Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Twas the Night Before Macworld

Monday, January 8th, 2007

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Twas the night before Macworld when all through the town
No MacBook was mooing nor turning brown

At Moscone, nerds were queuing with care
in hopes that Saint Steve would soon be there.

(more…)

Cool Tools – PicLens

Friday, December 15th, 2006

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This a very simple plugin for Safari that makes full screen slideshows from folders on Flickr and most of the other major photo sites. Nicely implemented and a great use of screen space.

Read

Ditching Cable has launched!!

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

In the last few months, I’ve become more and more disgruntled with my cable service. The cost is high and I simply don’t watch enough television to justify the price. The video quality is poor and the DVR makes me not want to watch television. The selection of video on demand and movies on the “movie” channels are so poor that we also subscribe to Netflix to supplement our entertainment “needs.”

I looked hard at our television viewing habits and realized that most of the tv programming we watch is freely available over the air. There are some exceptions but by and large our “regularly scheduled programming” comes from the big networks. The value proposition is just not there.

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While we do receive HD signals from our provider and that provider is increasing the amount of HD channels on the network, by and large, HD content comes from the major networks. Standard definition, or SD content is so compressed, legitimate download sources are starting to look better.

Crappy picture, lack of selection and high costs leave me with two options.

  1. I could sit and complain about it.
  2. Or, I could ditch cable.

Given all that, we decided to ditch cable and launch this blog to tell you about it.

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If you’d like to know more about my little experiment, head on over to Ditching Cable, where I’ll be showing folks how easy it is to get rid of your cable subscription. It’s a little raw right now, but I’ll be spending some of my time fixing it up in the next few weeks.

My Jellyfish addiction

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

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So, I’ve thought a lot about how gaming mechanisms can make sites more fun to use and my friends at Jellyfish.com have made a very addictive experience.

Jellyfish is yet another comparison shopping site, like Shopping.com, Epinions, NexTag, Yahoo! Shopping, Froogle, yadda, yadda, but they have a few twists up their sleeve. First, they incorporate cash back on most, if not all purchases made through the site. While most of the time, these are small percentages, they do add up.

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The far more interesting feature, however, is Smack Shopping. Essentially, Smack Shopping is Woot! meets reverse eBay. Every day at 11 am EST, Smack Shopping offers up a limited quantity of a product, like an iPod or Zune. As time progresses, the price of the product decreases until they sell out.

Prisoner’s Dilemma

Naturally, some products sell more quickly than others, but so far many products have sold for almost 1/2 off their retail price. So, why don’t people wait longer for the value to go to zero? Theoretically, users could wait it out and get products for free. Fortunately for Jellyfish, most products have a value to people that is a lot higher than zero.

This is classic prisoner’s dilemma, which Wikipedia defines as “a type of non-zero-sum game in which two players can “cooperate” with or “defect” (i.e. betray) the other player.” This is frequently used by policeman to get one criminal to rat out their partner. If no one says anything, both prisoners could walk free. If they both talk, they both go to prison. In Jellyfish’s case, there are more players than products, so it certainly takes advantage of people’s inherent self interest.

The first hit is free

Ultimately, as a bargain shopper, I’m completely addicted. In theory, the more people that go to the site, the less likely products will be heavily discounted. So get out there folks and do your holiday shopping Smack-style :-).

Make my addiction go away.

Join

Boxbe – make spammers pay

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

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Spam. This is the cost of doing business on the internet, right? Free and easy communication with friends, co-workers, partners, etc, but the cost of this ease is that it is easy (and close to free) for anyone to send you email.

I dunno about you, but I got better stuff to do than spend my time cleaning out my inbox. Yahoo! and Google seem to do a decent job of removing spam before I get it (I’m not sure that .Mac has any filtering at all). Apple Mail does a good job of removing what Google and Yahoo! don’t. But on occasion, a friend asks me why I didn’t respond to them and I discover that my spam filtering has been a bit over zealous.

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Enter Boxbe, a new warrior in the battle on spam. Boxbe’s premise is that your time is worth money and you can set how much that time is worth. Boxbe gives you a free forwarding email address that you can post anywhere on the net. It stops spam dead because if the sender isn’t in your address book, they don’t get to email you.

That is, unless they pay.

And there is the beauty, my friends. How much is worth to you to be spammed? Personally, my inbox is worth about $2.00. If you want to spam me, I’ll take your $2.00. If you send me relevant stuff, like a sale on hard drives, maybe I won’t take your money.

In any case, the service went public yesterday. No beta, no Web 2.0 tom-foolery, just up and running. I signed up for the service today and will let you know how well it works later this week.

Oh yeah, spammers, come and get it:

randy@boxbe.com

Links
Liz Gannes on GigaOm is reporting on Boxbe
Boxbe.com

[In the interest of full disclosure, one of the founders, Thede Loder, is an old friend of mine from a million years ago. We’ve talked about this service a lot and I hope it is everything he has spent so much time working on. He hasn’t paid me to talk about the service, I just really believe in what he is doing.]

John Battelle and Economy of Intention

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

I had a great time at last week’s Blog Business Summit. I met a lot of people whose work I respect a great deal and people that I found that I had a lot in common with. John Battelle is someone that I hold in very high regard because he inspired me very early on.

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I got an opportunity to hear Battelle speak Friday and he’s as well spoken in person as he is on his blog. The content of his speech inspired me yet again. I’ve read his book, The Search but I don’t think I truly realized how powerful an idea “The Database of Intention” truly was. Adsense and Adwords best illustrate the power of the intention economy and it is those products that have put Google where they are today.

Why FM Publishing?

Given all of that, I still have a lingering question. If Battelle truly believes intent will triumph over content, why did he start a “content” based publishing business, rather than one based on intent? I asked John that very question.

Essentially John replied that in the near term there are tons of advertising opportunities for content. To me that future seems limited. This limitation and distinction is currently being well demonstrated when comparing Yahoo’s quarterly earnings versus Google’s.

I relearned a valuable lesson that day; sometimes your idols let you down. Battelle isn’t a visionary, but he has spent his career being able to recognize them and to report on them, and in a limited way, to capitalize on them. I hope he will be able to learn the lessons he is teaching to capitalize on his Database of Intentions in the future.

Photo by Niall Kennedy.

Looking back to look forward

Friday, October 6th, 2006

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I remember first picking up Wired Magazine because its heavy stock cover and non-standard size. Most magazines at the time were all basically the same size and shape and generally of varying paper weight from light to completely flimsy. I’ve always been a bit of magazine nerd and also being a computer nerd made Wired an easy purchase for me.

Mitch Kapor

Wired was a big influencer of mine (especially in college, don’t get me started on their decline), but one article in particular has stuck with me for a long time. In Wired 1.03, published in July of 1993, Mitch Kapor wrote a manifesto called “Where Is the Digital Highway Really Heading?” that inspired me at the time and it was that article that really began my fascination with the internet and what the future might hold. Unlike re-reading most futurist prognostications, looking back at that article today doesn’t make for a good laugh. Most of what Mitch talked about then has come to pass.

Now a lot of the article talks about the technical and political hurdles of our current reality, but I’m more interested in the social implications of the article. The idea that captivated me most was that in the internet was “an interactive medium based on two-way communications, where people can fluidly shift from position of listener to that of speaker, from role of consumer to that of provider.”

Hmmm….. this sounds familiar.

So, Mitch Kapor looks like a pretty big smarty-pants, eh? Well, actually, this future, in theory, should have come a long time ago.

The web, you might remember, was given to us by Tim Berners-Lee while he hanging out at CERN in Switzerland. He had originally thought that “editing the web was as important as browsing it.” With the benefit of hind sight, that’s certainly not what happened with Web 1.0.

Social Media

So what the hell is my point? I think that blogs, video sharing, wikis and the rest of social media are fulfilling that prediction of everyone becoming both a consumer and a provider. How long will it take us to get there? It took about 7 years for the first generation web to boom and bust, but even with the bust, people’s behavior had changed permanently. I’m too chicken-shit to make a bad prediction on my blog, but it looks like we’ll get there before you know it.

Thanks Mitch for inspiring so many.

Read the original article here.

Cool Tools – Monolingual

Thursday, October 5th, 2006

Every so often I find something that saves my butt in some way. I’ve recently moved to using a Macbook as my primary machine. I immediately upgraded the hard drive inside, but my drive was filling up pretty quickly. Having XP and Mac OS X on the same device is great, but just having both OSs on the Mac takes up a lot of space. Even without dual OSs, I’m always in need of more hard drive space. Today, I remembered a great tool that helps you do just that.

Monolingual

Mac OS X is great in that you don’t need to install anything special to run an app in a different language as many apps ship with a cornucopia of languages already installed. Trouble is, those languages take up a lot of space.

Monolingual is an app that will remove all excess languages from your Mac. I saved 2 gigs of space alone by just removing all the extra languages.

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Now, while I don’t travel internationally much anymore these days and I don’t have many friends that don’t use English at least as a second language, if you do find that you need other languages on your system, Monolingual allows you to check off any language that you might want to keep.

Two word of caution (and thankfully for once in my life I actually RTFM). First, do not just select “US English.” It is a subset of “English” and removing “English” from your system will make your system non-functional. Second, and this is a little kludgy, if you are using Adobe products, deselect those folders from inclusion. Adobe apps “self heal,” which basically means that you will be do a partial reinstall if you remove their translations.

Monolingual is a free, open source app that is a universal binary.

Bringing them back pt. 3 – Levels

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

In video games, levels are the natural extension of points. Once you receive so many points or have accomplished so many tasks, you are awarded with a new level. If we model this to real life, you could equate this to accumulating wealth, social standing or a position at a company. Games provide a way to achieve “levels” more quickly than in real life and in turn, create more satisfying game play.

Typically, achieving a new level affords you abilities not otherwise afforded to mere beginners. Web sites tend to use two different kinds of levels, explicit, quid pro quo levels or levels that are really jobs in some ways. The benefits of these levels varies from site to site, but generally, if you have achieved a higher level at the site, higher rank means more benefits.

Quid Pro Quo

I’ve mentioned Yahoo! Answers before, but Answers bears mentioning again given how transparent their system of levels is.

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Do this, get that. It’s pretty simple.

Levels as reputation

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Usually, icons next to one’s name on a website indicates to outsiders (or other insiders), that the icon holder has a higher reputation than someone sans icon.

eBay rewards members with positive feedback with “reputation” stars. Yellow stars are on the lower end of the feedback scale, while red tops out their feedback scale.

It may sound silly, but long time eBayers covet these stars and ultimately, having a green star (5k+ positive feedback) on eBay can really help sales.

eBay’s usage of icons extends beyond reputation for sure, but the association of icons with reputation levels is an incentive to get as many icons next to your seller info as possible. Filling out a profile page, reviewing products or adding your Skype contact info will get you a new icon.

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Levels as a job

The best social media sites have users that feel so strongly about the site and use it so much, it is often what some would consider a part time job.

Wikipedia would be a massive failure if it did not employ levels of some kind. If everyone were equal on the site, newbies and old timers, Wikipedia would be rife with errors, vandalism and infighting.

While all Wikipedians, by definition, contribute to the site, there are numerous people who also have administrative roles.

1. Stewards can give and remove permissions to users.
2. Administrators can prevent articles from being edited for numerous reasons.
3. Bureaucrats assign who can be administrators and stewards.

One attains these levels by not only contributing heavily to Wikipedia, but also has a commitment to helping others contribute and keeping the site to a high level of standards.

Finally

At the simplest …. ahem… level, levels are a good way to compare how you are doing in comparison to others. Levels are a good way to reward heavy users and in turn, ensure your web site runs more smoothly.

What other sites out their use levels effectively? How are you using levels on your site?

Bringing users back in droves part 2 – Earning points

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

Ahhhhh… earning points. This is an old chestnut. Earning points in games doesn’t really need much explaining. Shoot Space Invader, get points. Points are all about keeping score (duh) and then comparing your score with your friends.

There are at least two types of points used in community websites, social points and redeemable points. Amy Jo Kim illustrates social as anything from your feedback score on eBay or interestingness on Flickr. Let’s look at some other examples. Redeemable points are used commonly by airline mileage programs, credit cards or a sandwich card from a local lunch joint. I’m going to talk about social points.

In yesterday’s post, I talked about collecting achievements on Xbox Live but they employ a “gamer score” so you can compare your score with your friends. They use leader boards so you can compare to everyone’s score. But for today, let’s talk about some non-gaming sites.

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Web of Trust

Epinions uses a concept called the “Web of Trust” to ensure that the best reviews always appear at the top. The “Web of Trust mimics the way people share word-of-mouth advice every day.” So, how does it work?

First, all reviews that appear on the site are rated by users. To even appear on the site, a review must be rated helpful or better. Then if there is a list of reviews about the same product, those reviews that are rated highest appear further up the list.

Second, as a member of Epinions, you are encouraged to trust members whose reviews you like and opinions you trust. If you add someone to your “Web of Trust,” their review will appear above others when you are reading a list. More importantly, though, the more members that trust you, the higher your review will appear in a list.

Rating the rater

I’ll talk about the concept of levels in a later post, but for now, let’s just say if you are a reviewer that is well trusted, then your ratings matter more. Put simply, everyone gets to vote, but some votes count more. This helps ensure a certain level of writing quality on the site. Having a top rated review on a product that is popular will ensure that you have more readers than those reviews below yours.

And popularity is the name of the game. All the social points are tallied on Epinions by the stats you and your review have.

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Many community review sites use variations on Epinions “Web of Trust.” I’ve not too deeply in Amazon’s reviews system, but I suspect something similar is in play.

Yahoo! Answers (whom we’ve talked about before) uses a simpler points system, but to be fair, Epinions has been refined over the years to alleviate problems of gaming the system. Yahoo! Answers will have to create some safeguards to ensure the quality of their site at some point in the future.

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Where Epinions point system is complicated and opaque, Yahoo! Answers point system is simple and transparent – earn points by answering questions, earn more by being the best answer. For every There are a couple of twists, however. First, you get a point for just showing up. At first glance, this seems odd. Why give points for not doing anything? Having been an active lurker on many community websites, I suspect this is to give the vast majority of users, ie the lurkers, a sense that they belong to the community. [Editors note it seems that Yahoo! understands the lurker phenom quite well].

Leaderboards

The main reason to have points is to compare yourself against others. This is the most primary construct of any game that has a winner and a loser.


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Leaderboards bring out the inner competitor in users. Even if you are number 3200 in a list, you have somewhere to go, and hopefully that is up.

Bottom Line

Points and leaderboards make sites more fun by keeping users jockeying for position and ultimately, creating more value for your site.

How to bring people back to your site in droves

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

So, you’ve built your totally kick ass web 2.0, long tail, peer to peer, social networking, beta meme review wiki that has all the paradigm shifting, AJAX created reflections you can shake a stick at.

You’ve been on TechCrunch, Engadget, Boing Boing and you’ve been properly Dugg. You’ve gotten great press and lots of people have tried your site. Trouble is, people come to your site once and return only periodically, but they never add anything to your site. The trouble is, your site isn’t fun.

Make your site fun

I heard a talk that Amy Jo Kim gave back at Etech that really stuck with me. fun.gifShe talked about using gaming mechanics to make your site more fun. Gaming mechanics are essentially elements of games that make them addictive by employing elements of behavioral psychology. A great book on this is Theory of Fun by Raph Koster. According to Raph, “fun is about our brain feeling good.”

I thought about the sites I’ve liked, used and help design and the best, most successful ones all use gaming mechanics to bring people in and keep them there. Community based sites tend to use this best.
I’ll give you the basic outline of some gaming mechanics and then draw a few examples from a number of sites.

Gaming Mechanics

Amy Jo outlines 4 very powerful techniques to bring people back in droves. Most of these items aren’t intended for blogs, but for community based web sites.

  1. Collecting
  2. Earning points
  3. Levels
  4. Scheduled Reward

Each one is a powerful mechanism, but used in combination, they add up to a pretty addictive experience for some. For today, I’ll talk about collecting.

Collecting

Collecting is essentially amassing stuff and showing it off. You know people that are very susceptible to this. Your crazy aunt’s beanie baby collection or your friend who bought all those Magic cards back in college are great “real world” examples of this behavior. Collecting is directly related to the primal instinct to hunt and gather. Primitive men and women who were good at hunting and gathering got better mates. Web sites use this mechanism very successfully (although this is often counter to attracting better mates).

Xbox Live
Ok, I realize that Xbox Live isn’t just a website but it serves as a great example.

When Microsoft launched Xbox Live, they did it to reinforce certain activities they wanted gamers to engage in. The folks at Microsoft want you to a. buy an Xbox and b. buy games. One way to get users to do this is to make the games fun (naturally), but building in some extra elements of fun can’t hurt reinforcing this.

On the Xbox Live site, you can show off your gamer card that shows all the games you’ve played and the “achievements” you’ve collected in a given game. You can then compare how well you’ve done against your friends.

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Comparing accomplishments and competing against friends is pretty powerful and it makes you want to do better than your friends to show off. Finishing a game, having a higher score, accomplishing something difficult both increases your score (which gets into Points) and the number of accomplishments

Naturally, adding lots of friends to your Xbox profile is powerful as well, but it’s even more powerful on LinkedIn.

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Must. Complete. Profile.

There are a number of activities on LinkedIn that are natural. First, adding your immediate friends and colleagues is probably the reason that you are there, so that’s a no brainer. But adding a recommendation isn’t necessarily a natural thing, but yet you feel compelled to do so in order to have a complete profile. It’s also something that strengthens LinkedIn’s network. That ties into the end point of collecting and that is completing a set.

When talking about collectible card games, beanie babies, Xbox live profiles, or whatever, completing a set is what you are striving for. No one wants an incomplete set and marketers are keen to exploit this angle.

What do your users collect? What sets do your users need to complete?

More later.

Fill your iPod, fill your head

Friday, September 8th, 2006

indexclickwheel20050907.gifHere’s a little weekend fun for you and your iPod.

I’ve found that my iPod usage is a little unusual. First, my music collection is somewhere in the 130 gb range (most of it legal) and that while I do listen to music on my iPod, I listen to podcasts and watch video podcasts more often.

While there is a tremendous amount of crap out there, I’ve found some real gems that introduce me to new topics, challenge my way of thinking or just feel smart.

Here are my top 5 brainy podcasts both audio and video. All links are into the iTunes Music Store.

  1. TEDTalks
    I’ve talked about TEDTalks here before and this video series rarely disappoints. With Al Gore, Julia Sweeney, Jimmy Wales, Nicholas Negroponte and a host of others, the talks given are rarely boring and always thought provoking.
  2. NY Times Talks
    Interviews with Larry David, William Gibson, Bill Murray and talks with Randy Cohen (The Ethicist) are highlights of this podcast series.
  3. Distributing the Future
    This O’Reilly series spotlights the best talks from their conferences featuring leaders from the tech industry. This series is consistently interesting and educational.
  4. NPR Story of the Day
    Story of the Day runs the gamut of NPR’s daily stories and generally delivers a very interesting story that you won’t hear anywhere else.
  5. The Show with ZeFrank
    “He thinks so you don’t have to.” ZeFrank is one part the Daily Show on speed mixed with a teenager’s diary. Tight editing and thought provoking topics (and often just plain ridiculous). If ZeFrank is the future of video podcasting, we’re in for a great future.

Enjoy your weekend, sports racers.

Facebook faces community wrath

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

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Congrats for the milestone, Facebook. I think that it happens to all communities when they get big enough. In every online community, there are people who complain. In some cases, like Slashdot, they do it all the time. Running a community website is hard. Sure, users are basically creating all the content for you, but there are countless tough business and product decisions that need to be made to change and improve sites and people in general, hate change.

Yesterday, Facebook rolled out two new features that they seemed to be quite happy with. Here’s a description of the new features from the PM, Ruchi Sangvhi.

News Feed highlights what’s happening in your social circles on Facebook. It updates a personalized list of news stories throughout the day, so you’ll know when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again.

and

Mini-Feed is similar, except that it centers around one person. Each person’s Mini-Feed shows what has changed recently in their profile and what content (notes, photos, etc.) they’ve added.

Now the problem is that many Facebook users like the privacy that they have on the site and weren’t too pleased to see these new features.

Here’s a quote from the Stop It Facebook manifesto on Middlesell.com

When we join facebook, we automatically give up a little bit of our privacy. To use Facebook has always been “socially-acceptable stalking.” Now, though, they’ve just gone too damned far. No one wants their girlfriend or boyfriend knowing when they’ve commented on a photo, written on a wall, or anything else. No one wants people to see that they’ve left a group; it could offend someone. No one really wants to see the change in status of someone’s love life.

And as a result of the member’s revolt, here is a bit of Facebook’s reaction from the CEO.

We’ve been getting a lot of feedback about Mini-Feed and News Feed. We think they are great products, but we know that many of you are not immediate fans, and have found them overwhelming and cluttered. Other people are concerned that non-friends can see too much about them. We are listening to all your suggestions about how to improve the product; it’s brand new and still evolving.

Oh boy. There are whole slew of community lessons here.

First, don’t launch new features until you have the “leadership” of the community sign off on it. I don’t know a lot about Facebook, but as with all community sites, there are people who are their biggest users and usually that means they are your biggest fans.

These people should get previews of new features and other privileges. You need to treat these people like royalty because they are your front line both when you need to deliver a bitter pill and when you are delivering great news. Better yet, they should serve as a both a sounding board and a microcosm for the larger community.

Second, community websites aren’t a lot without any members. If all or a significant part of the user base takes their ball and goes home, it would be devastating for Facebook. Pete Cashmore over at Mashable said it best, “The revolt also underlines that with social networks, the users are in control.”

What Facebook does in the next few days is crucial to their survival. People will always remember this incident on the site and it will affect their perception going forward. 10-20k users out of 9 million protesting is not insubstantial number, especially for the amount of noise they are making. Fortunately, Facebook did react immediately with comments. Now they need to respond with action.

What should the do next?
If it were me, I’d roll the feature back. Issue a mea culpa. Go back to the drawing board. Listen to the users. Design the feature around their needs. At the very least, make the feature opt-in only. That would likely castrate the product, but I’d take this as a very valuable lesson and warning.

Links

Facebook Users Revolt, Facebook replies
Facebook backlash begins

Protesters

A day without FaceBook
TalkFace Message Board
Doug Jones Sneezed, 1:23pm

Job Interviews

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

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I’m a terrible interviewee. I get nervous. My palms sweat. My throat dries. My mind blanks. When I’m in an interview, I rarely show the dynamic, confident, fun, creative person that I am.

Seth Godin talks today about how bad the interview process is and how the best way to bring someone on is to actually work with them. I couldn’t agree more. Before I started at Epinions, I was given a “homework” assignment to come up with a few ideas to increase usage on the site. I returned with a laundry list of ideas and how to implement them. I also tend to shine when talking about ideas and how to implement them, so that didn’t hurt. Ultimately, it got me the job.

Forever ago, when I started at Yahoo!, every applicant to the surfing department had to take a surfing test. In general, the test took about 3+ hours and covered the gamut topic-wise. I know, a web surfing test sounds ridiculous, but not everyone is cut out to surf the web for a living. Thinking in categorical hierarchies isn’t for everyone, and this test successfully weeded most of those folks out. It’s not that difficult to see how a half day work sample will help you determine a candidate’s worthiness.

I’ve been to thousands of job interviews (thankfully as an interviewer mostly) and I have come to the conclusion that the entire effort is a waste of time. At least half the interview finds the interviewer giving an unplanned and not very good overview of what the applicant should expect from this job…
The other half is dedicated to figuring out whether the applicant is good at job interviews or not.

Tara Hunt adds to the conversation by talking about how interviews tend to weed out anyone who might rock the boat.

I’m just guessing, but I think most unruly people are not good interviewees and get most of their jobs the way I’ve gotten most of mine: through their references…their actual work…the way they prove themselves by doing and not just saying.

Amen, sister!

Small Business and Social Media

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

getlocal.jpgA very good friend of mine is relaunching her seasonal store in San Francisco this fall. It’s a really great non-profit business that sells items made by local artists. I talked to her the other day and was trying to convince her that even though the store is local, she should try to use some free online tools out there to help publicize her business online.

Some of these items are specific to the store I’m helping, but others are applicable to any local store. I’ve listed my recommendations in priority order and I can help you with most of the below if you like.

Cheap and Easy

Blog
Your current website is great, but I bet it is hard to update and may not get updated as often as you’d like. Setting up a blog is relatively simple to do and with your down time through the week, you could use your spare time to write about items in the store. Also, write a little profile for the artists/crafters that you feature (or better yet, ask the artists to do this for you). A blog is a great way to both show off what you are selling in-store, but also a way to attract other artist’s to sell their work as well.

Your blog also serves as a good place for people to ask you questions, for reporters to gather info about your store and best of all, other folks to link to you. Blogs tend to get more Google love, so hopefully, it brings you more customers.

Local search
Make sure that your store has a listing in all the local search engines like Yelp, Yahoo, Google, CitySearch, and Judy’s Book. Asking customers to review your store on these sites post purchase probably wouldn’t hurt. Search engines are devoting a lot of effort into these areas and you can only assume that they (at least the bigger ones) are getting a lot of traffic.

Flickr
Photograph everything that comes into the store and post lower resolution images (ie not printable) of the items that are for sale. I know there may be some sensitivity surrounding artist’s work, so make sure they know (and are ok with) you posting pix online. Tag all the images that you upload with your store name and thoroughly tag what they are and who they came from. This will help folks find either the artist or the work in the future.

Also, use Flickr to post pictures from the launch party, (which is something you would probably do anyway). Encourage other photographers to tag their Flickr images with your store’s name. This will help create a larger pool of pictures.

A little sidebar – a good way to make your products look good is to use a lightbox when photographing them. Here’s a link to make a cheap one.

MySpace
Create a MySpace profile for your store. Add all of the artists that you work with as your friends. Join groups and post on forums that make sense for your business. I know that many of your artists have a presence on MySpace and promoting your store and artists in MySpace will get those crazy teens in your store. Seriously, tho, MySpace has helped many a business get going moving product and it’s not outside the norms of MySpace, nor is it against their TOS. And hey, no web design chops necessary ;-).

A little more work and expense

Etsy
Etsy is a great online marketplace for handmade goods online. Create a store to help sell and promote your artists stuff online. I know that the focus of your store is selling local stuff locally, but ultimately, you are the artists agent, and I’m not sure they really care where it is sold, so long as they are putting food on the table. Etsy just did a great promotion with the upcoming Craft magazine from O’Reilly (another great resource to check out).

Second Life
Build a virtual store on Second Life. Ok, this one is a bit more difficult and might take an actual programmer, but a lot of your locals spend time on Second Life and people are spending real money on Second Life. If any of your artists are virtual, perhaps you could get them to sell their virtual goods in your virtual store. The options are virtually limitless. This is one you’d have to find someone else to help (I know a guy).

In the interest of full disclosure, one thing I would recommend is that you should make sure that artists that sell through your store should know what you are planning on doing with their work. You can decide whether to let them opt out of the program, but ultimately, these recommendations can be great ways to promote both your store and the artists.

Ok, that’s my top level view. Any questions?

Reputation Systems and Gaming Epinions

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

I want to look a little more at the Yahoo! Answers story and add what I’ve learned about gaming a system. When you look back at the history of Epinions, the site made a big bang when it debuted because it offered to pay writers for their product reviews. The idea was the company would make money off of ads (this is when banners were big) and they would share that money with the community of writers.

At the time, your “Income Share,” as it is known, was based on the number of people that looked at your review. At the time, I believe that the going rate was something in the $.30 per-page-view range. You can just imagine how this got gamed.

How it works
Now, given that the site’s raison d’être was product reviews, there is a relatively finite amount of products to review and ideally, from a shopper’s perspective, you would want the “best” review at the top. So to accomplish this, Epinions built a reputation system called the Web of Trust. In theory, Epinions’ “Web of Trust,” or WoT what an early social network where your “friends” were people whose reviews you trusted and respected.

The second component of review ranking was how helpful someone found your review. At the bottom of every review, users are asked to rate the review on a 4 point scale from “Not Helpful” to “Very Helpful.” Review order is determined by a combination of the two criteria, WoT and review ranking. The basic idea is that if you are trusted more than another member and your review received a higher rating, that review would appear higher up in the list.

The story goes that writers on the site formed rating and trust circles to boost their own reviews over others. The stakes for this were high. If you were the top review on a popular product, most shoppers would see your review first. If you collected all the page views, you received considerably more money than anyone else who wrote the review. And while points are nice, money is a lot better.

So, what did Epinions do to thwart gaming?

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