are about discovery rather than directory. Hopefully, the rest of the world will see it that way.