Riding the long tail

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

One of the biggest books in marketing at the moment is Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail”, which looks at how the Internet is creating demand for niche products, and allowing companies to supply these niche markets, which not too long ago were uneconomic to service.

We’re living in a fascinating time where older products and services might have a much-extended life cycle.

At the risk of sounding like a Steve Rubel devotee (given my recent references to his posts), he recently wrote an article for the Advertising Age, where he provided three ways that marketers can “thrive in the long tail world”.

His ideas are to:

  • Rethink reach – reach is much more than a numbers game now, and a credible site visited by your top 20 customers is “gold”.
  • Fund niches – if your customers need a place to congregate online, don’t be afraid to facilitate this
  • Demand more from media – demand that your media partners help you build your brand through niches (Steve gives the example of the Washington Post launching an ad network for bloggers)

I would also add a couple of ideas:

Make it easy for your customers to evangelize their interest by providing as much information online about your products or services as possible. Sure there might be an initial investment required to get all that information online, but once you’ve made that initial investment, the incremental cost of getting more information online is inconsequencial.

Think about developing a program where your evangelizing customers can derive a benefit by introducing others to your products and services. They are probably already promoting you online; encouraging them a little can pay big dividends, and also help to shape the way your company is perceived. This doesn’t have to be a full-on affiliate program; sometimes just getting a thank you can really encourage your fans.

Blogs making it in the media

Monday, August 28th, 2006

Steve Rubel posted an interesting note about how economist Nouriel Roubinni’s blog about the US economy was picked up by the media.

It’s very interesting to see that more and more the blogosphere is a furtile hunting ground for journalists looking for news.

MySpace print magazine?

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

According to a report in Ad Age, MySpace is considering the launch a print magazine, which would profile standout MySpace members and their interests.

MediaWorks imagines what a MySpace magazine would look like. 

Image is a mockup from Ad Age

At the moment the company is still evaluating business models.  It is said to be speaking to the publisher of the extremely cool Nylon magazine about a licensing deal.

Well, I can certainly understand why MySpace is looking at doing a print magazine – they do after all want to make as much money as possible.

For the magazine to succeed it would need to offer compelling content that would augment the MySpace member experienced.

The only problem is that I can’t really imagine what compelling content a MySpace magazine might contain. I mean the whole point of MySpace is that you can view other member’s profiles; I’m not sure how reading about MySpace profiles in a magazines is going to add value to anyone’s experience of MySpace.

eBay famously partnered with Krause publications in 1999 to launch an eBay magazine that was closed down after a year. Despite sales of 400,000 copies the magazine was unable to find the necessary advertising support (Apparently eBay is thinking about trying again).

If MySpace was able to develop a magazine that was popular with members, I don’t think it would have too many problems finding advertising support. MySpace is hot at the moment, and MySpace knows all about the selling of advertising.

Here in Australia one major publisher launched a magazine to complement the TV series Big Brother. It died after a few issues. No one was really interested in reading something in a magazine that they already knew from the TV show or the web site. I suspect that a MySpace magazine might face the same kind of challenges.

Splogs threaten the blogosphere

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

If you’ve done a web search recently you may have noticed the explosion of spam blog sites or “Splogs”. These sites are basically designed to attract the attention of search engines, which they do by displaying inane text with key words, or by stealing content from legitimate web sites. They make money by displaying money from well known ad networks.

Wired has just published an expose on splogs (not yet available online). The article highlights a university study that shows that more than half of all blogs are actually splogs. One splogger interviewed for the story claims to have made more than $70,000 in just three months.

Social media blogger Steve Rubel makes a very good point on this issue in a recent blog, where he says that the advertising networks that underpin this business model (and I use this term loosely) should be called into account.

I also think the search engines will need to make a contribution to solving this problem, since most sploggers rely on search engines for traffic. The whole point of a search engine is that it should find useful site. I do realise this is a complex issue, since the sploggers are designing their sites to attract the search engines.

It’s all about content

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

An interesting article by Heather Hopkins of Hitwise UK analyzes the traffic to three well-known blogs, and comes to the conclusion that a blog’s popularity comes down to content (subject matter and quality), rather than the attention it may have received by the mainstream media.

How social is your site?

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

Socialmeter.com is a interesting site that scans popular social networking services to gauge a given URL’s popularity.

At the moment it scans Del.icio.us, Digg, Furl, Google, Jots, Linkroll, Netscape, Reddit, Shadows, Spurl, Technorati, and Yahoo My Web. While is a useful tool, it’s not the be all and end all of popularity measurement, as a lot of traffic is bound to come to your site from outside of these services. Nevertheless, it is a useful tool, particularly, I think, for identifying any gaps in your the promotion of your blog.

Blogging a path to popularity and riches

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

Why does one blogger become a millionaire, while another equally worthy blogger toils for years for little or no reward?

Of course there may be a number of factors at play, but an interesting article Blogs to Riches by Clive Thompson for the New York metro looks at this very issue from the perspective of why some blogs are so much more popular than others.

Thompson sites research by Clay Shirky of New York University who took a sample of 433 blogs and counted how many other sites linked back to them. Shirley found that a very small number of sites (the so called A-list) enjoyed hundred or thousands of links, while everyone else had relatively few links.

As Thompson explains:

“When Shirky sorted the 433 blogs from most linked to least linked and lined them up on a chart, the curve began up high, with the lucky few. But then it quickly fell into a steep dive, flattening off into the distance, where the vast majority of ignored blogs reside. The A-list is teensy, the B-list is bigger, and the C-list is simply massive. In the blogosphere, the biggest audiences—and the advertising revenue they bring—go to a small, elite few. Most bloggers toil in total obscurity.”

Thompson explains that economists and network scientists call Shirky’s curve “power-law-distribution” and that this kind of distribution occurs in many social systems, such as the employment of actors (there are a few well known actors, and many unknown actors).

The reason behind this, according to Thompson, is that human beings, when faced with a large number of options, will more likely choose an option that is popular with others. So people are likely to read blogs that are already popular. They’re more likely to link to blogs that enjoy a large number of links already.

As Thompson writes: “… even if the content among competitors is basically equal, there will still be a tiny few that rise up to form an elite.”

This means that first movers have a huge advantage, and because popularity breeds popularity, they can achieve a momentum that is difficult for others to emulate. This pattern is called “homeostasis”, which is the tendency of networked systems to become self-reinforcing.

The article also looks at some examples of popular bloggers who have made good, such as Peter Rojis, the editor of Engadget, who received a windfall when his publisher, Weblogs Inc, was sold to AOL for $25 million.

Of course the question of how to “cut through” the noise of thousands of other bloggers is raised in the article.

Arianna Huffington, of the Huffington Post, said that it comes down to being “regular and relentless”.

She also said that it’s important to link to other bloggers, especially “A listers”. Huffington also had another advantage, because she and her co-writers were quite well known, the mainstream press gave the blog a lot of coverage.

Another useful insight comes from Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor of legendary blog Gawker, who has now launched her own blog empire, including the blog Dealbreaker. She is now focusing on breaking news, and explained to Thompson that developing a successful blog was pretty much about content.

“Blogging is increasingly becoming a survival of the fittest—and that all boils down to who has the best content. The blogs that are going to stand out are the ones who break news and have credibility,” said Spiers.

Thompson’s written a great article, and it’s well worth taking the time to read it fully.

Just to add a final comment.

What this article reinforces is that while blogging technology has removed a barrier-to-entry to the world of publishing for would-be publishers, you still need to get the fundamentals right. Who’s the target reader, who are the target advertisers, what will make your editorial compelling to the reader, what’s your editorial strategy for achieving this, and what’s your point of differentiation are all critical factors that you need to consider if you want your blog to be anything more than a hobby. The more things change in the world of publishing, the more they stay the same.

The economics of social networking

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

If you have an interest in social networking AND an interest in business or marketing, I suggest you take a look at Cliff Kurtzman’s excellent article Marketing to the MySpace Generation (and the Economics of Social Networking) on www.marketingprofs.com.

The article examines the business model underpinning social networking sites like MySpace, and also looks at what new social networking sites need to do in order to succeed.

Kurtzman argues that new social networking sites need to do more than simply try to build a “better mouse trap”, and that none of the ventures he’s seen has what it takes to build a brand affinity that could rival MySpace. He also says that their business models – ad revenue on top of user generated content – just don’t appear to be economically viable.

He also points out that the MySpace brand isn’t without its problems, and likens it to “Girls Gone Wild” where there’s a lot of money to be made, but the connotations surrounding the brand limit where it can go.

The opportunity that Kurtzman sees for social networking sites is for them to develop deeper relationships with users, which will then allow the sites to offer users with “lifestyle opportunities that they will truly welcome”. So the transaction becomes one where the user participates in a community (providing content and so on), and in return they have access to opportunities that they might not otherwise have to.

Kurtzman also believes that social networking sites need to recognise that people live their lives online and offline, and offer functionality that helps users’ lives away from the computer. Furthermore he points out that while people tend to connect globally, they tend to live their lives locally, which is where most advertisers and sponsors want to reach their customers.

I think it’s obvious to most people that many of the new social networking ventures simply won’t work. And it’s not just that there’s so many of them; many don’t offer a point of differentiation and just don’t understand that it’s more than just about technology (as Kurtzman points out). It’s about being cool to whatever market you’re targetting, and that’s where it starts to get tricky. It’s very hard to build cool in a computer lab.

Bringing efficiency to blogging

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

Whether you’re blogging for fun, or for profit, it’s important to be able to do so efficiently. Every precious minute spent mucking around with spell checks, or uploading images to FTP servers, is a minute that you could actually spend writing. Microsoft’s Windows Live Writer, currently in Beta and available for download, makes the whole process that much easier.

Microsoft does not have a history of being particularly innovative. It was years behind Apple in introducing a usable graphical user interface and it was unfashionably late in embracing the Internet. Likewise, it’s been slow off the mark with the social networking phenomenan, an and it’s way behind the likes of MySpace or YouTube.

Having said that, when Microsoft does get into gear, it really gets going, as evidenced by all the hype surrounding Windows Live. I’ve been particularly impressed Windows Live Writer, which is one component of Windows Live.

While most blogging platforms have some kind of basic editor, most still require you to do some of the work on another program, whether it’s to run a spell check, or upload images to a file server. Windows Live Writer allows you to do all of this in the one program. And while it’s designed to be work with Windows Live Spaces, it’s does also support other blogging platforms, including Blogger, LiveJournal, Typepad, Word Press and others.  I’ve successfully used it with Word Press (as evidenced by this blog).

Writer offers what-you-see-is-what-you-get editing, with preview modes that allow you to preview how your post will appear in your blog. Publishing photos is also a breeze, especially if your blogging platform supports the new MediaObject API. If not, it will automatically upload the images to your server using FTP.

Writer can be a little fiddly to set up – you’ll need to enter in your blog login details, and FTP details (if required). If it doesn’t automatically recognize your blogging platform, you’ll also need to enter the remote posting URL(which you should be able to work out easily enough using your FTP client as the URL ends with xmlrpc.php). But once you’ve got it set up it’s dream to use.

Social networking for all!

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

Everyone seems to launching social networking sites at the moment – and it’s not just Microsoft with its Live Spaces site. It’s getting to the stage where if you were backing one of these new sites you must be getting worried that the social networking arena is getting a little crowded.


Here’s a run down of a few other sites that have made announcements in this past week.

Fanpop is a new social networking site that allows fans of TV shows, movies, people and web sites to create social portals or “spots” devoted to the object of their desire. These spots contain blogs, headlines, forums, and links to other web sites. If you like a “spot” you can become a “fan”.

Adoptt is another generic-looking MySpace-clone that touts itself as a “revolutionizing social networking platform”. Adoptt describes itself as a “community of online friends, diaries and journals”, which Adoptt seems to think that this is somehow revolutionary. Somebody better tell the folks at Adoptt that it’s not the first site to be offering social networking functionality.

Last, but not least, there’s a new social networking site for Hare Krishna devotees. KrishnaFriends is designed to help devotees from all other the world meet each other and “connect … in a variety of ways”.

While it’s good to see all this activity, it’s starting to remind me the dot.com boom days when everyone (and their dog, and their fish) was launching web sites that were going to change the world. With MySpace such as an established player, and with sites such as Friendster, Bebo and Facebook already competing in this market, you’ve got to wonder how much room there is for all these new players.

People (even young people) only have so many hours each day, and can only commit their time and energy to limited number of social networking platforms. And of course there are only a finite number of advertising dollars to go around to fund all of these sites

At the moment we’re hearing about new launches, but no doubt, in due course, we’ll start hearing about closures.