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Monetization

Cat memes will become less prominent on Facebook

Recent changes to Facebook’s news feed algorithm mean that organizations and companies developing and publishing their own original content are now receiving a significant boost on the leading social media site. Two weeks ago, Varun Kacholia and Minwen Ji, engineering and software managers at Facebook, respectively, posted in the Facebook Newsroom that “we are now paying closer attention to what makes for high quality content…what this means is that you may start to notice links to articles a little more often (particularly on mobile). Why are we doing this? Our surveys show that on average people prefer links to [these kinds of] articles…to the latest meme” about dancing cats or photos marked up with funny captions (as in the example to the left).

The bottom line: “high quality articles you or others read may show up a bit more prominently in your News Feed, and meme photos may show up a bit less prominently.”

Facebook’s move is not a surprise. Traffic from Facebook to news sites tripled in the past year. Facebook is being increasingly used as a news source (much as Twitter has also evolved). So why shouldn’t Facebook’s algorithm promote original news articles? Facebook hasn’t revealed the secret formula for how it will recognize “high quality content” but the Kacholia and Ji’s promise is clear: uninformative over-shared links and tired memes will be demoted.

All of this is great news for Blum Interactive Media clients that have engaged us to create original content to publish on their websites, Facebook pages, email newsletters and other social sharing services. Original content already ranked high in Google’s organic listings; now Facebook is joining the party. Take a look at the home page from one of our clients, Shavei Israel: they treat their website as a mini-newspaper, publishing 2-3 original stories (which we write) every week. The result has been dramatic – on Facebook alone, Shavei Israel and its related pages now have more than 60,000 “likes” and web traffic is up as well.

There’s a sidebar take away here too: trying to create “viral” material online just got harder…and easier. You can spend less time over-thinking and crazy planning what you hope will become the next mega-video hit. Instead, write the best quality content and the social networks will help you out on their own terms.

Facebook - Related articles exampleFacebook will also be showing “related articles” directly below the news feed post. Although you can’t control which articles will appear, our experience using similar products on our own websites indicates that at least some of the time, these will be articles that your organization or company has published. The more content you have out there, the more likely it will appear in this new Facebook section. See the example from Facebook on the right.

If you’re thinking about how to get going with your own original content strategy, keep in mind that it’s not a one-time thing. To stand out on Facebook, Google – really, anywhere online – your organization or company needs a regular stream of innovative articles and multimedia material. The aim is to turn your website and social media presence into a destination; a trusted source of compelling content that make readers want to come back – to subscribe to your newsletter, to like your Facebook page, and to share and forward what they receive.

Now more than ever, you can’t do this with a couple of lines and a cute picture in a blog post here or a press release there. You need to publish new material on a continuing basis. As your content appears more frequently in your followers’ news feeds and in search engine results, your supporters will know who and what you are about, so that when it’s time to ask for donations, or to sell a new product, they’ll already be primed.

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Does radiation from cell phones cause cancer? The jury is still out, with a recently released 10-year study organized by the World Health Organization saying no, and advocacy groups arguing that the research methodology was flawed.

Cell La Vie - peel on protection for your iPhone

Regardless of the controversy, a small Israeli startup isn’t taking any chances. In July, Wise Environment began selling a do-it-yourself kit to protect iPhone owners from radiation. The company claims that its product, dubbed Cell La Vie, reduces electromagnetic exposure from the phone by 98 percent.

The Wise Environment founders are on a mission. “Parents are driving their young kids to use cell phones, to keep in contact,” explains Ronny Gorlicki, Wise Environment’s vice president of business development. “But at the same time, they want to protect them from future problems,” even if it’s not certain that those problems really exist.

At only NIS 179 ($47), Gorlicki feels his product is a worthwhile investment “to defuse the question of what will happen 30 years down the road.”

Cell La Vie can be a bit daunting to install – it’s not a one-click software app, but a physical product – a thin film you apply to the front, back and sides of your iPhone with adhesive. The Cell La Vie kit also includes a spray and pump to make sure your phone is totally clean before you get started. “People are reticent in the beginning, fearful that they’ll screw things up,” Gorlicki says. “But it’s no problem to take it off and do it again. We’ll even send a replacement if necessary.”

Once affixed, the film acts to redirect radiation away from the body. “Inside the phone is an antenna,” Gorlicki explains. “The signal goes in all directions. We had to figure out how we can cover up the points where the radiation would penetrate the phone in the direction of the body while maintaining the quality of the transmission.”

Wise has so far focused only on the iPhone because of the extensive media buzz surrounding the device. “Even people who haven’t bought it are talking about it,” Gorlicki says, noting the “huge awareness in the market of ‘green’ in general and phone radiation in particular. We hear from people ‘I’d held back from buying an iPhone from concern about radiation. Now I just made the order because of your product.’ ”

Since every phone has its antenna in a different place, Wise will have to develop separate films for every type of phone – and for every version. For example, Cell La Vie doesn’t yet work with the iPhone 4, which has an entirely different type of antenna (one that has caused users no end of frustration due to inadvertently dropped calls).

Cell La Vie's Ronny Gorlicki

Wise is also focusing initially on smart phones. “They’re the ones with the higher price tag,” Gorlicki explains, “So people are more ready to invest in safeguarding themselves from radiation.” Smart phones, ironically, can increase their radiation levels as they detect signal strength. The lower the strength, the more the phone has to work to maintain a minimum quality of service, and as a result the radiation increases.

Wise Environment has other radiation-protection products in the pipeline (including one that may actually reduce radiation, not just guard against it) but is progressing slowly. That’s in no small part because the company is entirely bootstrapped; it’s relying now on sales from its iPhone product, which is available in Israel at iDigital’s Apple Stores and the stationary chain Kravitz, to finance future production. Gorlicki is optimistic and says sales are going well, pointing out that “There have already been reorders.”

However, given the company’s scarce cash situation, sales beyond Israel will have to rely on distributors. Gorlicki doesn’t anticipate opening a US or European office in the near future. And even if the patent pending Cell La Vie is as successful as anticipated, Gorlicki says that raising venture capital money will be tough.

He likens the Cell La Vie product to a mezuzah: “You don’t know if it has prevented some hardships or brought good things to you,” he quips. “There’s no immediate gratification in that sense.” He says that the problem is with the VCs, who want to see immediate results.

This is not Gorlicki’s first outing with a product that doesn’t deliver satisfaction on first use. In a previous position at Wizcom, he was in charge of marketing the ‘Quicktionary’ – a digital pen that you run over printed text to translate it into multiple languages. “There was a real learning curve,” Gorlicki recounts, “You had to hold the pen correctly, to start and end it in the right place.”

Cell La Vie is not alone in the market; one of its better-funded competitors is Pong Research, which has been reviewed widely, including in Wired Magazine and The New York Times. But Pong, by its own estimates, only reduces radiation by 60 percent and only from the front of the phone, Gorlicki points out. Both Pong and Wise have had their results verified, in Cell La Vie’s case at MET Labs, a California testing and certification company.

Gorlicki is proud that his product is entirely made in Israel and hopes that even as production ramps up in the future, the company will be able to resist the pressure to export manufacturing to China or another less-expensive location.

He says he would be delighted to cooperate with Tawkon, a company whose product indicates to smart phone users when their radiation levels are too high. They would be a good match because Tawkon detects the radiation and prompts users to take simple actions like “put the phone on speaker,” while Cell La Vie actually does something about the radiation emanating from the unit itself.

Regarding the WHO study, Gorlicki draws attention to the fact that the research was in part funded by the phone companies themselves. The study followed thousands of phone users in 13 countries to see whether people who had brain tumors reported spending more time on cell phones during the previous decade than other people did. The researchers reported that they couldn’t find any cancer correlation with cell phone use.

The study’s main purpose, Gorlicki claims, was to give federal agencies a benchmark of when radiation levels are too high. If the companies stay within those levels, they’re considered ‘kosher.’ But, he says, “we really don’t know how much and how long it would take for someone to reach proportions so high that he or she will get cancer.” Researchers are now considering a new, even longer study of up to 20 years.

Not to mention that cell phone usage has increased dramatically and phones have advanced technologically in the 10 years since the study was started. What might have been considered ‘average’ use in 2000 would pale in comparison with teenage cell phone use in 2010.

Perhaps the ideal scenario for Cell La Vie would be cooperation with, or acquisition by a cell phone manufacturer or operator. But Gorlicki isn’t optimistic: “They don’t want to have anything to do with it,’ he says, explaining that involvement could be construed as an admission that cell phone use might not be 100% safe.

Even with Cell La Vie’s protective film in place, cell phones still pose a danger – to your neighbor. Gorlicki compares phone radiation to secondhand smoke. “You could be getting secondhand radiation from the guy sitting next to you in a restaurant talking on his cell phone,” he warns. Will there eventually be cell phone-free environments, he wonders.

Beyond being potentially dangerous to bystanders, Gorlicki reminds us that cell phone use requires “good hygiene.” Even if you’re using a corded headset, you don’t want to stuff your phone in your pocket while you talk. The phone still emits the same amount of radiation. Holding it away from your body or placing it on a table is the safest bet.

Gorlicki is doing his best to live in his own ‘wise’ environment – the company’s headquarters are in his home just off of the HaBonim beach south of Haifa, in northern Israel. “I wake up and take the dogs on a walk near the shore,” he says. “What a way to start the day when you’re working for an environmentally conscious company.”

This article appeared last week on Israel21c, a great site for exploring Israel “beyond the conflict.” Check it out!

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AIMGroup LogoLast week, I published 15 links to articles I wrote for AIMGroup.com about the the classified advertising business which I covered for five years. I chronicled hundreds of companies – from startups to established classified pure plays.

Here is part two of my list. And if you want to know more, visit AIMGroup.com for the latest headlines and analysis.

Atlanta newspaper: turn your computers off on Sundays and read us in print!

10 reasons you’ll miss print newspapers (parody).

Most people wouldn’t care if their local newspaper folded. Oy!

Tips from WSJ on how you can charge for content online.

Tweet your notes to the Western Wall.

YouTube is bleeding money – can it survive?

Survey: surfers don’t mind pop up ads…much.

Columbia University J-school head thumbs nose at social media.

Using social media when the news is bad.

Hearst sourcing content from Helium.

How to get people to pay for online? Black out all web news for a week.

Nine tips for alternative business models for struggling newspapers.

The future of the Internet in 2010 according to Pew.

How much time are you wasting online An irreverent new website tells you.

Car dealers upping Internet marketing spend as sales continue to drop.

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AIMGroup LogoFor over five years, I covered the classified advertising business for AIMGroup.com. I was the beat reporter for real estate and automotive, and I chronicled hundreds of companies – from startups such as Zillow and HotPads – to established classified pure plays including Realtor.com, AutoTrader.com and Cars.com.

We covered social media extensively, but the main story was how newspapers had let these online competitors, not the least of which was Craigslist, decimate their classified advertising business, (hence leading to the dire straights print papers are in today) and what they could do to recover.

An often told if somewhat apocryphal story is how the Boston Globe once had the opportunity to buy recruiting powerhouse Monster.com but declined, saying in essence “hey, we’re the big bad Boston Globe, we don’t need that little pitzkele site.”

If watching the classified advertising shake down is of interest, I recommend you visit AIMGroup.com. In the meantime, I present you here with links to some of my more evergreen blog posts for the site over the last couple of years.

There are a lot of links, so I’ll publish these in two posts – here’s part one.

Thanks for permission to post these from my erstwhile editor Jim Townsend and publisher Peter Zollman.

If the NYTimes dropped print and distribution and gave all its subscribers e-Readers, it would actually save money!

Short attention span theater: new data – 10 percent of viewers leave an online video within 10 seconds.

85% of Gen Y-ers participate in social networking. Do you?

“Digital immigrants” vs. “digital natives” – with Facebook, you’ll never have to “get back in touch” again.

Google to newspapers: “grow up” (it’s not that hard to block Google indexing).

Profile of 2 Israeli startups shaking up writing and news: Iamnews and WeBook.

10 tips on how to make hyperlocal work.

If you want to trash your ex online, do it in Texas, not Colorado.

Teens don’t tweet. How come? Here’s what a teenage analyst has to say.

Consumers will pay 62% of what they pay for a print newspaper to access online news sites.

Why international users are draining Facebook’s coffers.

Creepy hookups – Google Maps and Craigslist personal mashup.

Social networks trump email for content sharing.

It’s not the newspapers, it’s their owners for print’s problems.

The first all-tweet newspaper – social media vanity press? Meanwhile, blog-to-print newspaper fails.

More next week…

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StarsOutbrain is a company I like a lot. It has a seemingly simple product that provides some very useful functionality: content rating and recommendations for blogs.

Follow the easy installation instructions and Outbrain will allow your readers to give your latest post a 1-5 score. Then, based on Outbrain’s massive database of reader tastes and web content, the Outbrain widget that displays on your blog will point visitors to related articles that Outbrain has determined they might find interesting.

Yes, it directs visitors away from your blog, but it also has the potential to turn your site a mini-destination site. (You can see Outbrain at work on this blog – scroll to the end of any post.)

When the company raised a sizable second round of financing earlier this year, a lot of brows were furrowed: $12 million for a blog plug-in? Investors must have had a sneak preview of the company’s latest feature, launched earlier this month: an enhancement that allows publishers to pay for premium placement of their content.

The new goodie is called OutLoud and it costs $10 per URL. Featured content appears at the top of the Outbrain recommendations list and is clearly labeled. Without OutLoud, Outbrain uses its own algorithms to suggest content.

OutLoud can be used in two ways. A publisher can let Outbrain control which sponsored recommendations appear; Outbrain will then split revenue with the blog publisher.

Alternatively, a publisher can set up the OutLoud service to work as an internal referral engine: only URLs from the publisher will appear. This can be used to generate more traffic within a single property or on a network of sites owned by the same publisher.

At first glance, $10 might seem like a no brainer for a small to medium sized online publisher, but it quickly adds up. And the $10 fee per URL is only for a month. You have to pay up if you want the sponsored link to keep going.

Outbrain says that the service is aimed at a number of target clients:

  • Marketers who want to drive word-of-mouth by amplifying positive reviews about their company.
  • Individual bloggers who want to promote their most brilliant posts.
  • Public relations professionals looking for new ways to distribute releases
  • Social media gurus who can push out articles from a corporate blog to drive traffic.

With such a cool product, I wondered what product management is like at Outbrain. Amit Elisha, who directs the process, says that the days of long and involved specs with accompanying Photoshop images are long gone. “We were work on a very fast 3-4 week release cycle,” Elisha said. “We prefer UI (user interface) mock ups over technical documentation, which we keep very brief.”

Elisha’s tool of choice is Balsamiq Mockups which makes it incredibly easy to create a wireframe. I tried it out and it lives up to the hype with a truly drag and drop interface. Thanks Amit for the tip!

Elisha has been with the company since August of last year and moved from Israel, where Outbrain started, to New York for the job. I asked him my favorite question about what parts of product management could be outsourced. None, he said. Outsourced people don’t have the same stake in the company. “We hire people with a certain DNA,” he added.

For publishers looking to generate additional revenue, OutLoud certainly looks promising, although it will take some time before the service has the critical mass to add up to more than just some extra change. On the other hand, it’s free to install and Outbrain doesn’t add its own branding or links back to the Outbrain site.

Outbrain was founded by Yaron Galai and Ori Lahav. The 25-person company has headquarters in New York with R&D in Israel. The latest round was led by Carmel Ventures with previous investors Gemini, Lightspeed and GlenRock Israel filling out the round. Total raised to date: just over $18 million.

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Flip MinoWhy has the Flip video camera (and now its key competitor the new iPod Nano) been such as a roaring success? An article in the September issue of Wired suggests it’s part of a technology trend to build “good enough” products.

In terms of growth (if not total numbers), the little Flip is beating the pants off full-featured digital camcorders from Sony, Canon and the like (sales at Flip are up 200% this year even in the recession). The video on the Flip is indisputably crappy; the camera itself has none of the bells and whistles of its bigger cousins (there isn’t even a proper optical zoom); even the view screen is tiny.

But, as Wired senior editor Robert Capps writes, the camera does the minimum of what consumers want: it fits in a pocket and it quickly uploads videos to YouTube. And at under $200, it’s “good enough.”

The Wired article presents a number of other examples, from “eLawyering” to reduced expectations from military hardware. The most familiar, though, is the de-evolution of music quality.

Even today, old-fashioned records are still considered to deliver the highest-fidelity sound. Of course, by the end of the 80s, these were nearly entirely replaced by CDs, which purists derided for years.

But the real change is the MP3 which is clearly inferior in sound quality. But, again, it’s “good enough.” Music lovers can store thousands of songs on a mobile device and easily share or download the small files.

Even more: in an informal poll conducted over the last six years by a Stanford University professor, young people are increasingly stating that MP3s sound “better” than CDs, because they’ve become accustomed to the distortion found in compressed audio. If that isn’t “good enough,” I don’t know what is.

So what does this have to do with product management, the theme of this blog? The same trend in end user products has crept into the product planning and strategy phase. It used to be that you needed significant capital to properly launch a startup (we raised just under $1 million in the first round for Neta4 in 1998 – and that was considered on the low side).

It’s much easier today for a couple of talented engineers to cobble together a working beta (and isn’t everything beta for years nowadays?) quickly and with little or no investment. When you’re coding in hurry, there’s no time for product management. You post it and then crowd source changes in near real time.

The problem is that this approach has led to a delge of half-baked sites and services that nevertheless get covered on TechCrunch and other review sites only to eventually enter the inglorious “dead pool.”

There are two schools of thought here: virtually ship it “good enough” and iterate, or get it right before launching, the thought being the old adage that you only have one chance to make a first impression.

It may seem that I’m arguing for the latter approach, but truthfully, they both can work (and they both can fail). For agile companies in a hurry, I’d recommend that as soon as they do receive funding (and after all, other than a few viral Facebook, Twitter and iPhone apps, it’s pretty hard to make it to the big time without investor backing), they back up and start the product management tasks they didn’t have time for the first time out – planning, strategy, specifications, prioritization, roadmap, business intelligence, competitive analysis and more – with an aim towards hiring a full time product manager as soon as possible.

There are some great companies out there that have taken unorthodox ways on the path towards success. “Good enough” technology is here to stay. That doesn’t mean that product management necessarily has to follow suit.

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Keyboard 2I’ve always felt that I’ve been an under-performer when it comes to updating my blog. Unlike some of my more prolific colleagues, I’m in general  a once a week poster, both on this blog and my personal site. I like to take my time, collate references, and create a thoughtful 800-word essay. I suppose it comes from being a professional writer (you can see my portfolio here).

Now it turns out, I’m not such a bad boy after all. I recently stumbled across this article on Leo Babauta’s Write to Done blog. A guest writer (with the improbable name Bamboo Forest) suggests that it’s not posting frequency but the quality of the content that’s key. “People don’t line up to subscribe to a blog (just) because it’s spitting out three posts a day,” Forest says.

Here are 7 reasons why less frequent posting is not only OK, but may be better for your blog’s traffic. These are important lessons for publishers and media companies that maintain a blog but don’t have the staff (or available hours) to keep up a daily routine.

1. More posts mean you can’t weed out the duds.

When you’re rapidly posting several times a day, not all your posts are going to be top notch. Some will be mediocre at best. And that not-so-stellar article is going to be at the top of your blog, at least for a while.

2. Your blog is judged by the front page.

If you post too often, it won’t be long before some of your posts drop off the front page of your blog, relegated to the “previous posts” button or even into the monthly archive. Not a lot of people go trawling through back articles. So you want your best posts to be at the top, to give your readers an incentive to keep coming back.

3. Posts improve with time.

Whenever I write – whether it’s for this blog or a document for a client – I never submit it the moment I’m done. I’ll put it in the digital drawer for several hours, maybe even wait until the morning to finish it. I’ll always find something to change or add to make the piece that much more compelling. Don’t your readers deserve the same attention to detail?

4. People read many blogs.

The people who follow your blog are also perusing many others. If they use an RSS reader, it’s even worse. If you post too frequently, your busy readers may miss some of your posts – perhaps even your best ones. Give your fans the time to consume all of your great writing.

5. Less frequency generates more comments.

The longer a post stays on your front page, the more comments it can collect. A post without comments can be damning – it says to readers that no one is really visiting, so why should I?

6. Open up your blog to guest posts.

Guest posts on your blog let you fill in gaps when you get too busy (hopefully with paying clients) to blog that day or week, and the cross-linking is a great way to build traffic. If you’re doing all of the posting yourself, several times a day, there’s not much room for the out of towners.

7. Readers do not unsubscribe from too few posts.

Your followers won’t unsubscribe if you only post once a week. But if you publish uninspiring content, you’ll drive away readers you could have otherwise retained.

If you’re maintaining a blog, check out the Write to Done blog. Bamboo Forest blogs at Pun Intended.

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Matt Richtel 2We all feel like we’re addicted to email sometimes. Now along comes someone to tell us why.

New York Times reporter Matt Richtel, interviewed on the NPR program On The Media, explained that in psychological terms, there is something called “intermittent reinforcement” – “that’s this idea that if you put a rat in a device where a food pellet only comes out of a hole periodically, the rat’s going to be checking that hold all the time because it never knows when that food is available.”

The same thing happens with email, Richtel said. “Most of the stuff we get is plainly unimportant. But occasionally, something really important comes along. So what does that do? It randomly reinforces us to be checking all the time.”

In other words, we are not that much more evolved than the common rodent…at least when it comes to checking our iPhones ten times an hour. And it’s not just email – Facebook status updates, SMS, chats – they’re all part of an addiction that, apparently, gets physical as well.

Richtel again: “when you check your device, you basically get the equivalent of a dopamine squirt. Well, if you get that little candy when you check your email and you check your phone, in its absence you start to feel bored.”

And when you feel bored, you want a new squirt. So what do you do? You send out a text or an email or a Tweet, or you initiate a Facebook chat, all in the hope that you’ll get a response. It becomes an endless loop.

What does all this mean for Internet advertisers and publishers? Perhaps this: If you want to get your message out, steer clear of banner ads and choose more interruptive media. Build up your social media fans and followers. And keep them guessing as to when the next big announcement will arrive in their inboxes.

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The interview, by the way, was part of a larger discussion on “distracted driving” amid new laws forbidding texting while behind the wheel – see Matt’s articles here. The implications for advertisers when it comes to potentially fatal social media behavior are far more ominous.

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Charging for Content: FT.com Editor Weighs In

July 20, 2009

The U.K. Financial Times’ editor Lionel Barber said during a public speech last week that he confidently predicts “that within the next 12 months, almost all news organizations will be charging for content.” “News organizations with specialist skills and knowledge have the opportunity to thrive. The mediocre middle is much more at risk,” he continued. […]

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How to Block Google From Indexing Your Site

July 19, 2009

As newspaper chains and agencies like the Associated Press complain that Google News has been aggregating their content thereby hurting monetization opportunities, a Google exec says: “grow up.” Josh Cohen, senior business product manager for Google, writing on Google’s public policy blog, explained that if you don’t want your content to show in search results […]

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