Making Pulling Teeth Fun

My kids are Webkinz addicts, plain and simple.

For those of you who don’t have kids, or have been living under a rock for the past two years, Webkinz are little plush toys which come with a code attached to them so you can go online to the Webkinz site and register the pet adoption, then you can play online with your toy.  If you have mulitples, they can play together.

Basically, they’ve created a kids version of “Second Life” only this works, and it’s wholly based upon your purchase of the product.  These guys really get marketing, too.  The regular (Big Kinz) in the lingo, is sold at a $20 price point, while they have a “little kinz” product that sells for just under $10 which is frankly about the point at which I think it’s easier to give in than to fight with my kid.  Additionally, there are trading cards, clothes, etc.

So I know I’m going to get my pocket picked when I am conned into taking the kids to a Webkinz outlet.  Needless to say, when they told me there was a “Webkinz Extravaganza” at the Paperstore in Millbury this weekend, I got a cold shiver down my spine.  “Great, a sales event for kids.  Can’t I just go to the dentist instead?”  I thought.

Well, I was dead wrong.  These guys did their event just right.  Plenty of give aways, fun, games, trivia, and a killer scavenger hunt.  The kids had a great time, right up to the point that I had to drag them out to get to our hair cut appointments.  To emphasize what a great job they did on the event,  I took them back yesterday to finish the scavenger hunt.

By going the extra mile, Paperstore really did a great service to the kids and parents.  They also managed to get me throughout their entire store with the scavenger hunt.  I really want a set of their martini glasses…


Unintended Consequences

From Tom Willmot via Twitter and the Telegraph.co.uk

OGC Unveils Logo to Red Faces

It cost £14,000 to create, but clearly no-one at the smart London design outfit that came up with the new logo for HM Treasury thought to turn it on its side.

The logo, for the Office of Government Commerce, was intended to signify a bold commitment to the body’s aim of “improving value for money by driving up standards and capability in procurement”.

Instead, it has generated howls of mirth and what is likely to be a barrage of teasing emails from mandarins in other departments.

According to insiders, the graphic was already proudly etched on mousemats and pens before it was unveiled for employees, who spotted the clanger within seconds.

Epic Post – How to Monitor Social Media for Free

Okay, we all know that social networks are out there and that we should be making use of them.  But how do you monitor what’s going on in the vast ecosystem of Twitterverses, MySpaceDoms and FacebookVilles?

David Churbuck has been doing just that for Lenovo for the past two years and he’s sharing the lessons learned in this post: “Try to Detect It” which I consider a must read for any web marketing pro or business owner/senior manager.

Free: yup. It costs nothing to detect the chatter about your company. There are two solid solutions for blog search – perhaps you’ve heard of Google? Thought so. Google Blog search is a good thing. And then there is Technorati, which sort of defined the space. Both are great tools, but you can automate searches of specific keywords and phrases and then syndicate those searches as RSS feeds out into a blog reader such as Bloglines or (in my case) Google Reader. Then you just need to remember to scan the blog reader a couple times every day.

The best part is that it’s true, unlike so many “Free’ claims.  You can measure a lot of this stuff in some very novel ways.  I’ve been doing some of this back channel to detect mentions of some new sites I’ve just launched and it works.  Plus it’s always great to walk into a meeting armed with facts, especially when everyone else is essentially unarmed.

The media landscape has changed, if you hadn’t noticed.  Trade magazines are dinosaurs and if you’re relying on them to tell you what’s going on in your industry, you’re woefully out of touch.  Not only should you be monitoring what’s said on websites, you’ve got to find a way to monitor what’s happening in the social networks like Twitter, when product talk can affect you without your ever knowing it.  If you’re not monitoring, now is the time to start and Churbuck has given you an excellent primer to jump start your efforts.

Blog Aggregation

David Churbuck posts this morning on Blog Aggregation. We both did a blog aggregation project over at Reel-Time.com in 2003 which, as he notes, was well ahead of the curve (and probably the need). He’s got some excellent points, but I have a few things to add.

The idea of a blog is something that many of us don’t fully understand. It’s basically an online journal that was designed to allow users without server level access to maintain their own content and easily switch the appearance of that content via templates. Over time, they have become so much more.

One of the most powerful things about a blog is that the presentation you are most likely seeing, my own template on my site, isn’t necessarily the way everyone will see the content. RSS, which is essentially an XML stream of content, allows us to present our content in many different formats and many different places. The promise of XML, as it was presented a decade ago, was that it would allow us to separate content from presentation, and in that, it is indeed one of the few technologies to have fully delivered on it’s promise.

So we now have blogs, with all kinds of neat little RSS feeds which are quite granular, down to the category or tag level, that allow us to slice and dice our content, to mix and match by category, by author, etc. I’ve looked at the aggregators that Churbuck mentions, and basically barfed…yeah, they work, but their ugly and they don’t have to be. We should be able to easily design pages that will consume the rss feeds and present them in a useful manner.

I’ve been saying for years that the most misunderstood bit of blogs is their categorization capabilities. The better you categorize, the more useful your content (although you can also use tags…).

My ideas:

  • Remember to sort by categories – make it easy to allow users to find what they want.
  • Remember to provide direct links to the authors.
  • Let users set up searches that trigger rss feeds so your content can reach them when it’s appropriate. And you can even allow search to create a page on the fly if you’ve got enough content.
  • Leverage internal as well as external assets – you can use outside streams, although you may want to be able to editorially decide which bits of content you will present on your site. You can literally scavenge posts via Google Blog Search and Technorati.
  • Think of your pages as homepages – each topic or category you present should be optimized as though it will be the only one your readers will see.
  • You can have multiple feeds from blogs, some summarized, some containing the full content, and some broken into categories, tags, etc.  They can be reassembled into larger groups (all my authors writing about javelin throwing) in interesting ways.

Consuming RSS feeds and rendering them on pages is easy stuff and can provide that deep niche content we want. There’s no reason to settle for out of the box tools that make our content look like one of those “portals” companies pushed in 2001.

In the example Churbuck offers of the Olympics, I’d consider setting up pages for:

  • Countries
  • Main sports categories, track and field, swimming, martial arts, etc.
  • Social and off the field categories
  • Major celeb pages – some of the athletes get a lot of mentions, provide their own pages
  • Search – once again, it’s key…

Then you ensure your bloggers are tagging properly and you’ve got the start. In fact, you can even have an editor retag stuff as “lead story” etc. This stuff works for splogs and it can work for high volume content situations as well!

The real take away secret is this: aggregation is simple content management. Think of it that way and you’ll jump way ahead of the pack.

Chris Anderson on the Long Tail

Wired Editor Chris Anderson discusses the Long Tail.

From the video notes:

“Everything is measurable now,” said Anderson, comparing charts of sales over time of a hit music album with a niche album. The hit declined steeply, the niche album kept its legs. The “long tail” of innumerable tiny-sellers is populated by old hits as well as new and old niche items. That’s the time dimension. For the first time in history, archives have a business model. Old stuff is more profitable because the acquisition cost is lower and customer satisfaction is higher. Infinite-inventory Netflix occupies the sweet spot for movie distribution, while Blockbuster is saddled with the tyranny of the new.

Another Post on the NameMedia Launches

Tom Willmot of EdgeDesigns, one of our team lead developers posts on the launches of www.hotcars.com and www.dreamwheels.com last week. He succinctly sums up the niche social networks for those not familiar:

A niche social network is simply a social network aimed squarely at a niche interest, be it wine or geeks. You take the classic social network components: user profiles, friends lists, user messaging, forums and groups; and then you tailor the experience towards your intended niche. Throw in expert articles, regularly updated content and a strong multimedia element and there you have it.

Read it all here.

(Note: I am a senior developer with NameMedia, and worked on these projects)

Apple Wields the Power

Like almost every one of you, I get a regular “Apple Software Update” due to my ITunes installation. I got a little surprise today when the Apple update said it had Safari ready to install.  Safari?  On my PC?  What’s next, dogs and cats living together in peace and harmony?

Normally, I’d start off railing about this.  I hate it when software update functions, which I generally consider intrusive and unnecessary, try to install software other than that which they are professing to maintain.  I think back to the days of RealPlayer attempting to install all manner of crap on my drive.

But I’m now basking in the glow of Iphone-goodness.  I have embraced the light as it were.  In fact, I am considering limiting the number of buttons on my next computer’s mouse to one.  So I go light on them, this time.

I’ve been surprised they haven’t taken this step before.  Until now, the Apple Updater has pretty much stuck to the task at hand, handling the myriad of updates to Itunes in the background, in the hopes that I won’t notice that they send upgrades more often than I change my socks.   Honestly, if Microsoft did this, we’d be out with the pitchforks and torches, storming Castle Gatesenstein.  But we aren’t. In fact, very few seem to have commented on the issue (David Churbuck caught it though…), although Cnet did take them to task over an item in their license which would require you to only use Safari on a Apple machine.

Yet another Browser to Check?  Thanks…

So what do I think of Safari?  I’ve been using it for the past two weeks on my IPhone, so I guess I’m predisposed to liking it, but the truth is, I settled on Firefox with IE7 as a backup a long time ago.  As a web guy, I truly hate the idea of *YET ANOTHER BROWSER TO TEST* and I doubt that the IE version is that close to the characteristics of the Apple version of the browser that I can confidently use it to say “Yup, your site works in Safari.”

Yes, I’ll use Safari, but only rarely, or only if there is a compelling reason, such as some killer feature or software that I can’t get in Firefox.  And frankly, I use some of my Firefox extensions so much that if you don’t have extensions, and not only that, equal or better extensions, you won’t make it as my browser.

I think back to IE7, which promised extensions.  I downloaded their web developer-type extension, and it seemed like I’d opened visual studio.  The tool was nothing like my FF web developer tool which I use more than my telephone.

Browsers are tools, not consumer goods.  I’m not going to swap browsers just because a new one appeared on my desktop, any more than I would ditch a working wrench in my tool box.

This might be decent marketing, as it’s gotten me to try and write about their browser, but they’ve used up some capital here, to almost no gain.  As a techie, I get easily annoyed by this.  As a marketer, I wish I had that option for dispersing products…

Ours Go to Eleven

(a reference to seminal rock comedy classic This is Spinal Tap)

 In 1897, the great state of Indiana sought to legislate the value of Pi.  You know, that number that goes on to infinity.  The theory was simple, but wrong.

Egged on by an amateur mathematician, the Indiana General Assembly almost passes a bill adopting 3.2 as the exact value of pi (or π). Only the intervention of a Purdue University mathematician who happens to be visiting the legislature prevents the bill from becoming law, saving the most acute political embarrassment.

Bad ideas often sound good.  Easy solutions are the heroin of business.