Gaming the System?

November 26, 2007

The pre-cursor to getting people to stick around on your site is obviously to get them there in the first place. As we all know, most of us are a mere blip in a giant universe of electronic noise. I note with interest, therefore, a bit of a ding-dong happening at Techcrunch over a post by Dan Ackerman Greenberg following his outlining of the methods his marketing company takes to ‘help’ a video become viral.

What I find interesting about this is that, apart from the fact you never normally hear such honesty, the techniques he describes for garnering interest are nothing new. Sure, we’d all like to think that the ‘net was somehow much more pure back in the day, but the reality is is that offline marketing techniques have simply switched online and have done so for a long time. Ever seen a print advertorial? How about news items that are clearly just press releases? Ever received a free-sample of something or trial products to use at your club or society? Remember the ‘Gabbo’ advertising from the Simpsons (which a number of books and films had used in real-life). Or let’s go back further still: ever think that the first audience member at a sale or market isn’t just the brother of the seller? Ever been to a nightclub and wondered why there were three or four people always first out on the floor (paid by the club to seed the dancefloor).

Personally I’d love more of a ‘fair-go’ for those of us with limited resources and budget. A happy chance of random encounters with whatever media we choose to produce. Fact is there probably isn’t a lot of interaction you can have with any product on or offline without your actions having been ‘influenced’ to a degree. The classic and best examples would be supermarkets and big-box retailers.

The noise over at TC will fade away, and the cynic in me thinks that Mr Greenberg may have pulled off one of the best promotional coups of his career. For the rest of us, we have to deal with living in the self-promotion society we find ourselves and deal with it accordingly.

So, enjoy your Soulja Boys and your Teen-15s over at YouTube, but remember .. there’s a pretty good chance you will have been helped along the way to find them!

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Sticky, sticky. 10 Website Categories and the Glue That Binds..

November 24, 2007

I’ve been thinking about stickiness quite a lot recently. I’m not referring to that strange discolored patch on my carpet – rather, the challenge for any website: once you’ve grabbed a visitor, how do you hang on to them and keep them coming back?

Let’s have a look at some different categories of site (heads-up – I have a feeling this is going to turn into a long post as I am basically brain-dumping!). Oh, before we begin – I’m not talking about getting the traffic in the first place, just helping to keep hold of it once
you get critical momentum. The first part (just as hard) is a whole different discussion 🙂

1. Originators: In this group I’d put news sites such as the BBC, CNN, ABC and so on, along with a few of what are normally first or second sources of new stories. That would include sites like Techcrunch, Engadget and Wired. Fairly obvious why people return to these sites: there is always fresh content, normally localised or available to a specific interest group. On most of these, you can add comments or your own stories too.

2. Aggregators: Not an original source of information, but a consolidated view from the web, normally ranked or voted on in terms of popularity. For example, Digg, Slashdot, Reddit and the late Netscape. Given the massive amounts of new data available on a daily basis on the web, these sites offer an easier way to stay current with minimal effort. I’d suggest that at times a larger amount of effort goes into the comments and discussions than it does reading the linked stories!

3. Constant Virals: Sites that are able to continually drive viral and word-of-mouth ‘check this out’ buzz. Youtube is probably the pre-eminent example along with a few of the ‘me-too’ video sharing sites. B3ta used to be there, as are a couple of the flash gaming sites. A constant source of new material, who can resist watching some idiot stick his face in a fire-ants nest! The discussion boards and comments also play a big part here

4. Friend Collectors: No longer the ‘new new thing’, but still growing like mad, online social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, Orkut, Thursday Club and the million other variations satisfy our need for self-promotion and gossip. Spend time investing in growing friends, filling out your profile, stalking ex-girlfriends, installing applications and updating your status and you’re hooked. Who doesn’t want to know that ‘Paul is feeling farty’?

Message boards, super-poking, wall-post and super-walls all add to the stickiness and most of these sites are very good at teasing you with update emails to prompt your return.

5. Contact Collectors: Largely similar to number 4, but I put in here some of the more ‘serious’ social networks aimed at business professionals. LinkedIn, Ecademy, Ryze, Plaxo .. again there are a multitude to choose from, although LinkedIn is probably the most popular, with its ‘Answers’ Q&A discussion forums proving particularly popular.

6. Reviews & Recommendations: Tripadvisor, CNET, Yelp, epinions and reams of other sites dedicated to helping you research product or service purchases, word-of-mouth reviews and related discussions.

Often tied directly to ..
7. Service providers: Booking a flight? Need a hotel? Hiring a car? Theatre tickets? Online food shopping? Books, CDs, Cameras .. anything eCommerce? Once you’ve done your research online (see 6) or perhaps even at the same time on the same site (e.g. Amazon) come here to make your purchase. Keen pricing, quick delivery, customer service, positive reviews, large stock, longtail serviceability, word-of-mouth marketing, affiliate programs and white-labelling all help these sites along. Let’s put the eBays, Craig’s Lists and so on in here too.

8. One-hit wonders, weirdos and one-offs: Remember ‘badgers .. badgers’? The filipino elvis looking for love? Star-wars Kid the original? The drink-o-meter? All those crappy but addictive Flash games that took up way too much of your time? With traffic that comes in waves as the next news site story and email chain runs, you may not get a lot of stickiness, but the knock-on effect or chance to grab that traffic for other purposes can be vital (esp for a startup)

9. Blogs: We all know that a tiny fraction of blogs actually generate much traffic, or have a particularly loyal readership. Take one of the most popular though – Scott Adams (Mr Dilbert). With such a large fanbase, he is guaranteed a large readership every day and can kick-off a huge discussion with nothing but a simple question. Powerful stuff!

10. Yackfests: Last, but by no means lowest in priority or stickiness comes forums, chat rooms, discussion boards and the like. My wife is currently addicted to some Indonesian fashion forum, and I would bet that the combined eyeball time for discussion boards net wide would be .. well, it would be quite large 🙂 If you have an interest, any form of interest, you will find a group of like-minded people somewhere to discuss it with. From Google groups, usenet (sshh!), Yahoo to dedicated, home-run hobbyist sites if you get some momentum you have some serious stickiness!

So, what’s the conclusion? Well if you had to pick the common element with each, it has to be discussions and comments. That won’t be a surprise to anyone, and forms one of the key tenets of what has been called ‘web 2.0’. Truth is, the discussion based aspect of the ‘net has been a constant since almost day dot and is one thing that has consistently worked in grabbing people to take part.

One downside though of traditional discussion forums has always been that if you have one, and it’s successful, it tends to suck the traffic from every other part of your site (check out http://www.pprune.org for a good example – a site for professional pilots that gave up on trying to get anyone to do anything except use the forum – which is hugely popular).

There are a number of new players such as Tangler, trying to address this by trying to create not only an embedded discussion platform but one that enables you to bring together other aspects of your site too (profile, product info, interesting links, video and so on).

Imagine there’s a thread going on and you pull up an embedded interactive product, pricing information, select some experts and related media. Think Digg labs meets Amazon, meets Second Life, meets threaded discussion, meets Twitter subscribers, meets YouTube. How cool would that be?

Hmm, well, I did say I was just brain dumping 🙂


World’s Oldest Blogger?

October 17, 2007

Here’s a nice story (at least I think so, and I’m the one writing about it 🙂 ). Olive Riley turned 108 today. Probably the world’s oldest silver surfer, Ms Riley has been causing something of a stir with her website and video diaries on YouTube.

Seeing her on the TV, I wish I was that sprightly at more than 70 years younger than she is!

Happy birthday Olive!

Olive Riley at 108


Infamy, Infamy .. They’ve All Got It Infamy

October 2, 2007

Following on from my post about Web 2.0 apathy, I’ve decided to repost an entry I made on another long-dead blog as it seemed aposite (and I’m pushed for time 🙂 ). Well, we all need to do our bit for recycling – right?

“When I was young – back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, surfing was only ever done on water and Googlewhacking would probably have seen you being arrested – a friend of mine called Peter Marsh and I used to amuse ourselves by sitting in front of my little mono tape machine and recording a home-made program we amusingly titled: “Radio Gummy Johan”.

I don’t recall too many details of each program, except that they were entirely unscripted and consisted of little sketches and news items. Each one was done in the style of a particularly crap pirate radio station. We used to use a little Casio keyboard for sound effects and jingles. It had a cunning ‘white-noise’ generator, which accounted for the fact that most of the recordings featured ‘helicopters’ or reporters in very windy places. One memorable piece had Fish from Marillion finding his long lost brother on a cliff-top in Dover.

Our little masterpieces had a small but loyal audience which consisted of about six classmates, and ran for all of half a dozen episodes before we got bored and formed a ‘band’ instead (I use the term ‘band’ in the loosest sense).

Fast forward 20 years or so into the ‘Internet age’, and – had we been recording it nowadays – Peter Marsh and myself would be podcasting or streaming Radio Gummy Johan to millions of devoted listeners, eager to get their latest fix of ‘Sir Francis Francis’, and ‘The Weather Report (sponsored by the IRA)’.

At least, that’s how I’d like to imagine it.

The reality would be that like most blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, vanity publishing and dare I say websites, our Goon show wannabe would still be attracting roughly the same number of devotees as it did back in 1985: a distant electronic pulse in a galaxy of electronic noise.

And yet still these things come, in ever increasing numbers. Everyone hopes that someday, somehow, in some bizarre cosmic coincidence they’ll be ‘discovered’ and break out into the big time. As slim a chance as it is for amateur broadcasters, unsigned bands and aspiring authors, the Internet offers the slimmest of the thinnest of the narrowest of channels through which, if you manage to squeeze, your 15-minute patch of infamy awaits.

So, altogether now: ‘Welcome to .. Radio … bing bong bing … Gummy Johhhhaaaannnn!!'”


Chavtastic

August 15, 2007

One thing I definitely don’t miss about living in the UK are the large number of ‘chavs‘. These Elizabeth Duke blinging, cap-wearing, burberry tracksuited, ASBO flouting, hooded fools make life a misery for the general populous of most English towns.

I was particularly pleased, therefore, to see the creativity and ingenuity of a group of Scottish schoolkids, who have made a chav-hunting video spoof.

Of course, a lot of people are up-in-arms about it. I can see purple haired old ladies and tree-loving liberals getting out the green pens and looking up newspaper editor’s addresses as we speak.

I think it’s hilarious. Well done kids 🙂

Video has been pulled from YouTube, but I’m sure it’s pretty easy to find.

Chavs

[edit: if you were wondering just how chavatated the UK is, check this out]