Want to be a great blogger?

If you thought the blogosphere was dull and appealed only to those affiliated with GeekCentral, think again. I am finding that the blog-universe has all the elements of a good soap opera – death threats, deadly competition, scandals, romance, sideshows, sleaze, and best of all, good ol’ fashioned slug-fest going on since early March at Deep Jive Interests.

The question that’s causing this free-for-all mania is this: Does an "A-list" of bloggers exist? Jason Calcanis says No, it’s all hard work and heart.

Spend 3-4 years blogging every day for 3-8 hours a day and then tell me you didn’t make it to the A-list and people held you back… I *might* believe it after that.

What a bunch of cry babies you "B-lister" and "C listers" are…. no one is holding you back but yourselves! I never considered myself A, B, or C list.

I’ve spent my life creating my own frackin’ list… and you losers should too!

Tony of Deep Jive Interests says yes, there is a A-list and it’s not easy to break into.

I’ve come a long way in blogging, but I’m not blind to the fact that the vast majority of bloggers — even those who bring something new, refreshing, and regular to the table — may find barriers to blogging success in spite of hard work or their talent. I’d like to believe in the democracy of blogging, but the fact is that there are certain advantages that some bloggers have that others don’t. Not having them doesn’t mean you can’t be an A-lister, but I have yet to find one that didn’t have any.

The “A-list” exists, and it exists naturally. Do I think some of them “call it in”? Sure. But some of them also continue to blog just as hard as they do when they first started. But to think that a natural stratification doesn’t exist — or if it does, is easy to penetrate if you “are good and work hard” — is quite frankly, blind and a little arrogant.

He further clarifies,

I don’t begrudge a-listers for being a-listers, because its not an issue of blogging success. Many bloggers took that to be the substance of my beef. Its not. And that’s because being part of the a-list isn’t a function of how “good” you are at a blogger, how “well” you market your blog, or even how “interested” you are at creating blog rolls and interacting with your community.

Rather, all of those things are necessary but insufficient to be “a-list” as part of the way I was using the term. Folks, its about their ability to be so close to The News, that they’re either creating it, reporting it, or delivering it. These guys, through their connections, their businesses, or their activities are real influences in the real industry of choice.

You cannot BUT help but pay attention to them because they are a genuine source of News in any way that you want to define it.

Wow! Now, that’s an interesting debate even if you have been blogging for a while. It is especially interesting if you are a newbie blogger struggling with the same question, which is at the heart of this debate – how do I make my blog more successful, what does it really take?

My takeaway from this discussion is that as Tony defines it, you can be an A-lister if you have the connections, clout, notoriety or some natural advantage that others don’t have. That being said, you don’t need to be an A-lister to get noticed and drive massive amounts of traffic to your blog. Tony has written a brilliant article on how to market your blog, which has some real gems to help new bloggers and he also includes ways to make social media work for you.

The "natural stratification" that Tony refers to in his post is about how some folks have natural advantages that they can use to their advantage, while others have to work smart to get to the same place. The reason, I say smarter and not harder is because no one here is knocking the value of hard work and blogging consistently. Hard work is a given, even if you have all the advantages.

I’ll leave you with Jason’s words of wisdom,

Blogging is the most open medium ever created. Anyone can join the discussion, post comments, and get in the link pool. All you have to do is:

a) show up
b) have something intelligent to say
c) join the discussion and contribute something meaningful.

Now, if you have nothing to contribute, you suck as a writer, and you don’t want to show up every day for a couple of years to establish yourself, well, I can’t help you.

Blunt but true. If you don’t want to do the work, don’t whine when you don’t see results.This is the best discussion I’ve read in ages, two sharp people with two very interesting povs. I am loving it!

Flirting in a Web 2.0 world

Om Malik of GigaOm recently reviewed the new mobile service, Iamlikewithyou. The concept in brief is very simple – you get points when you sign up for the service, which you can use to bid/woo any gal of your choice. If you’ve picked a real hottie, chances are that others are going to be bidding on the same gal as well, so in the end – may the savviest bidder win.

I don’t quite buy this part,

It also has anonymous calling features built into the service, again giving the ladies control over who can talk to them, without giving out their phone numbers.

One of the reasons this service is going to be successful is because it puts ladies in charge. A lot of my friends have said that they are sick and tired of getting emails from guys, which are obviously canned and rote. They all currently use the traditional dating sites, and were quite thrilled by the prospect of Iminlikewithyou.

As it’s set up currently, only men get to bid on women and not vice-versa. If I get to bid on someone, I can see the fun in that, but how does someone bidding on me, put me in charge? In short, I don’t like the whole bidding on women part of it, being a self-professed feminist and everything. I would have liked it a whole lot better, if women got to bid on men they want to flirt with as well. :-)

Iminlikewithyou is a service for the Facebook generation, and its easy integration with Facebook tips their hand on which demographic they are focusing.

Judging by the crowd hounding Om for invites to this service, that’s still in closed beta stage, it sounds like a big hit, at least with the 20-something and even the thrill-seeking older (poser) crowd. There’s something about the thrill of flirting over a new media that makes it a bit more sexy and much less tacky. Sounds a bit like Twitter, maybe?!

Looking for a great blog?

If you are tearing your hair out, wondering where in the blazing blog-universe, can I find the truly great blogs? Fret no more, Jaffe Juice has a MVB (Most Valuable Blog) contest going, where you can look at voter’s picks for good to great blogs. You will recognize some of the well-known names but there are some hidden gems as well.

Here are some of the top picks:

    1. Seth Godin – http://sethgodin.typepad.com/
    2. Wired – http://blog.wired.com/
    3. Logic + Emotion – http://darmano.typepad.com/logic_emotion/
    4. Jaffe Juice – http://www.jaffejuice.com
    5. BrandAutopsy – http://brandautopsy.typepad.com/
    6. Russel Davies – http://russelldavies.typepad.com/
    7. Church of the Consumer – http://www.churchofthecustomer.com/blog/
    8. Beyond Madison Avenue – http://www.beyondmadisonavenue.com/
    9. Micro Persuasion – http://www.micropersuasion.com
    10. Why Business People Speak Like Idiots" http://www.fightthebull.com/blog/

John Moore of Brand Autopsy, who’s also on this list has his own March-madness style contest for the top Marketing Blogs. John has narrowed down 64 marketing blogs that he chose to a final four that include,

…. Seth Godin’s blog (#1 seed) takes on The Church of the Customer (#1 seed) in one match-up. The “winner” of that contest will face the winner between Creating Passionate Users (#1 seed) versus Marketing Profs Daily Fix (#3 seed).

Don’t you just love it, when someone else does all the work for you ;)

Enjoy!

The dark side of blogosphere

The blogosphere may have started off as a small close-knit community of bloggers, but recent death threats received by Kathy Sierra, the prominent blogger shows that the doors of the blogosphere have been blown wide open. The social media/Web 2.0 revolution has brought about many amazing changes, but there’s a flip side to everything. This is an era blessed with democratization of media, where everyone has a voice and can be heard. Unfortunately, ‘everyone’ also includes crazies of the world.

The situation with Kathy has gotten so bad that she is terrified to leave her home and has cancelled her speaking engagements. She is not sure if she will ever blog again.

As I type this, I am supposed to be in San Diego, delivering a workshop at the ETech conference. But I’m not. I’m at home, with the doors locked, terrified. For the last four weeks, I’ve been getting death threat comments on this blog.

Blogging has made communication and collaboration so easy that a rookie (like myself) can "rub shoulders" online with the Goliaths of the offline world. But, this also means that every Joe Schmoe can do the same. Technology can be used for good or for evil. It makes it easier to connect with people, but that also means mentally unhinged folks can get to you easily as well.

I don’t know what’s more disturbing, the vicious nature of these threats or the folks who condone this kind of behavior. Although, we would like to believe that these are just random rantings from some mentally unstable individual/s, but according to Kathy, these threats have been posted on a blog co-authored/owned by a group of well-known bloggers.

But that’s not what pushed me over the edge. What finally did it was some disturbing threats of violence and sex posted on two other blogs… blogs authored and/or owned by a group that includes prominent bloggers. People you’ve probably heard of. People like respected Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Chris Locke (aka Rageboy).

With bloggers like these, who needs trolls?! It is unconscionable that someone would go to this extent to bring a popular blogger down. Competition can be vicious and this should serve as a reminder to those of us, who are naive enough to believe that the Internet is a safe haven from the loonies of the world and deathly competition.

Steve Rubel, a popular PR/technology blogger says,

Although startling and thoroughly condemnable, this situation – or God forbid worse – is bound to occur and it does all the time. Nobody should have to deal with such threats. However, the blogosphere is a community made up of human beings. Therefore, it’s going to bring out all of the good in society and also the bad. Sometimes they converge and that’s what is happening here. The bad are unjustly targeting someone good.

I agree! In the blogosphere, Kathy Sierra is a celebrity and the online world is no different from the offline world, when it comes to the public’s pathological attraction to well-known personas. The online world is probably more dangerous, because of the cover of anonymity that online media provides.

Kathy is one of the few credible women in the blogosphere and I hope she continues to blog. She’s an inspiration to all of us, especially women and we need her.

NBC, Newscorp try to create YouTube rival

The blogosphere has been buzzing with the news that NBC and Newscorp have announced a new "YouTube Killer". Here are some more details from the official press release:

News Corporation and NBC Universal will launch the largest Internet video distribution network ever assembled with the most sought-after content from television and film, it was announced today by Jeff Zucker, President and Chief Executive Officer, NBC Universal and Peter Chernin, President and Chief Operating Officer, News Corporation. The video-rich site will debut this summer with thousands of hours of full-length programming, movies and clips, representing premium content from at least a dozen networks and two major film studios.

My take – Stupid is as stupid does. This latest news from the two media giants is much ado about nothing. For starters, the site doesn’t even have a name nor does it launch until summer and here’s a glaring contradiction,

By delivering the new site’s content to our more than 65 million users, we can build on MySpace’s position as a leading destination for online video, and enable content creators to tap into the power of social networking,” said Peter Levinsohn, President of Fox Interactive Media.

Newscorp’s plan is to position MySpace as the leading destination for online video while NBC’s vision is launching a site where they can host all their copyrighted content. So which one is it? A separate stand alone site or a YouSpace? In the short term, the two foes may unite to fight a common rival, but it remains to be seen how long this unity lasts and when bickering over revenue-sharing starts.

Michael Arrington of Techcrunch says,

I think this will get a crazy amount of attention, then probably launch very late. Joint ventures are notoriously difficult to manage, and adding third party distribution partners to the mix will add complexity. And of course the technology needs to work, and these companies are not now for building web based applications.

Owen Thomas of Business 2.0 raises a very good point,

It’s been shown time and again that more choices confuse consumers, and it’s not like users are somehow liberated by the presence of a video on multiple websites. If anything, this proliferation of duplicative copies will just send people to search engines like Google Video.

Some of the ‘premium’ content they are referring to, is already available on their sites currently. How is this any different?  Why would anyone want to go to half-dozen different sites for the same content, when it could have bee easily available at one site already?

When Viacom yanked their prized clips and sued YouTube, the big media supporters cheered and predicted the doom of YouTube. Their theory (and the reasoning behind Viacom’s subsequent suit) is that YouTube’s popularity is direct result of these popular shows. If that’s true, what I haven’t seen explained is why these folks don’t just go to the NBC or Comedy Central site to look at the clips? Why is YouTube still more popular that the actual show sites? NewTeeVee says,

According to research from the fine folks at Hitwise, YouTube visits are up 14 percent since Viacom’s cease-and-desist order, showing that maybe it’s not just people watching Daily Show and Colbert clips after all. Who needs that Audible Magic stuff, anyway?

YouTube-haters are missing the big picture, the reason for YouTube’s popularity is that it is the ultimate social collaborative platform. YouTube has allowed social aggregation of popular content, where folks shared clips that they liked with their friends, who in turn passed it on to their friends, thereby creating more buzz than money can ever buy. Moreover, it allowed content-creators to ‘stick it" to the establishment ie. the big media companies and that’s what makes it even more popular. The fact, that your home-created video can be shared by millions without any bureaucratic hoop-jumping, is a huge deal.

YouTube is more than just a site for pirated shows or crazy stunts video, just like the Web 2.0 revolution is more than just a bunch of geeky tools that any one with half-a-brain can tinker with and call it a social network. It’s a paradigm shift in the way content is created and distributed.

While the media giants scheme and plot, Google has quietly been signing deals with smaller content producers. Industry analysts say,

Industry analysts say in the Times that it is far easier for YouTube to persuade small media companies to license their content than it is to get NBC or Viacom Inc., two of Google’s vocal critics, to give up control of their most-prized content and the advertising revenue associated with it.

Whether you hate YouTube/Google or love it, at end of the day, the consumer is the winner. YouTube has forced the old media companies to open up and start sharing content. How many folks actually think that without YouTube’s overwhelming popularity, NBC and its homies were going to host a site specially to share their prized content and that too, free? Yeah, right!

In the end, it doesn’t matter if you love or hate YouTube, I think competition is healthy for the industry and creates a win-win situation for everyone, especially the consumers.

Frengo – not just another SMS play

Earlier this week, Frengo announced the launch of its mobile social network, which allows you to play games and get other forms of entertainment directly to your cell phone. Members can play games via SMS or MMS messaging services offered by their mobile operator.

Mashable reports,

Frengo allows for continued communication amongst friends and across devices, and enables users to even create their own games. Considering the direction in which social networking and the mobile realm are going, it’s no surprise that a product such as Frengo has emerged. Games and other features included in Frengo focus on sports, music and pop culture, as well as useful planning tools and easy integrated widgets for your pages on MySpace, hi5, Piczo and other sites.

Frengo1

What I like the most about Frengo is that it’s a smart play. It leverages several (related) popular trends at the same time, while focusing only on the areas where it can most add value.

Firstly it leverages the popularity of existing social networking sites like MySpace, instead of creating a new one. Next, it’s leveraging the sky-rocketing popularity of text-messaging, driven mostly by gen-Xers. Although it is trying to build critical mass of users, it has started off by focusing on the younger audience, who is most active on the online social networking scene and prolific mobile user. Frengo is attracting this target demographic by offering activities revolving around games, sports, and celebrities, topics that are most likely to appeal to this group.

Frengo2_2

In his exceptionally well-researched post on the state of mobile market by Michael Mace, one thing he mentions that struck me as very interesting and another trend that’s working in favor of Frengo is,

When surveyed, most people in the US and Europe say they will not pay anything extra for mobile device features other than voice and SMS.

Although, it’s still not clear what their revenue model is, but I strongly suspect that it’s some type of revenue-sharing arrangement with the wireless operators and carriers, who will no doubt see the usage and consequently, revenue from SMS and MMS services go up.

According to the company press release,

Targeting young adults, Frengo is partnering with mobile operators such as Boost Mobile which understand the services needed to attract and serve this important demographic. In partnership with Boost Mobile, Frengo launched a text alert-based game in which players predict winners in upcoming games during the NCAA college basketball tournament. Boost Mobile promoted the game on its WAP deck generating thousands of players in the first 24 hours.

The reason, Frengo might just succeed where other Mobile 2.0 startups flounder is two-fold, one is partnership with mobile operators such as Boost, who have a vested interest in promoting the offering to their subscriber base. My assumption here is that Frengo will be able to secure some lucrative revenue-sharing deals with other key mobile operators as well.

Second, is that increase in usage and not necessarily, increase in subscribers is the key to its revenue-growth, although having both wouldn’t be that bad either. The reason, this is important is that for all the network-effect benefits, there is no substitute for increasing activity that actually causes revenue-generation ie. the more the members play, the more money Frengo and its partners make. So far, they seem to be on the right track with ‘sticky’ offerings that will no doubt engage the audience, however, the key is whether the company manages to get enough users to sign up.

Katie Fehrenbacher of GigaOM says,

The company creates games based on SMS and the web, with themes like March Madness-style polls, make-your-own text quizes (which are actually pretty fun) and MySpace mobile text services. Danny Rimer and Vinod Khosla back SMS games? — go figure.

With the US mobile market saturated with over 75% of the population owning a cellphone, I believe that Frengo is more than just a SMS play. Any service, that can increase cellphone use and move it out of the utilitarian status in a highly PC-dominated US culture, will and should be welcomed by the wireless operators.

Google tests Pay-Per-Action for AdWords

Yesterday, Google announced pay-per-action (PPA) pricing model beta test for their Adwords product. I have ranted before on the lack of transparency in the online advertising model, where click-fraud is a real issue and so are conversion (to sales) ratios. So this move came as a pleasant surprise, at first…but on closer examination, this announcement raises more questions than it answers.

Google describes Pay-per-action advertising as

…a new pricing model that allows you to pay only for completed actions that you define, such as a lead, a sale, or a pageview, after a user has clicked on your ad on a publisher’s site. You’ll  (advertiser) define an action, set up conversion tracking, and create ads that publishers in the Google content network can then choose to place in new ad units on their site.

So far so good, right? There’s nothing wrong with paying only for the clicks that result in an actual sale or pre-defined action.

Here’s how the PPA pricing model works:

You (advertiser) define a fixed amount that you’d like to pay for a completed action based on the value of that action to your business. You’ll only pay when that action is completed, not for a click or impression. For example, you may wish to pay $1 every time a user fills out a lead form on your site and $5 when a purchase is made.

Google and publishers can potentially make more money under this new model since the pricing model will no doubt be adjusted to reflect this additional value, as Google explains. However, Google’s conversion tracking system allows campaign management and tracking of conversions but only from the site. What about transactions that occur offline or on the company’s internal system such as a sales transaction?

How is Google planning to track these completed actions? Is it relying on the advertiser to report these offline transactions?  What if the advertiser doesn’t have an accurate tracking system? What if the advertiser ‘forgets’ to report the sale/action? And what about products with long sales cycles? Will Google and its partners be willing to wait that long to collect?

Here’s the problem, the reason many (especially) small companies remain fixated on the leads-generated or click-through rate rather than leads-converted-to-sales is because:
a) it’s easy to measure how many leads/clicks are generated
b) it’s not as easy to track down which leads converted to sales, especially for products with long sales cycles.

Many small companies do a lousy job of accurately tracking their conversion rates. Unless Google is planning to launch a new analytics tools for small businesses to track their offline conversion rates, it’s an iffy proposition.

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch makes an interesting point, by announcing this new pricing model, Google has avoided any debate over it’s more controversial move – their new text link ads.

Text link ads are brief text descriptions that take on the characteristics of a publisher’s page. These Javascript-based ads will display like regular hyperlinks and allow publishers to embed these links inline with other text to promote your product or service.

Michael says,

No longer will Google ads need to be confined to their own space on the site – publishers can subtly embed ads right into hyperlinks within the main content of the site itself (see second paragraph of quote above). Other companies already do this, but Google has never tread into the “advertorial” space before.

They’ve crossed a hazy ethical line here. If this product was announced on its own, it would be heavily debated by the blogs and press. But by burying it in other, bigger news, they’ve mostly avoided the critical analysis that this actually deserves.

I agree! I don’t have to remind you that this is the same search engine who clearly differentiated between sponsored links and organic search results to avoid confusing the users. With this new format, Google is going the opposite direction, ie. it’s okay to blend the advertising within the content, even at the risk of misleading the reader.

Moreover, publishers won’t be too thrilled about finding ways to incorporate these ads into the body of their content. Allen Stern of CenterNetworks has this concern,

Now correct me if I am wrong, but is this Payperpost or not? So Google is suggesting here that you make up good wording to "sell" the product. They don’t even suggest you should try or test the product first. And their "disclosure" is only a mouseover. Everyone bitches and moans about PPP and their disclosure, yet this is ok?

That’s an excellent point, Allen. As an advertiser, it’s very appealing, but I can see why it’s going to be a hardsell for publishers, who will have to find creative ways of incorporating these links into the body of their content. I agree, it’s very similar to PPP, in that publisher is endorsing the product by including it in the body, while under the current system, there is a clear differentiation between the sponsored vs. non-sponsored (legitimate) content.

So, while the PPA seems to be a move in the right direction, however implementing this pricing model is fraught with practical and ethical questions.

Social media politicking

As election 2008 draws closer, presidential hopefuls are flocking to the web and MySpace has added a political channel to its wildly popular site to help them out.

USA Today reports,

MySpace, the largest Internet social network, said Sunday it has launched a politics channel ahead of the 2008 U.S. presidential elections. The News Corp.-owned site’s politics site, called the Impact Channel, will feature links to the profiles of 10 presidential candidates — five Democrats and five Republicans.

When News Corp bought MySpace in 2005, it was with the primary intention of attracting the young fickle audience and that play has paid off. With an estimated traffic of over 60million unique visitors (according to comScore ) MySpace is a great avenue for political aspirants to connect with the net-savvy politically-apathetic young adult population.

Myspace_politics1_4

Myspace_politics2

I don’t know if the number of friends means anything, but according to their profile:

Barack Obama has 69064 friends
Hillary Clinton 2008 has 29358 friends.
John Edwards has 13863 friends.
Rudolph Giuliani for president!! has 1232 friends.
Mitt Romney has 1085 friends.
Joe Biden has 870 friends.
Dennis Kucinich has 727 friends.
Duncan Hunter in 2008 has 431 friends.
Ron Paul 2008 has 428 friends.

Now if only, they could figure out a way to convert these into real votes…

Twitter bug

Okay, so I’ve got the Twitter bug. I was inspired by David Tebbutt’s post "Are twitterers twits?"

Clearly targeted at a generation brought up to think that the world revolves around themselves, twitter is narcissistic in the extreme.

I agree! Twitter is a shining example of our ‘look-at-me’ culture. It lets you update your groupies with what you are doing, when you are doing it. But when is too much…too much? Do I want to know what you had for breakfast this morning or what you are doing 24×7? The answer seems to be a resounding Yes, if the overwhelming popularity of Twitter is anything to go by.

Any media can be either used for good or evil. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I see Twitter as an effective medium for viral marketing, where a message picked up by one individual or group is soon transmitted to rest of the crowd. But the current problem with this media is that it’s used for all sorts of worthless messages, so folks have start tuning them out. WSJ reports how mundane messages are overwhelming some Twitterers.

Interconnectedness with the world around us is a good thing, but when we spend so much time twittering (about the media) that we don’t care if the message has any relevance, well, that’s just…a waste.

Twitter, understimated?

Om Malik of GigaOM says,

Twitter..crossed the chasm and became passe at the same time at the South by South West gathering in Austin, Texas earlier this month.

Mat Balez of Web1979 makes no bones about his disdain for Twitter,

I’ve commented far and wide about the inanity and potential danger of the tool, and even discussed some of the associated social repercussions on this blog. But I’d like to now go one step further, and predict its imminent supernova-like implosion.

I think the phenomenon, why many social networking media companies may never see the light of mass adoption can be summed up as ‘plunging down the chasm, head first’. First, they get picked up by mavens who hype up the cool factor. Next, throngs of fans follow their lead, which creates mass hysteria. Thereby, the true value of the new media is completely lost as all the wannabes try to get in on the action, thereby bringing down the system as a whole.

It’s the worst possible good news-bad news scenario, where good news for Twitter is that it’s getting tremendous amounts of traffic and publicity, bad news is it doesn’t seem to have any idea how to monetize that craze. By the time, new media companies figure how to make money, the crowds (sadly enuf) have already moved on to the next big fad.

I am not a huge Twitter fan, I think it’s been abused to the point of banality. However, I see tremendous potential as a viral marketing platform…among many other potential uses. But the key is for Twitter (and other social media companies) to figure out who their users are and find a way to deliver more value to them.

The reason search advertising is powerful schtuff is because your work is already done for you ie. the user is telling you what he/she is looking for. If social media companies like Twitter can identify their user base’s primary need and tie this into their social networking platform – voila, they haven’t just launched another hyped-up product, but one that…ooh la la..could actually make money.