Estimating influence is a delicate balance of art and science. People are drawn to quantitative methods because scores are easy to understand. The downside of reducing influence to a number, though, is oversimplification.
Lately, I’ve been looking at Klout, the popular new tool that bills itself as “The Standard” for influence measurement. The more I look at it, the less I like it.
This week’s announcement of Skype’s acquisition of GroupMe, and the recent introduction of Facebook’s Beluga-based Messenger, are part of something much bigger than group text messaging: The landscape of personal online communication is changing. The very communication paradigms we’re accustomed to — email, text messaging, chat and wall posts — are starting to be blurred and redesigned. In the next generation of social media interaction, users will communicate online in ways that better mirror their organic interactions in real life. Welcome to the age of fluid personal communication.
“…instead of getting bogged down by the old-fashioned notion of communication – phone calls, emails, instant messages and text messages – [Google] needs to think about interactions…..To me, interactions are synchronous, are highly personal, are location-aware and allow the sharing of experiences, whether it’s photographs, video streams or simply smiley faces. Interactions are supposed to mimic the feeling of actually being there. Interactions are about enmeshing the virtual with the physical.”
I agree, but the concept of fluid communication goes deeper. Until now, personal electronic communication could be crudely divided into two types – active and passive. Email, chat and text messaging are the prototypical active forms. Facebook wall posts, tweets, and Google+ posts, are the prototypical passive ones. Until recently, these two types lived separate lives, but that’s changing, and with it are some of our basic assumptions about online communication. Here are some thoughts about the new challenges and how to deal with them.
Three issues combine to make the story interesting: groups, informational side effects, and the social contract inherent to social networks. They are all important, but the interaction among them is particularly interesting – and confusing.
Groups. If you think of the continuum between emailing a small group of people and posting to a newsgroup or mailing list, Facebook wall posts resemble the latter. But the recent introduction of Google+ Circles, and the renewed interest this has brought to the long-standing (if somewhat dormant) Facebook Lists, blurs the boundaries. Is sharing a photo with my eight-member “Immediate Family” List on Facebook (or the corresponding Circle on Google+) much different than sending the group an email with that photo attached? Experience suggests it’s not.
Informational side effects. Email has long recognized informational side effects — the distinction between To and Bcc is the best example of it. When I address a message to Sally and Bill we’ve achieved common knowledge of the content: we are all aware of the message. When I send a message to Sally but Bcc Bill, something more complex happens: Sally and I achieve common knowledge of the content, and Bill and I achieve common knowledge of both the message content and the fact that Sally and I have common knowledge of it. There are other, more subtle informational side effects of To. For starters, if Sally and Bill don’t know each other, then by emailing them both together I’ve made their existence common knowledge, and disclosed that I have a relationship with both. And obviously they now can communicate directly. I once had a banker who sent email to several of his clients using To, a gross privacy violation. The banker could have used Bcc in that instance, but in other cases that’s throwing away the baby with the bath water. For example, a company may need to send a message to its investors. It’s important that everyone know who all the investors are, but at the same time it may be inappropriate to reveal their email addresses.
Social contract. Careful control of who sees what is perhaps something of a corner case in email, and one can imagine various ways to deal with it; for example, in the company investor’s case, one could Bcc everyone, and includes just their names in the body of the message. But what is possibly a corner case in email becomes central in social media.
A social network is not merely a communication medium. It is first and foremost a place in which social contracts are established and maintained; and when you overlay a communication framework over such a social graph new things happen. The most noticeable complication arises when the social network requires permission to establish a social connection. For example, when I post on my wall, since Facebook adopts a version of email’s “reply-all,” my friends see each other’s posts. Is it appropriate for two of my friends who are not mutually connected to comment on each other’s comment?
So what does this all mean?
The lesson from this is that in the era of social networks we need to revisit communication conventions that previously served us well. In particular, we can’t take for granted the distinction between active and passive communication. Every developer of a new communication service should ask him/herself the following questions:
- When a group is created, are the group members aware of it in any way? If yes, what exact information do they get and who decides it?
- Is the communication style active, passive, or does it span the spectrum?
- What are possible responses to a group message? Reply? Reply-all? Reply-only-to-other-people-who-have-also-replied? Reply-only-to-people-the-sender-is-connected-to?
- When a user communicates with a group, what information does each recipient have about the other recipients?
- Who can initiate communication with whom? In particular, when a group receives a message, can any group member now communicate freely with any other member?
- If I create a group and communicate with it, and the system permits the recipients to freely initiate new communications with the group, does it remain “my” group or have I now put it in the public domain?
Overlaying multicast communication on top of a social graph is tricky; you need to think about the informational side effects and to respect social contracts. This can get complicated, but the issues are real. To borrow from Einstein: Communication in social networks should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.
Yoav Shoham is a professor of computer science at Stanford University and co-founder of Katango. These issues have been the subject of much discussion at Katango, but this should not be viewed as describing Katango’s strategy or product offering; the goal is to have a conversation among all of us attempting to improve users’ digital social experience.
Related research and analysis from GigaOM Pro:
Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.
- NewNet Q1: Content Farms and Niche Networks on the Rise
- 5 NewNet Milestones That Won’t Happen in 2011
- Flash analysis: the tech startup investment environment, Q3 2011
Today we're announcing a bunch of improvements that make it easier to share posts, photos, tags and other content with exactly the people you want. You have told us that "who can see this?" could be clearer across Facebook, so we have made changes to make this more visual and straightforward. The main change is moving most of your controls from a settings page to being inline, right next to the posts, photos and tags they affect. Plus there are several other updates here that will make it easier to understand who can see your stuff (or your friends') in any context. Here's what's coming up, organized around two areas: what shows up on your profile, and what happens when you share something new.
On Your Profile
Your profile should feel like your home on the web - you should never feel like stuff appears there that you don't want, and you should never wonder who sees what's there. The profile is getting some new tools that give you clearer, more consistent controls over how photos and posts get added to it, and who can see everything that lives there.
Inline Profile Controls
Before: Most of the settings for stuff on your profile were a few clicks away on a series of settings pages.
Going Forward: Content on your profile, from your hometown to your latest photo album, will appear next to an icon and a drop-down menu. This inline menu lets you know who can see this part of your profile, and you can change it with one click.
A side benefit of moving most settings to inline controls is a much shorter and simpler Settings page. A bunch of settings that were there previously have been moved directly inline, and a handful have been replaced or removed. (You can find more detail on the profile settings here: http://www.facebook.com/about/control)
Profile Tag Review
Before: Photos you were tagged in would show up on your profile as soon as you were tagged. One of the top requests we've heard is for the ability to approve these tags before they show up on your profile.
Going Forward: You can choose to use the new tool to approve or reject any photo or post you are tagged in before it's visible to anyone else on your profile.
Content Tag Review
Before: Anyone who could see your photos or posts could add tags to them.
Going Forward: You have the option to review and approve or reject any tag someone tries to add to your photos and posts.
View Profile As…
Before: We heard you wanted to know what your profile looked like to others, but the tool for doing this was behind the scenes.
Going Forward: This tool is now on the top of your profile where it's easier to access.
When You Share
In addition to the profile changes, it will now be more visually straightforward to understand and control who can see your posts at the time you share them. We're also broadening the functionality of the sharing tool: now if you want to make your posts more expressive, we've made it simple to add location and tag the people you're with.
Before: Controls for who could see your stuff on Facebook lived on a settings page a few clicks away.
Going Forward: The control for who can see each post will be right inline. For each audience, there is now an icon and label to help make it easier to understand and decide who you're sharing with. Also, when you tag someone, the audience label will automatically update to show that the person tagged and their friends can see the post.
This dropdown menu will be expanding over time to include smaller groups of people you may want to share with, like co-workers, Friend Lists you've created, and Groups you're a member of. These will make it easy to quickly select exactly the audience you want for any post.
If you're posting to Facebook from a phone or app that does not yet support inline controls, your setting will be the same as it is today. You can change this with a new setting available on your privacy settings page. (For a guided tour of these new controls, go here: http://www.facebook.com/about/sharing)
Word Change: "Everyone" to "Public"
Before: You had the option to share a post with Everyone, which meant that anyone on the internet might be able to see it.
Going Forward: We are changing the name of this label from Everyone to Public so that the control is more descriptive of the behavior: anyone may see it, but not everyone will see it. This is just to make the setting more clear, and it's just a language change.
Change Your Mind After You Post?
Before: Once you posted a status update, you couldn't change who could see it.
Going Forward: Now you'll be able to change who can see any post after the fact. If you accidentally posted something to the wrong group, or changed your mind, you can adjust it with the inline control at any time.
Tag Who You're With, or What You Want to Talk About
Before: You could only tag someone if you were friends with them, and you could only tag a Page if you had liked it. This felt broken or awkward if you had a photo album of co-workers and had to become Facebook friends to tag them in the photos.
Going Forward: You can add tags of your friends or anyone else on Facebook. If you are ever tagged by a non-friend, it won't appear on your profile unless you review and approve the post.
Tag Locations in Posts
Before: You could only "check in" to locations using the Places feature on a smart phone.
Going Forward: Now you can add location to anything. Lots of people use Facebook to talk about where they are, have been or want to go. Now you can add location from anywhere, regardless of what device you are using, or whether it is a status update, photo or Wall post. Of course, you can always choose not to add location at all.
As a part of this, we are phasing out the mobile-only Places feature. Settings associated with it are also being phased out or removed. (You can read more about how location works and settings affected here: http://www.facebook.com/about/location)
Remove Tags or Content from Facebook
Before: When we asked, people had different ideas of what removing a tag actually did, and different motivations for wanting to remove them.
Going Forward: Your options for removing tags or content on Facebook are presented more clearly. Your options are: removing from your profile, removing the tag itself, messaging the photo owner or tagger, and requesting the content get taken down. (More details on tagging can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/about/tagging)
These changes will start to roll out in the coming days. When they reach you, you'll see a prompt for a tour that walks you through these new features from your homepage. In the meantime, you can read more about the upcoming changes from the links throughout this post. We'll look forward to your feedback on all of this.
Taken together, we hope these new tools make it easier to share with exactly who you want, and that the resulting experience is a lot clearer and a lot more fun.
By AMIR EFRATI
Google Inc. launched its most ambitious social-networking effort yet, broadening a battle with Facebook Inc. to grab the attention of Web users and future advertising dollars.
The new Google product, Google , is aimed at exploiting what has been considered a weakness of Facebook—that by default people using the social network share all their information with a large group of friends, including their work colleagues and acquaintances, rather than only their close personal friends. Numerous social-networking companies such as Path Inc. have sprung up to attract people who only wish to share information with smaller groups.
The Google project is in a "field trial period" meaning it is an invitation-only product and is expected to be made available more broadly in the future.
The effort to create what became Google started in earnest last February after Google's social-networking service Google Buzz flopped with users, in large part after backlash that resulted from when it made email address books visible to other people. Last summer The Wall Street Journal reported that Google was developing a new Facebook rival.
So you think you have Facebook all figured out. You have your fan page with a couple custom tabs set up, you've started an ad campaign and every one of your products on your site has the "like" button installed (which increases revenue). Easy peasy, this Facebook stuff is a cinch! Well you're right, it all is pretty easy to implement, but what else could you be doing? What other ways can you utilize Facebook (and its 500 million active users) to help market your company?
These four tactics we're talking about today aren't all new necessarily, but they're fairly new to me. Which got me thinking, if I didn't know about these (or why they were so great for inbound marketing) how many other people also don't know. I'm not trying to claim that if I don't know about it, no one does, because clearly there are people already using them. But the question is... are you? If not, could or should you be? Let's dig right in and take a look at these four Facebook marketing tactics you might not know about (but now you will).
1. Facebook Insights For Your Website
Yes, you read that right. Now, I'm sure you have all seen Insights for your fan pages, but did you know that you could get Facebook Insights for your website? This is a great way to get information about content people are sharing from your site, user demographics, likes and other goodies. We recently set this up and were quite surprised at how much data you could get. Here's a quick blurb straight from Facebook:Facebook Insights for Domains offers a consolidated view of key metrics for any website, even those that have not implemented Facebook Platform. For example, if a user links to your site in their Facebook status message, that data is included in the analytics for your domain. You can access sharing metrics and demographic information per domain and per URL so you can optimize your content for sharing and better tailor your content to your audience.
First off, it's super easy to set up. Go to http://www.facebook.com/insights/ and click the green "Insights for your Website" button in the upper right hand corner. You'll get a pop up box like the one below, then you just simply add the meta tag inside the
Once you have this in place, the next time you go to the Insights page, you'll not only see your fan pages, but you'll also see your website show up as an option. Below are a couple views of the data Facebook gives you about your site.
This view shows the organic shares of our content by days
This view shows the demographics on people who have liked our content. WHOA!
- Official Insights page on Facebook
- How To Activate Facebook Insights for Your Website from HubSpot
- Facebook Launches “Insights For Your Domain” from All Facebook
2. Facebook Comments
I'll be honest here, I was a big skeptical about why anyone would want to use Facebook comments... that is, until I saw it in action. Let me just walk you through my reaction the first time I posted a comment on TechCrunch which now uses Facebook comments.
1. This is cool, it looks like my comment will get posted to Facebook. Hmm, I wonder what that means really?
2. Cool! It means my comment showed up on my wall.
3. But wait... what? It also showed up in my friend's feed! This is what my boss, Jamie saw in his feed:
4. Within minutes, my boss and husband replied to my comment on Facebook. But not only did their replies show up on Facebook, they also showed up in the TechCrunch post. Whoa... imagine the possibilities!
What makes Facebook comments so great:
- Your comments get read by a lot more people.
Neither my boss or husband would have ever read that simple comment I made on TechCrunch. But because it showed up on Facebook, they saw it and replied right then and there. TechCrunch ended up with three comments which they would have only gotten one in a different commenting system. Hello UGC!
- Cuts out a lot of spam!
Facebook does all the work of figuring out if a real person is commenting or not. The person has to be logged in to Facebook in order to comment, so you don't get anonymous users. Obviously there are some drawbacks to this since not everyone has an account (the horror!), but you could offer multiple ways to comment like TechCrunch does.
- Simple comment moderation
Facebook makes moderation pretty darn easy. You have quick access to edit, ban and subscribe yourself to certain feeds.
- Facebook Rolls Out Overhauled Comments System (Try Them Now On TechCrunch)
- Why and how to use Facebook Comments on your blog from Raven
3. Local Business Listings
If you're a small business owner or local business, you may have already noticed these random Facebook pages showing up for your company. These are pages automatically created by Facebook. Initially I was pretty annoyed by these, but then realized you could utilize them for your advantage. Let's take a look at an example of a bar in NYC.
Run a search for "billy marks west" and you'll see one of these pages in the SERPs
Ok so these pages can rank for your branded name, which could help you take over a SERP for your name. The crazy part though, is that Facebook lets anyone (yes... anyone) edit these pages.
Sure it's a little crazy that the edit button is open to everyone, but if you keep it on your radar and remember to check the page often, you can ensure the information doesn't get changed incorrectly.
Facebook is trying to get updated information about all types of locations, including cities. For example, when I went to the New York, New York Facebook City page, I got a pop-up asking me to edit it.
This page shows 3 of my friends have checked in at the MoMA
Which led me to the "community edit" page that asks me to add detail about New York City. Whoa... so I can add information about New York? Again, imagine the possibilities.
Of course, this could also lead to people adding incorrect information, trolling your company and many other negative things. But if you keep your local page up-to-date and keep track of the edits, you have yet another page in your marketing arsenal!
Anyone have a good post about this I could link to? :)
I'm going to be honest here, I sometimes just like to yell out "Facepile!" It's just a fun word to say. :) Ok, ok I'll get back on the subject at hand. You may not know the name for it, but I'm sure you've all seen something the image below before, right? Facepile is the plugin that displays photos of your friends (as long as you're logged into Facebook) who like the particular website you're on.
But have you thought about taking this one step further and adding Facepile to a conversion page? Just how much do you think your conversions could increase if users saw their friends smiling faces right before they signed up for or purchased something? Foursquare does a great job of this if you go to one of their location pages not logged in.
I went out looking for other great conversion pages that use Facepile and I ran across the MailChimp sign up page. Sadly there's a big huge "white space" area which could probably benefit from adding this feature. Here's a (horrible) mock-up of what it might look like if they added Facepile to that bare area.
- Official Facebook Facepile developer page
- If you can find other great information about using Facepile, please let me know and I'll link to it
Now there you have it. Four Facebook marketing tactics you might not know about. For me it's always fun to find these "hidden" gems, especially when there right there staring you in the face. What other tactics do you use that may not be very well known?
This post was originally a presentation I did for our meetup in NYC earlier this month. Feel free to check it out on Slideshare:
Rand - Exploring the New Opportunity in Google's Social Search Features
Rhea - Supplemental Hell - How to Fix "New" Indexing Issues
Avi - Google Instant – For Keyword Research, Content Generation, and Competitive Analysis
Just about everyone reading this will be familiar with WordPress: it’s the behemoth on the content management scene, employed by millions of blogs and web publications large and small alike. The Next Web runs on WordPress, as do most of our competitors, and these days you have to look a little harder to find sites that run on the giants of the past such as Joomla! (formerly Mambo) and the perpetual underdog, Drupal.
WordPress has evolved in huge ways over the years, and generally for the better. What started out as a system known exclusively as a blogging platform can be used to run a wide variety of site types. The team is constantly updating the software with features that cater to a variety of users from bloggers to theme developers: as an editor, for example, some of my favorite features that have come out in recent years are simply things that make managing the publication pipeline easier.
And with the framework offered by the platform for theme developers so ridiculously easy to understand, WordPress has probably made more PHP dabblers out of designers than any other project.
The History of WordPress
WordPress was born out of a predecessor known as b2, one of the first open source blogging platforms. In 2003, b2 was already responsible for running more than 2,000 blogs — considering that the concept was still fairly new and had only been embraced by a swath of early adopters, these numbers were significant, though a pale shadow of WordPress’ reach today.
In 2003, Matt Mullenweg — CEO of Automattic and the face of WordPress — and Mike Little forked b2 to create WordPress. To fork is an open source development term that refers to the process of taking an existing open source project and creating a new branch of it, often with its own new leadership and development team. It was then that Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little’s project superseded b2, and even b2′s founder Michel Valdrighi is a contributing developer for WordPress.
Mullenweg founded Automattic, Inc. in August 2005, which held the WordPress trademark until September last year, when the company relinquished its most valuable asset to the WordPress Foundation.
“It’s important for me to know that WordPress will be protected and that the brand will continue to be a beacon of open source freedom regardless of whether any company is as benevolent as Automattic has been thus far,” Mullenweg said in a blog post at the time.
Automattic puts much of its resources into developing WordPress, which as an open source project they do not own. You’ve probably heard of some of their other projects, too: the free hosted blogging service WordPress.com, the forum software bbPress, spam filter Akismet, BuddyPress (a social networking plugin for WordPress), Gravatar and the hugely popular WordCamps. That’s just naming a few.
The Rise of the WordPress Economy
For years, the commercial viability of open source development has been a subject of much debate, with the traditional answer from open source advocates suggesting businesses offer support services around their open source projects. Unfortunately, such approaches make scaling a business incredibly hard, as these services are one-to-one.
But as WordPress began to grow in popularity and adoption, it became apparent that there were ample opportunities for businesses to take a scaleable one-to-many approach. In fact, Automattic was one of the first to do so.
“I have always believed that the Open Source foundation of WordPress would provide incredible opportunities for businesses to be built. When I founded Automattic about 5 years ago it was the first attempt in our community to do that in a large, targeted way, starting with anti-spam service Akismet,” said Mullenweg in an interview. “The recent success of the WP premium theme market is just the latest example.”
Anti-spam services are a necessity for online publications. Every time another botnet is taken out, it doesn’t take long for a new one to take its place, and site owners come under a constant barrage of ugly, embarrassing spam that needs to be cleaned off their sites.
Just about every WordPress user runs Akismet, because it’s highly effective and can be used for free, but the company offers plans from $5 up to $100 for businesses, even though they could get away with charging businesses much more for the same service. It’s yet more evidence that Automattic, even as a for-profit company, takes its belief in accessibility and fairness seriously.
Automattic hasn’t once lost sight of the platform that drives its success. “That said, these commercial successes are predicated on the growth and stability of the underlying WordPress platform, and I devote about half my creative energy to improving and accelerating the core platform of WP, and I’d suggest anyone else making their living from WordPress do the same,” said Mullenweg.
Since then, commercial themes started springing up all over the web. Consumers who weren’t interested in the basic — though often quite attractive — free themes could look into the premium options available to them, and the demand for such themes proved to be huge, and only ever growing.
The naysayers in those early days are still remembered for claiming that with so many free themes available, it’s unlikely that any theme business would reach beyond a very specific market segment.
It wasn’t long before Envato, the company who had bootstrapped its way to profitability on the back of marketplaces such as ActiveDen (then FlashDen, before Adobe got antsy about the name) and AudioJungle, saw that there might be something to the whole theme market and set up ThemeForest. ThemeForest is now the biggest WordPress theme retailer on the web.
“The first inkling came when in our closed private beta, which was just for getting people to upload content, we actually started seeing sales. That’s the only private beta where this has happened, so that was a pretty good sign! After a few months of sales, it was clear that WordPress was a very fast grower and of course after a year or so of continuous growth it really became clear just what a great niche it was to be,” said Collis Ta’eed, CEO of Envato and co-founder of the company.
Envato doesn’t make the products sold on ThemeForest themselves — though they have been known to put themes up for sale on the site that were developed for internal projects, such as the old theme for The Netsetter. Its large base of authors drive product development while the company focuses on the platform.
On the other hand, Elegant Themes is a small theme shop where each theme is designed in-house. Like ThemeForest, they saw fast growth, though it took around a year to really take off.
“The business was profitable on day one (that’s not saying much, considering there were no startup costs) and has been growing steadily since inception. It probably took a year or so for it to develop into something that I would call a “real business.” We have experienced some considerable growth in recent months as well, which can probably be attributed to me finally finishing school and dedicating 100% of my time to the site (I have been a full time college student up until a few months ago). Activity on the site has more than doubled in the past year,” said Nick Roach, the shop’s founder.
“What started as a one-man operation 3 years ago has slowly developed into a real team effort. There are currently 10 people that work for Elegant Themes, although this consists of a mix between full and part-time staff. This team manages a quickly-growing member base of 65,000. The area that we allocate the most resources to at the company is tech support.”
As the business has grown, Roach has been able to bring on two full-time developers to get themes coded faster, but he still does all the design work himself. “I think it would be great to bring a new designer on board as well, but this isn’t as high on our priority list. I love to design, and a lack of new theme concepts hasn’t been our bottleneck.”
The GPL Licensing Controversy
The fast growth of the market brought issues with it, and the one that’ll be remembered is the controversy around GPL licensing. The open source camp, spoken for largely by WordPress’ core developers, went head-to-head with theme developers who insisted that GPL licensing would kill their sales.
The contention was that themes were derivatives of WordPress, and thus had to comply with the terms of the GPL license and in turn, license themselves under the GPL. Legal professionals offered varying takes on how that would hold up in a courtroom, with the claims made cloudier by the unhidden agendas of both sides, but we’ll leave it at that: we’re talking about the WordPress economy, not intellectual property law.
Some theme developers even started claiming they would pull out of the market and move on to other platforms, and things came to a head when Chris Pearson and Matt Mullenweg took the argument to Twitter, which led to a live debate on Mixergy that day.
But Mullenweg, calm, cool and reasoned during the debate, won out when only weeks later, Pearson’s DIY Themes announced that they would adopt the split-GPL license for their flagship product, Thesis.
When I asked Mullenweg for his thoughts on the controversy since it came to a climax during that debate in mid-2010, he said it was done and dusted.
“I think the issue of licensing in the WordPress community is settled — we now have dozens of theme companies making many millions of dollars a year on 100% GPL products, which are just as Free as WordPress itself. I’m excited about this because it shows that business can thrive while still putting users first and protecting their rights and freedoms, which is what Open Source is all about,” said Mullenweg.
Some of the last holdouts to GPL licensing did so on “principle” — or so they claimed — believing that the interpretation of the GPL in this case was wrong. But those who were worried about sales had their fears allayed when they made the switch.
“After we introduced GPL licensing on all code components for WordPress (that is plugins, and the code part of themes), we didn’t see any change in sales at all. This is great as it enabled us to bring our offerings more in line with the WordPress foundation’s aims and to ensure compliance with the WordPress licensing system,” said Ta’eed, whose marketplace requires all users to adopt the split-GPL license. But 100% GPL licensing is on the cards, he says.
“Licensing the code for WordPress themes under the GPL is a requirement for legal compliance, however licensing the entire theme including the design and assets under the GPL is the preference of founder Matt Mullenweg and many in the WordPress community. I’m not sure what the impact would be for Envato’s authors if we moved our marketplaces in that direction, and this is something we are currently reviewing,” said Ta’eed. “The wider implications for the protection of our author’s designs, their ability to include non-GPL items such as icons in their themes, the impact on our other marketplaces and the general author vibe towards such a move are all important considerations for us. And of course we always take into account that as much as is feasible we’d like to stay in the spirit of WordPress as it’s such a fantastic product and community that has enriched so many lives across the web.”
The initial move from proprietary licensing to split-GPL is an easy one, but it’s the move to 100% GPL that gets tricky. Many authors, for instance, use icon sets provided under other licenses in their themes, and thus it’s unlikely that 100% GPL will ever be a completely mandatory license on the marketplace.
Free Software that Generates Jobs
Perhaps one of the things Mullenweg can be most proud of is that his platform and the economy that has developed around it sustains the livelihood of probably hundreds of families and thousands of people, drawing on a wide range of talent in a loyal, dedicated community. Between theme developers who sell their products on marketplaces like ThemeForest, companies that make WordPress products and employ support staff, product managers, developers, designers, lawyers, accountants and more, and Automattic itself, the reach is huge.
When open source loyalists say that their philosophy can change the world, you only need to look as far as WordPress to see that mantra in action.
“It’s very difficult to say how many authors support themselves on marketplace sales because incomes in different countries vary wildly. So while earning a few hundred dollars a month might be enough to get you by in one country, in another it might be less than a week’s wages. Of course some of our authors are earning figures in the tens of thousands of dollars a month, and in any country that is a very comfortable living!” said Ta’eed.
“I’d say over a hundred people making their living would be a fair guess. We have eighty authors and counting in our Elite Author program which is for authors who have sold over $75,000, and that sounds like more than enough to get by! It’s easy to see that many of the top authors on the Envato Marketplaces are WordPress theme and plugin authors. It’s a fantastic market with huge potential and certainly an area that still has more room to see even more authors earning great paychecks.”
Of course, Ta’eed is talking about marketplace authors only: that’s not counting the dozens of staff and hundreds of contractors that Envato employees.
How to Get Started Earning with WordPress
With such a rapidly-growing economy and room for more players, I’d be surprised if you’d made it this far in the piece without thinking about how you can get in on the action yourself.
There are some basics you’ll need: enough PHP knowledge and understanding of WordPress and its theme hooks to code a theme and some design chops for theme development, or stronger knowledge of PHP and WordPress if you want to get into plugin development. But beyond the obvious prerequisites, Mullenweg, Ta’eed and Roach have some thoughts that may help newbies bust into a competitive market.
“I think the next big trends will be around customization and social. Many people are finally stretching out and finding their voice online with the power and flexibility of WordPress but still have sites that look like many others out there. Every WordPress user deserves a site as unique and beautiful as they are,” said Mullenweg, indicating that those looking to get in at the start of the next wave of big sellers should focus on such features.
“Social still doesn’t match search engines as a means of distribution for blogs, but it’s growing. There are very interesting things in the pipeline from WordPress.com, Facebook, Twitter, and Gravatar that build bridges between the islands of blogs.” Mullenweg won’t say what exactly is coming down the pipes at Automattic, but he says that there are interesting plans this year that will impact the way theme developers do business.
Ta’eed indicates that there’s a growing market that hasn’t been saturated so much as theme development, and that’s plugins. Given that themes are usually design vehicles for features that are already in the WordPress codebase, it’s no surprise that there’s less competition in the premium plugin world — the level of programming proficiency required for plugin development is greater.
Despite running his own theme store, Nick Roach says that marketplaces are a great way to start out and test your abilities.
“I think that ThemeForest is a great place to start. The barrier to entry is non-existent and benefits are almost immediate (assuming you are a good designer!). It can also be used as a starting point before later transitioning into your own separate company. Starting your own business from scratch, on the other hand, is a slow and potentially heart-breaking process, but with that risk comes the reward of creating something much more exciting and fulfilling,” he says. ”I think there is still plenty of room in the market for new theme shops, and I would encourage people that have an entrepreneurial spirit to act on it. Just be sure that you love what you do, because bootstrapping a new company isn’t going to be quick or easy.”
Roach may surprise some when he suggests that the number one area of focus isn’t, in fact, design or code — though that’s not to say you can get away with ugly designs or poor code, which is evident when you look at the shop’s gorgeous offerings.
“If I were to give one piece of advice to theme developers who are thinking about starting their own business, it would be to really focus on providing quality tech support to their customers. There is a reason that our “theme development” company has 7 people doing tech support and only 2 people actually “developing” themes. Building your own community is your chance to turn customers into fans — something that is much more difficult to do on sites like ThemeForest, which has lead to rather disparate support systems on and off the site.”
7 out of 10 of Roach’s staff are dedicated to customer support, and the man himself spends half of his workday digging into support queries and questions from potential customers, which keeps him in touch with the needs and concerns of his users.
And a final piece of advice from Roach suggests that those looking to develop their own theme shops should strongly consider a subscription model over individual theme sales.
“The longevity of a theme is highly dependent on constant updates and improvements. These aren’t static HTML templates, and they need to be updated as WordPress evolves. If a theme company that relies on one-time purchase starts to see a declined in business, then their ability to update and improve old themes becomes hindered as their resources decline,” he says.
“This could potentially leave a lot of their users with buggy, unusable themes – especially if they end up going out of business completely. With the subscription model, on the other hand, there is always happy relationship between the customer and the developer. The only reason to update the themes is if people are using them, and if people are using them then they are active, paying members. This means that as long as people are willing to pay, they can rest easy knowing that our themes will continue to work flawlessly, forever.”
With WordPress theme, plugin and service sales up across the board in 2011, it’s sure to be an interesting year. More and more people are getting into the game, and competition might mean developers have to fight harder for each sale, but it also drives innovation. And innovation in online publishing is what WordPress is all about.
Posted by schneidermike on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 ·
Last week I attended Social Loco as a speaker (thank you Mark Evans) and got to hear Ditto CEO Jyri Engstrom sit on a panel called Enabling the Users’ Revolution: from infrastructure to consumer apps. I have been following Ditto since it came out and have been wondering about how it will be used. Some call Ditto “future foursquare” where I prefer to call it “semantic twitter”.
These comparisons are interesting because Ditto is an application that allows a user to announce their intent. One calls is future foursquare because it supposes that you might eventually check in someplace. I prefer semantic twitter because some of the things that you intend to do may not necessarily result in checking in, but are nonetheless very valuable. A user starts by identifying a type of activity by clicking on the “crayon box” at the top. They can then click again to refine their preferences. For instance if you want coffee, you can click the coffee icon a second time and pick that you want a latte. Others can then make suggestions about where you should go or, noticing that your location is attached to your ditto, they can decide if they would like to join you in your quest.
You can drill down from coffee to something more specific
Semantic means structure. Semantic data is expressed the same way every time so that it is easy to analyze and act on. Ditto thrives on making structure easy, but even I was not prepared for what Jyri Engstrom said at social loco. He supposed that if he used Ditto to express that he wanted to go to a restaurant (and I cannot remember which kind he said, so let’s say dim sum) that someone might be able to eventually go to Foodspotting and share a dish with him.
My jaw dropped and the wheels started turning. Why is this brilliant? Sharing a dish from foodspotting is not just sharing a picture or even the name. A dish in foodspotting has a set of common attributes:
- dish name (which is standardized so that each of a certain kind of dish is nicely grouped)
- 4 different rating types
- user who spotted
- guides it belongs to
The attached data makes the suggestion far more powerful than someone just saying: “Go to Hei La Moon.” With foodspotting the person knows where to go, what people think, what the dish looks like, its exact name, other dishes at the restaurant, other spottings from that person and more.
What if you could drag the dish into Ditto?
There are endless possibilities to integrate Gowalla, foursquare, Yelp, OpenTable and more to the application. What would you integrate? Coming up in my next post, a look at a potential business model.
4/13/2011 02:24:00 PM(Cross-posted on the Social Web Blog)
Since we launched our URL shortener goo.gl last September, we’ve been lucky enough to build a thriving and growing community of passionate users who aren’t shy about letting us know when something could be better. We appreciate the feedback, and today we’ve completed a series of feature rollouts aimed at addressing your most common requests.
Copy to clipboard
Now you can easily copy new short URLs to your clipboard, a frequently requested feature on our forums. When a new short URL is created, the text on the page will automatically be highlighted, and you can simply press Control+C (or Command+C on a Mac) to copy it.
Remove from dashboard
You can also now remove items from your dashboard, so that you can see a quick summary of only your most important links and hide the ones you no longer need. Please note that when you hide a short URL, you’re only removing it from your own dashboard. The URL will still exist and work. You can’t add short URLs back into your dashboard once you’ve hidden them, so be sure you won’t need to find that short URL from your dashboard later. Remember that you can always view analytics for any of your short URLs by appending a “+” to the end of them (e.g., http://goo.gl/rQ6HT+). This feature will be rolling out over the next several days, and may not work immediately on mobile devices.
Many of you told us that you’d like a way to tell us about goo.gl URLs that lead to spam sites. We recently set up goo.gl/spam-report for just that purpose. So far it’s helped us a lot in identifying and blocking short URLs that lead to spam, so keep those reports coming.
Ongoing speed and stability improvements
Even as we add features, we continue to focus on making goo.gl one of the fastest and most reliable URL shorteners on the web. We’ll continue working hard to ensure that we add minimal latency to the user experience and extend our track record of rock-solid reliability—we’ve had no service outages since we launched last September.
We hope you find these new features useful, and we look forward to your continued feedback.
heavy stuff. companies don't need you to want a relationship to have one...
Most companies approach the problem of finding customers on social sites through the slow, arduous and expensive process of participating themselves. On Facebook, for example, businesses can gain access to the profiles of anyone who clicks the “Like” button on the company’s business site (depending on each customer’s privacy settings). With the right pitch, offer or game, companies can gradually gain an enhanced understanding of a subset of their social customer base.
With new matching technology that’s now available, the process is faster and more comprehensive. For example, matching technology uses artificial intelligence to figure out whether a given “John Smith” in a company’s customer database is the same individual as a particular John Smith on Facebook. The algorithms that accomplish this are extremely sophisticated, and they work. In fact, matching technology has been successfully used by law enforcement agencies to locate criminals.
If a company has one or two key pieces of information about its customers — e-mail address is often the most important — that company can accurately identify them on a social site and extract a substantial amount of data, including both profile data and transactional data that can reveal relationships important for marketing purposes. (Again, the amount of data available for any given customer depends on that customer’s personal privacy settings.)