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Customer Service Is The New Social Media Marketing King

Thu, 04/15/2010 - 09:30
It's time for any online business to look at customer service as one of the very key, strategically critical components, if not the key differentiator of any effective online marketing strategy. Photo credit: Clipart Why will customer service become so incredibly important for your future online business strategy? How can online customer service become one of the key drivers of your overall sales efforts? What is needed, when it comes to make your customers really happy? Social media have greatly extended the ability that companies and business owners have to solve problems and address concerns, through conversations, in a direct and intimate way. Just like it was done in the old times, before the Internet and the industrial era. In the original marketplace age, when every seller got to know and interact with each one of his customers. This is why, making your organization highly responsive, accessible, and open to its customers can be a truly effective and transformative approach to marketing effectively. But how can you build a customer service that provides you with such competitive advantage? Joseph Laffe, author of The Customer Service Manifesto (republished here in full), believes that a customer service that really works in today’s world must be:
  • Empathic: ready to address customers’ needs and provide effective solutions to their problems.
  • Well-trained: made-up by professionally-trained employees that do believe in their brand’s mission and want to provide genuine assistance to customers.
  • In-house: run and controlled by the business itself in order to establish a direct and true relationship with customers.
If you want to understand what exactly needs to be done to make your custom service efforts turn your clients into raving fans and supporters, The Customer Service Manifesto will help you identify the critical points to move from being a seller of services and products into a trusted partner and advisor for a growing group of happy customers.

The Customer Service Manifesto by Joseph Jaffe
The Manifesto For Customer Service Never before in the history of business and marketing has customer service been as front and center as it is today. So much so that it is being transformed and reborn in front of our very eyes as arguably one of the most mission critical components that can make or break a business. The Manifesto for Customer Service documents this sea change, introduces the 10 new rules of customer service and introduces a key hypothesis, namely that customer service needs to be elevated to the front office; to that of a strategic imperative which becomes a, if not the, key differentiator in the board room and beyond. The rise of social media, social networks and word-of-mouth across a connected, digital and virtual expanse have given us a glimpse into the power and potential of the ability (or inability) to solve problems, address concerns head on, and on occasion, humble a mighty corporate behemoth and bring it to its knees. It all begins with what is perhaps the most important issue business and marketing execs will need to come to terms with in 2010 and beyond: How to create an organization that is mobilized, structured and empowered to be responsive, empathetic, accessible, connected and human in the hearts, minds, and wallets of their most prized assets - their customers and their employees. Customer service is just one component of a much broader customer experience imperative. Yet it is the most tangible, impactful and actionable item in your portfolio of services that you can activate in a truly transformative manner.

How New Technologies Help Word of Mouth Let's start with the fundamentals. The basic premise of treating people as you would want to be treated in return dates back far enough. Loving thy neighbor has always made good sense. Having a customer that loves you back in return makes for good business sense. And yet there's an endless abyss when it comes to practicing these basic principles. Today, for some unexplained reason, we seem to have taken a giant step backwards, and perhaps technology is to blame. Instead of using sophisticated, intricate systems and complex algorithms to better serve our customers, we've seen technology as a way to save us money - a false prophet of automation that serves as nothing short of a poison pill that strips our companies of any remaining shred of humanity it might have had to offer. So here's what has changed:
  • The Internet,
  • word-of-mouth,
  • the power of social media,
  • connectedness in the form of social networks,
  • growing distrust and dissatisfaction with corporations... I could go on.
The old marketing adage is that a satisfied customer will tell 5-7 of their friends about their experience, whereas the dissatisfied customer will tell 15-20. Today, an unhappy customer will tell "a million of their closest strangers." You know exactly what I'm talking about, don't you?

Customer Service Is The New Marketing Regis McKenna once wrote that "marketing is everything" and that everything that touched a consumer was the domain of marketing. Today, a similar point could be made about customer service. Anything that affects a customer's experience with a product, service and / or brand is essentially customer service. Customer service is the new marketing. And because of this - because of the ease with which customers can vent in frustration or lash out against a lethargic and inferior offering - customer service is quite possibly the most mission critical aspect of a company's reputation, perception, image and market viability. But this is not your grandfather's customer service. Strike every misguided thought from your mind about outsourced call-centers, 24-hour e-mail auto-responders, FAQ's and the like. Customer service is very much alive and kicking and living large in the living rooms, mouse pads and mobile touch screens of our promoters, detractors, dissidents, advocates and influencers. Take Nationwide Insurance for example, with its "app" that leads consumers who need to document an accident through an interactive walkthrough and step-by-step guide. While any consumer can complete the normal process without much help, the app has the additional ability to locate itself via GPS and take photos of the accident, and Nationwide customers can hit a button and submit the claim then and there. Now that's progressive!!

Rethinking Customer Service If there's any doubt in terms of where customer service fits in your organization, let me state emphatically: Customer service is a front office strategic imperative that belongs at the same table as:
  • Strategic planning,
  • marketing communications,
  • branding and
  • advertising.
It is very quickly becoming a calculated driver that will be vital in providing brands with unique points of differentiation and businesses with sustainable competitive advantage. I'd even go so far as to say that customer service (as a foundation setting capability and a pivotal pillar of a customer experience imperative) may very well prove to be the single biggest and most defined strategic and competitive differentiator. Bar none. However, in order to realize this:
  • Customer service has to move from being considered a "cost" to one hell-of-a sound investment.
  • The breadth and depth of customer service must be expanded significantly to cover a much broader spectrum of touch points and categories, with a commensurate deeper level of follow-through and interaction.
  • This overhaul requires another kind of flip - one that's associated with recruiting, training, empowering and compensating those responsible for customer service.
Think about it for a moment: If I'm right (and I believe that I am), why on earth would you outsource a crucial function at a decentralized, offshore "cost center"? It makes no sense to essentially pawn off (at least in terms of proximity to the center of the organization's decision making and agenda setting core) the one capability that we know with certainty represents a direct connection between customer and company. What is thus required is a major rethink; arguably a borderline overhaul of the current level of strategic importance, organizational relevance and cultural resonance associated with how we service our customers, way beyond the sale.

The 10 New Rules of Customer Service If your customer service is to become a strategic differentiator, it has to embody a new set of rules, guidelines and best practices. As it combines and absorbs the full force of word-of-mouth, crisis communication and customer experience, here are 10 new rules, perspectives or attributes that will become increasingly influential and impactful for brands moving forward.

Forget The 9-5 Working Paradigm As was evidenced by the "Motrin Moms" story, Johnson & Johnson's inability to address a mob of angry mommy bloggers cost the brand its entire campaign, which was subsequently pulled. The fact that this conversation erupted over a weekend certainly isolated the fact that the brand was not "plugged in" to its community or audience. Truthfully (and in fairness), the same outcome might have happened during the week, but the real lesson here is that a listening strategy tied to customer sentiment needs to be always on, 24 x 7 x 365. I just argued that outsourcing elements of customer service offshore is not the best solution, but it can help to keep the lights on after hours. The important point here is to make sure customers can get a hold of you when they need to, and that you can contact them when you need to - and you do indeed need to when they're having a problem, venting frustration, or simply calling out for help.

Train Employees As Marketers The paradox of customer service is that the lower down the totem pole you go, the more impactful and important customer service becomes. Every single employee in an organization represents the company. They are a window into or out of the business; and as far as your customer is concerned, they are the only window. Best to keep it clean, functional and make sure that what lies beyond the window is suitable viewing - don't you think? Customers don't care that you have 10,000 employees in 200 offices in 80 countries; they just want their problems solved. They also don't care if the person they're speaking with has an Indian or American accent as long as - you guessed it - the person solves their problems. When it comes to serving customers, creating a flat organization of democratized access, care and responsiveness makes a huge difference. Zappos puts an enormous emphasis on its frontline workers. All of its employees - 431 total, pre-Amazon acquisition - are Twittering without the filter of a public relations department. The notion of opening the door for all employees to speak freely is exactly what "everyone communicates" is all about. Perhaps this is why Zappos describes themselves as a service company that happens to sell shoes, or that Southwest Airlines describes themselves as a service company that happens to fly planes. Both enjoy incredible positive publicity that is driven from the inside out via passionate employees and engaged customer advocates. Customer service is the new P.R. Ironically, the people to whom angry customers are exposed most often are usually those whom we pay the least (both in terms of compensation and attention). Under these conditions, it takes major cultural mojo to inspire and / or motivate them to deliver brand magic at every twist or turn. The trick is to empower your employees to deliver world-class customer service, no matter where they stack up in the "who's who in your zoo" pecking order.

Give Customers Attention and Effort Every single customer - irrespective of their stature, seniority, and their status in life and with the company - deserves to be treated well, respected, and given appropriate attention and effort. In other words, the minimum level of your bar needs to be higher than the minimum level of your competitors' respective bars, and therefore higher than your industry averages. In cases where this becomes a cultural imperative within your organization and your minimum proves to be higher than your competitors' respective maximums, the top line and bottom line results should become self-evident. That said, different levels or tiers of customers "deserve" - or perhaps necessitate - various levels of treatment. Conventional marketing theory holds that more loyal (per certain loyalty metrics and indices) and valuable (per tangible metrics such as purchase history, frequency, basket size etc.) customers should be treated with elevated levels of service. That absolutely still holds. However, I'd like to inject a new variable into this mix: Influence. We've all witnessed that awkward moment or major meltdown where a celebrity - self-proclaimed or otherwise - shouts at the top of their lungs to some poor soul working at the valet just to make a few extra bucks, "Do you know who I am?" This is obviously meant to instill fear in the valet, to essentially pull out all the stops to accommodate the self-entitled prima donna. Well, guess what? Yesterday's ce-lebrity is today's web-lebrity. With websites such as "The Consumerist" waiting to pounce on big dumb companies' missteps - not to mention the ability to amplify a conversation, interaction or heated debate - it becomes critical to do your homework when engaging in conversations with your customers. Playing the ignorance card is no excuse for not doing your homework on your customers. Train your customer service people to anticipate and respond to customers who have a word-of-mouth distribution platform such as a website, blog, podcast or, in the analog world, community pulpit. If necessary, be a little more proactive with collecting information from customers - either through registration forms, profiles or surveys. Ask them explicitly: Do you have a blog, and if so, document the URL and research the blog. From this, you'll gauge direction, theme and, more importantly, tonality (AKA, the "snark" factor). Using this lens, you'll be able to more effectively service three types of customers:
  • Loyal,
  • valuable and
  • loud.
Do your research and be proactive, and for heaven's sake, when a loud-mouthed influencer volunteers their social calling card, take them seriously!

Improve Customers Experience "Customer Service" should not necessarily be any different from "serving customers". Solving problems is always important, but helping our customers improve their utility, experience or lives is just as compelling - if not more. Can you imagine what would happen if Nikon contacted its customers via Flickr offering tips on how to improve their current snaps? "Is there anything else I can help you with today?" has become rote and essentially meaningless. We need to be more proactive, productive and efficient with the precious time spent with our customers. Be more specific; suggest ideas; offer information of value; or recommend solutions from which both you and your customers will benefit. Use any form of real estate to upsell your customer on value... not revenue. The two not mutually exclusive. A simple: "Did you know" portfolio of useful tips, tools, tricks and tutorials is a powerful and painless accompaniment to your usual 24-hour (or hopefully less) auto-responder.

Solve Problems In Real-Time The ability to solve problems in real time is the consummate difference maker. The more time that elapses between problem and solution, the greater the risk of that problem mushrooming out of control. The good news is that this is exactly where everything is going... largely thanks to technology. If you have OnStar in your car, you practically have a call-center at your beck and call - a proactive and actionable one. For example: If you're in an accident and your air bags deploy, OnStar is immediately alerted and initiates both a call to the driver to check that they're ok, and (prepararation to) to contact the local authorities - police, ambulance, fire department - if needed. The home of the future will have similar checkpoints in place, largely due to RFiD and Internet connectivity. When your water filter is low on your refrigerator, G.E. will either send you a new one automatically (assuming you chose this option) or send you a notification for express permission / approval. One need look no further than Toyota's perceived slowness in responding to their customers after their unprecedented recent recalls to see what a cacophony of dissonance, dissidence and distance can result when a company doesn't get it right - right away. Customer service is the new crisis communication.

Generate Indirect Revenues Building on several of the earlier new rules is one fairly counter-intuitive one: Service can actually become a source of revenue for companies - not just directly (i.e., new business from old customers); but also indirectly (i.e. new business from new customers.) Apple's Genius Bars give us a glimpse of how premium customers will pay a premium for premium service. Netflix and Amazon show how premium service is not always incremental, but instead manifests itself in terms of recurring revenue, repeat business, loyalty and higher barriers to entry.

Expose Customer Service In The Public Domain "This call may be monitored to help improve customer service." I'm not exactly sure what that means; but I can tell you that as far as I'm concerned, it's like waving a red flag in front of a bull. For starters, why "may" and not "will?" Why take a chance on service and inject randomness or serendipity into the picture? I kind of get why I'm being informed of this (corporations aren't exactly sponsors of the Patriot Act). Perhaps it's more for the customer service representative than for my benefit, meant to deter them from (further) disappointing me. Why not allow your customers to record your phone calls - encourage it, even. Honestly, they're going to do it with or without your permission. Responding to consumers via blogs, podcasts, social networks and Twitter-like platforms is admirable, but a learned art. You'll need to be adept at knowing when to open up a conversation, pull it in, and close it down. When a conversation "escapes" into the ether of public domain, don't fight it; rather, address it head on:
  • Quickly,
  • decisively,
  • comprehensively and
  • authentically.
Being exposed in the public domain is pretty much the biggest deterrent I can imagine. It certainly makes the random monitoring of a call seem understated in contrast. These kinds of isolated incidents tend to be microcosms that hold the entire company - as opposed to a hapless representative in some country no one's ever heard of before - responsible. Here's a simple acronym with a profound message, it's better to be S.A.F.E. (Satisfy curiosity / Address concerns / avoid Festering / prevent Escalation) than sorry. Bottom line: The more time elapses, the more likely a customer is to move a problem from the private to the public domain and intensify it to a viral fever pitch in the process. The good news is that, typically, customers will always default to or begin in the private domain - in other words, give a company a fair and fighting chance to cut off a potential headache before it becomes a migraine.

Treat Customers With Special Care It is a commitment, not a one-off happenstance. "Marketing is not a campaign; it's a commitment." And there's no more important commitment than that which we make to our lifeblood - our customers. A commitment, like a relationship, is for keeps (at least, that's our hope going into every marriage ceremony.) It's all well and good to talk about this; but the proof in the pudding is in the eating. We need to visibly demonstrate our commitment to our customers in practice and in action. They need to explicitly feel its effect and benefits. One of the best ways to activate a long-term promise is to move from a goldfish approach to the elephant ninja-stance. Our customers have long memories. Now we need to show them that we do too. How many times have you made that fateful call to a service center where you're asked to say or key in your 16 digit account number - only to have the agent on the line immediately ask you for your account number. In my case and with my accent, I typically have to repeat it several times! Once you've managed to clearly convey this all-important number, the agent will typically proceed to ask you a series of probing questions for even more information - including date of birth, social security number, mother's maiden name and where your first pet was buried. Only then do you get a chance to share your problem, upon which the agent tells you that you've reached the wrong department and needs to transfer you... after which the call gets disconnected. #FAIL. We simply have to get smarter each time we deal with the same person - specifically in terms of how we treat them. It helps us become smarter as a company so we can learn, evolve and improve on the whole.

Anticipate and Help Customers Proactively Old customer service "spoke when it was spoken to." New customer service:
  • Anticipates requirements,
  • listens attentively for customers in need, and
  • proactively searches for problems to fix.
Yes, I'm sure you believe you're already doing this; in which case, good for you. However, I'm talking about something a lot more strategic, genuine and deep reaching. Too many companies operate on a "don't ask, don't tell" level, and assume that just because the phone isn't ringing, their customers are "satisfied" and content. Not surprisingly, the same companies are equally shocked when they open up the customer cupboard to find it bare. Instead, why not make a concerted effort to earnestly probe customers to find out how you rate and stack up against their high standard - and hopefully yours as well. An active and engaged listening strategy will help to identify opportunities, spot problems before they balloon, and in doing so, surprise (and hopefully delight) consumers by making an unexpected move in the form of responding to them. To fully understand how transformational this is, think about the real enemy here: Silence. The sounds of customer silence are deafening. It leaves us defenseless to defection, misinformation, rumor and lost patronage. When it comes to solving problems, we don't need to be invited to the table in order to be useful and valuable. If you were walking down the road and saw a small child crying because they'd lost their parent, would you turn a blind eye? Of course not! How about this scenario: You work for Toyota, and at a cocktail party, overhear a conversation where a partygoer is expressing concern - conflicted about purchasing a new Prius based on its recall and reliability fears. Wouldn't you interject, especially if you could allay their doubts (before they're convinced to go - gasp - domestic)? Proactive or reactive? Both are fine, as long as you act. Whether anticipating next steps or responding to a clear and present complaint, as long as there's action, there's the potential to turn a negative into a positive - and even to capitalize on a speculative opportunity.

Take Customer Service To The Next Level The final new rule is an obvious one. Feedback loops need to be active, direct and effective at improving, evolving and moving the business forward. This highlights an organization with an entirely new set of criteria, beliefs and characteristics that reflect a company truly in touch with its customer base. If customer service is deemed a chance for the company to connect and evolve with its lifeblood - rather than a "cost center" - it becomes a cultural obsession instead of a mere "department." It's a vital point of differentiation that propels innovation and creates new revenue streams, products, and barriers to entry. Using the C.O.S.T. acronym, companies need to elevate customer service from:
  • Cultural - pretty much horizontal or pervasive within the organization.
  • Organizational - its own core competency; perhaps in the form of a customer experience discipline.
  • Strategic - a critical or key part of marketing.
  • Tactical - an outsourced department.
The pursuit for cutting-edge lessons, insights and ideas from the inside out cannot occur accidentally. There has to be a direct pathway back to the nerve center of the organization; and where better to begin than customer service? It's time to transform customer service from a one-dimensional, one-off and transactional-based exchange into a fluid and integral part of doing business. Combining all physical or store encounters, live chat or e-mail exchanges - and most recently, social media or virtual conversations - in an evolved "Voice of the Customer" program is just the beginning. Incorporating this feedback into the very engine of the company - and communicating progress back to the point of origin - is equally, if not more important.

Conclusion Remember today: It's the day you felt a drop of rain splash down on your balding forehead. It's time to build that ark, Noah. In the truest sense of the word, this is a manifesto. It's a call to action, to elevate "customer service" to a front office mission critical strategic imperative. There's a profound opportunity to transform retention into the new acquisition and it all begins with customer experience. The ability - or inability - for a company to serve its customers in a way that is consistent with meeting or beating their expectations will prove to be the ultimate differentiator that separates the corporate winners from the losers in the near future.

Originally written by Joseph Jaffe for Change This, and first published on March 3rd, 2010 as "The Customer Service Manifesto".

About Joseph Jaffe Joseph Jaffe is chief interruptor of Powered, and the author of three books: Life After The 30-Second Spot, Join the Conversation, and his latest Flip the Funnel. Joseph has appeared on CBS, ABC, Bloomberg, NPR, in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and more. He is a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School, as well as the Society for New Communications Research. Jaffe blogs and podcasts at Jaffe Juice and also hosts JaffeJuiceTV.

Photo credits: Take Customer Service To The Next Level - Vacuum3d Treat Customers With Special Care - James Steidl Solve Problems In Real-Time - Chris Lamphear Improve Customers Experience - Darko Novakovic Generate Indirect Revenues - Hypermania Other Images - Clipart

White-Label Video Publishing: Guide To The Best Private Label Video Services

Mon, 04/12/2010 - 09:30
Private label video publishing services allow professional web publishers to move beyond zero-cost video sharing sites like YouTube and onto video distribution services which guarantee faster transcoding, HD video quality, the option to schedule both VOD and scheduled programming, CDN-based distribution, ad management and integration as well as white-labeling and personalization of your video player. Photo credit: Liubomyr Feshchyn and Christophe Testi mashed up by Robin Good If you are looking for solutions that would allow you to set up a professional web TV channel of some kind, one for which you have a budget to spend and hope to sell advertising and sponsorship for, you have no choice but look for a private label video publishing and distribution service. The traditional free video sharing sites like YouTube, are great for uploading and distributing at zero cost your favorite video clips. Much less exciting is the moment when you want to start controlling the ads that are displayed on your video clips, or you want to set up a day-by-day video programming schedule while monitoring and analyzing traffic, views and clickthroughs. This is why to move from amateur video sharing to professional video publishing you really need to consider seriously whether you have a budget to support the costs that such pro video distribution services require. The video services I review here have all some kind of monthly or yearly fee that is clearly not within the reach of the typical blogger or independent video-maker. On the other hand what's the use of publishing tens of video clips and having hundreds of thousands of video views on YouTube if this provides very little return in terms of visibility and revenue for your business or web site? The times are ripe for serious and economically capable video publishers to step up significantly above the generic, amateur Internet video publisher, and to strengthen their online video presence by providing extra quality, reliability, speed and monetization options which are so critical to their own future survival. In this MasterNewMedia guide I have selected, reviewed and compared for you the best white-label video publishing and distribution platforms available out there, while paying particular attention to their key traits, strengths and weaknesses. This is an area that will see fast growth and many new entrants in the near future due to the increasing demand for quality video channels and the need for many video sharing sites to start earning back their rapidly escalating bandwidth and storage costs. If you are into video publishing or are considering the move from amateur to professional video publishing, this guide can help you get a comprehensive view of this new market and of the traits and features that characterize the first group of providers competing to get your attention.

Professional White-label Video Publishing Platforms Comparison Table

Professional White-label Video Publishing Platforms

  1. Brightcove

    Brightcove is an on-demand video platform to distribute and monetize your online video inventory. The web-based Brightcove Studio lets you create branded videos with your logo and monetize your clips trough advertising campaigns. Brightcove players are fully customizable to match the layout of your web pages and also maintain optimal quality whatever device or internet connection video you choose. Videos can be re-distributed and embedded across any website, even using widgets. Videos streamed are encoded with H.264 and VP6 codecs and range from low-quality till HD. You can also program video broadcasting using playlist creation facilities. You keep total control over the ads you show with your videos by choosing ad units, insertion points, frequency, relevance. You can also integrate your ad servers and ad networks to serve ads with your videos. Custom reports are generated by Brightcove to help you track the performance of your clips. To get a price quote (on an annual contract basis) you have to contact Brightcove sales.

  2. Livestream

    Livestream is an online video platform that broadcasts live and on-demand videos. The premium account is priced at $350 and allows you to have a white-label channel to deliver videos with your own brand logo or watermark. Using a web-based interface, you can fully customize the size and look of your video player and also configure the redistribution of your videos; allow only specific audiences to view your clips or even disable sharing if you prefer. A list of ready-made templates for your channel is available and the integrated user chat allows broadcasters and their audience to communicate in real-time. Videos are encoded with Sorensen Spark (Flash 7) specifications and HD is supported. You can create a video playlist with the Autopilot feature to broadcast your videos 24/7 automatically. For optimal video encoding Livestream recommends around 700Kbps of upstream bandwidth. Livestream also provides an analytics tool that tracks and reports the performance of your videos. Advertising is supported and your ads are integrated inside channels using overlays that can be either served by you or by integrating ad servers and ad networks into your video production workflow.

  3. Watershed

    Watershed is the white-label version of Ustream interactive broadcasting platform. Watershed allows you to publish and distribute ad-free, branded videos to your audience both on web pages or mobile phones. Live streaming broadcasting is also supported. The video player is fully customizable and your videos can be password-protected or limited in number of views from your web-based Administrator control panel. HD videos are supported. You can also interact live with your audience via text chat, real-time polls or co-hosted broadcast feeds. Watershed does not support self-served or third-party-served ads on your videos. Reports are generated to take care of the performance of your clips. No video programming. Two pricing options are available: monthly-based plans starting from $49 and a pay-as-you-go pricing model that charges for monthly or hourly views by a single user. No encoding info provided.

  4. Glomera

    Glomera is a web TV platform that helps you broadcast live and on-demand videos with your own logo. You can pull video from YouTube to broadcast inside your channel or create niche-targeted compilations to redistribute on third-party websites. With Glomera "Total embed" option, you can also embed the whole Glomera platform on any website and start offering a professional video platform at no cost. Video channels are fully customizable to match the look of any web page. The scheduling feature lets you organize your web TV programs in a daily, weekly, or season-long programming. HD videos are supported and videos are encoded using FLV specifications. Web TV channels you build with Glomera Premium account are ads-free and you cannot serve third-party ads. The reporting feature allows you track the performance of your clips. Glomera Premium account is priced at €199/month. You can also purchase additional interactivity options for your channels like: rating, comments, on-demand video list, guide-programming, and more.

  5. Ooyala

    Ooyala has developed Backlot, a scalable video platform with content syndication controls and monetization features. Video quality is preserved to match your syndication relationships (web pages, video-sharing sites, mobile devices, or other). Backlot video player supports overlays with our logo / watermarks and is fully customizable. You can arrange your clips in playlists and program the broadcast with no operation needed from your side. Videos are encoded in H.264 format and HD video is supported. A video metrics report is generated to help you monitor the performances of your videos. Backlot manages also ad insertion points, frequency and the different ad units like pre-roll, post-roll, mid-roll and interactive which are served with your clips. Third party ad servers and ad networks are also supported. Prices depend on the campaign; more info contacting Ooyala sales department.

  6. Vmix

    Vmix provides web-based video and image publishing solutions to distribute and monetize your content. You can brand your clips, serve ads with your videos and also track the performance of your channels. Videos are encoded in H.264 / FLV and distributed at optimal resolution to websites, mobile phones and portable devices using customizable players, widgets and applications. Vmix has support for HD videos too. A list of ready-made templates is available. Your audience can also interact with your videos using ratings, sharing, or video / text commenting tools. Scheduled playlists are automatically created to operate your video channel without human input. You can customize ad-serving procedures on your videos using different ad units (pre-roll, post-roll, overlays and also animated ad units), insertion points and frequency. You can bring your own ad server / ad network to serve ads inside your video clips. Pricing is subjected to distribution campaign you choose; more info on Vmix corporate website.

  7. PermissionTV

    PermissionTV offers a web-based solution to manage and monetize your online video inventory. You can choose between different player solutions that are freely customizable and redistributable on any web page. Viewers can interact with your video content by clicking on graphics, surveys or advertisement overlays and pop-ups. You can also create video playlists and deploy niche-targeted channels to your audience. Ad networks integrate with your videos to serve contextual ads using pre-roll, post-roll and mid-roll ad units. No info is provided about the encoding codec used for your videos, but HD is supported. No programming feature available. Pricing details available upon request to PermissionTV sales department.

  8. Twistage

    Hosted video platform Twistage allows you to create customizable video players with your own logo to embed on any website. Twistage integrates with your existing content management system (e.g. a blogging platform) or content delivery network. Videos are delivered to match the internet connection requirements of viewers; the video platform promises "uninterrupted delivery regardless of your site's traffic demands". Videos are encoded using H.264 specifications and HD is supported. Video player is fully customizable to match the look of any web page. You can create a video playlist to broadcast your videos in sequence. Ads on your videos are served using different ad units: pre-roll, post-roll, mid-roll, overlay and in-page banner advertising. You can also bring your ad server or ad network to provide your ads. Analytics reporting allows you to track the earnings and spread of your videos on the web, but also which portions of your videos are the most viewed. No programming features. A free trial is available. Contact Twistage sales department for pricing options.

  9. Castfire

    Castfire allows white-label video publishing so you can distribute and monetize your own videos using your logo / watermark. You can take control of the video production workflow and customize your player, ad serving procedures, viral redistribution, and much more through a web-based interface. A single video upload automatically generates multiple video formats to match your distribution needs and maintain good quality either on mobile phones, iPods, media box sets, HD-compatible TVs and more. Videos are encoded complying with H.264 specifications. Castfire has partnered with the automated video distribution service TubeMogul and allows you to distribute your clips on multiple video-sharing sites and also track precisely the performance of your video. You can also schedule and broadcast your videos without any user input. Ads can be served by third-party ad networks or ad servers using pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll units. Prices depend on the distribution campaign you choose; contact a Castfire representative for more details.

  10. Delve Networks

    Delve Networks provides a online video solution to manage, publish, measure, and monetize your video content. With a web-based management tool you can create an embeddable player that matches the look of your website and is freely redistributable over any web page. The player also auto-adjusts the video quality for best results with every internet connection. The codec used to encode videos is H.264 and HD is supported. You can offer your users the ability to search inside your videos for topics of interests; a heatmap shows the portion of video that corresponds to a specific topic. Delve Networks also provides analytics features to track the performance of your clips, but you can also use Google Analytics to monitor your video content. No video programming though you can broadcast video playlists. Advertising capabilities include the integration with ad servers and ad networks. Ad units options you can choose to serve your videos are pre-roll, post-roll and "random". You can also set the frequency your ads are served and specify the ad insertion points. A 30-days trial is available yo test the service. For pricing options, you have to contact the sales department at Delve Networks.

  11. VideoBloom

    The Premium plan of VideoBloom ($299) allows you to deliver and monetize online videos with your brand logo using a dedicated player. The player is fully customizable and you can also redistribute and embed your videos on any website or social media page. Videos are encoded using MPEG4 specifications, also in HD format. VideoBloom claims that your videos are deployed to match the different internet connection speeds of your viewers while maintaining optimal video quality. Video playlists are available to broadcast niche-targeted compilations. No video programming. You can use different ad units to monetize your videos: pre-roll-post-roll, overlays, skin ads (for your video player) and companion ads. The analytics tool measures the popularity of your video on the web as well as your earnings through a web-based dashboard.

  12. MonetizeMedia

    A live streaming and on-demand video publishing platform, Monetize Media allows you to distribute and monetize your video assets. Through a web-based interface you can arrange your video, organize playlists and insert advertising inside your clips. You cannot schedule playlist broadcasting for the time being, but you can pull videos from most popular video sharing sites to add to your custom channels. HD videos are supported. You have a list of ready-made video players at your disposal that you can also customize and scale to match perfectly any web page or mobile device. All video players offer chat, ratings, comments, social network sharing, social media tags, and RSS functionalities. Video players also detect the connection of your viewers to auto-adjust video resolution. You can set your videos for public or private access. Monetize Media supports online ad units such as banner, in-stream, overlay and pre-roll ads. Ad network integration is allowed to serve third-party ads. You can deploy your video on a pay-per-view basis and receive payments using your PayPal account. Performance reports are available to track the popularity and monetization goals of your videos. No encoding info is provided. Gold plan is priced at $1199/month plus a one-time setup charge of $500. A free trial is available to test the service.

  13. BitGravity

    BitGravity is a content delivery network that provides delivery of on-demand video and live streaming broadcasts. The service takes care of distributing your videos but is not aimed to monetize your video assets with advertising campaigns. Codec used for videos is H.264 and HD is supported. There is no custom video player provided, but customers are free to modify the API of the Flash player to match their production needs. No video programming or analytics features. For further info you have to contact a BitGravity representative.

  14. GizmoUTube.TV

    GizmoUTube.TV is a white-label video platform that allows you to broadcast either on-demand and live streaming shows. GizmoUTube.TV provides a customizable video player which supports HD, interactive video search and redistribution on third-party websites. Videos are encoded in Flash H.264 and VP6 formats. Ad integration is not supported for the time being. For $1999/year you get a .TV domain name and 1GB of storage space per month. Expenses for bandwidth traffic are managed by Bits On The Run and payed separately. No programming available. More info on corporate website.

  15. The FeedRoom

    The FeedRoom is an online video platform that helps you create and distribute niche-targeted video channels out of your online video inventory. Different customizable video players are available to help you find the correct matching with the look of your website. Players are also scalable, redistributable and allow user interaction with rating and commenting features. HD videos are supported. Reporting functions tell you who is tuning in, what and how much they are watching, and an understanding of which sources are driving traffic to your site. With The FeedRoom you can also monetize your video assets by offering online subscription, pay-per-view programming or by integrating advertising features. The platform has support for all popular ad formats, including in-stream pre-rolls, post-rolls and banners, as well as contextual targeting ads. You can also rely on ad networks partnered with The FeedRoom to serve third-party ads on your videos. No programming feature and no encoding info is available. You need to contact the company for available pricing solutions.

  16. BestTV

    BestTV provides fully customizable Internet TV channels to distribute and monetize your video content. You can either broadcast white-label live streaming shows and on-demand videos on PCs, set-top boxes or mobile phones. You have also the option to create targeted playlists but not schedule a playlist to be broadcast without user input. HD videos are supported. You can monetize your video assets using both subscriptions and advertising options. Regarding advertising, you can employ pre-roll, post-roll and banner ads while setting ads frequency and capping to achieve optimal results. Ad networks can be integrated to serve third-party ads with your video content. Detailed reports are available to track your advertising campaigns and video performances. No encoding info is provided. To get a quote for BestTV solutions contact a company representative.

  17. Kaltura

    Kaltura is an open source online video platform that allows you to manage, distribute and monetize your online video inventory using open standards. You can also import third-party video content from other websites or video-sharing sites, add your videos and create custom playlists to engage your audience. You can schedule your playlist for broadcasting without input and also take advantage of advanced features like: remix and annotate your videos, add text slides, translations, and much more. When you have your content ready, your video is encoded using FLV and H.264 codec (HD supported) and then published using a customizable widget player that matches the look of your website. Powered by Gyga, your widget player is freely redistributable on any website or social media sites. Kaltura also has pre-integrated solutions for WordPress, Drupal and MediaWiki sites (free up to 10 GB of streaming & hosting). You can allow viewers to download your video player for offline viewing or broadcast private shows. Kaltura has partnered with ad networks to help you show ads with your video content that comply with IAB standards. Detailed statistics and analytics of your online video offering are also generated for your video campaigns. Contact Kaltura sales department for price quotes or to get a free trial. The company offers also a self-hosted version of the platform that publishers can download for free and host behind their own firewall.

  18. KIT digital

    KIT digital provides solutions manage, publish and monetize your online video assets. Videos can be offered on-demand on websites or mobile devices and you can put your own logo to represent your company. Video players offered by KIT digital can be fully customized, redistributed and shared on any web page. No info on HD support or video encoding. To capitalize on your video inventory you can serve ads with your content, even integrating your ad networks. Ad units accepted are: pre-roll, post roll, companion banners and flash overlay ads. Alternative revenue channels supported are: subscriptions, DTO (download to own), VOD (video on demand), and PPV (pay per view), pay per click and pay-as-you-view (per second / per frame). Detailed reports are generated to track your earnings and the performances of your videos. No video programming. Contact KIT digital for pricing info.

  19. SOFTing K.iTV

    K.iTV from SOFTing is designed to assist content providers with all key functions associated with managing online video: content uploading, cataloging, tracking and maintenance, advertising, analysis, billing and paying. You can either offer on-demand or live content. Once uploading your content you can take advantage of fully customizable video players that also allow you to create scheduled playlists to broadcast without any input from the user. A list of ready-made templates is available if you do not have specific customization needs. Advertising is supported with most common ad units: pre-roll, post-roll, in-stream, image & flash banners. Third-party ad network integration is not supported. Other monetization strategies include billing and subscriptions. Contact SOFTing support for pricing details.

  20. Sorenson Video Delivery Network

    Sorenson Video Delivery Network is a white-label video publishing platform that helps you manage and monetize your video assets. Video you upload are encoded using either Spark, VP& or H.264 codec and HD is supported. You can then syndicate your video to any website pasting a piece of HTML code or directly to iPhone models. A custom WordPress plugin is also available. You have multiple players to choose from that you can scale to match your publishing needs. Video players available have all a permalink but do not support playlist creation nor scheduling. Analytics features give you a real-time snapshot of audience engagement. Advertising is not supported for the time being. Pricing starts from $99/month for 1,000 streams and up to 20 minute videos. Free trial available.

  21. VideoPublishing

    VideoPublishing is a white-label platform that lets you manage and deliver your video content. You can customize a broad range of video players to the colors and style of your firm and website. Videos are encoded using H.264 specifications and are scaled to match their destination (up to HD quality). All videos you manage and deliver can be converted in different formats and monitored to evaluate their performances. Tough VideoPublishing does not offer any ad integration or control, you can freely integrate your third-party ad networks if you want to run ads against your videos. Pricing starts from $49/month and 200 hours of streaming per month. Free trial available.

  22. Quick.tv

    Quick.tv is a white-label video platform that allows you to manage and monetize your video inventory. The player you get is scalable, fully customizable and allows you to display your company logo, interactive images or promotional banners your viewers can click. Each player is also redistributable using the embed code or via e-mail if you set this option. You can also create niche-targeted playlists to display in a single player window, but not schedule the release of each video. HD is supported. Quick.tv runs ads on your videos using DoubleClick, but you can also bring your own ad network to serve advertisement in the most common formats like pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll. Pricing plans start from $120/month for 750 playout minutes in standard video quality and each video must be up to 5 mins. No info provided on encoding procedures.

  23. Vzaar

    Vzaar is a video publishing platform that allows you to embed unbranded video players on your site. You can choose among different sizes for your player and either stream your clips in standard quality (FLV, H.263) or HD (MP4, H.264). Other player options include: set borders, set color, display in-stream text and hyperlinks. Vzaar also integrates with eBay so you can post your videos to the popular auction site directly right away. Worth mentioning is the "replace" function whereby you can substitute an embedded video with a new one from your inventory without pasting again the embed code. Different pricing plans are available, but to have an unbranded player you need to start from the Bronze plan. The Bronze plan costs $10/month for 5GB of online storage, advanced player settings and improved ranking inside Google search results. No programming or custom ads control.

  24. Magnify.net

    Magnify.net is a white-label video publishing platform that allows you to integrate user-generated video, video that you produce, or video that you discover into your own web site. Video players offered by Magnify.net are fully customizable and scalable to your needs. Video players are also redistributable and can be shared on any web page or social media site. Videos are encoded using FLV / VP6 codec. To capitalize on your video inventory, you can serve ads with your content, even by integrating your ad networks (this option is currently reserved to enterprise customers only). The analytics feature allows you to track your earnings and the performances of your videos. No video programming. Pro packages of Magnify.net start from $249/month and allow you to have a customizable branding channel, custom watermarks, a custom graphic package, up to 250 videos you can upload and a 50 / 50 revenue split on ad banners.

  25. MultiCast Multicast is a white-label video distribution platform that broadcasts both live and on-demand videos. Multicast provides 80 customizable video players which supports redistribution on third-party websites and also ad display if you integrate Multicast with third-party ad networks like OpenX or Real Media. The video platform can also be used to distribute videos to mobile devices like the iPhone. All videos deployed are encoded in Flash H.264 format. No programming is available, nor HD videos are supported. For pricing plans you must contact a sales representative. More info on corporate website.

Originally prepared by Robin Good and Daniele Bazzano for MasterNewMedia, and first published on July 6th, 2009 as "Professional White-label Video Publishing Platforms: Guide To The Best Services".

How To Find And Choose The Best Domain Name For Your Web Site

Mon, 03/29/2010 - 08:54
A domain name is the unique label that defines who you are and what you do on the web, even before someone can see your web site. Your domain name is the very first thing a visitor or potential customer knows about your web site. The domain name is also your first mean of communicating to others where you or your organization can be reached online and being able to communicate this in a way that is both easy, meaningful (and therefore memorable) should be the goal of any smart web publisher. But how do you go about finding and selecting the best domain name for your web site? Photo credit: Kadir Karcioglu While this may seem a trivial task, most people often forget all the options and variables to consider when making such a choice, leaning more on what they like or feel good with rather than with what may actually be their best marketing investment. For example, if your website is called www.greatimages.com, people can already expect what they will get when reaching it, and thus a domain name that is clear and descriptive of what you do can indeed play a major role to help new contacts come to your site knowing ahead of time what they can expect to find. Realizing you have selected a bad or ineffective domain name, maybe a gigantic pain once your site is launched and has already gained good traffic and links from other sites, and though it can be done, I wouldn't recommend it to the worst of my friends. So, what can you do to choose the best, ideal, most effective domain name for your web site or blog? To help you identify what should be your key steps in selecting your domain name, I have called into my studio and in front of my video camera a true expert of what it takes to find and register the best domain names out there. He is so good at this that he has even made a super-successfull business out of it. So much so that its "engine" now powers the top registration sites in the world. If you go to Register.com or GoDaddy.com, which are the most popular domain registration services in the world, you may be surprised to know, that a clever analysis and suggestion software runs behind their front end widgets to help you rapidly identify the most appropriate domain name alternatives available for your web site. The name of the company behind those suggestion engines is DomainsBot and I have invited his CEO, Emiliano Pasqualetti, to illustrate and explain to you what are the most critical aspects to pay attention to when selecting a new domain name. In this guide to select your ideal web domain name you will get answers to the following questions:
  • What is a domain name and why do I need one?
  • How easy is to buy and register your domain name?
  • Can anyone do it?
  • How should I choose my domain name?
  • How much does it cost to register a domain name?
  • Should I register just one or multiple domain names?
If you want to find out how to avoid stupid mistakes, to understand the true value of selecting an appropriate domain name, to come up with a great domain name for your web site, this MasterNewMedia guide, will help you get some solid advice in this direction. Here is Emiliano Pasqualetti recommendations:

How To Find And Choose The Best Domain Name For Your Web Site
Who Is Emiliano Pasqualetti I was born and raised in Rome and I graduated at the university of Rome "La Sapienza" in management engineering. I am married with my beautiful wife and during the last year she has been pretty much the most of my patience. We really like to travel around the world together, we would like to travel more and more. I would definitely say that this is my biggest special right now.

How To Choose A Good Registrar Service Before choosing your best domain name, first of all of course you have to choose your registrar, the online company that will allow you to get your domain name. There ar very simple rules about choosing a registrar:
  1. You should choose a registrar you trust. Go online, find some reviews and understand if the registrar you are considering is a trustworthy one. This is very important.
  2. The navigation inside the registrar website should be very easy and it should be very comfortable. That is a good sign that maybe inside the domain management will be easy and intuitive.
  3. Also, look at the services that this registrar can provide you. There are very essential services like the domain lock, to be sure that your domain name does not get transferred without your authorization, or the automatic renewal.
One of the biggest threat in losing your domain name is that you lose it by accident, for instance you forget to renew your domain name. Automatic renewal, domain lock, ease of navigation, these are all good signs that this registrar is the one you want to choose. Of course, then it gets to the price. Compare prices: you can really find domain names from six dollars to 45 dollars. There is always a reason why the registrars price domain names differently, but don't stop at the first glance. Look beyond the first registration price and take care of important aspects like domain renewal fees, how much will it cost to renew your domain name in 12 months. Also, look at hidden fees like transfer fees, which we don't really like. You want to be free to transfer your domain name wherever you want without paying anything. There are also very important services like privacy, WHOIS privacy. Usually there is a fee on it, but sometimes you can get it for free if you register more domain names. Take a look at all the fees, but also at the hidden fees and think that you are probably going to keep your domain name for a long time, so don't stop at the first instance.

Recommended Domain Name Registrars There is no doubt that the biggest registrar in the world is GoDaddy, it is the biggest one in terms of registrations, but also incredibly the fastest growing registrar. They are really doing a great job. Their prices are competitive, you can find a .COM domain name for 10 dollars and also there are interesting bulk discounts opportunities. They definetely are an interesting registrar, but of course there are plenty of registrars. For instance, I can mention Name.com, which is one of the very interesting registrars for domainers - guys that want to buy a large amount of domain names. Also, among the top five registrars I can mention there are NSI, which offers a wide variety of services, there is Tucows, with its huge amount of resellers, they offer you very tailored customized solutions and there is Register.com, very popular for businesses and small businesses.

Key Recommendations To Choose Your Domain Name Of course there are generic recommendations to choose your domain name. For instance, try to keep you domain name very short. Usually the highest value in domain names is for domain names of one or for maximum two keywords. It is very difficult that a great domain name is made of more than two keywords. My recommendation is to keep it short, to keep it simple and for instance When you try to understand if a domain name really sounds good, try to imagine that you are telling your friend by phone your domain name. How easy is that? If your friend really gets it simple, that could be really a good domain name. Apart from that, the choice of a domain name is really influenced of what you want to do with it. If you are a business, there are very important rules that you should take care of. First of all, .COM is the king. When you think about a website, you naturally link it to a .COM domain name. Whatever you want to do, even if you want to have a no-profit organization, so maybe a .ORG would be the best domain name, please be sure to secure your .com too. For instance, for MasterNewMedia.org, Robin didn't forget to register the .COM and then forward it to his main site. Keep in mind that .COM is still the king, but also keep in mind there are other TLD, extensions alternative to the .COM that could be very relevant in specific cases. I want to mention two very good domain names that are doing pretty well: .MOBI, which is a TLD that is dedicated to mobile phone devices. If you want your website to be immediately linked to the navigation to your mobile, consider the .MOBI. There is also the .TEL, which is actually a very innovative domain name. You cannot have your website on a .TEL. There is a web page, it is pretty standard and on the .TEL you update your personal information, your contacts, your business information. For instance, if you want to know my mobile number, where I am somewhere in the world and I have a new mobile number, go on Emiliano.tel and you will find my updated information there. If you are not an American company, especially if you are an European or Asian Company, you should consider also the TLD of your country. .IT for Italy, .DE for Germany, also .EU or .ASIA if you want to go to the macro-area of your continent.

The Importance of Domain Names A domain name is a very essential part of your marketing, and I am talking right now for a second imaging you are thinking about your business. Why your domain name is so important for your business? There is a very simple reason. Domain names are a scarce resource. Very limited. There are over 100 million of domain names registered today, and if you simply compare this number with the number of trademarks which are registered, you can see that is way more difficult to find a good domain name. The importance of the domain name is mainly related to its value as the brand of your business.
  1. First, you should register your domain name and try to find the best domain name for your interests.
  2. Then you may think about making this domain name your brand or eventually register a trademark for your business.
For the very same reason, domain names are very valuable as assets that can be bought and sold on the aftermarket.

What If The Domain Name You Want Is Already Taken? If the domain name you want is already taken, you have basically three options. The first option is called backordering. What you do is you ask your registrar or a company like for instance Snapnames, to notify you when this domain name becomes available again. Another aspect of this process is that you can go to your registrar of choice and you may ask the registrar itself to try to contact the current owner of this domain name and to try to get it for you, to negotiate a transfer for you. If you are not willing to wait too much, there are two very interesting options.
  1. One is to consider additional domain names that are available - for instance most of the registrars out there offer you brainstorming tools where you type in a domain name you like and they would get back to you a list of domain names that are meaning related and valuable, but still available for the registration.
  2. Another thing I really recommend you to do, is to take a look at the secondary market, at the market where all those domain names are registered, but are also for sale.
As I mentioned before a domain name is an asset, so maybe some guys around there, they both have domain names that are really relevant for what you are looking for and is giving you the option to buy this domain name for 500 dollars, 1,000 dollars. Think about what do you want to do and how important is this domain name for you. The spend could be very worth it.

How Much For a Domain name? It really depends. You can buy cheap domain names for even less the cost of the registration. Let's take as an example a .COM. A .COM usually costs about eight dollars, it can go from about 10 to 11 dollars, but in some cases you can buy a .COM for 40 or 50 dollars. It really depends from the service that the registrar is providing you to get away with the registration fee. If you really want to go cheap, you can find domain names for about eight / nine dollars per year.

Registration Period For Domain Names: One Year or More? Registering for more than one year really decreases the risk that you forget to renew the fee, so it minimizes the risk to lose that domain name. There are also some SEO advantages in registering a domain name for more years. Of course SEO is really an alchemy, it is an art, it is not predictable, and especially there is no single reason that you can succeed in SEO, but in the domain name industry we definitely believe that registering a domain name for more years is a good sign for search engines. I would like to mention that Google became an ICANN-accredited registrar a few years ago, so it means that Google has a lot of information about domain names, and even if we may not say that this is the most important thing to do, maybe registering a domain name for more than one year - for instance for 10 years - could definitely be a good thing for your website.

Registering Alternative Domain Name Extensions Registering alternative domain name extensions really depends on how much you are willing to invest in your brand. I would definitely recommend to explore all the different TLDs that are relevant for your business. There are local TLDs, meaning that if you are in the US, maybe you can consider .US apart from .COM - which is the official American ccTLD. There are also some other TLDs: for example, the national extension of Laos, which is an Asian country, is .LA, and this TLD has been very used to market the city of Los Angeles. Maybe you can explore that direction too, be creative and really secure assets around your domain. Apart from that, the domain community is really looking forward to the release of tens of new TLDs that hopefully will come around in one or two years. You will have in the future the opportunity to choose among very different TLDs. If you are a car dealer, maybe there will be .CAR available for you to consider as an investment for your main website. Also, there are some people who think that as long as we keep .COM as the king of domain names, this domain names will soon run out. Right today it is so much difficult to find a nice .COM available and this is partially why we entered in the business. But there's one important thing to keep in mind. There are a lot of very good domain names out there that there are not available for registration, but they are available for sale. You may want to consider to buy a domain name that someone is putting for sale at 1,000 / 2,000 dollars if that domain name is what you really want and if you have a good idea on how to make money out of that domain name. I could say that thanks to the aftermarket - the process of buying and selling domain names - probably domain names will have a long life after all.

Country Regulations For Domain Names Each country can decide the basic price for the TLD. The way they do this is that there is also always a trade-off between making a domain name very popular, but also very cheap, or keeping a domain name a bit eliterian - meaning that if you are willing to pay so much money for this domain name it means that you are really a company, you have serious intentions and there are no cheap domain names going around. There are two levels. Each country can decide specific regulations and, trust me, pricing is not the first regulation they use to make it a popular or an eliterian name space. Sometimes the big problem is that if you are not a resident of that country you can actually not register that domain name, and that is the most important limitation - I am thinking about Australia for instance. Then on top of that of course, there is the registrar, that charges different amounts of money, and this could really depend as usual to the service level they provide you.

Why International Domain Names Are a Good Marketing Strategy You always have to think about how much focus and attention you want to put on your main domain name. You know that growing a domain name and make it popular is a hard job. What I would definitely recommend is to consider buying different domain names for different countries and eventually redirect them to the international page that you have created for your web site. That would definitely help you marketing this international version of your web site. Think about a Brazilian guy running on Google search and looking for a domain name that is a Brazilian domain name: he may think that content is relevant for him and he may appreciate that. Then you have to show him relevant content for his search. Domain names can once again make the difference in your marketing strategy.

Common Mistakes When Registering Your Domain Name The biggest mistake of all is that you let your domain name drop by mistake. This can really happen so much, you don't even know about that. The biggest threat in losing your domain name is that usually this is not an external threat. It is not really someone wanting to steal your domain name. Sometimes you don't renew your domain name. Of course, if you don't pay the renewal fee, the registrar will let your domain name expire. It becomes available again and someone else can snap it and take your domain name away from you. The most important thing to do is to lock your domain name when you register it and you enter in your registrar administration panel, be sure you lock your domain name, which means the domain name cannot be transferred without your explicit authorization. Another important thing to do is to always keep your record updated. The registrar will always try to inform you if the domain name is going to expire, but this is not possible if you don't update your email, or if you don't put your main email in the WHOIS record or you don't give this information to your registrar. Keep that in mind: Update your information and use your main information, otherwise you really risk to lose your domain name by mistake.

Domain Name Maintenance Responsibilities One of the biggest problems in managing domain names is that you may lose domain name by mistake, simply because you forgot you have to renew this domain name on the specific registrar. One of the basic tip I would recommend you is to consolidate your domain name on a limited number of registrars - that would make managing domain names very easier, I would say. Another thing that a few people know about is that some registrars offer you a very interesting opportunity of consolidating the expiration date of your domain name. Imagine you have 1000 domain names and each of them expires on a different date. If you do not use auto-renewal system - which I strongly recommend you to use - you may risk to have to renew domain names every day, which you do not want to do. One interesting thing is to consolidate all the expiration dates, so that you know that on that specific date you have to renew your domain name and you can really save some time. Apart from that, as I mentioned, locking your domain name could be a good thing, unless you are willing to sell your domain name, so to facilitate the transfer of your domain name, be always sure that you lock your domain name so that it is almost impossible to transfer this domain name without you explicit authorization, which will make you comfortable.

How To Consolidate and Lock a Domain Name Locking your domain name is very simple and somehow intuitive on the registrar that offers you this specific option. Just to mention - once again, because it is the biggest one - if you go on GoDaddy and you go on your domain management area, you can see a column with a specific icon of a lock that you can simply click and say: "Yes, I do want to lock my domain name". It's as easy as that. Of course, each registrar has a different way to allow you to lock the domain name, but it shouldn't be really difficult. Just go on your domain management area and you will find all the options there.

Selling Your Domain Name There is also another interesting aspect of domain names that is becoming more and more popular, not only for expert or professional of domain names, but for simple people like us. When you are looking for a domain name sometimes you can really meet by chance domain names that you think are really good domain and maybe you think about that because you have information that nobody else have, like for instance you are in a niche of the market and you understand that that specific domain name is really the product or service that describes what you are doing. In that case I would definitely recommend you to consider to buy that domain name and to put it for sale. Selling a domain name is not as difficult as you may imagine. There are plenty of solutions out there. There are a lot of websites that allow you to do that, for instance Sedo that is the largest marketplace for buying and selling domain names. There is BuyDomains, Fabulous or Afternic, but also the largest registrars are starting to allow you to sell your domain name directly there. Once again I would like to mention GoDaddy, they already have their marketplace which is called TDNAM, but also other registrars are doing this as well. Buying and selling a domain name could be definitely easier than expect, so give it a try and start understanding if you can really make money out of your under-developed asset. We all know that developing each domain name could be too difficult, too time-consuming, so why not consider selling them?

Marketing and SEO Aspects of Domain Names It's very important that you consider as an investment to build and reinforce your brand, to consider the registration of domain names that are really relevant for what you are doing. I'll give you an example. Yesterday I was talking with a lawyer who is specialized in patents and he redirected me to his web site www.patent.org. That made him very reliable and trustworthy. Whatever you do, whatever product you sell, whatever niche you are working in, be sure to at least find and try to secure domain names that contain these keywords. This is really relevant for two aspects:
  1. First of all, because it gives you a good image and you can market yourself way better,
  2. and secondly we think this is very important and relevant for SEO.
Search engines really love to see the keyword that the user was looking for inside the domain name that presented the user. This can really make the difference to your marketing efforts.

How To Choose The Best Domain Name For Your Web Site If you want to see all the videos of Emiliano in one shot, Robin and I have created for you this video playlist that collects all the clips inside this guide for you to enjoy in one deep breath.

Video clips originally recorded by Robin Good. First published on March 29th, 2010 as How To Find And Choose The Best Domain Name For Your Web Site

About Emiliano Pasqualetti Emiliano Pasqualetti is CEO and co-owner of DomainsBot, a company that specializes in providing semantic technologies applied to the domain industry. He previously spent more than two years inside DomainsBot as COO taking care of part of the business development, R&D on the business side and organizing the synchronization between the business and technical department.

Forum Marketing Strategy: How To Promote Your Site Through Online Forums

Wed, 03/24/2010 - 11:13
In the age of social marketing, online forums are, next to Facebook, Twitter and your favorite social media network, an ideal natural outlet for marketing your content in an ethical, helpful and altruistic way. As online forums are an online destination used to meet, share ideas and ask questions to people who have a shared interests, their very nature provides for access to communities of people interested in something very specific. Photo credit: Lev Dolgachov As a matter of fact, an online forum is a virtual room full of people who share and discuss the same interests and passions. This is why it is an ideal place to listen and understand to people's specific needs and problems and provide real help by providing valuable answers and suggestions. According to a recent survey from PostRelease (republished in full below in the article): “People who contribute to online forums are overwhelmingly more engaged in "influential" activities - both online and offline - than people who do not use forums”. Inside most online forums people tend to do everything for the good of the community, and not exclusively thinking about their personal comeback. What this all means is that your best marketing strategy is not to go inside a forum and shout out loud that you have a cool new product or that you have just published a killer blog post that everyone should read. An approach like this is kind of a no-no and it may just get you banned right away from many of the top internet forums. What you should do instead, is come forward to offer your help in a consistent and honest way. Let me just share with you my own experience when posting inside online forums, as part of my job as a senior content editor for MasterNewMedia. This job includes promoting and helping out with the distribution and "visibility" of the content we publish. And here is what I do when it comes to promoting our content while leveraging the power of online forums. When I am inside a forum, and I come across someone asking, let’s say, for help in finding a tool to do video editing, I never show up and say: "Hey, here I am. I am an expert, I have written about this, check out what I found out and learn." Instead, I approach it more like this: "Hi, I have found some nice video editing tools that may serve your needs. Here’s a), b) and c). I would personally recommend b) because is very cool and allows you to do 1), 2) and 3) that other tools don’t do. However, if you are still not satisfied, or want to have a better perspective on this topic, you might want to have a look at this guide I have prepared some time ago. Here’s the link." At first I always provide immediate value, something tangible that people can immediately put to use to solve their doubts or problems, and only AFTER - if they want to go deep and know some more - I provide a reference they could check. I do exactly what I’d like other people to do if I had the same problem. Give good, solid help first. The extra authority, credibility and more visibility will come naturally as a consequence. This is why I recommend you check out and share with others this comprehensive guide I, and the others editors here in the MasterNewMedia newsroom, have written, mashed up, remixed and assembled here for you. This guide focuses in fact on how to leverage online forums as a marketing venue, while providing great value and help in the process. Here is what I suggest you pay attention to: (Intro by Daniele Bazzano)

Forum Marketing Strategy: Best Selected Tips
1. How To Choose The Right Forum For Your Niche
  • Look for popular forums that cover your niche topic.

  • Go to Google and in the search box just put in "your niche + forum" and check the results.

  • Ask your employees, suppliers, and customers which online communities they hang out in.

  • Search forum hub sites such as Board Reader, Big Boards, and Board Tracker using niche-specific keywords.

  • Look for reliable forums that have at least 1,000 members and 10,000 posts.

  • Make sure the forum you choose gets at least 10 to 15 new posts on a daily basis.

  • Check the policy of the forum and make sure that:
    • You can place links inside your forum posts.
    • You can promote your own business.
    • You can post commercial messages in your signature.
    • You can contact other members for commercial purposes.
    • You know which restrictions are placed on new users.
    • You take advantage of special privileges given to long-time users (if any).

2. How To Create a Memorable Forum Profile
a) Select a Good Username and Avatar:
  • Pick a username that is easy to remember and pronounce. Using your real name might be appropriate, especially if your name is closely identified with your brand.
  • Stay away from bizarre number combinations or weird misspellings.
  • Pick a username that everyone clearly understands and that has no hidden significance.
  • Use a good head shot of yourself or cute pictures of your kids or pets as your avatars.
  • Avoid using any pictures that might be considered offensive or controversial in any way.

b) Create a Compelling Profile
  • Provide a solid description of your expertise and experience.
  • Feel free to add in a couple of personal tidbits to humanize your profile. Information like your hometown, the name of your kids or pets, or your favorite sports team are good ways to break the ice.
  • Stay away from sharing your own point of view on political or religious matters.
  • Provide detailed contact information so that other forum users can easily get in touch with you if they are interested in learning more about you or your business.
  • Share only information you would not mind being made public, such as a throwaway email address to protect yourself from spammers.

c) Leverage Forum Signatures
  • Put the address of your website inside your signature.
  • Create the link back to your site using your main niche keywords.
  • Do not add flashy images or long advertising messages inside your signature.
  • Provide a reason why people might want to follow the link to your website by writing an accurate, but short description of your business.

d) Write an Effective First Forum Post
  • Many forums encourage new users to introduce themselves to the community by making an introductory post. This is usually done in threads especially designated for welcoming new members.
  • Your introductory post should include a brief description of your expertise and an explanation of why you joined the forum.
  • Let the other users know that your main goal is to contribute to and learn from the community.
  • Do not make any marketing pitches in your first post.

3. How To Communicate Effectively Inside a Forum
  • Spend some time reading the forum to get a sense of which are the special quirks and cultural norms of the community.

  • Figure out who the influential users are and note which topics are perennial favorites.

  • Learn how people interact on the forum. Learning this information will help you fit in more quickly.

  • Dazzle users with incredibly useful answers whenever someone asks a question related to your products or services. These situations are opportunities to demonstrate your expertise and to generate good will.

  • Backup always every advice you share with links to trusted sources, and respond to follow-up questions quickly.

  • Keep your answers as much objective as possible. By doing this, the entire community will start thinking of you as a trusted expert. They will soon start asking you for your recommendations and when you get direct inquiries for recommendations you may then safely mention your business without appearing biased.

  • Do not get drawn into heated arguments. Stay away from charged topics like politics or religion.

  • Write a short article about a topic people on the forum will appreciate, then start a new thread and post the article.

  • Make sure you always have something to continue the conversation. Ask questions, request feedback, etc. If you just end your posts without engaging the community, it is likely you will just end the conversation abruptly and that is not the point.

  • Focus on marketing techniques that provide a benefit for the forum community. For example, offer the forum members special discounts, free samples, or fun contests.

  • Be sure to request and get permission from the moderators of the forum before you start a marketing campaign.

  • Gather information and data from forums such as problems people are having and what could be the possible solutions, and then use this data to create new products to address the needs of the community.


How Online Forums Prove To Foster Website Engagement by PostRelease If the Holy Grail of marketing is a band of self-motivated enthusiasts proactively recommending your product, then the Grail's secret location could very well be the world of online forums, according to a new survey released by PostRelease.

Forum Users Are More Engaged In Online and Offline Activities People who contribute to online forums are overwhelmingly more engaged in "influential" activities - both online and offline - than people who do not use forums, the study found. By far, the biggest disparities involved blogs and meetups: Those who contribute to online forums are 10 times more likely than non-contributors to also publish a blog, and are nine times more likely to take an active role in organizing an offline event or meetup for a group that originally met online.

Key Findings About Forum Users Forum users are:
  • 3.5 times more likely to proactively recommend a particular purchase to someone else,
  • 3.5 times more likely to share links about new products,
  • 4 times more likely to post online ratings and reviews, and almost
  • twice as likely to share advice - offline and in person - based on information they have read online.
Those are the principle findings of a new nationwide survey conducted November 19 - 23 by PostRelease.

Forum Contributors In conjunction with Chicago market researcher Synovate, PostRelease asked 1,000 Americans to choose from a list of activities that could be considered influential in helping others make a purchase decision, and select those in which they participate. In every case, those who contribute to forums are more likely than others to engage in the activity. The survey found that one in five Americans contributes to online forums. Forrester Research reports that 28 percent U.S. consumers read online forums - making it the second most popular online activity, second only to watching video. But a forum contributor's influence is not confined to the world of online forums.

Key Findings About Forum Contributors Here is an overview of the results:
  • 79.2 percent of forum contributors help a friend or family member make a decision about a product purchase - compared with 47.6 percent of non-contributors and 53.8 percent overall.
  • 65 percent of forum contributors share advice (offline and in person) based on information that they have read online - compared with 35 percent of non-contributors and 40.8 percent overall.
  • 66 percent of forum contributors post online ratings / reviews of products / services, compared with 16.8 percent of non-contributors and 26.4 percent overall.
  • 57.7 percent of forum contributors proactively recommend that someone make a particular purchase - compared with 16.9 percent of non-contributors and 24.9 percent overall.
  • 43.6 percent of forum contributors share links to articles about new products or with reviews of products - compared with 12 percent of non-contributors and 18.2 percent overall.
  • 35.6 percent of forum contributors attend an offline event or meet up where people with similar interests or who share the same hobby connect - compared with 13.8 percent of non-contributors and 18 percent overall.
  • 20.6 percent of forum contributors publish a blog - compared with 2.1 percent of non-contributors and 5.7 percent overall.
  • 18.8 percent of forum contributors take an active role in organizing an offline event or meet up for a group that met originally online - compared with 2.4 percent of non-contributors and 5.6 percent overal

Originally prepared by Elia Lombardi and Robin Good for MasterNewMedia and first published on March 24th, 2010 as Forum Marketing Strategy: How To Promote Your Site Through Online Forums

About PostRelease PostRelease enables companies to advertise online word-of-mouth discussions within forums and message boards. The PostRelease system lets advertisers search and identify key forum conversations and insert messages as posts to be absorbed by the community as expert content.

Photo credits: How To Choose The Right Forum For Your Niche - Chris Lamphear How To Communicate Effectively Inside a Forum - Mikhail Mishchenko Survey Chart - PostRelease with Synovate How To Choose The Right Forum For Your Niche - Chris Lamphear Forum Users Are More Engaged In Online and Offline Activities - Kronick Key Findings About Forum Users - Pablo631 Forum Contributors - Sgursozlu

Self-Serve Advertising Services: Guide To The Best Do-It-Yourself Ad Management Platforms

Mon, 03/22/2010 - 10:58
Self-serve do-it-yourself advertising solutions make it possible for any web publisher to allow potential advertising customers to evaluate, buy and publish ads on their web pages without their intervention. It's like placing an ad-vending machine on your web pages, allowing who wants to advertise there to do so with the minimum fuss and the maximum speed. Photo credit: Clipart In this MasterNewMedia guide you will find which are the best self-serve advertising platforms out there and how to choose the best one for your needs. Self-serve advertising platforms allow you to maintain total control over your ad inventory, pricing, and, if you want, on providing your final approval on each and every ad submitted and paid for publication on your site. In other words:
  • Ad inventory: You select specific areas of your website where you want to display advertisements and then select the type of ad that is most appropriate or profitable for that area. Moreover, if you already have your own ads, you can upload and use them to save time. All standard IAB units are fully supported and some self-service ad platforms also have their proprietary ad formats (e.g. PhoText ads from Ad Engage) that you can use to further increase your ad revenues.

  • Ad pricing: Using these do-it-yourself ad platforms you can set your own ad price, offer discounts or even (if permitted) segment ads sold to advertisers in pre-packaged bundles on precise time slots. For example, you could reserve an ad slot to an advertiser for one week for a given price, and then sell another ad slot everyday but only at specific hours for another advertiser.

  • Ad control: Before an ad is displayed on your web site, the self-service ad platform needs your explicit approval, so you can always choose ads that are as much contextual with your content as possible. There are also some self-service ad platforms which allow you to set the system to auto-approve all incoming ad proposals so that if you are confident about the advertisers promoting on your site, you can slash their time-to-publication to a few minutes.

From an operational standpoint, these self-serve advertising platforms generally all work in the same way:
  1. You sign-up with the self-serve ad platform.

  2. You select one or more ad spots inside your website layout to display advertisements.

  3. You set the price of your ad spots.

  4. You paste a few lines of code to your website. The ad platform then places a button or link on your web site to inform advertisers that you have ad spaces available for sale.

  5. You get contacted directly by advertisers that want to run ads on your web site, whose proposals you can approve or reject.

  6. You split the revenues generated by the ad sale between you and the ad platform. The commission you pay for each ad sale is generally around 20%-30%.

Now that you have some information on how self-serve advertising solutions actually work, let me help you identify the major players in the market and their distinctive characteristics by providing you with a full set of individual reviews, two comparative tables and an industry mindmap to get you started right away. Also, here are the specific selection criteria I have used to compare all of the self-serve advertising platforms included in this guide:
  • Ad pricing commission: Fees that the ad platform provider keeps from each ad sale.
  • Ad pricing flexibility: Ad price independence - you decide
  • Graphic ad builder: Visual editor that allows your advertising customers to build and customize new ads.
  • Supported ad units: Ad formats supported.
  • Ad scheduling: Adjustable time slots that allow you to set ad display opportunities and offers over specific time slots.
  • Ad Tracking: Analytical data to monitor the performance of your ad inventory.
  • Ad approval notice: Email notification to approve / reject a new ad.
  • Ad marketplace: Inclusion inside ad provider directory or marketplace which provides greater visibility of your ad spaces to potential advertisers.
Find out more inside this guide.

Self-Serve Advertising Platforms - Comparative Tables

Self-Serve Advertising Platforms

  1. BlogAds BlogAds is a self-serve advertising platform that you can use to monetize your ad inventory. BlogAds retains a commission of 30% of the price advertisers pay to place ads on your site. You can fully determine the price of each ad shown and you also have a wide range of ad formats that you can use, including: standard IAB units, rich-media ads, video ads, live-link ad units (containing RSS feeds or live streams) and also the proprietary Blogad unit format - which combines images or video with text and classified ads. As a publisher you have total control about where and when ads are displayed on your site and you also have the ability to track the performance of your advertising campaigns. Every time an advertiser contacts you to display her ads on your pages, you have the option to approve or reject the offer via email. No graphic ad builder is available, but you are allowed to fully customize Blogads units purchased inside AdBrite marketplace by adding images, text and hyperlinks.

  2. AdBrite AdBrite is a do-it-yourself ad platform that you can use to generate revenues with online advertising. You pay AdBrite a commission of 25% of the price that advertisers pay to place an ad on your web pages. You can fully determine the price of each displayed ad and you have several ad formats that you can use, including: Text ads, full page ads, inline ads, rich media ads, standard IAB units, and the BritePic unit, which is a proprietary interactive text ad unit. As a publisher, you can select which area of your site to use for advertising and how frequently ads will be displayed. You can also monitor over time the performance of your advertising campaign from the web-based Publisher panel. To approve / reject ads to show on your site, you can reply to advertisers directly via e-mail. No ad marketplace or graphic ad builder are available.

  3. AdReady AdReady is a self-serve ad platform that allows you to create, measure and optimize your campaigns while giving you total control over the whole advertising process. You just need to create (or upload your existing ads) using the AdReady graphic ad builder and then specify an area of your website layout that will be used to display advertisements. Ads are served using Yahoo! and Google ad networks. AdReady retains a commission of 20% of the price that advertisers pay to place ads on your site and you can fully determine the price of each ad. The available ad formats that you can use include all standard IAB units (banner, leaderboard, skyscraper, etc.) You can also access analytical data regarding the performance of your advertising campaign and make the necessary adjustments to boost your revenues using the integrated ad tracking facility. No ad marketplace, ad scheduling, nor ad approval notification are available.

  4. TrafficSpaces TrafficSpaces is an ad management platform that allows you to run and control advertising campaigns on your website in a self-serve fashion. To sell your ads, you can use one of the pre-packaged ad prices offered. There are no ad commissions, but you need to pay TrafficSpaces a $49 fee for each ad package you choose. Regarding ad units, you can create your own ads or upload your existing ones using the following formats: Text ads, rich media ads, video ads or use one of the standard IAC ad units. Once you have a set of ads that you want to display on your site, you can manage where and when these ads will be displayed and also take advantage of an analytics dashboard that will help you measure their individual performance, ROI and conversions. You can also integrate third-party ad networks to decrease defaulting (the possibility of having blank ad spots). Please note that if you use Google AdSense, revenues are split between you and the advertiser 50 / 50 as per AdSense policy. You can approve / reject every ad that is displayed on your site straight from your email inbox. No ad marketplace is available.

  5. AdOnion AdOnion is a transparent ad marketplace that you can utilize to increase your advertising revenues. AdOnion retains a commission of 35% of the price an advertiser pays to place ads on your site. Inside the AdOnion marketplace, you have full control over ad rates and also over the frequency whereby ads are displayed on your website. There is a broad range of ad formats that you can choose, including: Text ads, standard IAB units, pop-unders and expandable ad banners. Once ads are displayed on your website, you can track the performance of your advertising campaigns using a web-based dashboard. The AdOnion marketplace allows you to choose available campaigns narrowing down your choice by category, type (CPC, CPM, CPV or CPI) and ad format. No ad approval notification is available.

  6. AdRoll AdRoll is a self-serve ad platform that you can use to further monetize your ad inventory. As a publisher, you can create a media kit that helps AdRoll advertisers find your content and choose you to run campaigns on your web site. You then need to select some areas of your site where ads will be displayed and wait for advertisers to contact you and start a new campaign. For each ad sale, AdRoll keeps 30% of the profits. You can either upload your own ads or create a brand new ad using the graphic ad builder (which supports all standard IAB ad units). Once your ad campaign is up and running, you are able to monitor its performance and optimize advertisements accordingly. AdRoll offers also a service called Retargeting which allows you to keep track of all the people who visit your site and then display ads to them repeatedly as they visit other websites. No ad approval notification, ad scheduling nor ad marketplace are available.

  7. AdvertiseSpace AdvertiseSpace is a do-it-yourself ad platform that you can use to generate extra ad revenues. Through the AdvertiseSpace marketplace you can directly reach advertisers that want to run ad campaigns on your website. You keep between 20% and 30% of the ad sale and a possible additional referral rate of 5%-10%. You can fully determine the price of each ad that goes on your web site. Ads served are displayed using standard IAB unit formats. Anyway, if you are not satisfied with any of the ads proposed, you can create your own ad using the graphic ad builder to match exactly your needs. No ad scheduling, ad approval notifications, nor ad tracking are available.

  8. Shiny Ads Shiny Ads is a self-service advertising platform for web publishers. Shiny ads places a “self-service advertising” link or button on your website to allow advertisers start an ad campaign on your site. If an advertiser is interested in a campaign on your pages, the service then shares analytical data about your site and allows the advertiser to create or choose an available ad to place on your pages. Finally, the advertiser sets a price option and you get 90% the revenue while Shiny Ads retains a commission of 10% per ad sale. Regarding ad units, you can use text ads or one of the supported IAB ad units. No ad marketplace, ad scheduling nor ad approval notification are available. Ad tracking is not available either, but Shiny Ads allows you to integrate your Google Analytics ID into advertising pages to track visitors and page views.

  9. AdEngage AdEngage is a DIY ad management platform. You just need to create an ad banner (or upload your existing ads) using the graphic ad builder and then specify an area of your website layout that is used to display advertisements. You can also control how frequently an ad is displayed on your web pages through the ad scheduling option. AdEngage retains a 25% commission of the ad sale price. Ad units supported are: standard IAB ad formats and the proprietary PhoText ad unit, which mashes images and text and provides a link back to the landing page of the publisher. AdEngage also has an integrated ad marketplace where advertisers can shop for ads and where your web site will be featured along with average clicks and average CPC data. No ad tracking, nor ad approval notification are available.

  10. 5:1 5:1 is an ad platform that works in a self-serve fashion to help you maximize the value of your ad inventory. 5:1 uses a 50 / 50 revenue model to split earnings between the service and the publisher. Once you enroll to 5:1, you become an eligible publisher that advertisers will consider to display their ads. You then specify which zones of your website you want to use to display ads and approve / reject ads that are proposed to appear on your pages from your web-based publisher dashboard (no ad approval notification is available). When you have collected a set of ads to display on your site, you can use them immediately or arrange ads in a playlist and schedule how frequently every ad will be displayed on-site. All standard IAB units are supported. To track and monitor the performance of your ad campaign, an ad tracking facility is available to all publishers.

  11. Ad.ly Ad.ly is a self-serve advertising platform aimed specifically at Twitter users. Ad.ly helps you monetize your Twitter stream by allowing you to tweet commercial proposals from a selected pool of advertisers. You simply authorize Ad.ly to use your Twitter account and then send out a single ad message per day that you have previously approved and that will be openly disclosed. Ad.ly retains a 12% ad commission while you keep the rest of the money. To monitor your ad campaigns, the service provides you with analytical data to help you discover and optimize the effectiveness and reach of your ad campaign. You cannot establish your own ad price, nor schedule ad frequency. A graphic ad builder, an ad marketplace or email ad notifications are not available either.

Originally prepared by Daniele Bazzano for MasterNewMedia, and first published on March 22nd, 2010 as "Self-Serve Advertising Services: Guide To The Best Do-It-Yourself Ad Management Platforms".

Learning Without Schools: Four Points To Free Yourself From The Educational Get-Certified Mantra

Thu, 03/18/2010 - 10:30
I guess we can agree: the world is changing at an increasingly faster pace, and the volume of information is growing at an explosive rate. Change is the name of the game these days and who lives and works off the Internet knows how true this indeed is. But... how are we preparing and equipping our younger generations to live and to cope with such fast-paced scenario-changing realities and with the vast amount of information we drink-in and get exposed to without any crap-filtering skills? Photo credit: Robin Good Excerpted from my guest night at Teemu Arina's Dicole OZ in Helsinski, here are some of my strong, uncensored thoughts about school and academic education in general. In this four-point recipe I state what I think are the some of the key new attitudes we need to consider taking if we want to truly help some of your younger generations move to a higher level of intellectual and pragmatical acumen, beyond the one that most get from our present academic system. To be honest, I probably owe to the academic world much more than I would seem to attribute to it in this short set of videos, but I do this on purpose, as an agent provocateur who at wants to stir some reflection and questioning on things that we tend to give too much for granted. If you believe in a different type of education and think schools and the academic system are in for some kind but deep upgrade, I think you will enjoy my four point recipe on learning and the future.

1) Learn from Reality - Not Just From a Book or from Someone Talking About It Duration: 2' 22" Robin Good: OK, school first. If you want to make the recipe work and smell good, school is the first element. Understanding that school is in some way, - I don't know where I am going to get myself in this, this time it is the first time I say it - very much like a religion... something you have to do to feel OK... but it does not lead you really anywhere, because most of the times you are sitting and memorizing dumb notions that have no context for you on where to apply them, is really a great waste of time. I have spent all the years I could in school - normal, higher, higher and went also to University. I did not do as good as you, I did not get a PhD or I did not get the crown, but what I realized is that if you stay in that system too much, that system changes you, that system weakens you, that system teaches you that there are only so many options... and that system is meant to feed itself over and over again. The system of the school, and the university and the work jobs that are out there in society are all working together. Who is the bad guy maneuvering? Nobody. There is not one bad guy maneuvering this stuff and getting some money in the pocket. There are a lot of bad guys doing this, thinking they are the good guys though, and so it is very difficult to defeat them because they would come to you like Christians defending the Jesus' grave if you say something like I am saying now. But I truly believe that if you have kids today and if you want to think for their future, you should really think as if you were on a spaceship going to some planet out there. Imagine that... you are with your kids and you have six months on this spaceship, and the mission is that when you reach that planet you are going to drop your kids over there, on that distant planet. OK? So think seriously what you are going to teach your kids in those six moths on that spaceship and then we can talk about school again. What are going to be the topics of that school and how the school takes place, because it is not a matter of sitting inside a box for eight hours a day to hear somebody talking. It is a matter of being exposed to reality and play with that reality to learn it.

2) Use Your Own Head and Start Asking Questions Duration: 1' 41" Robin Good: Number two: If you start seeing that this school has its own limitations and it's very good for some other things - which are not the ones being promoted by the education system - that is: social life, getting to know girls, making noise when the professor does not want to but you still do, making super-funny teasing games while he is explaining and you are not being caught. These are the great things that I learned in school. Best schools, high-paid schools, priests, nuns, professors... it does not make a difference, that is what I see all of my friends do. Now, I do not know if the ones who were very attentive did a lot better than me in their after-life, but that is what I found out and I see that a lot of people share that feeling. The problem is that some of us are so good, so naturally born to be good that they, in the end, marry the school just like their religion, because it would not make sense to them to have invested all those energies otherwise. It is better to marry the cause that to question the thing in their head. It would be too painful to think that you have wasted all those years for nothing . My second point for the recipe is that if you make all these realizations, you then start using your head, and start using your head, basically means start making questions - something that in school is heavily repressed. Asking questions, saying that things may look different or "I see it this other way", does not get you anywhere nice inside the school.

3) Learn by Doing and by Getting Your Hands Dirty Duration: 2' 52" Robin Good: Let me move to point three of that recipe: Do not believe me. Just do not believe what I say to you. Don't take anything that comes to you as a fantastic thing , as an opportunity, as "I am going to jump on it and juts run with it". Just stop doing that, because... I can sell myself and I really do not want to. You have to find out whether I am really good or I am not. That is my suggestion. ...and in life, wherever you go, whatever opportunity they offer you, there is always some interest that is not revealed, some lack of transparency or credibility. People are not really out there to be loving each other and moving to a flowery life. Most of us have that desire inside, but then we must have knowledge that real life is a little tougher, and so keeping on believing what other people and companies promise you is really a losing game. So, do not trust what I say, please. Go and find out whether that is true or not on your own. Many people want to do the type of things that I do and ask me how do I do them, where do I go and study this stuff. Where do you go and study this stuff? You can learn lots of things by doing things. You have to stop thinking that you have to open a book and enroll in a classroom to get somewhere. Maybe this is a replica of the original point we said before, but I think it gets a little beyond that, because even at a later age, today with the economic recession, lay-offs and everything, people are starting to want to do different stuff. They want to recycle themselves. Some of them get even so courageous to try to do things that they like more - which is the way it should be, for all the world around. They think that if they are going to do that, they will need to go to school again. Now, think again. You do not need to go to school. You need to learn some different things - that is not the same. Don't think that closing yourself in a classroom, whether online or offline - that entails listening to somebody that talks or reading texts but having no possibility to put in practice what you are doing - getting your hands dirty and making a lot of mistakes, getting other people laughing at you and you being ashamed for what you did, does nothing. It is only a piece of paper to get inside one those companies that are going to lay you off then. It is a passport to get into the system you really hate.

4) Make Mistakes, Get Experience, Not Certificates Duration: 1' 18" Robin Good: If you want to change the system, you start giving less value to these certificates and diplomas. I do that all the time, because I would be stupid not to. When people come to my company and say: "Can I work for you?", the first thing I look to is how much they have gone to school and how much they have been brainwashed by that system. Because, if they come with all these "magna cum laude from X on communication and marketing multimedia studies", I know that guy is a lost guy for me. And this is because, whatever I tell him, he knows everything already and it is very difficult to re-frame his head in a different way, because what they teach in those schools is not what we do in real life online. The more they have gone on into those studies, the older they are. When you are 28 you are not so flexible in your head, unless you have practiced to be flexible as you were when you were 22 or 21. That school is really much worst than these influenzas and aviary stuff that you are being scared about - which are not going to do you anything... That was number four. Do stuff, get your hands dirty, make mistakes, be ridiculed by people a little bit. Come on.

Video clip originally recorded by Teemu Arina for Dicole and originally published as "Robin Good - The Sharewood Formula".

Website Usability Testing: Guide To The Best Professional Usability Testing Tools And Services

Mon, 03/15/2010 - 09:27
Website usability testing is a troubleshooting methodology that helps you discover specific ambiguities, pitfalls or issues in your website design and interface that spoil the effective use, legibility and navigation of your web pages. If you want to improve the user experience on your website, in this MasterNewMedia guide you can find all the best paid-for commercial website usability testing tools now available on the market. Heat map of Google homepage At a very basic level, website usability testing does not require any special equipment or software. In fact, you just need someone (a friend or even a random user) that is kind enough to spend a few minutes on your website while trying to carry out a specifically assigned task. While the selected tester navigates your website, you look at her and jot down her comments and what she likes / dislikes about your design. Your goal is to uncover all those elements in your website layout that are ambiguous and confuse your typical reader, slow her down, or, at worst, forbid her to carry out specific critical actiona like purchasing a product, downloading a file or finding specific document. If you are building a new website from scratch or you are thinking of redesigning your existing website layout, usability testing is a very effective way to gain useful insights into how to best organize your content layout and site navigation for your readers. But while this approach works well if you just need minor design refinements or have little time to spend on usability testing, if you are serious about improving your website layout and create actual conversions, you definitely need a more professional and reliable usability testing solution. Lucky for you, now there are a number of professional website usability testing tools that come in every flavor and for every pocket size. Depending on the specific features you need and the type of tool you are looking for (software or web-based), there is a wide price range of $9/month to $1500 where you can find the ideal usability testing tool for your website. These professional website usability testing tools work all pretty much in the same way: you just let the tool record the screen of your potential user and highlight for you all the operations that she carries out on your pages. Mouse movements, clicks, form inputs, page scrolling, the whole user experience is recorded on video so that you can watch it at your own pace and take your notes. To help you you identify and select the most appropriate website usability testing tool for your specific needs, you will find in this guide a set of individual reviews, comparative tables and a comprehensive mindmap of all the usability testing tools available out there to immediately get you started. Here below are the specific selection criteria that I have used to compare all the usability testing tools I have listed for you inside this guide:
  • Screen recording: Screen capture of testers' computer screens, whether remotely or inside a local network.
  • Screen sharing: Real-time sharing of the computer screen of testers from one or multiple computers.
  • Voice recording: Recording of the microphone input of testers.
  • Webcam recording: Recording of the webcam video stream of testers.
  • Visual maps of user behavior: Visualization on a heat map of the elements in your website design where visitors click or look and which path they follow to carry on specific tasks.
  • Analytics reporting: Report with analytical data that allows you to evaluate the quality of website design and user interface.
  • Usability reporting: Report highlighting key elements in website design that user favor or find difficult to use.
  • Coding required to install: Mandatory HTML or Javascript code snippet to be pasted on your web pages to be able to record users.
  • Free trial: Free testing trial period.
  • Price: Starting price.
However, if you don't feel like spending any money for a usability testing tool, you might want to check the MasterNewMedia guide about free website usability testing tools.

Professional Website Usability Testing Tools - Comparative Tables

Professional Website Usability Testing Tools

  1. Morae TechSmith Morae is a professional suite for Windows that you can use to conduct both remote and local usability testing sessions. Morae is made up of three separate software components that you can also purchase separately: Recorder (for audio / video capture), Observer (for remote screen-sharing) and Manager (for analytics and reports). Morae does not require any coding knowledge to get started, but the software needs to be installed to all the machines that will participate to the usability testing session. Voice and webcam recording are fully supported, but heat maps are not available. Morae is priced at $1495 and you can test the software for 30 days before purchase.

  2. UserVue UserVue is a professional usability testing software from TechSmith that you can use to remotely monitor the behavior of your customers and improve the design of your website. The service records the screen of your potential customers and also their voice to gain insights on your website design and user experience. Currently UserVue is only available in the U.S. and Canada and only for Windows computers. No screen-sharing, webcam recording, nor heat maps are supported. Usability and analytics reporting are also not available. No coding knowledge is required to install UserVue. The service is priced at $149/month and can be tested for 14 days before purchase.

  3. Userfly Userfly is a professional online tool to run remote usability testing sessions on your website. Userfly records the screen of your customers and tracks also their mouse movements (but not voice or their webcam) to help you discover ambiguities or interface issues in your website design. No screen-sharing, nor heat maps are supported. Usability and analytics reporting are also not available. To allow Userfly to track your website you need to paste a few lines of code to your web pages. Userfly costs $10/month and a 30-day trial period is available to let you evaluate the purchase.

  4. UserTesting UserTesting is a professional web-based tool that helps you evaluate the usability of your website. With UserTesting you can remotely record the screen and voice of your customers and also their on-screen mouse movements. At the end of each test you get a comprehensive written summary which analyzes what users liked / didn’t like and also all the issues in your design that were confusing or forced the users to leave. No screen-sharing, webcam recording, analytics reporting, nor heat maps are supported. No coding knowledge is required to run UserTesting. The service costs $39 per user tested. No free trial is available.

  5. Silverback Silverback is a Mac-only professional website usability testing software. Silverback allows you to remotely record the screen, the voice and even the webcam of your potential users while they run through your website. By watching the recording of the usability session, you can later understand which elements in your website layout are most difficult to operate and may lead to low conversion rates. No screen-sharing, heat maps, nor usability or analytics reporting are available. To use Silverback you do not need to paste any code to your web pages. Silverback costs $49.95 and allows a 30-day free trial period.

  6. OpenHallway OpenHallway is an online commercial usability testing tool that you can use to improve the design of your website. OpenHallway lets you create both remote and local testing sessions where you record the screen and voice of your customers and also their on-screen mouse movements. No heat maps, screen-sharing, nor webcam recording are supported. Also, no usability or analytics reporting are available. To record the screen of your customers you do not need any coding knowledge. OpenHallway is priced at $19/month and you can run the first usability testing session for free.

  7. CrazyEgg CrazyEgg is a professional website usability testing tool that allows you to visualize the behavior of your users while they navigate your web pages. Without downloading anything to your machine, and just by adding one line of code to your website, CrazyEgg tracks all mouse movements on your web pages and then highlights those areas that receive most clicks using a heat map. The service also provides you with a detailed analytics report to monitor all your website traffic data. No voice and webcam recording, screen-sharing, nor usability reporting are available. CrazyEgg costs $9/month. No free trial is available.

  8. ClickTale ClickTake is a professional online usability testing tool that you can use to monitor the behavior of your website users. Without downloading anything to your machine, and just by pasting a small portion of code to your web pages, the service tracks all mouse movements and clicks while highlighting the areas that receive most clicks. ClickTale also generates comprehensive reports that contain useful analytics and usability data for your website. No voice and webcam recording, nor screen-sharing are available. ClickTale is priced at $99/month. You can test the service on one website for free to track up to 400 recorded pageviews/month.

  9. Clixpy Clixpy is a professional remote website usability testing service. By pasting some lines of code into your web pages you can record all mouse movements, scrolling, clicks and form inputs and then replay a video that show all the actions performed by your website visitors. No heat maps, screen-sharing, nor webcam and voice recording are supported. Also, no usability or analytics reporting are available. Clixpy costs $5 per 100 recording sessions. No free trial.

  10. Userzoom Userzoom is a professional tool that helps you test the usability of your website. With Userzoom you can remotely record the screen of your customers without installing anything on your machine and with no knowledge of coding required. At the end of each usability test, Userzoom generates comprehensive usability and analytics reports that give you useful insights to evaluate the quality of your website design and interface. No screen-sharing, webcam recording, voice recording, nor heat maps are supported. For pricing details you need to contact Userzoom sales department. No free trial is available.

Originally prepared by Daniele Bazzano for MasterNewMedia, and first published on March 15th, 2010 as "Website Usability Testing: Guide To The Best Professional Usability Testing Tools And Services".

Social Media Research: Blogs And Twitter Use Trends Inside US Corporations

Fri, 03/12/2010 - 11:27
Do top US corporations use social media? Is the business world leveraging new media technologies to engage customers? The answer is definitely positive according to a new research study on 2009 Fortune 500 companies and their use of social media tools, like blogs and Twitter and authored by Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson. Photo credit: Kheng Ho Toh and Dmitriy Shironosov Each year Fortune Magazine compiles a list of the largest US corporations, which are named the Fortune 500 given their size and wealth. Due to the hugely influential role that these companies play in the corporate world, studying their use of new media technologies offers valuable insights into the future of social media communication technologies and approaches. That is why every year, Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson take Fortune 500 companies as a testing ground to analyze the use of blogs and Twitter inside the corporate world. In their latest report, published here, these are their reported highlights:
  • Corporate blog use is steadily increasing, especially among the lower-ranked group of Fortune 500 corporations.
  • All higher-ranked corporations have a Twitter account, as well as almost all other companies in the lower positions of the Fortune 500 list
  • 86% of the 108 corporate blogs examined are linked to a Twitter account
  • All 173 corporate Twitter accounts analyzed were active with replies and retweets in the past 30 days, showing a persistent interaction with other users.
  • Podcasting and videos gained momentum among Fortune 500 companies.
What emerges from this research is the steady adoption of blogs and the explosive growth of Twitter among Fortune 500 companies, which emphasizes the increasing importance of social media inside the business world. Specifically, this report suggests that Fortune 500 companies leverage social media technologies like blogs and Twitter as a mean to:
  • Improve their communications approach,
  • build internal knowledge,
  • improve marketing and sales,
  • guarantee long-term sustainability and growth.
  • Given that Fortune 500 companies stand as an established model for business success, it is indeed strategically critical for you to examine the data inside this report and extract valuable, solid insights that may help you develop an effective social media marketing strategy.

    The Fortune 500 and Social Media: A Longitudinal Study of Blogging and Twitter Usage By America's Largest Companies by Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson

    Blogs In The 2009 Fortune 500 One hundred-eight (22%) of the primary corporations listed on the 2009 Fortune 500 have a public-facing corporate blog with a post in the past 12 months. These include three of the top five corporations (Wal-Mart, Chevron and General Electric). The two remaining in the top five, Exxon / Mobil and Conoco Philips do not have public-facing blogs at this time. In our 2008 study of Fortune 500 blogs, 81 companies (16%) met the criteria. At that time the top five included General Motors who was replaced in 2009 by General Electric (both have blogs). In both years Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips did not have a public-facing blog. The end result is a 6% increase in public-facing blogs. Three of the top five ranking companies in both years have blogs.

    Blogs By Industry the "Growth Index" column has been added by MasterNewMedia Editors to quickly express the difference in blog use among Fortune 500 companies from 2008 to 2009 The 108 companies with blogs come from a cross section of industries. A partial list is presented above showing those industries with the greatest presence in the blogosphere. Blogging varied by industry type. As might be expected, companies in the industry of computer software, peripherals and office equipment have the most blogs (11). This group was also the industry with the most blogs in the 2008 listings. Companies in this category include Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Microsoft, Apple, Oracle and Xerox. The specialty retail industry saw an increase in blogging by companies such as Home Depot, Best Buy, Toys "R" Us and BJ's Wholesale, from four companies on the 2008 list to seven from the 2009 list. The telecommunications industry represented by companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Comcast had six of the blogs studied. Last year's list had five. Food-related companies like Safeway, McDonald's, Tyson, General Mills, Whole Foods Market and Hershey also had six blogs, up from five on 2008 list. Three industries had five blogs in 2009. These, with some company examples, include: Commercial banks (Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase), insurance (Progressive, NY Life), and semiconductors (Intel, Texas Instruments). All three had four blogs each last year. The information technology and motor vehicle industries both had four blogs in 2009.

    Blogs By Rank Rank continues to influence the adoption of blogging by the F500. The top 100 companies on the list represent 39% of the 108 blogs in the 2009 F500. In 2008, 38% of the total number of blogs came from the top 100. The group ranked 101-200 makes up 19% of the 2009 F500 with a corporate blog. The top 200 companies in 2009 account for 58% of the F500 blogs, while the bottom 200 (those listed 301-500) account for 29% of the 2009 F500 blogs. The findings were consistent using the 2008 list with the top 200 having 63% of the F500's blogs while the bottom 200 had 26%. It is interesting to note however, that while adoption is lower among the bottom 200 in both years, the latest data shows a significant increase in adoption among the lower-ranked group. Of the top five corporations on the list, three have blogs. These include Wal-Mart (#2), Chevron (#3) and General Electric (#5). Consistent with the 2008 list, Exxon Mobil (#1) and Conoco Phillips (#4) do not have blogs.

    Level of Interaction On The Blogs Added by MasterNewMedia Editors All 108 blogs were examined to determine the level of interactivity the blog allowed. This was done by looking at the blog to see if comments were accepted, if RSS feeds or email subscriptions were available and checking the date of the last post to determine how current it was. Consistent with the findings on the 2008 Fortune 500, 90% percent of the Fortune 500 blogs take comments, have RSS feeds and take subscriptions. These blogs are kept current with frequent posts on a range of topics. It appears that those companies that have made the decision to "blog" have utilized the tool well. There is frequent posting, on-going discussion and the ability to follow the conversation easily through RSS or subscriptions. Of the 108 blogs located, 93 (86%) are linked directly to a corporate Twitter account, that is more than three times as many as members of the 2008 list. Many more corporations do have Twitter accounts, but at this time they do not link to those from their blog.

    Comparison With The Inc. 500 The Fortune 500 companies are blogging at a lower rate than other business groups, specifically the Inc. 500. The Inc. 500 list is composed of the fastest-growing, private companies in the US, while the Fortune 500 is based on total revenue not growth and may include public and private companies. Although blogging increased by 6% from 2008 for both Inc. 500 and Fortune 500 the later is still blogging at a much lower rate. It is possible that the difference is related to size of the company, internal structure or corporate philosophy regarding open communication with its stakeholders. Regardless of the motivation, the Fortune 500 companies have been less likely to adopt social media tools than their smaller, fast-growing counterparts.

    Corporate Twitter Accounts Added by MasterNewMedia Editors For purposes of this research, the following definition was used to locate 2009 Fortune 500 companies with Twitter accounts. A company was considered a user of Twitter if they had an official corporate account with posts (a.k.a. a "tweet") made within the past 30 days. One hundred and seventy-three (35%) of the primary corporations listed on the 2009 Fortune 500 has a Twitter account with a post within the past 30 days. Of these companies, four of the top five corporations (Wal-Mart, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and General Electric) consistently post on their Twitter accounts. The number one ranked company, Exxon Mobil, does not have a Twitter account at this time. Four of the companies (Boeing, Footlocker, FPL Group and Winn-Dixie Stores) had their Tweets protected and required a request to view their profile. Because we could not verify posts within the last 30 days, they were not included in our tally. Nine of the companies (Baker Hughes, CIT Group, Computer Sciences, Delta Air Lines, Ecolab, Manitowoc, Mattel, MeadWestvaco and Union Pacific) with corporate Twitter accounts had not posted within the past 30 days, so they were excluded from our analysis since they did not meet our definition. The entire list of 2009 Fortune 500 companies (173) that met our criteria and their Twitter accounts are listed at the end of this article.

    Twitter Accounts By Industry The 173 companies with Twitter accounts come from a cross section of industries. A partial list is presented above showing those industries with the greatest presence on Twitter.

    Twitter Accounts By Rank Rank appears to influence the use of Twitter by the 2009 Fortune 500.
    • Of the top 100 companies on the list, 47 have a Twitter account.
    • Of the group listed 101-200, 35 have a Twitter account.
    • Those listed 201-300 have 30, 301-400 have 28 and 401-500 have 33 Twitter accounts.
    • Of the 173 twitter accounts that fit the definition for this study, 47% of them belong to Fortune 500 companies listed in the top 200 while 35% come from those listed in the bottom 200 (201-500) on the 2009 list.

      Level of Interaction On Twitter Added by MasterNewMedia Editors All 173 companies with Twitter accounts were examined to determine the level of interactivity with readers by examining @replies or "retweets" and by checking the date of the last post to determine how current it was. One hundred and twenty companies (69%) consistently responded with @replies or retweets within the past 30 days. These Twitter accounts are kept up-to-date with current news and information. There is consistent interaction with other users and on-going discussions that are easy to follow.

      Use of Podcasting and Video Blogging The 2009 Fortune 500 blogs were also examined to determine usage of additional social media tools. Researchers looked for the use of podcasting (audio files available for download) and video to enhance the blog. 19% of the 2009 Fortune 500 is podcasting and 31% are using video on their blog sites. The data collected previously on the 2008 Fortune 500 showed less involvement with 16% of that group podcasting and 21% using video in their blogs.

      Methodology For purposes of this research, the following definition was used to locate 2009 Fortune 500 companies with blogs. A company was counted as having a blog if they had a public-facing corporate blog from the primary corporation with posts in the past 12 months. This is the same definition used in the 2008 study. Due to the complexity<7strong> of corporate legal structures in this group and no clear methodology on how subsidiaries have been located or analyzed by others, the research presented here continues to focus on the primary / listed corporation. In addition, it is worth noting that there is evidence of usage of social media such as blogs inside of large companies like the F500. This research did not look at that subject but instead focused on public-facing blogs as a barometer of usage. All companies were analyzed using multiple steps.
      1. Working from the published 2009 Fortune 500 list, all corporate home pages were examined for links to, or mention of, corporate blogs. If none were found, a search on the company's site was conducted using the key word "blog". Any links resulting from that search were followed and evaluated using the established criteria.
      2. If no blogs were located on the home page or through a site search, other search engines were used. Both Google and Technorati (a leading blog-focused search engine) were employed to check for corporate blogs using key words that included the primary / listed company name and the word "blog". This proved to be an effective method since additional blogs were located.
      3. Similarly, all companies were analyzed through multiple steps to locate corporate Twitter accounts. First, working from the 2009 Fortune 500 list, all corporate home pages were examined for links to, or mention of, a corporate Twitter account. If none were found, a search on the company's website was conducted using the keyword "Twitter." Any links resulting from that search were followed and evaluated using the established criteria.
      4. If no Twitter accounts were located on the home page or through a site search, Google was used to search for Twitter accounts using keywords that included the primary/listed company name and the word "Twitter." If no Twitter accounts were found this way, a search on the Twitter website was conducted using the primary/listed company name. These additional services proved to be effective as other Twitter accounts were located.
      All 500 companies on the list were researched using this process. This is the only known attempt to examine the entire Fortune 500 list for use of the microblogging tool, Twitter. The data was collected in October and November 2009 at the University of MA Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research.

      Conclusion The continued steady adoption of blogs and the explosive growth of Twitter among Fortune 500 companies demonstrate the growing importance of social media in the business world. These large and leading companies drive the American economy and to a large extent the world economy. Surely a willingness to interact more transparently via these new technologies with their stakeholders is a good thing. Where it leads will be fascinating to watch!

      2009 Fortune 500 Companies with Blogs (As of December 2009)

      2009 Fortune 500 Companies with Twitter Accounts (As of December 2009)

      Originally written by Nora Ganim Barnes and Eric Mattson for the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and first published on March 1st, 2009 as The Fortune 500 and Social Media: A Longitudinal Study of Blogging and Twitter Usage By America's Largest Companies

      About Nora Ganim Barnes Nora Ganim Barnes earned a Ph.D. in Consumer Behavior from the University of Connecticut and is a Chancellor Professor of Marketing and Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Nora has worked as a consultant for many national and international firms including the National Pharmaceutical Council, the National Court Reporters Association, and the Board of Inquiry of the British Parliament, Scotts Lawn Care Co, Distilled Spirits Council of the US and others. She has been named a Senior Research Fellow and Research Chair by the Society for New Communications Research.

      About Eric Mattson Eric Mattison is the CEO of Financial Insite Inc., an independent social media scholar whose research has appeared in BusinessWeek, Inc. Magazine and a number of other publications. Prior to his current endeavors, Eric ran direct marketing, market research and marketing analytics for SanMar. Eric is a graduate of the University of Washington where he earned dual degrees in business administration and mathematics as a Washington Scholar.

      Photo credits: Graphs - Elia Lombardi Methodology - Hypermania

    Online Publishing Strategy: What Robin Good Suggests

    Wed, 03/10/2010 - 11:37
    Online publishing is in many respects the new frontier for those who have a voice, a business, a desire to communicate or change things for the better. It potentially enables any individual connected to the net to be a two-way communication hub capable of sending out information and equipped with technologies to listen and respond. But to transform such revolutionary opportunity into a truly effective marketing vehicle, or into a sustainable online business resource, takes a lot more than what we are told on blogs or on the many sites promoting how easy and fast it is to become a successful online publisher. Photo credit: Robin Good In reality, transforming the online publishing opportunity into something that one can leverage to reach and realize his own dreams, it is much more complex and hard than we are told. It takes lots of efforts, time, resources, expertise and skills which are not part, for the most, of our typical background and scholastic preparation. It requires the use of approaches and methods which sometimes counter what we have unconsciously learned through traditional media and that command lots of dedicated work to produce any significant results. But even the most fundamental, basic concepts of effective communication, sometimes seem to escape even those that command so well technology and new trends. It may be because some of us really never got to stop and study the mechanisms behind it, or simply because what we have been often seeing reported as professional communication has been nothing but the wrong approach to getting a message across and starting a true conversation. In these two short excerpts from my Dicole OZ show, recorded in Helsinki, this past December, you can grasp a little more of what I think is really essential to know to become a great and effective web publisher.

    Online Publishing Skills: Communicate Better By Learning How To Listen Duration: 3' 10"
    Full English Text Transcription
    Robin Good: Skills required. People always ask me "What kind of skills do I need to be like you? Do I need to study..." No, do not study. Do things. The skills are really be able to communicate. "I thought it was something more. What about the computer?" "Yes, the computer..." "Only communication?" "Yes, communication." People think that communication is something ephemeral. Something like "You need to know how to talk". "I know how to talk". But they do not realize how little each one of us has developed the skills to really communicate. You go to meetings, you go to parties, you meet somebody on the street they introduced to you. 85% of the times it goes like this: "Bkladsghkajdnvkamdnflkjflakjnadsmfn!" Your turn: "Attatatatatatatatata!" "Ah! mnmtbamnamnbnmt!" It is kind of a competition on who has got the worst story, or the more interesting one. We call that a conversation, but we are not really picking up anything from the other. We are not really putting ourselves in their shoes or empathizing with them or trying to find out why. I am exaggerating - I know - but look how many time when you talk is just noise filling the air in turns. My turn, your turn. Some people take long turns and that makes it more difficult... That communication is something else. It is about understanding something that does not have to do with words and communicating. It has to do with reality. "What?". Yes, reality. Communication is all about - in my little humble view - understanding that reality is an ephemeral thing. And that there are millions different realities. There is no one single, tangible final thing that is there unmovable, everything moves, that you can count on. This, for example, escapes many people. Sometimes because they got too much into school, into Church or into something else, and they think that there is one ultimate way to look at things. My belief is that, if you are going to be a communicator - even if you work for CBS or some other bad companies like that - still, you need to know that there are multiple realities, multiple viewpoints. What are those great journalists and reporters doing - the ones that are acclaimed for something - they look at the news from different viewpoints. They do not sell themselves to one viewpoint. They do not stand only on one side, even if it looks like the good side. They always have the courage to go and look at the other side of things. That ability to have empathy for who is in front of you and trying to understand what they are trying to communicate, or if they are going for a monologue because they just want feel great inside themselves - you need to develop those skills by listening. listening, listening, and really listening. It is all about listening.

    Online Publishing Skills: Think Strategy Before Technology Duration: 2' 42"
    Robin Good: The direction I think is really valuable for you to take as a reference - if you are going to have the courage to move out of the traditional business job - is to consider that the future is all about learning. That means that most people in the future, increasingly, will want to learn something new, and they are going to go less and less inside traditional institutions to do that, because if you can teach me how to cook that sausage like you showed me before with a particular smell that I have never heard before, I would rather take a course with you online - if I can talk to you, if I can see you, if you show me all your secrets - than go in some nice cooking school in Rome that is maybe much closer. Because we do not trust anymore the brands, the companies. We trust individual people. Whether or not they are part of companies. It is the person, specifically, that we go to. The Internet has a tremendous failing item that makes people makes mistakes and that it is too easy to do stuff. You just click and it goes out. You blog, you type, you publish and it goes out. You make a video - YouTube - and it goes out. People think that communicating and publishing is easy. By making that unconscious bridge in their head, they forget to ever stop and think how they want to use this technology. They stop and they do not reflect on building a strategy, a plan, having a road. They start doing stuff, "let's put this... and this other plug-in... the layout... let's change this... another category of content... what the analytics say... let's change this..." It is a busy life, you are a publisher, you are putting stuff all the time. It is like if music could be better by adding more notes, more instruments. "Let's all play." It does not get better, it gets noisy. To make a good piece of music you need to orchestrate it and arrange it, and know the different instruments, and got your hands very dirty with it. The same happens with publishing and communicating online. Unless you have built an appropriate strategy, you cannot really get anywhere. Thinking and developing a plan, by questioning all that it is being told to you outside is the last point of my recipe - the so-called "Sharewood formula".

    Video clip originally recorded by Teemu Arina for Dicole and originally published as "Robin Good - The Sharewood Formula".

    Website Usability Testing: Guide To The Best Free Tools And Services

    Mon, 03/08/2010 - 13:53
    Website usability testing identifies a precise methodology devoted to uncover specific bugs, idiosyncrasies and ambiguities in the way that website design impacts the effective use, legibility, navigation, and user experience of your website. In this MasterNewMedia guide you can find the best free website usability testing tools available out there. Heat map of MasterNewMedia homepage created with Feng-GUI Website usability testing is indeed a critical component of any effective online publishing strategy. When properly utilized, usability testing allows you to effectively scan and rapidly identify which are the critical issues to be addressed in your web publication that can improve legibility, the time visitors spend on your website or the ability to turn offers for products and services into actual conversions. In fact, what's the point of having valuable content under your hood if your readers cannot easily discover it, share it and put it to effective use? To be of immediate "use", let me share first with you a simple set of basic tasks you can follow to start testing and reviewing the usability of your own website:
    1. Identify a critical goal: Likely, you have multiple goals for your website. The first step is to focus on the most critical. Is it sales? Is it traffic? Is it help people find something?
    2. Use Personas: Create typical users profiles to best focus on potential needs and expectations of a fictional target group. Is your website addressed to experts in the filed or to a general audience? Do you want to attract loyal readers or occasional stumblers? Which age / sex / location are your users?
    3. Carry on critical tasks: After identifying your goals and creating typical users profiles (Personas), you want some friends, readers or volunteers, to carry on critical tasks on your website to identify areas for improvement and weaknesses. Is the sale process straightforward? Can people download your content easily? Are your blog posts easily shareable on social media?
    4. Collect the data: While your users go through a set of pre-determined tasks and perform specific actions on your website, you need to closely observe and report where they hesitate, step back, or remain confused by what they see on your site. Better yet, you can use a dedicated usability tool that collects absolute or relative data that can help you characterize the behavior of your testers.
    5. Review your analysis: Once you gather this data, you need to group it in clear-labeled groups (i.e. navigation, layout, functional flow, error handling, etc.), so that you can easily review and analyze all of this information and then find the ideal strategy to make your improvements.
    Now that you know what are the key steps needed to start a website usability test, what you really need is knowing which tools or services are available out there that you can immediately put to use to support, speed up and professionally organize those very tasks. But how can you identify and select which is the most appropriate website usability testing tool for your specific needs, competence level and budget? To help you get started right away, this guide provides you with a set of individual reviews, a comparative table and a comprehensive mindmap to help you select your ideal free website usability testing tool. Please note that these free usability testing tools have a limited range of features. For example, they do not allow you to record the screen of your testers or engage them in screen-sharing sessions unlike professional usability testing solutions like TechSmith Morae, which will be covered in a separate upcoming MasterNewMedia guide. Now that I have warned you about the limitations of these free website usability testing tools, here below are the specific selection criteria that I have used to compare these different services:
    • Testing approach: a) Test the usability of your website by inviting specific users to share their feedback, b) analyze analytic and statistical data.
    • Analytics: Generate automatic analytical data from each website usability testing tool to evaluate the the quality of your website design and user interface.
    • Visualization of user behavior: Visualize the behavior of your visitors by analyzing where they click or look (via mouse tracking) on your website and which path they follow to carry on specific tasks.
    • Usability report: Generate a comprehensive report that contains all the analytical data gathered by the usability test.

    Free Website Usability Testing Tools - Comparative Tables *Google Website Optimizer, Google Analytics and Yahoo! Web Analytics are not proper website usability testing tools. However, I decided to include also these tools in my comparison because you can use them for free and gather valuable insights on your user behavior.

    Free Website Usability Testing Tools

    1. Usabilia Usabilia is a free usability testing tool that helps you analyze and improve the design of your website, mockup, sketch or image. With Usabilia you can track and visualize users clicks and also perform qualitative analysis asking single users specific questions like: "Which element of this page attracts you the most?". Throughout the whole process, your users can provide you written feedback on specific content components they find ambiguous or difficult to utilize. At the end of the test, you get a detailed report which collects all the data and insights gathered. Usabilia is available in 16 different languages.

    2. Loop11 Loop11 is a usability testing tool that involves actual users to analyze and review your website. Loop11 is free for one website usability test; you just need to provide a simple task to a user and then let Loop11 start tracking and visualizing user interaction. At the end of the usability testing session, you can access comprehensive reports that show task completion rate, time spent on each task, common fail pages, paths and a detailed analysis displaying the path followed by the user.

    3. Fivesecondstest Fivesecondstest is a free tool to run usability tests on your website so that you can identify design ambiguities or interface issues. You can upload a screenshot of your web pages and then ask users which part of your design they liked most or ask them to click on specific parts of your design and share their feedback. You can either rely on invited guests or make your design public for random user evaluation. Once you get you are finished with your usability test, you get a detailed report to review the results. No live annotation.

    4. Google Analytics Google Analytics is a free web analytics solution that you can also use to test the usability of your website. By gaining automated insights and data about your users and their browsing behavior you can generate custom reports that will help you evaluate if your website is really useful and easy to navigate. You can even enhance all data charts and graphs on Google Analytics by using written notes that will help you focusing on specific items or sets of data. Google Analytics requires a Google account.

    5. Google Website Optimizer Google Website Optimizer is a free website testing and optimization tool that can help you improve the design and usability of your site. Google Website Optimizer can help you compare and test different website layouts by showing each one to a separate group of visitors. This way, you can analyze which design and specific elements inside your pages lead to higher conversion rates and need to be improved. Google Website Optimizer requires you to sign-up for a Google account. No analytics.

    6. Yahoo! Web Analytics Yahoo! Web Analytics is a free online analytics service that you can also use for website usability testing purposes. With Yahoo! Web Analytics you can gather insights on the demographics of your users and their interests, and then leverage this data to improve the design and interface of your website. You can also measure website conversions by visualizing users behavior on specific actions performed on your web pages and then generate custom reports to collect and review the data. Interactive notes can also be added to your graphs and statistics. The service requires a Yahoo! account.

    Originally prepared by Daniele Bazzano for MasterNewMedia, and first published on March 8th, 2010 as "Website Usability Testing: Guide To The Best Free Tools And Services".

    Disruptive Innovation: How To Facilitate, Identify And Enable Bottom-Up Creativity Inside The Organization

    Thu, 03/04/2010 - 08:30
    Does your online business use a disruptive innovation approach? In other words: have you ever considered getting a huge advantage over your competition by developing a business strategy that is a completely different way from what everyone else in your field does? Photo credit: Kheng Guan Toh Disruptive innovation is a term used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically by being lower priced or designed for a different set of consumers. (Source: Wikipedia) Disruptive innovation happens when a breakthrough development opens new and unexpected scenarios for future development and / or improves an existing product. Scott Anthony, author of the book The Innovator's Guide to Growth, points out that is not necessarily a new technology that drives disruptive innovation: "many times the technology is quite trivial. It is the business model, the way a company organizes and acts that drives disruption". To support this statement, Scott provides two examples. Walmart and the Nintendo Wii:
    • When Walmart opened its first discount retailer in 1962, it was not doing something special by selling goods that were different than its competitors. What Walmart did instead, was to revolutionize its business policy by focusing on very low prices and on discount retailing.
    • Instead of introducing games with better graphics, Nintendo has made it simpler and more accessible to play a videogame by introducing the Wiimote, an innovative game controller. Nintendo has consciously tried to target the non-gamers, and by doing so, it has greatly expanded the market for videogames and started to lead the future path of the gaming industry.
    In both these examples, technology is either not relevant or very marginal to create disruption, whereas is the ability to solve real problems or to address new audiences the key to create effective disruptive innovation opportunities. In fact, for Scott disruptive innovation generally occurs in those markets where some kind of constraints inhibit developments, and when specific needs of customers are not properly addressed. When such barriers to consumption are torn down, you are effectively creating space for disruption to take place. If you want to know how you can facilitate, identify and enable disruptive innovation inside your organization, you will hear about some interesting and inspiring stories in this video interview with Scott Anthony himself. Here is what he had to say (full video and transcription):

    How To Spot Disruptive Innovation Opportunities Duration: 8' 32''
    Full English Text Transcription
    Paul Michelman: Hello I am Paul Michalman, director of content for HarvardBusiness.org and we are joined today by Scott Anthony. Scott writes the innovations insights blog for HarvardBusiness.org and he is the lead author of the new book The Innovator's Guide to Growth. Scott, thanks for joining the program. Today Scott we are going to talk about disruptive innovation. What does it mean? Who is responsible for it? And how can you can identify disruptive opportunities for your organization? First off: What is disruptive innovation? Scott Anthony: Disruptive innovation is a particular type of innovation that occurs when an innovator brings to a market an innovation that is:
    • Simple,
    • convenient,
    • accessible,
    • affordable.
    Changing the game. Contrast this to sustaining innovations. Innovations that take what exists and make it better. A disruptive innovator transforms existing markets and creates new ones by playing the innovation game in a fundamentally different way.
    Paul Michelman: Does disruptive innovation have to be big? Does it have to be a major change in the landscape? Scott Anthony: Disruptive innovations will result in major changes, but they do not often rely on technological breakthroughs. In fact, many times the technology is quite trivial. It is the business model, the way a company organizes and acts that drives disruption. Think about discount retailing for a minute. When Walmart opens its first discount retailer in 1962, it is not selling goods that are different than its competitors. But what it has done is it has created a new way to organize an act, that allows to make money at low price points, drives change in that organization. Oftentimes it is not the technology, it is the business model.
    Paul Michelman: OK, can you give us another example that shows the difference between disruption and sustaining innovation? Scott Anthony: There are dozens of examples throughout history of this pattern taking place. Whether it is the personal computer, Google's auction model, eBay's online model, what P&G has done with Swiffer and Febreze... but a real interesting recent one is from the videogame industry. Contrast the Sony Playstation 3 to Nintendo's Wii product. The Playstation 3 is a technological marvel. The best gameplay you can find, great graphics, Blu-Ray disc in the player. It is aimed at the hardcore gamer, the most demanding consumer in the market. Nintendo has innovated in a very different way. Instead of introducing games with better graphics, Nintendo has made it simpler, made it more accessible. The big innovation is the controller. I actually happen to bring my Wii controller with me because I am a pretty big fan. This controller has an accelerometer in it, which allows it to measure motion along multiple dimensions. If you want to play baseball, you pick it up and you go like this. You want to bowl? you go like this. Nintendo is consciously trying to target the non-gamers. And by doing so, it has greatly expanded the market for videogames, by reaching people that Sony would not even think about targeting. Not winning by doing it better, but winning by doing it differently.
    Paul Michelman: Who is responsible for coming up with disruptive innovation ideas and should companies have a disruptive innovations department? Scott Anthony: We really think everyone within an organization has the ability to come up with disruptive ideas. To work inside an organization, senior management does really have to lead and create appropriate organizational space for disruption to flourish, because if there is not that space, corporate antibodies will take even the best idea and force it to look like what has been done before. You do need to have simulators to create space for disruption, but really any innovator inside the company and outside the company can come up with a spark that turns into a disruptive idea.
    Paul Michelman: Help us get our minds really around the "how-tos" here. How does a manager starts thinking about disruptive innovation? What are the questions he or she should be asking? Scott Anthony: There are a couple of questions that we found to be really helpful to begin to identify opportunities for disruptive innovation.
    1. Look for markets where there is some kind of constrain that inhibits consumption. Where is there something that makes it difficult for people to solve problems in their lives? Sometimes they do not have skills, sometimes they do not have money, sometimes they cannot access the solution and sometimes it just takes too long. Find one of those barriers to consumption and see how you can obliterate it.
    2. Try to identify where people have important unsatisfied jobs to be done. Where is there a problem that a costumer faces that they cannot adequately solve today? If you can find that frustrated costumer and ease their pain, you oftentimes have the tickets to disruptive innovation.
    3. Then after you have looked for constrained consumption and targeted that job to be done, think about how you can play the innovation game differently.
    Remember it is not about doing it better. It is about making it simpler, cheaper, more accessible, more affordable. That is what disruption is all about.
    Paul Michelman: Do you always have to satisfy a need or can part of this be creating a need? Because I do not see the Wii satisfying a hole in the market. Scott Anthony: It is a really good question. You do not oftentimes have to be able to target something that a costumer tells you they want. In fact, the costumers can very rarely articulate these specific things they want or need. What the Wii does is make it so much more accessible and so much more affordable for people to enjoy videogaming, that the market begins to expand. Sometimes you cannot even talk to the customer. You have got to trust your intuition and judgement, put something in the marketplace and begin to see how it plays out. This can be a very scary concept for managers who are hone to rely on data. Data unfortunately only exists about the past . Sometimes you need to use intuition to identify an opportunity and go create your own data.
    Paul Michelman: OK, we have established the planes you should be thinking on. Now let's look at how we, within our organizations, uncover these jobs that need to be done, these opportunities. Can you walk us through some of the areas we should look at for the biggest opportunities? Scott Anthony: There are a couple of tips that I can provide to help people get this right.
    1. The first is to think about the markets that they are going to analyze. Looking not necessarily at the most demanding customer today, but thinking about people who are relatively undemanding, or people who are not consuming anything at all. Look to those markets to begin the exploration for disruption.

    2. Then, as you begin that exploration, use a bunch of different techniques to understand those pinpoints in the market. Focused groups can be a simple way to begin a conversation with your customers.
    Customer observation can be really powerful, because sometimes the customers simply cannot tell what they want. Sometimes you have got to give customers something. A very early prototype and let them co-develop the product or service with you. Sometimes you have got a more detailed, qualitative research to really pinpoint what are the points of frustration in the market and where there are opportunities to do things differently. The key is always put in the customer and their problem at the center of the innovation equation.
    Paul Michelman: Do you always have to be daring to be successful in disruptive innovation? Scott Anthony: It is a really good question. A lot of times organizations hesitate to push for disruptive innovation, because it sounds kind of scary. They think they have got to invest hundreds of millions of dollars. There is lots of risk. They might rip their organization apart. But what we found is that the best way to get to a disruptive end point, is to get a simple small first step. Invest a little, learn a lot. Do not spend a huge amount of money upfront, because the only thing you can be sure, is that your first strategy is wrong. If you invest too much too soon, you are locking into a path that is fatally flawed. In fact you can move forward in ways that do not require huge amounts of money, that do not require huge amounts of risk, and then iterate your way toward success.
    Paul Michelman: Scott Anthony. Thank you very much. For more on Scott's ideas on innovation visit his blog on innovation insights at HarvardBusiness.org.

    Related Resources on Disruptive Innovation:

    Original video interview by Paul Michelman for HarvardBusiness.org and first published on October 20th, 2008 as "How To Spot Disruptive Innovation Opportunities".

    About Scott Anthony Scott Anthony is currently president of Innosight. In the past he has worked with Fortune 500 and is now a member of the board of directors of Media General. Scott is also the co-author (with Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen) of Seeing What's Next: Using the Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change and he is the lead author of The Innovator's Guide to Growth: Putting Disruptive Innovation to Work.

    About Paul Michelman As director of content for HarvardBusiness.org, Paul Michelman manages the original content of the web site, including its blog network. He is the executive producer and host of the HarvardBusiness IdeaCast, and a frequent contributor to HarvardBusiness.org's Conversation Starter blog. Paul was formerly director of programming and production for Captivate Network.

    How To Create A Widget: Guide To The Best Web Widgets Creation Tools and Services

    Mon, 03/01/2010 - 08:35
    Web widgets are tiny applications that allow you to easily distribute your content across other blogs and web sites, free of charge. Web widgets work just like YouTube videos: you can place a widget on your web site and let readers grab the embed code and redistribute your content with a few clicks. In this MasterNewMedia guide you will find the best tools and services to create a widget for the web, your desktop environment or specific platforms like WordPress, Blogger or Yahoo!. Photo credit: Nagravision Web widgets belong to two main categories: a) Embeddable: You just grab the standard snippet of embed code of the widget and paste it onto the HTML code of your blog site. You can even add widgets to your favorite social media sites like Facebook, Orkut, Hi5, and others. b) Not-embeddable: You need to run a widget platform on your computer. All recent Windows and Mac machines already have this feature built-in, while Linux users can install and use Screenlets. Windows XP and early Mac users can instead try a third-party widget platform like Yahoo! Widgets. By creating a web widget you create small bits of information that virally spread across the web making your content more visible, interactive and usable. RSS feeds, image slideshows, videos, Flash applications... widgets can be used to package and deliver almost every type of digital information. Let's see some examples of how you can leverage the power of web widgets:
    • By creating a widgets that displays a selection of RSS feeds you can create a niche-targeted newsradar which provides valuable and always-updated information on a topic that interests your audience.
    • By building a widget that embeds a poll or a survey, you may collect useful data and insights into your audience. And because web widgets are so freely redistributable, you may also reach well beyond your circle of fans and supporters with no effort.
    • By creating a compilations of your best blog posts, video, podcasts, you can distribute your top-notch content in a way that readers never miss the valuable information you share, even if it's not freshly published.
    • By building a Flash widget you can create a Google Maps that shares the location of your next conference or meeting so that your fans can join you and participate to your events.
    • By creating a chat widget you can really establish a "conversation" with your readers and customers and also build your online persona.
    These are just a few quick suggestions, but as you see, web widgets are really suitable for a number of different uses. The next step you need to take now is: there are several widget creation tools available online, either free or for a reasonable fee, but how do you go about selecting your ideal one? To help you identify a widget creation tool that really suits your needs, here below there is a set of comparative tables and individual reviews to help you choose your preferred solution. Here are the specific selection criteria used to compare these different services
    • Widget type: Technology or coding language used to build and distribute web widgets
    • Pre-made templates: Readily-available templates that you can use to style your web widget.
    • Social sharing: Built-in facility to re-distribute your web widget across web sites or social media services.
    • Analytics: Real-time performance monitoring of your web widget (how many times your widget is shared, by whom, on which destinations, etc.)
    • Registration-free: Non-mandatory registration to utilize the widget creation tool.
    • Price: Cost of the widget creation tool / service.

    Widgets Creation Tools - Comparative Tables

    Widgets Creation Tools

    1. Widgetbox Widgetbox is an online service to create several types of widgets to distribute your content over the web. You can build Flash or HTML widgets, Facebook Apps, Google Gadgets, Twitter widgets, and more. To create and customize your widget, you can use one of the readily-available templates on the web site. Each widget created with Widgetbox is fully redistributable on major social sharing sites, even from the widget itself. No analytics features are available at a free level, but if you want to track the performance of your widget (and also go ads-free), you can switch to one of the two premium plans starting at $3.99/month. Registration is mandatory.

    2. KickApps KickApps is a free online service where you can create widgets to distribute your content or promote your brand on the web. KickApps allows you to generate either Flash or HTML widgets starting from scratch or by using one of the available templates. Once the widget is placed on your web site, your readers can re-distribute it using the social sharing feature. You can also create WidgeADs, which are a special type of widgets that work as an advertising banner that is freely redistributable and may help you drive traffic back to your web site. Registration is compulsory to utilize the service. No analytics.

    3. SpinletsLab SpinletsLab is a free online service to help you create, distribute and monitor your widgets. You can create Flash widgets either from scratch or by using one of the templates available. Once your widget is created, you can distribute it on every social sharing site and even on mobile phones. Your readers can then spread your content using a dedicated sharing button sported by each widget. Last, you can track the performance of your widget in real-time using the analytics facility. Registration is mandatory to use the SpinletsLabs service.

    4. Produle Produle is a widget creator service that allows you to generate three Flash-based widgets at no cost. You have several readily-available templates to style your widget and you also have a web-based studio to add multimedia content as videos, images or music to your widget in just a few clicks. You can freely use Produle widgets to distribute your content across social sharing sites and even let your readers spread your content virally on other web sites using the social sharing feature sported by each widget. Registration is needed to use the service. No analytics.

    5. Widgadget Widgadget is a free widget creator that you can use to generate widgets and distribute your content on web sites and social media. You can build either Flash or HTML widgets starting from one of the readily-available templates. These templates are organized to help you choose the best one to target the specific audience your widget wants to reach (bloggers, desktop users, etc.) No analytics, nor social sharing features are available. Widgadget requires registration to create your widget.

    6. Grazr Grazr is a free online service which you can use to generate widgets containing the output of RSS feeds. The RSS feed can either include text, images, music or videos. To upload multiple RSS feeds at once, OPML files importing is fully supported. You can choose among three pre-made templates to style your widget, but no analytics nor a social-sharing feature are available. Grazr is completely registration-free.

    How To Create a Widget: The Best Tutorials
    1. How To Create a WordPress Widget Since WordPress version 2.0, all plugins (small pieces of code that extend the functionality of the WordPress platform) have been made easy to implement inside your web site or blog using widgets, which seamlessly allow non-technical-savvy people to customize and tweak their web pages. In this tutorial you will learn all you need to create a WordPress widget.

    2. How To Create Yahoo! Widgets Yahoo! has an entire section of his online portal devoted to widget creation and development. Inside Yahoo! Widget you will find software downloads, tutorials and other useful resources to design your widget or to convert and package your existing content to be distributed with Yahoo! Widgets.

    3. How To Create Widgets For Blogger Blogger is the blogging platform run by Google. Every blog created with Blogger sports a sidebar where you can add widgets that will help others distribute your content on their own Blogger's blog. The Help section of Blogger shares a simple example on how to create a widget.

    4. How To Create Google Gadget Google Gadgets are HTML or JavaScript widgets that you can embed on web pages and other apps (like iGoogle) to distribute your content. Google Code has a dedicated section where you can find all the information needed to develop, create and implement a Gadget using the Google API.

    5. How To Create Windows Sidebar Gadgets Starting with Vista, Windows operating systems have a sidebar displayed on the right side of the desktop which you can use to manage your Gadgets (widgets). By reading this tutorial, you will learn what is a Windows Gadget and how to develop one that can be used to distribute your content across Windows computers.

    6. How To Create Apple Dashboard Widgets The Dashboard is a desktop layer where Mac users can display, add and remove widgets. Apple has an in-depth resource page where you can learn all about Apple widgets from a technical standpoint and how to develop your own widget to distribute your content across Apple computers.

    Originally prepared by Daniele Bazzano for MasterNewMedia, and first published on March 1st, 2010 as "How To Create A Widget: Guide To The Best Web Widgets Creation Tools and Services".

    Becoming A Brand: The Experience Of Robin Good

    Fri, 02/26/2010 - 11:06
    How do you build a personal brand around yourself? Can one really create a business online simply by sharing her knowledge online? Photo credit: Robin Good A couple months ago I was invited by Nokia to join, together with Teemu Arina, a discussion and review session with their online publishing and social media teams focusing on how to improve and steer the future strategy and direction of Nokia online communication strategy. This one-day long event that took place at Nokia's headquarters, just outside of Helsinki, remains a pretty memorable day for me, not only because it was my very first time in Finland and because of the prestige of the invitation received, but also because, it preceded another, even more remarkable day, in which I was invited to deliver an exclusive presentation to a unique audience of technologists, media scholars, artists and intellectuals within an exclusive party setting: Dicole OZ. My good friend Teemu organizes periodically a knowledge-party in which the appetizer dish is some special guest (this time it was me) followed by more drinks and snacks and, hard to believe for Finland, but definitely true for that night, lots of music, dancing and fun games. As a kind of eccentric proof of the fun level we reached, there are actually no records, pics, videos or anything to review and testify the overwhelming amount of fun we had that night... we were just too busy having fun... but I am sure that for everyone who was there that night (and I hope some will testify this in the comments at the end of this article), that will remain a pretty memorable event. But back to my short speech. Since Teemu had given me maximum freedom in the choice of the topics I could have covered, I decided to throw in everything that interests me the most: Online communication strategy, personal growth, being independent, learning and education, entrepreneurship, scaling yourself... and a lot more. Thanks to Teemu's support I have now been able to edit and split this long and varied speech in a few short bursts of inspiration and personal story telling on a few themes, and in this first article I bring you a four-video set focusing only on my personal branding ideas.
    • How to become a personal brand and be successful (that is: how to be independent using the online universe)
    • How to brand and characterize yourself
    • How to create a business online by sharing your knowledge
    • How to get rid of the 9-to-5 working paradigm

    How To Become a Brand and Be Successful Duration: 5' 10"
    Full English Text Transcription
    Robin Good: The topic of my conversation with you - because it is not going to be a presentation... I have a computer here but I will throw it away in a few seconds, it is just because I have to read one number, and it's difficult... I could have a calculator I guess - is to tell you about this formula which I made today in my hotel - is a fresh formula - about how can people attempt to follow the type of road that I think I have discovered. I am not alone in this discovery and the discovery is that you can engage into a type of life that reflects more the type of interests and passions you have by using these new media technologies and by making a living out of it Beyond the fears of the crisis, the economy, the recession, lay-offs for many of the companies and institutions we work for, I think there are alternative roads. Maybe they are not for everyone. You have got to have some courage to take these roads, because like everything that has value, they do include risks, working a lot, making mistakes and sometimes failing altogether. I did all those thing, but the end result is that I am here now telling you a story that has as a starting point, a number. I have my assistant here, Richard, that I have hired just for this purpose. The number you are going to read over there, the big number that is starting with a seven is the number of euros, not the total, but almost the total number of euros I have made by doing this new independent work that I invented myself for myself. How many euros did I make until now? RIchard: $733,397.03.
    Robin Good: The dollar is at €14.50. What is that roughly? Richard: A million dollar?
    Robin Good: Yeah, a bit more. I am a million dollar man - by the numbers - and it is not a title for a movie. I really am and I am very happy to be because you are going to be listening more closely now. That is the whole purpose of saying that number, really. I am not a money man. I am not a business man in the traditional sense of the word and I really hate getting money from companies in general. In fact ,I was a happy guest of Nokia yesterday and I enjoyed myself quite a bit and offered them to invite me again to help them out, whether virtually or physically, at absolutely no cost, because my enjoyment and my benefit comes more from the exchange than from the money. I actually learned something that many of you have already found out, which is that when you get paid the relationship changes a lot. When you play together, it is all nice and relaxed and intellectually engaging, But when you are somebody who has paid to do something, it is all for yesterday and "I do not like it, then re-do it". You become a slave. You just prostitute your talent most of the time for somebody's else ideas and I was pretty fed up with this, just like many of you probably have been in their lives. How did I get... how did I jump into this Robin Good role with this crazy hat? Can we show why do I wear such a stupid hat in this crazy way? If you give me my homepage, people will understand a little more. I was wearing this hat like some ten years ago, while I was on a little tiny island in the gulf of Thailand. I love to go in little tiny islands where there are as few tourist as possible, where maybe you can rent a little motorino and go around the jungle, explore and land in little fantastic beaches. Thailand is a fantastic land for this, because the people are very quiet, you are not running into lions and the beaches are fantastic, the police is not there... so, what do I want more? I was there doing this type of activity to relax myself and a friend of mine took a picture of me on the motorbike, and... there you see this guy it is me and this hat is this hat, and this is the part of the hat that is inside. Why am I telling all these about the hat? Because this picture and that hat really helped me a great deal over the years, because people would go crazy asking me: "What is that snake you wear on your head? Why do you do that?" They never got an answer because few of them got to meet me and to see the actual hat, but even getting something that is not a typical tie stuff, has worked fine for me, just because it characterized me.

    Why I Called Myself Robin Good Duration: 5' 39"
    Robin Good: ...and then many of you want to know why Robin Good, since today I wad discovered officially that my real name is a difficult Italian one - that is Luigi Canali De Rossi - and wherever I go they always mix it up: Mr. De Rossi, Mr. Rossi, Mr. Loogy. Once I realized that I could have put both of my feet in this independent boat, that is that I could really say: "Clients, go... to that place", when I could say that to them, then I said: "If I am going to play all my cards on my own, I would better have a name, since I am writing in English and sharing with an international audience. A name that is going to be easy to remember and plus I want something that helps people understand what type of person I am." That is a challenging branding activity. They do this in advertising agencies when they have a new product. I have worked in agencies, in different type of situations similar to what happens in a creative situation like that - but it is just too challenging. The very same friends that I sent my friend Teemu when he came to Rome - I gave him dinner for four hours and had a conversation with him without knowing that me and him have never met actually - those very friends one day told me: "Look, we all have some type of search ability - since then I call it my Internal Google - that helps, you if you want, to remember things, or find out things, because they are all there." Like when you meet a guy the day before, and then you meet your friend the day after and you say: "Do you remember the guy we saw last night? I cannot remember it." How many times we fall in that situation? The fact that we say "I cannot remember it", Is a command to your Internal Google basically not to remember it. If you just switch the type of commands and say: "I am going to remember it, it is going to come up", you will notice that - maybe not in three seconds, maybe not in three minutes - but maybe in the next that name will come. If you trust your memory to work and in giving it proper commands it will give you greater feedback. Since then I started to use this Internal Google for a purpose, and when it came the time of "how do I call myself?", I said: "Internal Google, this is a good occasion for you. Let's put you to work. I need a name that shows that I am a very independent guy, anti-authority, a little radical, I do not go really by the rules, I like to... What do I like to do?... I like to help the small guy, the underdog, those that think they cannot make it and then you tell them: "Look there" and they say "Whoa!"." That is what I like because having been born like a DJ, my first first passion... doing something that makes people feel good is a great feeling, possibly one of the best feelings you can have, along with dancing, singing and flying... I do not know, It is that good for me. I said: "Internal Google go, get the name that has these characteristics and see what you can do." But you know what? This time the Internal Google seemed not to work, because minutes, hours, days, weeks, months went by and I was with no answer. But then one day I was in Via Gregorio VII - the street that is nearby my office in Rome - with my motorbike at the red light... vroom vroom vroom... waiting there... when all of a sudden... I hear this God-like voice coming from the sky: "Robin Good". I did not even know who they where calling, but since it was coming from inside the head I guess it was me. I said: "What is up?" "This is Internal Google talking to you, man. We have got the word you been asking for: It is Robin Good. But not only. Do you know your uncle Robin Hood? You know, Luigi, where that Robin Hood comes from? He comes from a famous forest, the forest of Sherwood. Luigi, how do you spell that Sherwood?" "I guess, what is it... S-H-E-R-W-O-O-D" "Yes, you do not come from there. That was your uncle. You moved South. There is another forest and is the forest of Sharewood, written with an "A". S-H-A-R-E, the forest where you share. Robin Good from Sharewood." You tell me to how many agencies you would have had to go to and how many creative brains and sessions you would have had to come up with such a great name. I do not know how much it would had cost it, but I have an agency inside my had and I got the name that I really could not be happier, because it just fits me good, I feel good, I feel one thing with that name. That is really the story, I am not inventing this in any way. That is how the name came to be and why so much my emphasis on sharing.

    How To Create a Business By Sharing Your Knowledge Duration: 1' 35"
    Robin Good: Giving out stuff, especially the stuff that normally you would have to ask people money for to tell you that thing that you know... If you give out those things consistently and repeatedly, you build such a reputation for yourself, such a credibility, that then you can do many things that are otherwise impossible. The Internet is the ideal environment where to do this, because you can share a lot there. You just put stuff out there, and if you can turn on enough green lights so that people see that, it is a lot of sharing compared to what you do in physical life. I realized that by sharing I could achieve the goals I wanted to reach, that are:
    • Not to have to write invoices,
    • not to have to go to the lawyer again to ask: "When the hell are they going to pay me?",
    • not to hear from the bank that your account is in red again and you have to come there and put some money on it... and now I have another installment to pay for the house or the car...
    This is all part of the past. I have not become Murdoch and I may be in a different situation anytime soon according to the numbers. Maybe because I am the type of person I am I will not get there, because I have gotten so much self-confidence from seeing that if you put yourself into something, you can get really anywhere you want, that I don't think that anything will really "defeat" me.

    How To Get Rid of The 9-5 Working Paradigm Duration: 3' 27"
    Robin Good: What I see as the limit of Teemu and his entourage right now - that is what it is the margin for improvement for Teemu in the future - is that he is not scaling himself. He is doing this type of work that I was doing before becoming Robin Good. That is, he going out to big, prestigious, wonderful-sounding-name companies to get big, prestigious money... but every time is a new story. Every time you have to make a lot of work to make them happy - they treat you like "I need this for Friday" "Friday?! Yesterday?!" "Yes, we needed it yesterday", and they are a little hard maybe sometimes to get things working, they make it a little more difficult... I wonder why somebody so intelligent is there,in this routine whereby maybe he is going to get 60 or 75 and still running after them. What is the deal in having 150 clients that make you rich for the time of being rich - because then you have to spend it again to keep all these things going? Then it gets to the question of life: Where are we here for? Working for some other company to get the money to pay the rent and the lease? That is not the real story. There is another life. It does exist. If you want to get to that other life but you are spending all your time in that business cycle, how can you get out of it? By scaling yourself - and that is what new media technologies allow you to do. By using the Internet I write once. Tell me - I do not want to say numbers - how many people read it? Thousands, tens of thousands, hundred of thousands, millions. I prepare a course or a video, I do it once and thousands of people watch it. Do I want to sell it? Why not? If they want to buy it, let's sell it. I do one thing and I sell it many times - this is the age of this. We do not want to go every time to the library to check the books. We want the library to come to our homes. When people want to study today, they want the Teemus, the Negropontes, the Jay Crosses, the big thinkers, the Samis of the world to come to their screen at the time they want. They want to make a click and hear them say the type of stuff they want to learn about. That is really the way it is. I think you all can identify into that. It is a normal, spontaneous, intuitive drive, but Teemu is not coming to me. I have to be a big company, I have to hire him. In the recipe to get out of the system, the idea is to scaling yourself or building things that stay there and create some assets. Still when I was pretty big guy, but still in school - I was not really this hard-working-study guy because I could easily go through the notions and get enough good rates to pass by - I was wondering "Am I going to be ever somebody significant in my life?" Because all the signals from the institution, my family, "you are a little bit too crazy". You tend to... you hear it and hear it, you say...

    Video clip originally recorded by Teemu Arina for Dicole and originally published as "Robin Good - The Sharewood Formula".

    Online Ad Optimization And The Real-Time Bidding (RTB) Opportunity

    Wed, 02/24/2010 - 14:58
    What is real-time online ad bidding? Is this really an additional opportunity for web publishers to better monetize their ad inventory? Photo credit: Cornishman and Ljupco Smokovski - Mashed-up by Robin Good Real-time bidding is a new, emerging feature of online advertising optimization technologies aimed at increasing the value of ad impressions by targeting users dynamically and on an impression-by-impression basis. Real-time bidding allows advertisers to reach the right user, at the right time and place inside a competitive bidding environment, where advertisers try to reach out to the same user in a real-time auction and assign an individual value to each specific ad impression. This is a fundamental shift in the way that ad price prediction works today. Currently, most digital media buying is done based on assumptions about certain audiences. Individual impressions are sold at a pre-negotiated price, which causes ad impressions to be often under-valued and to result in a low CPM (cost for thousands impressions) for publishers. Real-time bidding inside online ad auctions wants to change the rules of the game by letting advertisers efficiently segment their audiences on the basis of their unique characteristics, instead of having those emerge from statistical averages across the segment. What this means is that, when using real-time bidding web publishers may earn more for their ad inventory while also gaining useful insights into their audience that was previously available primarily to ad networks. It is also true that real-time bidding for online ads is still in its infancy, but as the authors of this report predict, it may have a growth of 3-5% in 2010 which should seriously alert publishers to learn all about this new technology and get the most out of their ad inventory. In this in-depth research report you will find comprehensive information on how real-time bidding works as well as clear indications of its pros and cons. Disclosure: MasterNewMedia has no commercial partnership or co-interests with PubMatic and has been given permission from the publisher / author to present this report on the Web. Here all the details:

    Understanding Real-Time Bidding (RTB) From The Publisher Perspective by PubMatic and Bennett Zucker
    Real-Time Bidding, or RTB, is sure to be one of the most frequently used online advertising buzzwords of 2010. Many advertising experts have argued that it is going to fundamentally change the course of online advertising as we know it. It has even been referred to as the next revolution in advertising for the benefits it will provide to all players in the ecosystem - the publisher, the user, and the advertiser. Real-Time Bidding allows advertisers to reach the right user, in the right place, at the right time - and assign an individual value to a particular ad impression. Leveraging advanced technology offered by a relatively small but quickly growing number of companies, advertisers place bids on reaching specific users dynamically, and on an impression-by-impression basis. PubMatic has found that publishers monetizing ad inventory via RTB can receive an increased eCPM because of the improved campaign performance that RTB offers. In the case of one particular US Entertainment publisher, the publisher was able to achieve a 106% increase in eCPM over a six-month period. Along with the clear benefits of RTB, publishers must be cognizant of the potential pitfalls associated with this emerging media buying trend. RTB was originally conceived as an advertiser-focused solution, and publishers must take multiple issues into account in order to make their businesses successful in an RTB-enabled world. PubMatic estimates that less than 1% of online advertising was purchased via RTB in 2009, and that will grow to 3-5% in 2010. Because RTB is the fastest growing segment of US online advertising, it is imperative that publishers understand the RTB landscape and how to successfully harness RTB ad dollars to their benefit.

    Unlocking The True Value of The Impression Click to enlarge image The most important promise that RTB holds for publishers is increasing the value of ad impressions. With RTB, advertisers have the greatest level of transparency available on the individual user in real-time, which can significantly increase the value of each ad impression and the corresponding publisher CPM. Having greater transparency about the user in real-time provides great insight to advertisers, but it is the difference in how media is bought and sold with Real-Time Bidding that is the true game changer. Currently, most digital media buying is done based on assumptions about certain audiences. For example, audiences bought through ad networks and ad exchanges are often purchased in buckets or by segment. How the audiences are categorized in certain segments depends on who is selling them. And while some audience sellers do a better job of segmenting users than others, so long as individual impressions are being grouped into a bucket and sold at a pre-negotiated price, they are not being fairly valued and are often sold at under-valued prices, as shown.
    Example 1: Same User, Same Campaign (Purchased Differently) Click to enlarge image In Example 1, a luxury car advertiser is looking for a very specific audience type and is willing to pay a premium price to reach a specific user that is highly qualified. The more qualified the use, the more the advertiser is willing to pay. On the right side of the example below, the advertiser (or rather the technology company placing bids on behalf of the advertiser) can see unique characteristics about the user and therefore is willing to pay a $3.90 CPM to target that user. On the left hand side, the same user would have been bucketed into an auto-buying segment and priced according to the segment price,which is far lower than what was paid via RTB for the individual.

    Example 2: Segment Based Campaign Vs. Impression Level Campaign (RTB) Click to enlarge image Example 2 below shows the ongoing luxury car ad campaign on a larger scale. Because RTB is conducted in real-time, advertisers,or their proxy vendor that facilitates their media buying, can buy impressions to reach specific users or reject them as the campaign is in progress. Therefore, in a real-time situation the luxury car advertiser would likely choose to reach many of the same users that would have been segmented for them as auto buyers in a pre-negotiated bucket buy. However, having more information about each individual user, the advertiser would also likely want to reach users that did not fall into the pre-defined auto buyer segment while also rejecting some of the impressions that would have made it into the segment. More importantly, the pricing would be different based on the unique characteristics of each user as opposed to an average across the segment.

    The Ecosystem Benefits of RTB Click to enlarge image In the long run, advertisers that have better performing campaigns can pay more to target the right users. According to Turn, a company that facilitates RTB transactions for advertisers by leveraging inventory from sell-side platforms such as PubMatic, advertisers are seeing up to 135% improvement on click-through rates and 150% improvement on conversion rates. Better performing campaigns have a positive impact on all parties involved, not just for the advertiser. In the image above are a few key benefits that RTB brings to the publisher, the user, and the advertiser.

    Understanding The RTB Ecosystem Real-Time Bidding is very much still in its infancy, but the number of companies that help advertisers and publishers leverage RTB is growing rapidly. In 2008, the number of companies talking about RTB could be counted on one hand. In 2009, the number of companies involved in real time bidding increased dramatically, but each category in the RTB ecosystem plays a significant role and it is important for publishers to understand those roles.
    The Many Possible Flows of RTB Click to enlarge image

    Ensuring High Publisher eCPM With RTB A truly competitive bidding environment is essential for ensuring consistent and continuous revenue growth. PubMatic has seen significant eCPM improvements for its publishers that are participating in RTB campaigns, but because this is a bidding environment, a high price is not guaranteed. RTB is still in its infancy, and the number of RTB advertisers is relatively small, so without enough advertisers competing to reach the same user, a lucky advertiser could get the ad space for below market value.
    Increased Bidders Drives Value of Ad Space In order to ensure there are enough bidders to keep the value of the publisher's ad space high, PubMatic's Ad Auction Engine™ brings the greatest number of bidders together in a real-time auction for every impression.

    Three Categories of Buyers When advertisers find the user they want to reach, they are willing to pay a high price to reach that user-but they still want to pay the least amount possible in order to reach that user. PubMatic's Ad Auction Engine™ does not allow any real-time bids to win an auction unless the bid is high enough, as shown in Example 3.

    Example 3: The Ad Auction Engine™ Process Works For Every Impression Click to enlarge image An RTB bid only wins if it beats the pricing coming from PubMatic’s Ad Price Prediction™ and direct sold insertion orders that a publisher’s direct sales team entered into PubMatic's system. In this example above, the real-time bid of $3.05 bid did not win. Instead a non-RTB enabled ad network was willing to pay the most for the ad space.
    Due to the fact that there are far fewer RTB enabled demand partners than non-RTB ad networks and exchanges, in most cases an RTB bidder is not selected to serve an advertisement. In the cases where there are no RTB bidders competing for the publisher impression, PubMatic selects the highest paying ad network or exchange using the proprietary Ad Price Prediction™ process, or chooses to show an ad from a direct sold insertion order if it is the highest priced ad available. The Ad Price Prediction™ process is powerful technology that was developed over the course of several years by PubMatic's 40+ full time engineers. The majority of RTB transactions that PubMatic facilitates on behalf of the publisher are received from companies that have their own campaign optimizing algorithms working the benefit of the advertiser. For example, when a DSP is working on behalf of an advertiser, the DSP continually adjusts its pricing during the course of the campaign in order to reach the right audience at the lowest cost to the advertiser. However, PubMatic's Ad Auction Engine™ keeps ad prices high for the publisher by bringing together the greatest number of demand sources for each impression, and as a result, real-time bidders often have to increase their bids if they are to win the impressions they want.

    Example 4: The Ad Auction Engine™ Competitive Environment Encourages Higher Bids From RTB Partners Click to enlarge image RTB enabled demand partners fine tune their bids during the course of a campaign. If they continually lose auctions due to low pricing, they will increase their bids. In this example above, the real-time bid did win after increasing the bid price to reach a specific audience. It could be several years or longer before there are enough real-time bidders to ensure high pricing for the publisher. However, PubMatic is connected to the greatest number of RTB demand partners of any sell side platform.

    How The RTB Process Works For Each Impression Click to enlarge image It is critical to include as many RTB partners as possible in order to have the RTB partners increase the percentage of wins they have within the Ad Auction Engine™ process. The number of demand partners that are plugged into PubMatic's API for RTB is continuing to grow at a fast pace and is nearly four times what it was just six months ago. The increase of RTB demand partners will help to increase bid prices, but the Ad Auction Engine™ remains a key part of the bidding process in order to get the most qualified advertisement at the highest price possible for the impression.

    Filling Impressions By The Numbers Click to enlarge image The chart represents an actual PubMatic publisher in December 2009. Every impression that PubMatic facilitates goes through The Ad Auction Engine™. The percentages represent where the highest paying ads are coming from.

    RTB Targeting Click to enlarge image

    Ensuring RTB Data Safety and Brand Protection Real-Time Bidding has the potential to bring significant revenue lift to publishers, but RTB is not without its own brand control and data safety risks. Publishers need to understand that RTB was originally developed for the benefit of the advertiser, and therefore publishers should consider an RTB partner that is a strict publisher advocate and has the tools to protect the publisher. There are five key considerations that publishers should be thinking about when selecting a partner for RTB:
    1. Getting The Right Demand Partners From The Start Prevents Most Hassles As most publishers know, not every ad network or advertiser is well intentioned. A strict RTB partner vetting process should be required based on the objectives of the publisher. A publisher's RTB sell side partner should enforce demand partners and advertisers to:
    • Meet the minimum RTB technical requirements for ad speed and data safety so that latency and brand control is not a problem
    • Actively bid on the RTB platform and meet a minimum number of bid wins each month to ensure that no "data squatters" on the platform
    • Comply with regular auditing of data that is collected vs. dollars spent on bidding
    PubMatic, for example, has set up a strict Trusted Partner Program™ for RTB and will pro-actively remove demand partners that do not meet the high expectations set in the agreement.

    2. The Publisher Should Set The Rules Around What Data Is Passed and Have a Way To Enforce Those Rules The publisher owns their own data and publishers need the ability to set rules around which data they pass to aspecific bidder. In some cases ad networks or other demand partners will try to collect more information than is needed for the campaign. Publishers should have a way of protecting themselves from data theft. For example, Data Firewall™, is a proprietary product developed by PubMatic that:
    • Gives publisher total transparency a about what data is being passed
    • Identifies pixels and tracks if ad network or advertiser is putting pixel on publishers without permission
    • Automatically alerts a publisher when demand partners go beyond "normal targeting"

    3. Screening Ads In Real-Time Process Helps Prevent Unwanted Ads Ensuring creative control can be difficult. A publisher's sell side platform partner should have a creative screening of all advertiser creative on the publisher's site available to view in real-time. Ideally, the sell side platform has this process built into their UI so that when the publisher logs in they can see the creative that is being shown on their site at that moment. In order to provide the publisher with a snapshot of what ad sare going across their site, or sites, at any given moment, PubMatic offers publishers a Live Creative Dashboard™ that:
    • Takes regular screenshots of publisher website in 5-60 minute intervals
    • Emails screenshots to PubMatic's Creative Services Team
    • Traces URLs referred to during ad serving
    • Reduces manual work of reloading ad tags for checking creative

    4. Preventing Unwanted Malware Is Key To a Good User Experience For the most part, RTB advertisers do not use malware simply because the cost of RTB campaigns are too expensive to waste on such advertising. However, it can happen and an extra safety net should be available to ensure that publishers have maximum safety. There are now products available for publishers that:
    • Automatically scans all ad tags
    • Pro-actively and quickly identify any potential malware
    • Alert the publisher if there is a security breach
    • Send an email detailing ad calls + URL / Ad Network mapping
    Publishers have the option of using the products themselves or partnering with a sell side platform such as PubMatic that has it built in as part of the service.

    5. Loading Speed Should Never Be an Issue Part of a good user experience is fast loading pages. A globaldata center footprint ensures that demand partners return bids in milliseconds to ensure positive end-user experience. Publishers may consider asking their partner about the location of data centers, and ask about:
    • Speed delivery times
    • How often the speed time is monitored
    • Whether or not a third party company verifies the speed time

    Publisher Results Using PubMatic To Participate In RTB Campaigns It is critical to include as many RTB partners as possible in order to have the RTB partners increase the percentage of wins they have within the Ad Auction Engine™ process. PubMatic has been live with Real-Time Bidding since February 2009, and as the first sell side platform to market with RTB, has been carefully monitoring the results. PubMatic publishers participating in a fixed minimum number of Real-Time Bidding campaigns in 2009 saw an average eCPM boost of 64%.

    Average Publisher eCPM The following case studies represent PubMatic publishers that have been actively participating in RTB campaigns for at least 6 months to ensure revenue lift was consistent and stable. The eCPMs reflect the averages before using PubMatic, the average using PubMatic without RTB, and using PubMatic with RTB.

    Publisher RTB Case Study 1

    Publisher RTB Case Study 2

    Conclusion If advertisers want Real-Time Bidding, publishers should think about real-time selling. And in 2010, we will see more publishers dipping their toes into the RTB pool as they realize its potential to connect them to more great brand advertisers and the opportunity to improve eCPMs for their valuable audiences as well as for their harder to sell inventory. While a handful of media companies have shut out ad networks or replaced third parties with homegrown networks, many successful publishers - with great brands, experienced ad sellers and the latest technology - still struggle to fill 50% or more of their inventory. "We have a very high touch sales organization," an executive of one major publisher says, "and there has tended to be a bias against networks and exchanges." In spite of intense debate in the company, they have committed to testing. "Some of our inventory is currently biddable on exchanges through our optimizer, and we are excited about introducing RTB," he says, adding that early tests seem promising. He urges publishers to catalog and share successes and best practices. "Every publisher should be testing and getting ready for the day when RTB will become the norm. Otherwise, even now,you are just leaving money on the table." On the buy side, Anthony Rhind, Co-CEO, Havas Digital, recently told CMO.com, "Buying at the impression level, as opposed to the placement level, allows segmentation strategies to be executed with greatly reduced waste. Of course, segmentation must be informed, so with impression buying comes the need to use data to profile impressions to realize that segmentation. This is where the fusion of contact / customer data with campaign data, site data and profile data becomes critical to directing trading strategies. This is an extremely exciting area for our industry, with major implications for our ability to drive clients' business volumes that are attributed to digital media." As RTB continues to grow, publishers may earn more for their inventory while also gaining insights into their audience's value that was previously available primarily to the networks. Adding up the possibilities, there may be good reason to expect a five-fold increase in RTB volume this year. As PubMatic's co-founder & CEO Rajeev Goel cautions, "Real-Time Bidding is still in its infancy, but it is gaining momentum every day. Publishers cannot afford to stay on the sidelines and let somebody else figure it out and take home the growing tide of RTB advertising dollars."

    Originally written by PubMatic and Bennett Zucker, and first published on February, 1st as "Understanding Real-Time Bidding (RTB) From The Publisher Perspective".

    About PubMatic PubMatic is a global ad revenue optimization company that provides online publishers with a service solution to manage and monetize non-Guaranteed ad inventory. PubMatic's real-time ad price prediction technology ensures that online publishers get the most money from their advertising space by deciding in real-time which ad network or exchange can best monetize each impression. There are currently over 6,000 large and medium publishers working with PubMatic. PubMatic is venture backed by Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Nexus India Capital, and Helion Ventures.
    About Bennett Zucker Bennett Zucker is currently the principal at Media Tech Business. In the past he was a publisher of magazines and books for such companies as Rodale and McGraw-Hill. In 2007, he was with Right Media, and also held a few shares in Tacoda, where he worked for three years, when it was acquired by AOL.

    How To Create, Design And Deliver Your Email Newsletter

    Mon, 02/22/2010 - 11:04
    Although many web publishers consider email newsletters an old-fashioned way to update their readers and customers, in my opinion, email messages remain THE most familiar, intimate, direct and effective way to communicate with anyone you know. As such they represent one of the most powerful means to create and share value online and one of the few effective methods to start the "conversations" we keep hearing more and more about when it comes to marketing and community building. Photo credit: mipan But, how do you create, design and deliver an effective email newsletter? Is it better to use plain text or take advantage of the cool formatting options available with HTML? How do you get readers to subscribe? What is the best writing style and format to use? How do you avoid having your newsletter trapped into a spam filter or your email added to a public mailing blacklist? In this MasterNewMedia guide I am going to introduce you to the whole process of starting, designing and delivering an effective email newsletter. Whether you want to keep up with your online community, promote your sales or increase your brand awareness, these guide will help you learn how to get started and how to avoid the most common pitfalls. In this guide you will find everything about:
    • 1. Newsletter Creation
    • 2. Newsletter Writing
    • 3. Newsletter Formatting
    • 4. Newsletter Design
    • 5. Newsletter Distribution and Performance Analysis
    • 6. Newsletter Spam Testing
    As a special bonus, I have also added at the end of this guide a selected list of free, quality newsletter templates that can be immediately downloaded and put to use to format your newsletter. But before getting into all these details, let me share here with you first what I think are the key items you should be paying attention to, if you are serious about immediately starting an email newsletter.
    • Make it stand out: Make your email subject line memorable; this is the first thing your readers will see. Most people receive tons of emails everyday, so it is really hard to get their attention. Speak to their heart and curiosity as if you were their friend, not their supplier.
    • Make it readable: If you use HTML in your emails, use a smooth and big font type to make sure that your newsletter is clearly readable, especially for those who are not teenagers anymore.
    • Make it scannable: Nobody likes lengthy documents to read, especially where the text is all crowded together. Be sure to space the paragraphs and sections of your newsletter properly and also provide short indexes and visual "anchors" that readers can use to quickly skim through the text.
    • Make it intimate: Avoid the press-release-like writing style favoring instead a more confidential and direct tone to create a true "conversation" with your readers. Ask questions openly and try to understand what your audience really needs.
    • Make it relevant: Only send your newsletter when you have something to say. Do not send out newsletters that are just full of your latest offers and suggestions to buy. Give first something really useful and relevant to your subscribers and use the newsletter to build intimacy, confidence and trust instead of using it as an offer-firing-cannon that only broadcasts and never listens.
    • Make it light: Do not use videos, sounds, heavy images or attachments. If you want to provide such content, link back to it on your web site.
    • Privacy and Disclosure: Establish a clear and comprehensive privacy policy and then stick to it. Reassure your readers that their email addresses will not be given to third-parties without their consent and make sure you have a visible and easy to click "unsubscribe" button at the end of your newsletter. If your policy changes, do notify readers about that.
    • Don't fancy up your newsletter with cool layouts and graphics: Those things, impactful-looking layouts and images are the trademarks of companies communicating via newsletter in the "old" way. In fact, if you pay attention, you will see that those very newsletters are the ones you read less and trash more. Why? Because they smell fake a mile away. The ones that work are the ones written as if a friend was writing to you, and as such these are normally written in plain text, with minimal formatting and no graphics at all. For now these are the traits of intimate, confidential and trustable. Use them.
    If you want to dig deeper, and learn more about how to build and successfully distribute your email newsletter, here is the cream of the best tutorials, guides and resources you can find on the Internet: Intro by Robin Good

    How To Create, Design and Deliver Your Email Newsletter
    1. How To Build Your Newsletter How To Create An Effective Email Newsletter In this PDF the Congressional Management Foundation shares some useful tips to create and manage an effective newsletter. Keep your newsletter scannable, have always something to say, get readers' attention, etc. You will also learn how to build your own email newsletter distribution list. by CMF Editors - Congressional Management Foundation

    How To Get Started: What To Decide First Before starting your newsletter you have to decide a few things: how you want to write your newsletter (plain text or HTML), how to let readers subscribe to your newsletter (opt-in or double opt-in) and how to value the response rate your newsletter will get. by Jeanne Jennings - ClickZ

    How To Choose The Focus And Goals of Your Newsletter You have to set goals for your newsletter to see if it will really help you improve your sales, increase brand awareness or whatever your goal might be. In this article you will learn the most common goals a newsletter may help you achieve and also useful tips on how to create an effective subscription page and how to find affordable editorial content. by Jeanne Jennings - ClickZ

    Create an Email Newsletter With Microsoft Word Microsoft Word helps you manage templates, adding images, and other bells and whistles to develop an effective email newsletter. In this article from microsoft you will be guided through the creation process of your newsletter starting with Word and ending with Outlook to send your finished newsletter to your mailing list. by Microsoft Editors - Microsoft Office Online

    2. How To Write Your Newsletter How To Choose An Effective Writing Style If you have ever wished you could convert more of your newsletter readers into raving fans of you or your brand, then in this article you will get to know some effective ways to develop a writing style that actually creates a "conversation" between you and your audience. by John Alexander - Search Engine Guide

    How To Produce Your Newsletter Producing your newsletter doesn't have to be a monumental task. You probably have a word processor and that's just good enough to get started. You will then have to set up a few options and think of publication frequency, the topics your newsletter will deal with, a good template you want to use. What is really important is that you develop a unique newsletter "look". by MB Editors - MoreBusiness.com

    How To Get Your Message Across In today's information overload world, it is vital to communicate clearly, concisely and effectively. People do not have time to read book-length emails, and they do not have the patience to scour badly-constructed emails for "buried" points. Then the better your writing skills are, the better the impression you will make. by MT Editors - MindTools

    3. How To Format Your Newsletter Newsletter Formatting And The Remove Extra Line Breaks Issue Robin Good explains how to resolve the annoying MS Outlook 2003 extra line breaks issue that most people come across when writing their email newsletter. As you will see, even though the solution is pretty easy it took quite some time and testing for Robin to sort this out. If you too have the same issue, here is what Robin has discovered. by Robin Good - MasterNewMedia

    How To Start and Format Your Newsletter Cristopher Heng talks you through the very first steps you have to take when starting and formatting your email newsletter. Making the right choices in the very beginning of your experience with newsletters is crucial to make sure your email will look professional and not the result of the spur of the moment. by Cristopher Heng - The Site Wizard

    How To Code a HTML Newsletter HTML emails are a very engaging communications medium for both publishers and readers. Publishers can track rates for email opens, forwards, and clickthroughs; readers are presented with information that is more visually appealing and much easier to scan and navigate than plain text emails. by Tim Slavin - SitePoint

    4. How To Design Your Newsletter How To Style Your Email Newsletter In this article, you will be presented with common design patterns of email newsletters and learn which approaches work well, so that you will be prepared to create one for yourself and your clients. Also included is a compilation and analysis of different newsletter designs so that you can learn from them as well as tips on what to do and what not to do. by Noam Almosnino - WebDesignerDepot

    Email Newsletter Design: Guidelines And Examples Smashing Magazine editor Chui Chui Tan discusses some guidelines for designing and distributing email newsletters. Each point is accompanied by both good and bad examples, so you can get a better understanding of the problems to avoid and good design decisions to make. by Chui Chui Tan - Smashing Magazine

    How To Design and Build Your Newsletter This article from Smashing Magazine is a quick guide to effective email newsletters which will give you the information you need to plan, design and build an HTML newsletter that renders well and is actually useful for your recipients. by Matthew Peterson - Smashing Magazine

    5. How To Distribute and Track Your Newsletter Email Newsletter Distribution And Mailing Services: Guide To The Best Free Online Solutions Communicating via email in a direct, intimate and informal way remains one of the best ways to market and promote your content, services and products online. This is why the most effective online businesses still rely on crafting quality newsletters and email updates to keep their fans and customers updated, entertained and happy. In this MasterNewMedia guide you will find the best free email newsletter distribution and mailing services available out there, as well as complementary information to help you identify and select your ideal one. by Daniele Bazzano - MasterNewMedia

    Email Distribution And Commercial Newsletter Mailing Services: Guide To The Best Paid Online Solutions Email distribution and newsletter mailing services are among the best and most utilized email marketing tools available out there. They allow you to get in touch with your audience in a direct and intimate way trough autoresponders, direct messages, and any type of newsletter format that can be used to market your ideas, or your online product or service. In this MasterNewMedia guide you will find the best commercial newsletter distribution and mailing list services available out there, as well as complementary review information to help you select the best solution for your specific needs. by Daniele Bazzano - MasterNewMedia

    Distribute Your Newsletter Using a WordPress Blog In this tutorial you will learn how to use WordPress and Feedburner with a few plugins to create a simple email newsletter service for your WordPress blog. You can track the performance of your newsletter by checking how many subscribers you have, how many clicks each link gets and much more. by WPB Editors - WPBeginner

    6. How To Test Your Newsletter For Spam Spam Checking Tools And Tips To Avoid Your Newsletter Being Filtered, Blacklisted Or Marked As Spam Sending out newsletters and having them delivered reliably to your list of subscribers has become a greater challenge than I would have ever thought. Problem is, if you don't devote yourself to it, everything is set for your newsletter to run into trouble. To not run into such issues you really need to proactively do something about it. The negative consequences are blacklisting of your email and your newsletter filtered out by spam filters on your recipient ISP mail server or on their computers. by Robin Good - MasterNewMedia

    Proof-Test Your Newsletter With SpamCheck SpamCheck is a free online service that will help you verify whether your newsletter will be treated as a spam message and thus trashed when it hits your receiver's inbox. All you have to do is prepare your e-mail and then send it to SpamCheck which will analyze your newsletter and send back an error report to you with all the issues encountered and how to fix those. by SS Editors - SiteSell

    Use MailingCheck To Avoid Spam Filtering MailingCheck is a free software for Windows that will analyze your email newsletter and help you clean it from anything that may lead email providers to treat your messages as spam. Just download the software, install it and open your emails. Then click on "Check now" to analyze your email and then go cleaning your newsletter from spam following the instructions. by MC Editors - MailingCheck

    Selected Quality Email Newsletter Templates Here is a list of free quality email templates to help you style your newsletter:

    Originally prepared by Daniele Bazzano for MasterNewMedia, and first published on February 22nd, 2010 as "How To Create, Design And Deliver Your Email Newsletter".

    Viral Marketing: How To Trasform Content Into A Meme That Spreads Like A Virus Online

    Fri, 02/19/2010 - 16:08
    Viral media is a flawed way to think about distributing content through informal or "ad hoc" networks of consumers and the harsh reality is that advertisers completely fail to understand the process whereby a content is redistributed over the web. Thus, and in sharp contrast with what they claim, advertisers are completely clueless about how to build a viral marketing campaign and completely ignore what metrics should be deployed to measure their viral campaigns effectiveness. Photo credit: Kheng Ho Toh Nevertheless, advertisers are so fascinated by the "concept" of viral marketing, that they are planning to spend increasingly greater budgets to start online viral marketing campaigns (eMarketerreports an estimated $1.4 billion in 2011 that advertisers will spend to place ads on social networking sites). [...] the idea of the meme and the media virus, of self-replicating ideas hidden in attractive, catchy content we are helpless to resist - is a problematic way to understand cultural practices. At the root of this, there are two major misconceptions about viral marketing:
    1. Viral content is something that gets published on the Internet and then spreads spontaneously like a virus.
    2. People that find content interesting and meaningful for them or their social circle, proactively redistribute it using the Internet.
    Talking about memes and viral media places an emphasis on the replication of the original idea, which fails to consider the everyday reality of communication - that ideas get transformed, repurposed, or distorted as they pass from hand to hand, a process which has been accelerated as we move into network culture. So, what makes a campaign really "viral" is not so much its ability to "be shared and re-transmitted" by as many people as possible, but the potential it has of being "repurposed", "re-adapted" by the largest number of people in the largest number of new contexts. Rather than emphasizing the direct replication
    of "memes", a spreadable model assumes that the repurposing and transformation of media content adds value, allowing media content to be localized to diverse contexts of use. In this highly comprehensive and in-depth guide, MIT Professor Henry Jenkins and his team illustrate in simple terms how and what makes something "viral" as well as explain the dynamics that govern the social redistribution of your content across the web. Here all the details: If It Does Not Spread, It Is Dead: Media Viruses and Memes by Henry Jenkins, Xiaochang Li, Ana Domb Krauskopf with Joshua Green Media Viruses and Memes Use of the terms "viral" and "memes" by those in the marketing, advertising and media industries may be creating more confusion than clarity. Both these terms rely on a biological metaphor to explain the way media content moves through cultures, a metaphor that confuses the actual power relations between producers, properties, brands, and consumers. Definitions of 'viral' media suffer from being both too limiting and too all-encompassing. The term 'viral' has been used to describe so many related but ultimately distinct practices - ranging from Word-of-Mouth marketing to video mash-ups and remixes posted to YouTube - that just what counts as viral is unclear. It is invoked in discussions about buzz marketing and building brand recognition while also popping up in discussions about guerrilla marketing, exploiting social networks, and mobilizing consumers and distributors. Needless, the concept of viral distribution is useful for understanding the emergence of a spreadable media landscape. Ultimately, however, viral media is a flawed way to think about distributing content through informal or "ad hoc" networks of consumers. Talking about memes and viral media places an emphasis on the replication of the original idea, which fails to consider the everyday reality of communication - that ideas get transformed, repurposed, or distorted as they pass from hand to hand, a process which has been accelerated as we move into network culture. Arguably, those ideas which survive are those which can be most easily appropriated and reworked by a range of different communities. In focusing on the involuntary transmission of ideas by unaware consumers, these models allow advertisers and media producers to hold onto an inflated sense of their own power to shape the communication process, even as unruly behavior by consumers becomes a source of great anxiety within the media industry.

    The Spreadable Media Model A close look at particular examples of Internet "memes" or "viruses" highlight the ways they have mutated as they have traveled through an increasingly participatory culture. Given these limitations, we are proposing an alternative model which we think better accounts for how and why media content circulates at the present time, the idea of spreadable media. A spreadable model emphasizes the activity of consumers - or what Grant McCracken calls "multipliers" - in shaping the circulation of media content, often expanding potential meanings and opening up brands to unanticipated new markets. Rather than emphasizing the direct replication of "memes", a spreadable model assumes that the repurposing and transformation of media content adds value, allowing media content to be localized to diverse contexts of use. This notion of spreadability is intended as a contrast to older models of stickiness which emphasize centralized control over distribution and attempts to maintain 'purity' of message. In this article, we will explore the roots of the concept of viral media, looking at the concept of the "media viruses" and its ties to the theory of the "meme".

    Limits of The Biological Metaphor The reliance on a potent biological metaphor to describe the process of communication reflects a particular set of assumptions about the power relations between producers, texts, and consumers which may obscure the realities these terms seek to explain. The metaphor of "infection" reduces consumers to the involuntary "hosts" of media viruses, while holding onto the idea that media producers can design "killer" texts which can ensure circulation by being injected directly into the cultural "bloodstream". While attractive, such a notion does not reflect the complexity of cultural and communicative processes. A continued dependency on terms based in biological phenomena dramatically limits our ability to adequately describe media circulation as a complex system of social, technological, textual, and economic practices and relations. In the following, we will outline the limits of these two analogies as part of making the case for the importance of adopting a new model for thinking about the grassroots circulation of content in the current media landscape. In the end, we are going to propose that these concepts be retired in favor of a new framework - spreadable media.

    The Concept of Viral Media Consider what happened when a group of advertising executives sat down to discuss the concept of viral media, a conversation which demonstrates the confusion about what viral media might be, about what it is good for, and why it is worth thinking about. One panelist began by suggesting viral media referred to situations "where the marketing messaging was powerful enough that it spread through the population like a virus", a suggestion the properties of viral media lie in the message itself, or perhaps in those who crafted that message. The second, on the other hand, described viral media in terms of the activity of consumers: "Anything you think is cool enough to send to your friends, that is viral". Later in the same exchange, he suggested "Viral, just by definition, is something that gets passed around by people". As the discussion continued, it became clearer and clearer that viral media, like art and pornography, lies in the eye of the beholder. No one knew for sure why any given message "turned viral", though there was lots of talk about "designing the DNA" of viral properties and being "organic" to the communities through which messages circulated. To some degree, it seemed the strength of a viral message depends on "how easy is it to pass", suggesting viralness has something to do with the technical properties of the medium, yet quickly we were also told that it had to do with whether the message fit into the ongoing conversations of the community: "If you are getting a ton of negative comments, maybe you are not talking about it in the right place." By the end of the exchange, no one could sort out what was meant by "viral media" or what metrics should be deployed to measure its success. This kind of definitional fuzziness makes it increasingly difficult to approach the process analytically. Without certainty about what set of practices the term refers to, it is impossible to attempt to understand how and why such practices work. As already noted, the reliance on a biological metaphor to explain the way communication takes place - through practices of 'infection' - represents the first difficulty with the notion of viral media. The attraction of the infection metaphor is two-fold:
    1. It reduces consumers, often the most unpredictable variable in the sender-message-receiver frame, to involuntary "hosts" of media viruses;
    2. While holding onto the idea that media producers can design "killer" texts which can ensure circulation by being injected directly into the cultural "bloodstream".

    The Media Virus Douglas Rushkoff's 1994 book Media Virus may not have invented the term "viral media", but his ideas eloquently describe the way these texts are popularly held to behave. The media virus, Rushkoff argues, is a Trojan horse, that surreptitiously brings messages into our homes - messages can be encoded into a form people are compelled to pass along and share, allowing the embedded meanings, buried inside like DNA, to "infect" and spread, like a pathogen. There is an implicit and often explicit proposition that this spread of ideas and messages can occur not only without the user's consent, but perhaps actively against it, requiring that people be duped into passing a hidden agenda while circulating compelling content. Douglas Rushkoff insists he is not using the term "as a metaphor. These media events are not like viruses. They are viruses... (such as) the common cold, and perhaps even AIDS" (Rushkoff, 9, emphasis his). "Media viruses spread through the datasphere the same way biological ones spread through the body or a community. But instead of traveling along an organic circulatory system, a media virus travels through the networks of the mediaspace. The "protein shell" of a media virus might be an
    • event,
    • invention,
    • technology,
    • system of thought,
    • musical riff,
    • visual image,
    • scientific theory,
    • sex scandal,
    • clothing style or even a
    • pop hero - as long as it can catch our attention.
    Anyone of these media virus shells will search out the receptive nooks and crannies in popular culture and stick on anywhere it is noticed. Once attached, the virus injects its more hidden agendas into the data stream in the form of ideological code - not genes, but a conceptual equivalent we now call "memes"
    " (Rushkoff, p. 9-10). The "hidden agenda" and "embedded meanings" Rushkoff mentions are the brand messages buried at the heart of viral videos, the promotional elements in videos featuring Mentos exploding out of soda bottles, or Gorillas playing the drum line of In the Air Tonight.

    Memes Are Like Genes The media virus proposition is that these marketing messages - messages consumers may normally avoid, approach skeptically, or disregard altogether - are hidden by the "protein shell" of compelling media properties. Nestled within interesting bits of content, these messages are snuck into the heads of consumers, or wilfully passed between them. These messages, Rushkoff and others suggest, constitute "memes", conceived by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in 1976 as a sort of cultural version of the gene. Dawkins was looking for a way to explain cultural evolution, imagining it as a biological system. What genes are to genetics, he suggested, memes would be to culture. Like the gene, the meme is driven to self-create, and is possessed of three important characteristics:
    1. Fidelity - memes have the ability to retain their informational content as they pass from mind to mind;
    2. Fecundity - memes possess the power to induce copies of themselves;
    3. Longevity - memes that survive longer have a better chance of being copied.
    The meme, then, is "a unit of information in a mind whose existence influences events such that more copies of itself get created in other minds" (Brodie, 1996, p. 32). They are the ideas at the center of virally spread events, some coherent, self-replicating idea which moves from person-to-person, from mind-to-mind, duplicating itself as it goes. "Language seems to 'evolve' by non-genetic means and at a rate which is orders of magnitude faster than genetic evolution. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation" (Dawkins, 1976, p.189) Dawkins remained vague about the granularity of this concept, seeing it as an all-purpose unit which could explain everything from politics to fashion. Each of these fields are comprised of good ideas, good ideas which, in order to survive, attach themselves to media virii - funny, catchy, compelling bits of content - as a vehicle to infect new minds with copies of themselves.

    The Pull of Viral Ideas "We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas. Like mass hysteria. Or a tune that gets into your head that you keep on humming all day until you spread it to someone else. Jokes. Urban Legends. Crackpot religions. Marxism. No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information." (Neil Stephenson, Snow Crash, 1992, p. 399) Though imagined long before the rise of the Internet and the Web, the idea of the meme has been widely embraced as a way of talking about the rapid dispersion of information and the widespread circulation of concepts which characterize the digital era.

    Media Snacks It has been a particularly attractive way to think about the rise of Internet fads like the LOLcats or Soulja Boy, fads considered seemingly trivial or meangingless. The content which circulates in such a fashion is seen as simplistic, fragmentary, and essentially meaningless, though it may shape our beliefs and actions in significant ways. Wired magazine (Miller, 2007) recently summed it up as a culture of "media snacks": "We now devour our pop culture the same way we enjoy candy and chips - in conveniently packaged bite-size nuggets made to be munched easily with increased frequency and maximum speed. This is snack culture - and boy, is it tasty (not to mention addictive)." This description of snacks implies that they are without nutritional value, trivial or meaningless aspect of our culture, a time waste. And if this meaningless content is self-replicating then consumers are "irrational," and unable to escape their infection. Yet these models - the idea of the meme and the media virus, of self-replicating ideas hidden in attractive, catchy content we are helpless to resist - is a problematic way to understand cultural practices. We want to suggest that these materials travel through the web because they are meaningful to the people who spread them. At the most fundamental level, such an approach misunderstands the way content spreads, which is namely, through the active practices of people. As such, we would like to suggest:
    1. That "memes" do not self-replicate;
    2. That people are not "susceptible" to this viral media;
    3. That viral media and Internet memes are not nutritionally bereft, meaningless 'snacks'.

    Culture As a Metaphor For Memes Central to the difficulties of both the meme and the media virus models is a particular confusion about the role people play in passing along media content. From the start, memetics has suffered from a confusion about the nature of agency. Unlike genetic features, culture is not in any meaningful sense self-replicating - it relies on people to propel, develop and sustain it. The term 'culture' originates from metaphors of agriculture: the analogy was of cultivating the human mind much as one cultivates the land. Culture thus represents the assertion of human will and agency upon nature. As such, cultures are not something that happen to us, cultures are something we collectively create. Certainly any individual can be influenced by the culture which surrounds them, by the fashion, media, speech and ideas that fill their daily life, but individuals make their own contributions to their cultures through the choices which they make. The language of memetics, however, strips aside the concept of human agency.

    How Ideas Acquire People Processes of cultural adaptation are more complex than the notion of meme circulation makes out. Indeed, theories for understanding cultural uptake must consider two factors not closely considered by memetics: human choice and the medium through which these ideas are circulated. Dawkins writes not about how "people acquire ideas" but about how "ideas acquire people." Every day humans create and circulate many more ideas than are actually likely to gain any deep traction within a culture. Over time, only a much smaller number of phrases, concepts, images, or stories survive. This winnowing down of cultural options is the product not of the strength of particular ideas but of many, many individual choices as people decide what ideas to reference, which to share with each other, decisions based on a range of different agendas and interests far beyond how compelling individual ideas may be. Few of the ideas get transmitted in anything like their original form: humans adapt, transform, rework them on the fly in response to a range of different local circumstances and personal needs. Stripping aside the human motives and choices that shape this process reveals little about the spread of these concepts. By the same token, ideas circulate differently in and through different media.

    How Ideas Circulate Differently In and Through Different Media Some media allow for the more or less direct transmission of these ideas in something close to their original form - as when a video gets replayed many times - while others necessarily encourage much more rapid transformations - as occurs when we play a game of "telephone" and each person passing along a message changes it in some way. So, it makes little sense to talk about "memes" as an all-purpose unit of thought without regard to the medium and processes of cultural transmission being described. Indeed, discussing the emergence of Internet memes, education researchers Michael Knobel and Colin Lankshear (2007) suggest Dawkins' notion of memetic 'fidelity' needs to be done away with altogether. Defining the Internet meme as the rapid uptake and spread of a particular idea, presented as a written text, image, language, 'move' or some unit of cultural "stuff", Knobel and Lankshear suggest adaptation is central to the propagation of memes: "Many of the online memes in this study were not passed on entirely 'intact' in that the meme 'vehicle' was changed, modified, mixed with other referential and expressive resources, and regularly given idiosyncratic spins by participants... A concept like 'replicability' therefore needs to include remixing as an important practice associated with many successful online memes, where remixing includes modifying, bricolaging, splicing, reordering, superimposing, etc., original and other images, sounds, films, music, talk, and so on. (Knobel and Lankshear, 2007, p. 208-209)" Their argument is particularly revealing as a way to think about just what comprises the object at the heart of the Internet meme.

    The "LOLcat" Internet Meme The recent "LOLcat" Internet meme, built so heavily upon remixing and appropriation, is a good case study to illustrate the role of remixing in Internet memes. "LOLcats" are pictures of animals, most commonly cats, with digitally superimposed text for humorous effect. Officially referred to as "image macros", the pictures often feature "LOLspeak", a type of broken English that enhances the amusing tone of the juxtaposition. On websites such as icanhascheezburger.com, users are invited to upload their own "LOLcats" which are then shared throughout the web. Over time, different contributors have stretched the "LOLcat" idea in many different directions which would not have been anticipated by the original posters - including
    • a whole strand of images centering around Walruses and buckets,
    • the use of "LOLspeak" to translate religious texts (LOLbible) or represent complex theoretical arguments,
    • the use of similar image macros to engage with Emo culture,
    • philosophy (loltheorists), and
    • dogs (LOLdogs, see: Ihasahotdog.com).

    The Internet Structure Meme So just what is the "meme" at the centre of this Internet meme? What is the idea that is replicated? More than the content of the pictures, the "meme" at the heart of this Internet phenomenon is the structure of the picture itself - the juxtaposition, broken English, and particularly the use of irreverent humor. Given the meme lies in the structure, however - how to throw the pot rather than the pot itself - then the very viability of the meme is dependent on the ability for the idea to be adapted in a variety of different ways. In this sense, then, it is somewhat hard to see how contained within this structure is a "message" waiting to occupy unsuspecting minds.

    The "Crank Dat" Song Meme The re-use, remixing and adaptation of the LOLcat idea instead suggest that the spread and replication of this form of cultural production is not due to the especially compelling nature of the LOLcat idea but the fact it can be used to make meaning. A similar situation can be seen in the case of the "Crank Dat" song by Soulja Boy, which some have described as one of the most succesful Internet memes of 2007. Soulja Boy, originally an obscure amateur performer in Atlanta, produced a music video for his first song "Crank Dat", which he uploaded to video sharing sites such as YouTube. Soulja Boy then encouraged his fans to appropriate, remix, and reperform the song, spreading it through social networks, YouTube, and the blogosphere, in the hopes of gaining greater visibility for himself and his music. Along the way, Crank Dat got performed countless times by very different communities - from white suburban kids to black ballet dancers, from football teams to MIT graduate students. The video was used as the basis for "mash up" videos featuring characters as diverse as Winnie the Pooh and Dora the Explorer. People added their own steps, lyrics, themes, and images to the videos they made. As the song circulated, Soulja Boy's reputation grew - he scored a record contract, and emerged as a top recording artist. - in part as a consequence of his understanding of the mechanisms by which cultural content circulates within a participatory culture. The success of "Crank Dat" cannot be explained as the slavish emulation of the dance by fans, as the self-replication of a "compelling" idea. Rather, "Crank Dat" spread the way dance crazes have always spread - through the processes of learning and adaptation by which people learn to dance. As CMS student Kevin Driscoll discusses, watching others dance to learn steps and refining these steps so they express local experience or variation are crucial to dance itself. Similarly, the adaptation of the LOLcat form to different situations - theory, puppies, politicians - constitute processes of meaning making, as people use tools at their disposal to explain the world around them.

    Originally written by Henry Jenkins, Xiaochang Li, Ana Domb Krauskopf with Joshua Green for the Convergence Culture Consortium, and first published on February 11th, 2009 as If It Does Not Spread, It Is Dead: Media Viruses and Memes

    About Henry Jenkins Henry Jenkins is an American media scholar and currently a Provost Professor of communication, journalism, and cinematic arts, a joint professorship at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Previously, he was Co-Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program. He is also author of several books, including Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture and What Made Pistachio Nuts?: Early Sound Comedy and the Vaudeville Aesthetic.

    About Xiaochang Li Xiaochang Li recently graduated with a Masters of Science from MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program, where she was a researcher with the Convergence Culture Consortium and was heavily involved in planning the annual Futures of Entertainment conference.

    About Ana Domb Krauskopf Ana Domb Krauskopf is a journalist and a film and music producer. She is also a researcher and graduate student at the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT where she works with the Convergence Culture Consortium. In her native Costa Rica, she co-founded Cinergiaa project to valorize and promote Center-American movies. In the past, Ana worked with the Papaya Music label where she co-produced the Papaya Fest.

    About Joshua Green Joshua Green is a postdoctoral researcher in the Comparative Media Studies Program working with the Convergence Culture Consortium at MIT. He is co-author of YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Joshua is also an affiliate of the ARC Center of Excellence For Creative Industries and Innovation in Australia, and a member of the Advisory Board for the PBS social media project PBS Engage.

    Photo credits: Media Viruses and Memes - Geopaul Spreadable Media Model - Nikolay Kropachev Limits of The Biological Metaphor - Henrik Jonsson The Concept of Viral Media - Peepo The Media Virus - Alwyncooper Memes Are Like Genes - Fotohunter The Pull of Viral Media - SchulteProductions Media Snacks - JLV Image Works Culture As a Metaphor For Memes - ManoAfrica How Ideas Acquire People - How Ideas Circulate Differently In and Through Different Media - Subrat Nayak The "LOLcat" Internet Meme - Karindalziel The Internet Structure Meme - Andrew Johnson

    Email Distribution And Commercial Newsletter Mailing Services: Guide To The Best Paid Online Solutions

    Mon, 02/15/2010 - 09:22
    Email distribution and newsletter mailing services are among the best and most utilized email marketing tools available out there. They allow you to get in touch with your audience in a direct and intimate way trough autoresponders, direct messages, and any type of newsletter format that can be used to market your ideas, or your online product or service. In this MasterNewMedia guide you will find the best commercial newsletter distribution and mailing list services available out there, as well as complementary review information to help you select the best solution for your specific needs. Photo credit: KK Tan Photography Using an email newsletter remains to date one of the best ways to create a real "conversation" with your audience, as emails remain the most direct and intimate way of communicating online. Commercial newsletter distribution services are perfect to create this intimate relationship with your community of fans, because they offer advanced control over how you distribute your content to your mailing lists, how you layout and present your content in them, and over how you personalize and customize it so that it reads and feels written personally to all of your subscribers. To use your newsletter effectively though, it is very important that you remember to use a confidential writing style. Putting yourself in the same shoes of your audience in fact, helps you have a greater understanding of what your customer really need and what you can offer them. Your audience must be made up of friends hanging from your lips, anxiously awaiting your next product or discovery. What is also interesting, is that "commercial" is not equal to "expensive" in the case of newsletter distribution services. These professional tools in fact will often cost you less than $50/month to manage an average a few thousand subscribers. Newsletter distribution services are also very easy to use, because, from a technical standpoint they are generally as simple and easy to use as sending a standard email message. But, how do you select the right newsletter distribution service and what features and traits do characterize these offerings? Generally, commercial newsletter distribution services are all characterized by the following set of standard features:
    • List Management: You can create mailing lists to organize contacts who will receive your newsletter and you can also easily handle subscribes and unsubscribes.
    • Scheduling: You can plan precise times and dates to send your newsletter.
    • Autoresponders: You can design a set of email content templates which are automatically sent when your subscribers perform specific actions. For example, if a reader subscribes to your newsletter, she will receive a "Thank you" email in return, or an email which introduces her to your latest story and offerings.
    • Embeddable sign-up form: You can place an embeddable registration form on your website or blog to facilitate readers and customers to subscribe to your newsletter. The sign-up form is fully managed and hosted by the newsletter service.
    • Support: You receive assistance in the form of tutorials or support forums, to learn how to manage your email marketing campaigns efficiently, and oftentimes the service you choose will even share with you how to maximize your efforts when planning your email campaign.
    While these are just some of the basic features that all commercial newsletter distribution services support, there are more specific features that really differentiate some of these services from the others. To help you identify your ideal commercial newsletter distribution service, here below there is a set of comparative tables and individual reviews. Here are the specific selection criteria used to compare these different services:
    • Mailing list segmentation: Organization of your newsletter subscribers in niche-targeted groups of interest.
    • Spam filter preview: Test to verify if major Internet providers will treat your email newsletter as spam.
    • Customizable API: Integration of the newsletter distribution service with your business applications or content management system.
    • Personalization: Automatically address your newsletter subscribers using their first names or company names.
    • Analytics: Reports and statistics about the performance of your email newsletter (subscribes, unsubscribes, opened emails, etc.)
    • Manual mailing list import: Upload of your subscribers by hand (instead of using an automatic procedure) to have greater control over your mailing lists and avoid spam.
    • Custom sign-up form: Management of the data fields to include in the embeddable sign-up form for your newsletter.
    • Price: Cost of the email newsletter distribution service.
    Please note that, due to the large number of commercial newsletter distribution services available, this list does not claim to be yet fully exhaustive and complete as more tools and services will be added over the coming weeks and months thanks to your own feedback and suggestions. Here all the details:

    Commercial Newsletter Distribution and Mailing List Services - Comparative Tables

    Commercial Newsletter Distribution and Mailing List Services

    1. GetResponse GetResponse is a commercial email newsletter distribution and mailing list service. You can create audience segments to manage your lists for specific niches of subscribers and also personalize every email you send by using first names instead of generic writing formulas. You can also test emails before sending using the spam filter preview facility and you can track emails along the way to discover who opened your message, when, and how many people clicked on your newsletter links. Existing mailing lists can be imported into GetResponse database either automatically or by hand to achieve complete list managing control. You can even customize the embeddable website sign-up form to get only the information you need. Other features of GetResponse include: video email marketing, Twitter integration, pre-made templates, online surveys, split testing, a customizable API, and much more. The service provides even a free iPhone application to manage your email marketing campaigns on the move. GetResponse is priced at $28/month to handle up to 2,500 subscribers.

    2. AWeber AWeber is an email marketing tool to distribute online newsletters and to manage your mailing lists. You can segment your newsletter subscribers to manage groups of specific niches of readers and also customize every email by using personal data like first names or company names. You can also verify your emails before sending to make sure your messages won't be trashed inside spam filters and you can monitor the performance of your newsletter to discover who opened your emails, when, and how many people clicked on the links you have inside your newsletter. Existing mailing lists can be imported into AWeber either automatically or manually. You can customize the embeddable website sign-up form to let subscribers input only the information you really need for your campaign. Other features of AWeber include: autoresponders, convert RSS feed to email, pre-made templates, shopping cart integration, and more. AWeber is priced at $29/month to manage up to 2,500 subscribers. No API is available.

    3. MailChimp MailChimp is a commercial email newsletter distribution and mailing list service. You can organize your newsletter subscribers by creating audience segments that represent specific groups of interest to whom you can address your email messages. You can also address your customers using their first names or the name of their organization using the personalization feature. The spam filter preview facility allows you to test your email messages before sending to make sure spam filters won't block or trash them. To monitor the performance of your newsletter you can use the analytics features which will tell you who opened your emails, when, and how many people clicked on the links you have inside your newsletter. Existing mailing lists can be imported into MailChimp either automatically or by hand. The embeddable website sign-up form can be customized to let subscribers input only selected information. Other features of MailChimp include: RSS-to-Email, a customizable API, free image and file hosting, autoresponders, and more. MailChimp is priced at $30/month to manage up to 2,500 subscribers.

    4. VerticalResponse VerticalResponse is a professional solution to distribute email newsletters and manage mailing lists. The online tool allows you to segment your audience in specific niches of interest and also to personalize your email messages by using custom data like first names or company names. You can also test your emails using the spam filter preview to make sure your messages won't be treated as malicious messages. VerticalResponse lets you track your newsletter to monitor in real-time who opens your emails, when, and how many clicks your newsletter links receive. Existing mailing lists can also be imported into VerticalResponse either automatically or manually. The customizable website sign-up form can be customized to gather only the information you really need. Other features of VerticalResponse include: newsletter sharing on Facebook and Twitter, sign-up notifications, opt-out form generator, a TypePad widget, a customizable API, and more. VerticalResponse is priced at $28/month to manage up to 4,000 subscribers.

    5. CampaignMonitor CampaignMonitor is a professional email marketing tool that allows you to distribute your email newsletter and manage your mailing lists using a web-based interface. You can segment your newsletter subscribers to manage groups of specific niches of readers and also customize emails by using personal data like first names or company names. You can also test email messages before sending to make sure spam filters won't trash your email once received and you can monitor the performance of your newsletter to discover who opened your emails, when, and how many people clicked on your newsletter links. Mailing lists you have already created can be imported into CampaignMonitor either automatically or manually. You can even customize the embeddable website sign-up form to let subscribers input only the information you need. Other features of CampaignMonitor include: white-label platform you can re-sell or brand with your own logo, time-zone management, free template gallery, customizable API, Google Analytics integration, and more. CampaignMonitor costs $5 per campaign + 1¢ per recipient.

    6. Constant Contact Constant Contact is a commercial online tool to distribute email newsletters and organize mailing lists. Constant Contact allows you to handle several groups of subscribers and also customize your email newsletter by using personal data like first names instead general introductory writing formulas. You can also test your emails to ensure your messages won't be treated as spam by email providers. To monitor the performance of your newsletter you can access an online dashboard where the service collects information about who opened your emails, when, how many people clicked on the links you have inside, and more. Existing mailing lists can be imported into Constant Contact using either an automatic or manual procedure. You can also customize the embeddable website sign-up form to ask your subscribers to input only the information you really need. Other features include: online surveys, pre-made templates, personal coaching and support, a customizable API, and more. Constant Contact is priced at $30/month to handle up to 2,500 subscribers.

    7. iContact iContact offers a proffessional email marketing service to send newsletters and manage your mailing lists. The tool allows you to segment your audience in specific groups of subscribers and also customize your email messages by using personal data like first names or company names. You can also scan and preview your email messages before sending to make sure your messages won't be treated as malicious emails. iContact also lets you track your newsletter to monitor in real-time who opens your emails, when, and how many clicks your newsletter links receive. Those mailing lists you already have can also be imported into iContact either automatically or by hand. The customizable and embeddable sign-up form for your website can be customized to gather only the information you really need from your subscribers. Other features of iContact include: pe-made templates, an e-mail marketing white-paper for free download, online surveys, a customizable API, and more. iContact costs $29/month to manage up to 2,500 subscribers.

    8. SubscriberMail SubscriberMail is an email marketing tool that allows you to distribute your email newsletter and manage your mailing list online. SubscriberMail allows you to organize your subscribers in groups and also personalize your email newsletter by using custom data like first names or company names. You can also scan and preview your email messages before sending to make sure your messages won't be treated as malicious emails. Also, SubscriberMail lets you track your email messages to monitor in real-time who opens your emails, when, and how many clicks your newsletter links receive. Other features of the service include: Google Analytics integration, A/B testing, pre-made templates, a customizable API, and more. Prices for SubscriberMail are calculated individually by contacting the sales department. No custom sign-up screen, nor manual mailing list import.

    9. Topica Topica is a commercial email newsletter distribution and mailing list service. Topica allows you to segment your subscribers in niche-targeted groups and also personalize your email newsletter by using custom data like first names or company names. You can also use the spam filter preview feature to test your email messages before sending to make sure your newsletter won't be labeled as spam. Also, Topica lets you monitor in real-time your email messages to know at a glance who opens your emails, when, and how many clicks your newsletter links receive. Plus, the service lets you embed a customizable sign-up form on your website which you can adjust to gather only the information you really need. Other features of the service include: pe-made templates, a customizable API, autoresponders, and more. Prices for Topica are calculated individually by contacting the sales department. No manual mailing list import.

    10. Emma Emma is a commercial email newsletter distribution and mailing lists service that allows you to handle several groups of subscribers. You can also test your emails using the spam filter preview function to be sure your newsletter won't be treated as spam by email providers. To monitor the performance of your newsletter you can access an online dashboard where the service collects information about who opened your emails, when, how many people clicked on the links you have inside, and more. You can also customize the embeddable website sign-up form to ask your subscribers to input only the information you really need from them. Emma is priced at $45/month to handle up to 2,500 subscribers plus a $99 one-time setup fee. No personalization, manual list import, nor API are available.

    Originally prepared by Daniele Bazzano for MasterNewMedia, and first published on February 15th, 2010 as "Email Distribution And Commercial Newsletter Mailing Services: Guide To The Best Paid Online Solutions".

    Email Newsletter Distribution And Mailing Services: Guide To The Best Free Online Solutions

    Mon, 02/08/2010 - 08:52
    Communicating via email in a direct, intimate and informal way remains one of the best ways to market and promote your content, services and products online. This is why the most effective online businesses still rely on crafting quality newsletters and email updates to keep their fans and customers updated, entertained and happy. In this MasterNewMedia guide you will find the best free email newsletter distribution and mailing services available out there, as well as complementary information to help you identify and select your ideal one. Photo credit: Alex Kalmbach Email newsletter distribution services are very easy to use, because, if you already know how to use email, you already know most of what you will need to prepare an effective email newsletter. What is new is that through your email newsletter you need to keep writing and sharing in the same way you did with your email friends and contacts, and not as if you were publishing an international magazine. You need to be personal, intimate and you need to always offer great value. Not just promotion for your content or products. That doesn't cut it. You need to meet the needs of your audience and find a writing style that will make your fans read your newsletter as if it were from a true friend. Here are two interesting statistical figures that should help you realize the importance that marketers and retailers still attribute to email newsletters for online direct marketing purposes:
    • 88% of retailers listed email as a high priority for the year, largely to retain customers. - Forrester Research and Shop.org "Retailing Online 2009: Marketing Report"
    • 89% of retailers cited email as the most mentioned successful tactic overall. - Forrester Research and Shop.org "Retailing Online 2009: Marketing Report"
    As long as you have understood how critical is today to have a "conversation" with your audience, the reasons why email newsletters are such a great way to keep in touch with it should be pretty clear. But, how do you go about selecting an email newsletter distribution service and what features and traits do characterize these offerings? Generally, these newsletter distribution services are characterized by this set of basic features:
    • List Management: You can create mailing lists to organize contacts who will receive your newsletter and you can also handle subscribes and unsubscribes.
    • Scheduling: You can schedule precise times and dates when your newsletter will be sent.
    • Autoresponders: You can design a set of email content templates which are automatically sent when your subscribers perform specific actions. For example, if a reader subscribes to your newsletter, she will receive a "Thank you" email in return, or an email which introduces her to your latest story and offerings.
    • Support: You receive assistance in the form of tutorials or support forums, to learn how to manage your email marketing campaigns efficiently, and oftentimes the service you choose will even share with you how to maximize your efforts when planning your email campaign.
    While these are just some of the basic features that all free email newsletter distribution services support, there are more specific features that really differentiate some of these services from the others. To help you identify the best free email newsletter distribution service for your needs, I have setup here below a set of comparative tables and individual reviews to help you check and identify your ideal online event management tool. Here are the specific selection criteria used to compare these different services:
    • Mailing list import: Upload of an existing mailing list to the selected email newsletter distribution service.
    • HTML + text: Type of newsletter you can send: plain text or HTML-rich message.
    • Max No. of subscribers: Limit of subscribers that the selected service will handle inside your mailing list.
    • Max. No. of newsletters: Maximum number of newsletters you can send per month or per day.
    • Embed sign-up form: Custom registration form that you can place on your web site to help readers subscribe to your newsletter.
    • Analytics: Reports and statistics about the performance of your HTML newsletter. Subscribes, unsubscribes, opened emails, etc.
    • Pre-made templates: Readily-available templates that you can use to style your newsletter.
    Here all the details:

    Free Email Newsletter Distribution and Mailing Services - Comparative Tables

    Free Email Newsletter Distribution and Mailing Services

    1. MailChimp MailChimp is an online service that will allow you to create and manage mailing lists to send a newsletter. With the free account you can handle up to 500 subscribers and send up to 3000 emails per month. If you already have a mailing list, you can import it into MailChimp. The newsletter can either be created in plain text or HTML format. To get started quickly, you have a large set of 101 free readily-available email templates or, if you prefer, you can design and upload your own code. To collect readers to your newsletter, you can also embed a sign-up form on your website which will be completely managed by MailChimp. A facility to convert the RSS feed of your blog or website into a newsletter is also available. Other features include autoresponders, audience segmentation tools to target your newsletter to selected groups of recipients, Google Analytics integration, spam filter, and much more.

    2. ContactPro ContactPro provides an online newsletter distribution service to create, manage and send email newsletters. With the free account of ContactPro you can manage up to 100 subscribers and unlimited newsletters per day. The import feature allows you to add an existing mailing list you already have and start from there. You can write your newsletters either in plain text or using HTML code. ContactPro is also able to track and monitor your emails to report how many have opened and read your newsletter, how many have subscribed / unsubscribed and other relevant information for your marketing campaign. Pre-made newsletter templates are available to help you style your message, but you can always use your own layout. You can also create custom embeddable sign-up forms to allow readers to subscribe on your web site pages. ContactPro uses a spam filter to help you test your newsletter before sending, so you can be pretty sure that your e.mails will reach the inbox of your recipients without being inadvertently dumped inside the spam folder.

    3. Bravenet Mailing List Manager Bravenet Mailing List Manager is a free online service to create, handle and send email newsletters. You can manage up to 500 subscribers and send one newsletter per day. You can freely import your existing mailing lists from another service or software. To compose your newsletter you can either choose to use plain text or HTML. To style your newsletter, there are several readily-available templates you can choose from. HTML newsletters will also be tracked by Bravenet so you can monitor who opened your email, who subscribed, who unsubscribed, etc. Other features include: ban an IP address, create a thank you page, create a goodbye page and much more. To facilitate new readers to subscribe to your newsletter, you can embed a sign-up form on your website, which is completely hosted and managed by Bravenet.

    4. Comm100 Newsletter Com100 Newsletter is an online open-source newsletter service that you can use for email marketing purposes. Completely free to use, Comm100 Newsletter allows you to handle unlimited subscribers and to send unlimited newsletters per day. The import function allows you to manage existing mailing lists you have. Each email newsletter can either be written in plain text or HTML. HTML newsletters can also be monitored and tracked to know who opens your email, when, who unsubscribes, etc. Pre-made templates are also available to help you style your newsletter. To allow readers to sign up for your newsletter subscribers, Com100 provides you with a simple-to-use embeddable sign-up form, which you can place on your web site pages.

    5. YourMailingListProvider YourMailingListProvider is a free online newsletter distribution service. The service allows you to create your newsletter, manage up to 1000 subscribers and send a maximum of one newsletter per day. You can decide to create plain text newsletters or HTML-rich emails, also taking advantage of a set of pre-made templates. Features to import a mailing list and to monitor the performance of your newsletter are not available, nor an embeddable sign-up form for your web site readers.

    Originally prepared by Daniele Bazzano for MasterNewMedia, and first published on February 8th, 2010 as "Email Newsletter Distribution And Mailing Services: Guide To The Best Free Online Solutions".

    Live Event Promotion, Management And Marketing: Guide To The Best Web-Based Tools And Services

    Mon, 02/01/2010 - 11:16
    To organize, coordinate, promote and manage live events, whether physical or online, there is a new emerging set of web-based event management tools that can truly help and augment your communication and marketing efforts. But how do you choose among all these services which one is best for you? In this MasterNewMedia guide you will find out which are the best web-based event management tools out there and what characterize them through a set of comparative tables and mini-reviews. Photo credit: Claudia Schoene Online event management tools also offer great support for selling and distributing your live event tickets. What is interesting about this, is that you don't lose any money in case you don't sell any tickets or nobody shows up. In fact, web-based event management tools generally charge you only when a ticket is sold. While there can be some small additional fees that cover credit card payment processing or optional premium features you use, if you don't make any money these event management and ticket selling services will not charge you any money either. Another positive aspect of managing your events online via these services is that you are the only one who is in charge of setting up your event. You have total control. From the name of your event to the color of the tickets. You can decide virtually anything and tailor the event in a way that perfectly fits you, your brand and your organization. In general, these online event management tools are characterized by this set of basic features:
    • Registration: Organizers can set up customized online registration forms to help people confirm their presence and buy tickets to attend the event.
    • Invitations: Organizers can manage contact lists to send e-mail invitations and schedule important communications with attendees to notify if the event has been canceled, moved, delayed, or else.
    • Ticketing: Organizers can handle online payments using different solutions like credit cards, checks, PayPal (if supported), and also offer discounts, special offers and promotional tickets to drive purchases.
    • Promotion: Organizers can promote their event on their own web sites using embeddable widgets or by leveraging social media sites to spread their message virally. If permitted, registrations can also be remotely operated and processed so that prospected attendees can register without even visiting the event page.
    While these are just the basic features that all online event management tools support, there are more specific and unique features that really differentiate some of these services from the others. To help you identify the best online event management tool for your needs, I have setup here below a set of comparative tables and individual reviews to help you check and identify your ideal online event management tool. Here are the specific selection criteria used to compare these different services:
    • Customize event page: Personalized web page, optionally branded with name and logo
    • PayPal support: Integration of the PayPal payment platform to your event.
    • Social media promotion: Marketing tools to promote your event using social media sites.
    • Website promotion: Embeddable badges or buttons to promote the event on your web site.
    • Analytics: Reports and statistics about the status of your event. Payments received, registrants, etc.
    • Free trial: Free-of-charge version of the service to test for a limited period of time.
    • Price: Cost of the service / tool.
    • Pro features: Advanced set of features available with premium accounts.
    Here all the details:

    Online Event Management Tools - Comparative Tables

    Online Event Management Tools

    1. EventBrite EventBrite is an online event management tool that will help you set up and handle every event you are organizing. By creating a personal, customizable website for your event you can share all the info with attendees, give them directions to the place and also conveniently sell tickets to the event. Invitees are allowed to pay with credit cards, Google Checkout or PayPal and you can track all payments and registrations using your personal dashboard. Also available is a range of social media marketing tools to help you promote the event on social media or your own website with embeddable badges. EventBrite is completely free for free events or the service will charge you a fee of 2.5% of the ticket sale, plus $0.99 per ticket sold.

    2. EventsBot EventsBot is a web-based event management service that helps you create, manage, promote and sell your events. You just create a standard registration page where your attendees can buy your tickets and join your event. Available payment options are PayPal and Google Checkout and you can track all the payments and registrations from your dashboard to always have the state of your event under control. No promotion through social media is possible, though you can display a embeddable badge on your web site to advertise your event. EventsBot is completely free to use, but if you want access to advanced features like event page customization, offline payments, remove ads from your pages, apply extra fees to tickets and more, you need to switch to the Premium account which will charge you a standard fee of 2% for every ticket sold.

    3. Amiando Amiando is an online event management tool that helps you create and organize your events. You can build a customizable event page in a few steps where attendees can register to your event and also promote your free event via Facebook and Twitter. However, if you need to sell tickets, you need to switch to a Pro plan where you also get PayPal integration, detailed reports to track registrations and payments, premium support, offline payments, and more. Amiando retains 2% of the cost of the ticket sale. No website promotion is available.

    4. TicketLeap TicketLeap is a web-based service to organize and manage your events. You can create a customized web page to allow attendees to register and buy the tickets to your event. You can track all registrations and payments and also get detailed reports and the state of your event through the integrated analytics feature. To promote your event you can also embed a "Buy Ticket" button on your own website. Other features offered by TicketLeap are: buy tickets over mobile phone, print branded tickets, generate custom survey forms, and more. For each ticket sold, TicketLeap charges you $0.97, plus 3.99% extra for credit cards payments and $1 extra for online tickets sold at $10 or more. No PayPal integration, nor social media promotion features are available.

    5. RegOnline RegOnline is an online service that you can use to create, manage, promote your online event and also sell tickets to your attendees. You can set up a customized web page with all the details of your event and available ticketing information. Payments are supported either via credit card or PayPal. To track registrations and payments you can take advantage of a reporting feature that helps you monitor the state of your event in real-time. RegOnline charges $3.95 for each registrant to your event, notwithstanding the cost of the ticket itself. Social media promotion and website promotion are not available.

    6. EventArc EventArc is an online event management service that provides automated ticketing and online registration for events of any size. You can start a customized web page to share all the information, availability and pricing details of your event with attendees. Your custom design can also be saved as a template and re-used for any other event in the future. Registrants are allowed to pay with credit cards or PayPal. EventArc provides also a real-time reporting feature to track attendees and ticket sales. The service is free for free events or you are charged a variable fee depending on the ticket price and the payment solution you choose to adopt. No website or social media promotion features are available.

    7. EventBee EventBee is a web-based service to create, manage and promote your event. The service can also take care of all the ticketing process, from printing to selling. You can start by setting up a custom event page branded with your logo to share the information about your event, give pricing details and offer registrants to buy the tickets. Attendees can either be offered to pay using credit cards, Google Checkout, PayPal or EventBee integrated payment system. To promote your event, you can display links or embeddable buttons on your own website or use popular social networking venues like Facebook or Ning. Every organizer has also a facility to monitor ticket sales and registrations in real-time. For each ticket sold, EventBee charges a $1 fee.

    8. Acteva Express Acteva Express is an online service to create and manage your events. With Acteva Express you can build a custom web page to allow attendees to register and buy tickets for your events. To handle payments with credit cards you can either use your own existing merchant account or opt for the Acteva Payment Management Service for a 3.75% flat rate per transaction. PayPal and Google Checkout are not supported. Each event organizer has a tracing and reporting feature to monitor all registrations and payments processed. Acteva Express charges $0.99 for free event tickets and prices are variable for other type of tickets. To access pro features like marketing tools, offline registrations, promotional discounts or multiple payments options you need to switch to Acteva Plus or Acteva Pro.

    9. Ennect Event Ennect Event is an online event management tool that allows you to create and organize your event by taking care of all registrations and payment processing annoyances. You can build a custom web site for your event where you share all the info, display a registration form and offer different pricing options to attendees like group discounts, promotional codes, donations, and more. You can also have different web pages to share maps, bios, pictures, slideshows, schedules and all other kinds of information. Only credit cards and checks are accepted for payment. PayPal and Google Checkout are not supported. Event organizers can track and monitor the performance of their event through real-time reports that display the updated state of payments and registrations. Ennect Event costs $400 per event plus a 5% fee for credit cards payments. Website promotion tools and social media marketing features are not available from Ennect Event.

    10. EventWax EventWax is a free online event management tool that you can use to organize and promote your event. Just build a custom web site to allow attendees to register to the event and submit their payment. Credit cards are accepted and PayPal is fully supported by EventWax. To promote your event you can also display the registration page on your own existing site, but you have no social media marketing features at your disposal. No reporting feature to track attendees and received payments is also available.

    Originally prepared by Daniele Bazzano for MasterNewMedia, and first published on February 1st, 2010 as "Live Event Promotion, Management And Marketing: Guide To The Best Web-Based Tools And Services".

    Online Collaborative Writing: How Blogs And Wikis Are Changing The Academic Publishing Process

    Fri, 01/29/2010 - 11:16
    Is online collaborative writing the recipe to change the academic publishing process? Are blogs and wikis going to subvert the way academics publish and distribute their work? Photo credit: Tecnologia Pyme. Academics have long operated within a system of peer reviewed scholarship. The research process is seen as incomplete until a group of anonymous experts has commented on and approved a paper prepared according to specific criteria. Only then can the work be published in an academic journal. Publishing a piece of research in such a way demonstrates the author’s legitimacy within a community of scholars, and such publications are the basis for advancement in any academic field. This has been the story until now. But what if this oligarchic publishing model were challenged by a new collaborative paradigm that involved a larger group of people to review and legitimize an academic paper? The academia could use well-established online collaboration tools like blogs and wikis to tear down those self-erected walls that separate scholars from the rest of the world and allows professors to receive feedback and critiques only by other so-called "experts". In this fascinating article, Janelle Ward tries to make greater sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the current academic publishing model while suggesting a new approach to academic publishing that leverages the power of the web. Here all the details:

    Rewriting Research by Janelle Ward

    Introduction A growing number of academics are using web 2.0 tools such as blogs and wikis to share their findings, discuss new developments, and find new ways for collaborative research. How does this open and informal medium fit with traditional academic processes? Although there are still some significant hurdles to be overcome, as well as doubts, web 2.0 represents more than just a new technology. Its widespread use, including by academics, may offer solutions to many existing problems, as well as open up new prospects for communicating research. Academics have long operated within a system of peer reviewed scholarship. The research process is seen as incomplete until a group of anonymous experts has commented on and approved a paper prepared according to specific criteria. Only then can the work be published in an academic journal. Publishing a piece of research in such a way demonstrates the author's legitimacy within a community of scholars, and such publications are the basis for advancement in any academic field. But as academics embrace the opportunities offered by web 2.0 applications for social networking, especially blogs and wikis, are they about to shake up this traditional system?

    Academic Blogging The term "web log" was coined by blogging pioneer Jorn Barger, editor of the influential blog Robot Wisdom, who described it as a web page where a blogger "logs" all the other web pages (s)he finds interesting. They may be personal or group web pages that are regularly updated, often with fairly brief postings. Blogging is online self-publication, and a blog has a potential audience ranging from zero to millions. There is no peer review, no editor, and spell checking is optional. But certain rules do govern the world of blogging, and there are parallels between success in academia and success as a blogger. In order to examine the world of academic blogging, it is first necessary to understand how such blogs are constructed, who is blogging, and why.

    Blog Types and Purposes Jill Walker of the University of Bergen, Norway, has identified three types of research blogs, noting that some are closer to traditional forms of academic publication than others.
    1. Blogs of the first type are aimed at what she calls public intellectuals, and are forums for social debate based on theories of political science, feminism, media analysis, and so on.
    2. Blogs of the second type are used as research logs, and serve as "a record of research conducted and ideas that might be pursued". Such blogs have traditional roots, and are similar to a sociologist's notebook or a laboratory scientist's record of experiments.
    3. The third type includes "pseudonymous blogs about academic life" that frequently demonstrate "a tongue in cheek refusal to revere the ivory tower experience". In such blogs, researchers tend not to focus on their work, but to discuss personal aspects of academic life.
    Perhaps the most important function of academic blogs, says Adam Kotsko of the Chicago Theological Seminary, is that they fill a role analogous to the political blogs that link to and comment on particular news stories; that is, bringing new scholarly research to the attention of an interdisciplinary audience. While it is generally assumed that academic blogs are written and maintained by individuals, there are also group blogs. A group blog can sometimes serve as a newsletter for members of the blogging community, offering reviews of recent articles and books, as well as spreading the word about conferences or grant opportunities. In a recent study of 12 group blogs, María José Luzón of the University of Zaragoza, Spain, found that they served a number of purposes, including publicizing the group and its research. They helped to create a sense of community, increasing opportunities for collaboration and providing a social outlet for members. The blogs were also used to make research available to the public, often to obtain feedback. Academics do this by writing about their ongoing research, sometimes in an attempt to improve the quality of their articles before submitting them for publication, or even afterwards. In June 2009, World Bank economist Charles Kenny posted the draft of a complete book on his blog, together with a request for comments and suggestions for improvement.

    Who Are Academic Bloggers? It is difficult to obtain accurate estimates of how many academics are active bloggers. Anecdotal information indicates that academic bloggers are a blend of researchers at the start of their careers, mid-level professionals and "big shots" - tenured professors with perhaps more to say and little to lose. In 2007 Gina Walejko, of Northwestern University in Chicago, carried out an online survey of US-based academic bloggers. In her sample, which was drawn from the "blogroll" (a list of links to other blogs) of the site Crooked Timber, and excluded graduate students, Walejko found that:
    • 50% of the 197 respondents were tenured;
    • 57% were male;
    • 44% worked in the humanities and only 14% in the social sciences.
    When asked why they blog,
    • 91% of survey respondents said they were motivated by intellectual stimulation and discussion;
    • 73% enjoyed the opportunity to test their ideas and share them with non-academics;
    • And 64% were interested in building an online community.
    Clearly, academics see benefits to their blogging that go beyond traditional academic rewards, such as obtaining feedback on their research ideas, and creating a network of like-minded scholars across the globe. The focus of academic blogging often goes beyond research itself, to look at the struggles of academic life. This personal level of writing can help to create a support community. The Chronicle of Higher Education, a magazine and website for US academics, for example, has compiled a selection of academic blogs that it describes as featuring "occasional discussions about academic life, careers and the job market". Other academics see their online contributions as part of their work, regardless of whether their employers encourage the activity. Torill Mortensen, of Volda College, Norway, describes the contents of her blog as "media studies, reader-response theory, role-play games, Internet culture, travel, academic weirdness and online communication put together at random". Mortensen provides links to her online articles and encourages colleagues to participate in the dialogue. In one recent post she noted that "One of the responsibilities of a publicly paid academic is to participate in the public debate. Yes, there should be ways to register blogging in a way that would give us "points" when counting publications, and I am certain this would propel Norwegian academics into a blogging frenzy. No, I would not turn down the money if I were paid for this. But yes, I am willing to do it, because it is part of what I am supposed to do".

    Blogging Rewards Academic blogging efforts are currently not rewarded, at least not officially. Academics are paid and promoted on the basis of articles published in quality, peer reviewed journals with a high impact factor. Individual blogs are in many ways just the opposite. But there are clear indications that online writing may increase the quality of research and can result in a dedicated network of scholars. For example, Julia Davies of the University of Sheffield, UK, and Guy Merchant identify several themes in relation to academic blogging. They believe that the process of hyperlinking and allowing others to contribute content works to strengthen group membership. "Through blogrolls, bloggers can stake out an interest, an identity and even loyalties to others; through blogrolls, a certain "character" for the blog can be established". If so, then blogging holds real promise. Not only could it change the type of output that is expected of academics, but it might also help to improve the quality of their research by exposing their ideas to a broader audience. Thus far, however, there is no solid evidence that blogs are having a real impact in the academic world. There is also very little information available about the individuals who read and comment on blogs, and what conditions lead to success - however that is defined. Statistics are hard to come by. Although scholars have attempted to sample various academic disciplines, there has been no global or national study that has examined this issue. At the same time, the practice of blogging has gained wide attention, and many believe that it is helping to bring about positive changes in the academic world. But blogging is not the only writing tool that has the potential to change academic practice. Another possibility is writing collaboratively, and some academics are already using online tools to cooperate in new ways.

    Collaborative Writing and Wikis Collaborative writing, by definition, requires that scholars work together. Can web 2.0 applications give rise to a new form of collaborative writing? Co-authorship is part of normal academic practice, but traditional writing culture may not support this type of bottom-up approach to knowledge gathering. What online opportunities exist for academics to collaborate in the writing process? Although a wide variety of open source tools are already available, including online editors and file sharing, synchronization and storage services, this section focuses on the use of wikis. Collaborative writing refers to projects where texts are created by many people together rather than individuals. Some projects may be overseen by an editor or editorial team, but many grow without top-down oversight. Unlike blogging, collaborative writing requires that scholars work together. In a sense, this is part of normal academic practice, as co-authorship has long existed as a method of producing scholarship and also, perhaps, as a strategy for individuals to lengthen their lists of publications. In order to understand the logic behind collaborative writing we first need to explore the notion of collective intelligence. In his book The Wisdom of Crowds, American journalist James Surowiecki observed that "Large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant – better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future". But in harnessing collective intelligence, he recognized three types of problems:
    1. Cognition,
    2. Coordination, and
    3. Cooperation.
    Cognition problems occur when there is just one right answer to a problem or a question. Surowiecki gave the example of a crowd's nearly perfect ability to judge the weight of an ox: 787 people came within one pound of guessing its correct weight of 1198 pounds. The wisdom of crowds works best in these situations. Of course this is not often the case with an academic question, where the answer usually depends on the scholar's training and philosophy. The second problem is coordination. Members of a group have to figure out how to coordinate their behaviour, knowing that everyone else is trying to do the same. The third problem, cooperation, concerns "the challenge of getting self-interested, distrustful people to work together". Academics hoping to work collaboratively to produce a research report have to work particularly hard to overcome the problems of coordination and cooperation. How, then, can crowds succeed where individuals do not? A wise crowd, said Surowiecki, "needs to be diverse, so that people are bringing different pieces of information to the table. It needs to be decentralized, so that no one at the top is dictating the crowd's answer. It needs a way of summarizing people's opinions into one collective verdict. And the people in the crowd need to be independent, so that they pay attention mostly to their own information, and not worry about what everyone around them thinks". Can online tools like wikis enable a new form of collaborative writing, and help to make the most out of collective intelligence?

    Pros and Cons of Using Wikis A wiki is a collection of web pages designed to enable anyone to contribute or modify content, using a simplified markup language. Wikis are often used to create collaborative websites and to power community websites. They are probably the most important tools for collaborative writing, although so far there have been far more failures than successes. Using a wiki for collaborative writing has many advantages, says Carolyn Wei of Google Research. A wiki is a live, shared space where all members have writing and editing privileges and there is no gatekeeper. Contributors can also create their own homepage to increase their social presence and develop an online community. There is no need for a webmaster. Little effort is necessary for editing and updating, which contributors can do at their leisure. Specific writing tools, such as Microsoft Word, are not needed. "Open wikis" allow anyone to edit content anonymously, and the larger projects like Wikipedia and Wikibooks show that poor quality content and cases of vandalism (deliberately altering content for malicious purposes) are rare. At the same time, there are disadvantages. Although wikis are not technically difficult to set up, contributors must learn wiki syntax and editing rules. Editing wars between a few opinionated individuals may reduce the quality of other interactions. Wei notes that such interactions were common during the 2008 US presidential election, when supporters constantly changed wiki content to favour their own candidate. Some collaborative communities dealt with this problem by introducing a rule that dissenting individuals could not alter a page more than three times within a 24-hour period. Above all, to be successful, a wiki needs constant maintenance. "Group buy-in" and "collective adoption" are essential, which means that all members of the group must share an enthusiasm to make regular contributions. In contrast with academic blogs, where the identity of the main contributor is clear, wikis tend to downplay individual identity in favour of the group. They also feature research that often places equal value on academic and non-academic perspectives. Such equality between academic and non-academic perspectives is demonstrated in the themes of the Wikimania conference, to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in August 2009, for users of the wiki projects operated by the Wikimedia Foundation. The conference offers two "tracks" for submissions. The casual track aims to attract members of wiki communities (such as wiki contributors) to share their experiences and present new ideas. The academic track aims at a more traditional perspective, by seeking to highlight research that explores social, content or technical aspects relevant to Wikipedia or other wiki projects. One initiative that focuses on academic collaboration is Wikia, a free web hosting service for specialized wikis that offer more detailed or comprehensive content than Wikipedia. The Academic Publishing Wiki, for example, is intended to "give people with original ideas a means of obtaining peer review and constructive criticism, and to publish these ideas in wiki format". Users can also create their own journals. One example is the Journal of Sociology and Social Theory, although at the time of writing no articles had yet been submitted.

    Wikis Effectiveness Can collaborative writing, particularly the use of wikis, help to improve the quality or quantity of academic output? Put simply, does collaboration add value to current research practices, particularly those that have traditionally been individual activities? Proponents of wikis argue that such collaboration has the potential to ensure that the quality of research is higher than that produced by individual scholars. But in an academic setting this will happen only if Surowiecki's collaboration and cooperation problems are resolved. But keep in mind Surowiecki's conditions for wise crowds:
    • Diversity,
    • Decentralization,
    • The ability to summarize opinions into one collective verdict, and
    • Independence.
    Traditional academic writing culture does not support such a bottom-up approach to knowledge gathering, and this may be difficult to achieve with the notion of authorship so firmly engrained in academia. On a more positive note, however, such collaboration creates a new form of peer review by international scholars, thus broadening the scope of available knowledge and expertise. As for the effectiveness of wikis in general, opinions are mixed. Josef Kolbitsch and Hermann Maurer of Graz University of Technology, Austria, maintain that after a period of time, "single articles in wikis usually become authoritative, and their level of accuracy and completeness is high". Philosopher Martin Cohen is much more critical, however, pointing to the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of Wikipedia. He admits that someday the Internet may be the ultimate source of knowledge, but not as long as Wikipedia leads the pack. Wikipedia began, Cohen says, by "shamelessly plundering articles from the celebrated 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica". It is still "not trusted and is increasingly vulnerable to rival initiatives". Cohen's criticism also extends to Citizendium, an offshoot of Wikipedia, which describes itself as a "wiki with stricter editing rules and obligatory disclosure of editors' real names". It is nevertheless clear that online collaborative writing is still at an early stage and needs time to become established and gain legitimacy. But resistance to its adoption makes sense: It represents a radical departure from traditional ways of publishing. Academics still revolve around the idea of transparent authorship, such as getting credit for their work in an obvious way. More discussion and analysis is needed. For example:
    • Is there an ideal number of researchers who can be involved in a collaborative writing project?
    • Is it better to include a diverse group of scholars or individuals, including from outside academia?
    • How would universities react to such a development - would collaborative writing in this context be acknowledged and rewarded, or would it continue to be regarded as an extracurricular activity, shunned or reserved for administrative purposes only?
    The most important requirement for a successful collaborative writing project via a wiki is that all those involved must be motivated to contribute. Further, says Emma Tonkin, of the UK Office for Library and Information Networking at the University of Bath, "wiki use - and indeed the motivation to contribute - is likely to vary by gender, status and relationship to the apparent community". Whether the project involves a close-knit group of researchers within a department or an international group of scholars, the wise crowd must be willing to participate in such efforts.

    Web 2.0, Web 3.0 and Beyond Efforts are underway to extend web 2.0 applications to facilitate collaboration between diverse language groups. At the 2008 WikiSym, an international symposium on wiki research and practice, for example, Canadian researchers Louis-Phillipe Huberdeau and colleagues presented the "cross-lingual wiki engine", a system designed to support concurrent, collaborative authoring and the translation of content into multiple languages. Although this wiki engine has not yet been implemented in academic communities, it has been successful elsewhere, indicating that initiatives are possible in the future. Just a few researchers have only recently discovered the benefits of web 2.0 tools for collaboration, so it is perhaps too early to provide a set of best practices. Reflecting on ways to improve communication both to students and among research staff, Paul Williams of the University of Worcester, UK, points out that "web 2.0 is not really about the technology, but is more people and content-driven". By enabling individuals to connect and collaborate in new ways, these technologies have the potential to change or improve academia. Knowledge is not static, but this is how it has traditionally been disseminated in academic publications. Although it is difficult to argue that the quality of publications is actually improved through blogging or online collaborative writing, evidence from various scholars does suggest that this is a possibility. Such issues will continue to be debated among those who embrace technology and those who do not - particularly with regard to the notion of collaborative knowledge building. As the pace of technological change increases, what we see as cutting edge today may seem like ancient history in just a few years. Enter web 3.0, the semantic web, which journalist Jonathan Richards explained as follows: "If web 2.0 was all about harnessing the collective intelligence of crowds to give information a value... then web 3.0 is about giving the Internet itself a brain". One example of a web 3.0 technology is "natural-language search", in which search engines will be able to understand and answer questions. This means that in the future the web will be more about knowledge than data, and that academics may increasingly turn to technology to gather and organize information automatically. How the academic world will respond to such technological developments, only time will tell.

    The Growing Use of Online Tools Academics are starting to use web 2.0 tools for blogging, online collaborative writing, and a variety of other purposes. Since 2002, Technorati, a blog search engine, has indexed more than 133 million blogs. According to Wikipedia, the blogosphere has seen the emergence and growing popularity of collaborative blogging efforts, often set up by established bloggers who wish to pool their time and resources, both to reduce the pressure of maintaining a popular website and to attract a larger readership. If the growth of academic blogging continues, then it will be necessary to encourage traditional "offline" research systems to adapt these new technologies to existing knowledge-sharing activities. Like blogging, collaborative writing efforts are also becoming more common, although it is difficult to estimate the number of wikis that have been created, because many are not in the public domain. The academic interest in the use of wikis is apparent in the dynamic annual conferences such as WikiSym and Wikimania, which focuses on international Wikimedia. But in this case the wiki itself is the subject of research:
    • Will these applications lead to positive outcomes in terms of knowledge building?
    • Will they actually lead to better research?
    It is of course too early to know where they will lead. It is only through experimenting that new ways forward will be found, as well as new solutions for some of the problems that will emerge. In the meantime, blogs in particular are a powerful way of communicating research. Recognizing Francis Bacon's maxim that "knowledge is power", many agree that knowledge can and should be distributed beyond the ivory towers of academia. But what will be the consequences? The growing use of online tools, particularly in education, is not without its critics. Tara Brabazon of the University of Brighton, UK, fears that the Internet is instilling mediocrity, and that online information gathering is leading to a "flattening" of expertise. "There has never been a greater need to stress the importance of intelligence, education, credentials and credibility. The problem is not only accuracy, but also the mediocrity initiated through the Google effect". Using search engines rather than consulting quality academic sources is dangerous, Brabazon warns, because the information has not been filtered by academic experts. But what of the academic experts who blog, and the collaborative documents that are available to all? If those with established credentials contribute to online content in the ways outlined above, then critics like Brabazon may have fewer concerns. Perhaps this is the strongest argument of all for a more collaborative, open access academic environment. In the process of research collaboration, as well as communicating via blogs, the main question is how to maintain quality. If traditional mechanisms such as anonymous peer review are no longer feasible, what can take their place? Should it be a similar process, like open peer review, or should the quality of the blogs and wikis be judged by "crowds" of experts? Perhaps we are witnessing the start of an era of separation between what could become two realms of research:
    1. One is the realm of traditional "pure" research where, independent of technologies like the Internet, the goal is to achieve scientific discoveries that may eventually trickle down to the outside world.
    2. In the other, a realm that is much more closely focused on society and policy, practitioners communicate directly, and in real time, with that outside world.

    Originally written by Janelle Ward for The Broker, and first published on August 5th, 2009 as Rewriting Research.

    About Janelle Ward Janelle Ward is assistant professor in the Department of Media and Communication at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, she recently earned a PhD in political communication at the University of Amsterdam. Her research interests include new media and political communication, particularly how information and communication technologies can be used to encourage political engagement and participation. Her personal blog is Janelle's research blog.

    Photo credits: Academic Blogging - norebbo Blog Types and Purposes - Jelica Videnovic Who Are Academic Bloggers? - Michael Brown Blogging Rewards - Jón Helgason Collaborative Writing and Wikis - james steidl Pros and Cons of Using Wikis - Michael Brown Wikis Effectiveness - Anton Balazh Web 2.0, Web 3.0 and Beyond - Andres Rodriguez The Growing Use of Online Tools - Fredy Sujono