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The joy of the commons

We’re all familiar with the tragedy of the commons. It’s the idea that if everyone shares a resource with no consequences on their individual behavior, people will take but not give and everyone will lose.

Garr Reynolds shows us the joy of the commons. Basically, he’s written a book (the book) about presentations and PowerPoint and put entirely too much effort into it. It appears that it has taken him tens of thousands of hours, tweaking endless invisible details to bring us this piece of work.

Because the market is crowded, he overdelivered. Dramatically. And it shows.

I’ve built a page about his book and his work. I can’t imagine someone who gives presentations not being positively impacted by this book. Well worth it.

Thanks, Garr. Go get some sleep.

Your ads are not for you

Here’s the puzzling math of advertising, offline and on:

  • Everybody doesn’t read, remember or click on your ads.
  • Nobody isn’t the right answer either.

In other words, you don’t get 100% attention when you buy an ad. In fact, you don’t get 50% attention or even 1%. If you’re very very good and very lucky, it might be .1% but it’s more likely to be one in 10,000. Which is exactly the right number, it turns out, to make advertising work. Any lower and you couldn’t afford it, any higher and everyone would need a warehouse, not a house, to store all the stuff they bought.

This is no accident, of course. We look at ads when we need to. Then we stop.

The real question is this: who’s likely to look at your ads? Because that’s who you’re advertising to.

This is especially important online, because an unclicked text ad is truly invisible, with very little subliminal value. One surprising view is that  the typical clicker is female, lower-than-typical income, interested in sweepstakes and coupons. Not that surprising, actually, since if your ‘need’ is for that sort of content, you’re going to click often, and forever. People who click on ads for class action lawyers or kitchen renovation stop doing so once their project is complete. So they’re outnumbered.

Anyway, stop advertising to yourself. You’re already sold. You’re not the target market.

…and your clicks for free (the new ebook)

MoneynothingcoverFor the last two months I’ve been working away on a (short) ebook about traffic. Traffic to your blog or your company site. It has evolved quite a bit, and ended up using Squidoo lenses as a template for the point I was trying to make.

There’s an enormous amount of superstition about what makes some pages
rank high while others languish. When you look at the actual figures,
though, much of that fades away.

It turns out that the new playing field enforced by the search engines is eliminating many of the shortcuts that used to be effective. In other words, the best way is the long way.

The long way is to create content that is updated, unique and useful. Again and again we see that sites that do all three manage to get more than their fair share of traffic. So, I guess the title of the ebook is a bit misleading. The clicks don’t cost money, but they do take effort. That’s good news for people who have more talent than cash. I hope you’ll find it useful, whether or not you use Squidoo. Click here to start the PDF download. The book is free to post or share.

For scholars who just can’t wait

We built a new front door that makes it easy for you to build a scholarly page, filled with details, facts and more on Squidoo. And of course it will be indexed all over the web…

Self promotion

37 Signals, as usual, has a thoughtful post about self promotion.

Except they missed the biggest part, by a mile.

They don’t do self-promotion. Self-promotion, as the term is used by many people, is a mildly pejorative way to describe someone who promotes himself at the expense of others.

Nobody says, "That Yo Yo Ma, he’s so self-promotional," or, "can you believe what a self-promoter the Dalai Lama is?" That’s because they’re not promoting themselves. They’re promoting useful ideas. They’re promoting tactics or products that actually benefit the person they’re reaching out to.

Paris Hilton is a self-promoter. You don’t get any benefit out of her appearances other than temporary entertainment value and some schadenfreude. The guys at 37 Signals have never done a bit of self-promotion in their entire careers. That’s because they’re doing you-promotion, not me-promotion.

Facebook for old people

Daan points us to this very funny image. (this link is the original source).


eBooks for sale

While I’ve had some luck selling ebooks, I’ve particularly enjoyed giving them away free. While I was busy doing that, an entire industry has evolved around selling pdfs. The math is simple: sell 10,000 at $30 each and you too can move to Gozo and sit in the sun.

The vernacular of the sales process is fascinating, though. Apparently, many ebook authors believe you need to write pages that are 56 inches long, filled with claims, promises and fake book covers. (and sometimes, as you’ll see below, this works quite well).  I’m not sure that this, by itself, is the future of the medium, though. I think it belongs to people who find a following, curate information for them, build a permission asset and then write a tremendous ebook at a fair price.

Here are two approaches you might want to look at:

Darren and Julie Getting to First Base: A social media marketing playbook.
Aaron Wall SEO Book.

Meatballs and permeability

A few decades ago, Tom Peters argued that outsourcing everything in your company (and letting the various departments compete with outside vendors) made a lot of sense. If you need to run your copy department or factory efficiently enough to compete, you will, the thinking goes.

Logistics turned out to be a big problem with this idea. The fact is, atoms have to travel, so there’s a built-in advantage to the in-house solution.

Bits, on the other hand, don’t care so much about where you are. I needed some typing done on Saturday, so a click to Craigslist and then an email and… it was done. In half the time and for less than half the cost of having someone on staff to do it. At most organizations, especially those with more than fifty employees, there are people standing by to either make things get done quickly (like filing or typing) or to slow them down (like committees, lawyers and approvals, etc.). In each case, those skills aren’t nearly as valuable as they used to be.

When your organization starts freely sharing internal data (like rolodexes and schedules and cost info) and allows easy use of motivated outsiders, things get faster and cheaper and smarter. That’s one of the side effects of organizing around the new marketing as opposed to organizing around the factory.

David’s review of the new book is here. Also, a interview with Bryan that goes live today right here.

Building a platform (and thinking about Google’s Knol)

At the end of November, I flew out to give a speech to 350 Google folks. They had invited me to join a panel on the best way to for Google to work with partners.

My riff (I only had about 8 minutes… gotta hate panels) was to point out that AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo and others before them had had the same challenges in building an environment that attracted partners and media companies. (I had run companies that worked with each of them). The question it turns out, is always the same: do you have a platform that I can build a business on?

Obviously, a lot goes into that calculation. It’s not just tools and technology. It’s attitude and predictability. It also involves a threshold, an attainable goal that separates insiders from outsiders.

Take Hollywood, for example. There are literally tens of thousands of people and organizations that have built a business around the movie-making platform. The major studios provide a predictable, profitable place to make a living. Screenwriters, technology companies, advertising agencies–they know that they can depend on the system, and even better, they realize that once they’ve paid some dues, they can profit over time by getting better gigs, more reliable income streams, etc.

Wal-Mart has done the same thing with the businesses and vendors that count on them. They have created a series of rules and procedures and over time, it gets easier and easier to make a living working with them.

Small organizations can do the same thing. Restaurants, for example, build a universe of staff and vendors, each of whom is making a small bet on the stability of the platform as well as the opportunity to exploit economies of scale as a trusted partner.

The challenge for Google, I pointed out (and was echoed by others on the panel) is that the ‘algorithm’ that drives the search engine doesn’t favor trusted partners. The New York Times should get the benefit of the doubt, for example, more than it does. It’s easy to argue for the democratic nature of search results, but both the business environment and human nature demand elements of promotion and trust.

Anyway, I got back from my trip to Google and crunched some numbers and posted this good news about Squidoo. We’ve hit profitability, grown to be three to five times as big as others in our space and reached more than 125,000 users. A good day.

The very next day, Google announced Knol, a direct lift from Squidoo circa 2005. Apparently, Google wants to be in our business. It’s almost enough to ruin your day.

Then, a funny thing happened: I started getting notes of congratulations. Of all the business models and all the internet ideas to jump on, Google had chosen ours. There were hundreds of neat ideas out there, but they picked ours.

That goes a long way to legitimize the original idea. It brings new users into the space. It makes it easier to find partners who want to exploit this ‘new’ idea. It allows room for creativity. It’s not about whether or not someone should be doing this. It’s about which place they want to do it in. That’s a huge change.

Just as the acquisition of blogger led to an explosion in blogging software, Google’s Knol makes the space pioneered by Squidoo a lot more attractive.  Apparently, the best thing that can happen to you if you pick Google as a platform is that they mimic you. This isn’t true in the restaurant business (it’s bad news for the farmers when a restaurant starts its own farm). This isn’t true for Hollywood (it’s bad news when the movie studios start their own film processing labs.) The nature of the Web, though, seems to be that because of the very openness of the system, imitation is the highest form of endorsement.

[aside: I couldn’t resist responding to Udi Manber’s posting about why Google is launching Knol. He said, "We believe that many do not share that knowledge today simply because it is not easy enough to do that." Well, I took the sample page (under Creative Commons) that his wife had written and turned it into a Squidoo lens. I even added a few features that would double the income she might earn for the charity of her choice. It didn’t take very long.]

What good writing looks like

PJ O’Rourke in the Times:

Clark talks a lot about the determination, drive and persistence of the
Starbucks Corporation. But if those were the sole qualities of success,
toddlers would rule the world. Clark makes much of Starbucks’s
discovery that it could put one store close to another and both could
thrive. But you can line a street with fire hydrants and dogs will use
them all; that’s not necessarily a recipe for wealth, especially if you
try to charge the dogs.