Archive for the ‘Blog related’ Category

Update Your Feeds: Screenwerk

June 28, 2010

Soon this blog will be phased out and all the action will be over at Screenwerk.com.

Here’s the direct feed and here is the comments feed.

Head on Over to Screenwerk.com

June 17, 2010

Finally I’ve had the blog redone. Head on over to Screenwerk.com to see it.

It’s simple yet more polished, dry yet flavorful, sweet yet sour, sarcastic yet sincere:

Get the new feed here, or you can subscribe and get all my posts from Search Engine Land, Internet2Go and this blog at twitter.com/gsterling.

The content on this site will soon disappear, because it’s all duplicated over at Screenwerk.com.

Are Content Farms Creating ‘Digital Serfs’?

May 4, 2010

AdAdge recently ran a piece discussing the move toward content outsourcing in traditional media, from “in-house” journalists and editors to third party “content farms” such as Demand Media and Associated Content:

Hachette is using Associated to supply some content for its Woman’s Day site. Thomson Reuters experimented with Associated for a limited period of time last year but plans to ink similar deals in the future, whether with Associated or another content provider. And Cox’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a handful of articles from Associated last summer; it is now running regular articles supplied by Demand Media.

Such partnerships further the ongoing shift among established news operations to capitalize on the availability of cheap content, such as USA Today’s recent deal with Demand Media, which is using its network of freelancers to supply pieces for a new Travel Tips section on USA Today’s website.

In the past I’ve criticized Demand and Associated Content as being fountains of crap content, much like the oil spill in the Gulf is spewing junk into the ocean. But that’s unfair; many of the writers that work for (freelance for) these organizations are former journalists or people with expertise in the areas they’re writing about.

At least some of the content being generated then will be of reasonable and maybe even high quality. The issue as the AdAge piece points out is cost; these sources are just much cheaper than headcount:

Associated pays its contributors anywhere from $5 to $30 per article, sometimes upfront — and in some cases pays a performance fee of up to $2 for every 1,000 impressions the story generates within Associated Content’s site.

The margins on these articles are quite large; but the publisher pays no health insurance or other overhead costs — Demand says it provides “access” to health insurance — so the bottom line on outsourcing is highly favorable vs. hiring staff writers and editors.

Maybe someone will come forward and claim to be making “six figures” from writing for one of these companies but I’m skeptical. What we’re seeing develop, accordingly, is a class of underpaid writer-content creators or “digital serfs” who are largely anonymous and fungible. Some people may, of course, be using content farms as a kind of SEO strategy to promote themselves or their businesses. But those savvy folks are likely in the minority.

Branded publishers know that they can’t maintain their reputations by relying primarily on this stuff but they can back-fill or round out their content online with help from Demand or Associated Content.

Perhaps these companies are simply filling a void and need created by the disruptive influence of the Internet, which won’t support ad revenues comparable to print and thus the staffing. Perhaps these are the new economics of content creation online. But the creation of a class of digital serfs is a lamentable outcome in my opinion.

Outside.in vs. AOL Patch: Win-Win?

March 7, 2010

Matthew Ingram at GigaOm has a nice profile of Outside.in and interview with CEO Mark Josephson. The piece points out that AOL is planning to spend $50 million to build Patch into a giant local network, and asks whether sites like Outside.in should be worried. First here’s what AOL said in a 10K filing about its plan for Patch:

The Patch acquisition did not significantly affect our consolidated financial results for the year ended December 31, 2009. As part of our plan to expand our local strategic initiatives, we currently anticipate investing up to $50.0 million in Patch during the remainder of 2010.

Should Outside.in be worried?

In the GigaOm article, Josephson correctly points out that “If AOL spends $50 million and brings a lot of attention and advertisers into online hyper-local then we all benefit.” Indeed, the entire segment will win if advertisers wake up to the real potential of local online, which they’re now starting to (almost as an indirect result of mobile). 

It will also be really interesting to see how “good” Patch is. The $50 million is undoubtedly for headcount and writing fees to those creating original content. The danger as with Examiner.com is that you get a lot of mediocre stuff. Outside.in’s approach is one of aggregation of existing content, which is both cheaper and more scalable. 

Outside.in has received about $14 million in funding. AOL ought to take a hard look at buying Outside.in if it’s really as serious as it claims to be about “hyper-local.”

Restaurant UGC Taken to a New Level in NJ

March 7, 2010

The culture of user-generated content and reviews, which has especially focused on the restaurant category, is taken to a new level with a proliferation of food bloggers in New Jersey according to an article in the NY Times:

“People come in with iPhones, and it might have seemed strange at first, but now we’re used to it,” Mr. Catlett said. “I’ve seen pictures of our food and of the waiters on the Internet and on Facebook.”

As he and other restaurateurs have found, the era of food bloggers — who routinely photograph a restaurant’s entrees, staff and décor — is upon us. And they seem to be especially active in New Jersey.

“I’ve been in the restaurant business my whole life in New York City, and in New York City restaurant bloggers don’t exist on the level they do in New Jersey,” said Michael Liristis, 34, the former manager and sommelier at Thalassa Restaurant in TriBeCa and at Kellari Taverna in Midtown. He is now a partner in and general manager of Nisi Estiatorio in Englewood, which opened in January 2009.

There’s not much more to say about this except this is a level of critical attention and scrutiny that will accelerate the boom or bust cycle of these businesses. There’s probably little or no need to actively “market” for these restaurants because they’re being so heavily covered.

Twitter Local Trends Formally Launches

January 27, 2010

I wrote about it earlier and some quick thoughts about how it might evolve, but this evening Twitter formally announced Twitter local trends:

As Twitter evolves, and more people share what’s happening in their own world, we want to provide another way for people to discover topics that may be relevant to them. Last week we began to slowly roll out a new feature called Local Trends to expose what people are talking about on the state and city level, and today we’ve fully launched so everyone can use it.

This can evolve into a helpful discovery tool for Twitter users; and there’s some real, potential SEO value here too.

Social: Not That Hard to Figure Out

December 13, 2009

Recent comScore data points out that social media are having an increasing influence on shopping and consumer purchase behavior:

Social media (a descriptive yet still ambiguous term) is often treated like it’s a mysterious thing. It’s not. You have several major distribution points online where people are interacting — among them Facebook and Twitter. Reviews and recommendations (word of mouth) are being disseminated in many cases through these distribution points. People are getting the information and taking action accordingly. Twitter for example has become an important distribution point for deals and coupons.

People fundamentally want credible information about products (and services) — rather than ads and claims — and they want to save money. Consumers are finding this information on social media sites, among other places online. Makes sense.

Companies lag in figuring out how to utilize these tools and platforms effectively and w/o the BS/PR spin they’re used to conveying in the world. That’s the major “cultural” obstacle for them. They mostly don’t know how to operate in the world with authentic, direct communication, which is what the Internet now demands for success in social media.

But if you’re a company that just can’t overcome the caution inherent in most corporate cultures, and you don’t want to be “authentic,”  you can always offer deals and discounts on Twitter as an alternative.

Facebook Default Privacy: Everyone

December 10, 2009

Facebook has simplified its privacy settings but the default settings, which will be “chosen” by many or most, expose almost everything to the public. The cynics will say this is about APIs and better competing with Twitter going forward. Here’s what they look like:

Here’s what I then did:

There’s much more discussion on Techmeme, in particular from the EFF.

To Facebook’s credit the company is forcing you to confront these settings very directly when you sign in and not simply making an announcement (that many wouldn’t see) and compelling users go find the privacy controls.

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Related: Also this little blurb is from a quick note from Mark Mahaney at Citi about some trends on FB:

Facebook Shows Hyper Local Targetting Ability  A trend that Facebook is seeing is more users are asking their networks for recommendations, like, “iPhone or Droid?” or “Any recommendations for Chinese Food in San Francisco?” Search for items in Facebook should eventually allow users to sift through relevant recommendations. Facebook can help a camping company or outdoor equipment retailer target all people in SF who went to Stanford, and showed interest in kayaking or camping as an example of hyperlocal marketing.

Within this quick set of comments is the dual future of FB and local: recommendations engine for consumers, ad platform for SMBs. In some ways FB might be much more, MUCH more “disruptive” (to use the overused word) to YP than Google has been.

A Good Use of Google RT Search

December 9, 2009

I think “real time search” is meaningful in some contexts and not others: news (broadly defined) is one of several where people want the most up-to-date information. However I’m ambivalent about how Google has so far implemented RT search on its SERP (in the middle of the page):

But here’s a nice use of it: Tweets from the LeWeb event — as a news ticker:

However, is the above better than “watching” on Twitter itself or a Twitter client? No.

In the local context user-generated content is more important than “real-time” content. The two are overlapping because most of the people creating the RT content are users.

On a mobile device I may be interested in communicating in real time with people who are out and about or determining the “hot spots” and things to do in real time (e.g., Citysense), but the use cases are not that broad in my view. While I might want to know where my friends are “right now” I don’t need to see Tweets that just happened about the restaurant I’m about to go to. 

We can lump product inventory into the RT category — and that’s meaningful of course in a local context.

Outside.in a ‘Hub’ for Local Content

December 8, 2009

I just spoke to Outside.in CEO Mark Josephson about the CNN investment and second funding round. He told me that it really came out of an “organic” business development discussion surrounding CNN’s use of Outside.in for publishers.

“They had the same vision,” said Josephson. “They saw the importance of all the new content creators and the aggregation model.” He added, “We’ve been able to prove that people care about what’s close to home. They see the value of that model.”

Josephson credited founder Steven Johnson with the vision that he’s now executing. He also told me that Outside.in is driving traffic “over seven figures” in free clicks to local content creators.

After he said that it occurred to me what Outside.in was turning into: a hub that manages the flow of traffic and content between larger publishers and local bloggers and others who are generating the content “on the ground.”

Accordingly Outside.in is building a “hyper-local” content ecosystem. As I tried to argue, hyper-local is not itself the answer to traditional media woes but it is a critical component of a larger news or content strategy and Outside.in has positioned itself in the center of that proposition.

Outside.in Raises $7M, Deal with CNN

December 8, 2009

Many people touted “hyper-local” news as the salvation of journalism and newspapers in particular; it’s not. It’s a compelling feature of a larger offering. That’s what the major news sites now see clearly:

  • MSNBC with its acquisition of Everyblock
  • Yahoo! with its new original content and local emphases
  • And now CNN with its investment in Outside.in

According to the press release:

As part of its investment, CNN Worldwide entered into a concurrent multi-year deal to use the Outside.in for Publishers aggregation and curation platform to power hyperlocal news across all of CNN.com and its related properties. The first implementations are expected to be completed in Q1 of 2010.

Blogs, real-time content and more localized news (broadly defined) are becoming must-have features for larger news organizations. Companies such as Outside.in and Topix are in strong positions to provide that content to these third parties.

For its part Outside.in is pursuing a dual strategy as a recently redesigned local search destination even as it offers a range of tools and content syndication for developers and publishers.

Outside.in has raised an estimated $12 million including this round. While the site began as a heady, if unusable project, CEO Mark Josephson has put it on solid ground toward a viable business model and eventual exit.

Here’s a page (via Fred Wilson’s blog) that shows the integration of Outside.in on the NY Post site:

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Related: Here’s a recent interview with Outside.in CEO Mark Josephson on Media Bistro.

Just Because It’s Funny: Flutter

November 4, 2009

We showed this parody of Twitter at the Local Social Summit before my panel on Local and real-time search, because it’s funny. Although you’ve seen it before, it’s worth watching again:

Blog as Website with Online Booking

October 30, 2009

Bookfresh (formerly HourTown) has done an interesting deal with blogging platform Typepad that recognizes many small businesses are simply using blogs as a substitute for a conventional website (I do). According to the press release:

The integration allows small business owners using TypePad to put their schedule online, and their customers to book, and even prepay, for appointments. The integration is yet another step by TypePad to provide the tools that small businesses need to run their businesses online using a blog combined with partner functionality . . . 

TypePad customers can create a BookFresh widget by visiting the TypePad widget gallery, opening a BookFresh account and creating a custom widget, which is installed neatly in the side bar of the blog in one simple click. Customers can then sync their schedule, integrate their PayPal account and set contact preferences.

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While the inclination of some of the appointment platform vendors has been to use a performance-based model  (pay-per-booking), Bookfresh CEO Ryan Donahue long ago told me the he thought a flat fee, subscription model would be easier and more successful with SMBs. 

My previous post on Bookfresh: HourTown Rebrands, Now ‘BookFresh’

Fun Yahoo! Tool Categorizes Twitter Users

August 15, 2009

Yahoo! offers a fun tool to discover your “social mojo” (partly as a promotion of its new homepage). It categorizes and profiles Twitter users, by analyzing Tweets. 

Supply your Twitter name/account:

Picture 37

And, viola, you’re assigned a place in their categorization scheme:

Picture 38

Strangely I was initially categorized as a “concierge” and then a few minutes later as a “matchmaker.” The interesting thing here, however, is not the specific category that turns up but the game-like presentation and interface.

MerchantCircle Adds Content from DemandMedia

August 10, 2009

This morning MerchantCircle is announcing a deal that will add more content to unclaimed merchant pages and add services for MerchantCircle customers. According to the release:

MerchantCircle, the nation’s largest social network of local business owners, today announced a comprehensive relationship with Demand Media, the leader in distributed social media, to deliver professional, industry-specific content and domain name services to 800,000 MerchantCircle customers. Demand Media’s proprietary content, creation, and social syndication platform and its leading domain name registrar will complement MerchantCircle’s rich, merchant-created content to enhance the consumer experience.

In case you had difficulty penetrating that passage, the deal includes three components:

1. Content from DemandMedia’s syndication partners will appear on unclaimed merchant pages:

Picture 2

These article links appear below the fold. Users can click through to pages that look like this and contain ads:

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2. The second part involves offering these articles to MerchantCircle customers who want to add content to their pages but don’t have the time to blog or otherwise do it themselves. That will be a subscription model for the merchant.

3. The third part involves eNom (a unit of DemandMedia) powering MerchantCircle’s “instant websites” offering (domains + email).

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The deal provides huge distribution for DemandMedia and more monetization opportunities accordingly. It also makes the unclaimed pages (the bulk on MerchantCircle) richer and more SEO worthy. The company says officially it has 800K customers and 20 million monthly unique visitors in the aggregate (almost all SEO). I’ve been told the merchant number will cross 1 million this year.

New Twitter Homepage Looks Like Search

July 29, 2009

Twitter has relaunched its homepage. It only gets seen by people who haven’t got an account. But it looks a lot more like a search engine now:

Picture 25

Here’s the rationale for the new look:

Defining a “tweet” for the uninitiated and explaining how to create an account doesn’t resonate with everyone. “Why would I want to do that?” is a common reaction. However, demonstrating the power of Twitter as a discovery engine for what is happening right now through our Search and Trends often awakens a sense of wonder which inevitably leads to a much more compelling question, “How do I get involved?”

Twitter 101 Comes at the Right Time

July 24, 2009

Picture 5As you’ve probably already read, Twitter released “Twitter 101,” a kind of how-to and best practices guide for SMBs and brands. It’s very smart, timely and puts Twitter in context for those who might otherwise not understand it or its uses.

A potential/”preemptive” substitute for some of the Twitter books that have been written or are being contemplated (I just got a manuscript for one that’s being published in Sept), it offers:

There’s also this piece from the blog AllFacebook: 9 Rules of Facebook Promotion Every Small Business Should Know

Sites like Twitter and Facebook will see heavy “self provisioning” by SMBs because of their nature, simplicity and the fact that they’re free.

There’s lots of promotion/marketing to be had at both these sites for SMBs but no advertising revenues for the sites themselves. Presumably Twitter will have some sort of simple ad product for SMBs in the relatively near future. These guys know how many SMBs are using the site and they’re very smart. Facebook is more focused on brands and larger advertisers, although it does see itself as an SMB ad vehicle. I previously gave some people at Facebook a number of ideas for SMBs but I don’t think those will make their way to implementation. We’ll see.

Yell to Build Blog Network + Video

July 21, 2009

Picture 10Yell is developing a blogging network that reportedly will also feature “how-to” videos, although the video may appear on Yell.com as well. From the Guardian’s article on it:

The directory website has struck a deal with Videojug, the creator of around 50,000 “how to” and “Ask the Experts” video clips, to provide online films that match business services for which consumers are searching online.

Yell.com is also seeking to develop a blogging network to provide advice and information on key business areas. The service will launch later this week with blogs on popular topics including plumbing and heating, home security, motoring and car maintenance, and hair and beauty.

The first wave of Yell.com blogs will be built and managed by a team of about 30. The aim over the coming months is to ultimately set up a network of about 100 bloggers who will “inform and inspire consumers” with advice and ideas covering the 1,400 business classifications Yell.com offers.

At the most basic level this is a huge SEO play and intended to dramatically expand the reach of Yell (and its advertisers) via search. But it also illustrates some creative thinking going on at Yell, which has historically been more creative than its US counterparts in expanding beyond the traditional boundaries of an online directory.

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Thanks to Seb P. for pointing this out, via Twitter.

Correction: I’ve had a brief opportunity to hear from Yell on this and they’ve clarified that the blogging network and video are separate. Video will appear on Yell.com.

On the Twitter Documents Controversy

July 17, 2009

Picture 53I haven’t really written anything about the leaked/stolen Twitter documents (“Twittergate”) that were obtained by TechCrunch. But now that they’re being disclosed, there’s lots of interesting stuff in there about competitors, business model, product vision, potential revenues and other things.

  • Danny Sullivan has written a post about the Twitter suggested users list; the Twitterati, the Twitter “Who’s Who”
  • Matt McGee summarizes some of the internal competitive discussions about Google, Microsoft and Facebook (e.g., “how Facebook could kill us”)
  • TechCrunch offers a wide ranging discussion of Twitter’s ambitions (“to be the pulse of the planet”) and exposes a bunch of the memos that Matt discusses in his post

This is all pretty embarrassing and awkward for Twitter but reveals the company as aggressive, disciplined and paranoid (to some degree).

Fascinating stuff for those who are interested to dig into it.

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Update: Danny’s post was independent of the disclosed internal Twitter docs, based on his own research he informs me.

Update 2: Todd Leiser points to a very good overview and summary of the Twitter docs at SAI.

Twitter vs. FB: Which Is More Effective for Local?

July 2, 2009

Picture 1I just spoke in some detail with Dylan Fuller who is behind the “Cheers to Social Media” UK social media case study that I referred to earlier today. To refresh your recollection, Dylan and a colleague were promoting a small beer festival sponsored by a local business just outside London, about a 10 minute train ride from Victoria Station.

They used Eventbrite for the registration and pointed to the Eventbrite site with their social media promotion. They began promoting the event online about a month before the scheduled date. There was limited space so they didn’t want to have too many people but there was also concern about getting enough people to the event outside the city. They initially released 500 tickets and then subsequent batches of roughly 100 each. In the end they exceeded their goals and had about 1,350 people in total attendance.

Here’s the really interesting part . . . Fuller said that the owner’s internal email list drove roughly half the registrations/ticket sales. The other half were from Twitter and Facebook promotion. In this case Fuller said that they got 23 attendees (twenty three) based on their Facebook promotion and more than 600 (six hundred) from Twitter. Fuller told me that retweets were approaching 10X for each tweet they put out. Among other things, they discussed the types of beer varieties that would be a the festival and were generally thoughtful about the content they presented on Twitter.

Let’s be careful about generalizing, notwithstanding my inflammatory headline, but in this case Twitter was dramatically more effective as a promotional tool.


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