Don’t build 50 products, build one platform

Xcommerce platform

eBay's Xcommerce platform

If you haven’t read Steve Yegge’s eye-opening rant about the power of platforms vs. products, you should. He rambles and gets a bit technical (he is a Google engineer after all) but he brilliantly explains the value of building platforms that can be extended by others vs. building stand-alone products. This matters to much smaller companies as well, even publishers. Taking a platform approach to infrastructure you already need (like a customized web CMS) will at minimum save money, and could turn into a business in its own right for you. (more…)


Amazon’s brilliant power play: Kindle Fire

The new Kindle Fire, with the Silk browser.

Jeff Bezos, quoted in the NY Times, said about Amazon’s new tablet “Part of the Kindle Fire is of course the hardware, but really, it’s the software, the content, it’s the seamless integration of those things.”

Well, actually, it’s about Amazon’s new lightweight Silk browser, which is about to give them amazingly complete, detailed information about users. Privacy concerns? You betcha. Actionable consumer insights? Billions of dollars worth if this takes off the way other Kindle products have. (more…)

The ultimate data product: Awards programs

Awards programs are a great money-maker that can drive significant revenues for trade shows or trade magazines. In B2B, awards for large scale projects have the potential to pull in revenue from both the designer/architect/builder/engineer and the companies they bought components from.

So why aren’t more of these awards programs investing in the next logical step of turning award entries into a data product? It’s a supplier catalog with drama. It’s a look book with pathos. It’s a way to get people to allocate a lot more of their marketing budget to you than they are now. It’s a great path to monetizing a segment of your audience.

Awards programs minus the data product are already pretty compelling. For the 5, 10 or 20 winners and runners-up, there is a great deal of marketing benefit. For the segment of prospects looking to purchase the products or services being recognized, there are useful benchmarks and new ideas. For the awards program organizers, there are entry fees, award ceremony fees, a bump in advertising from some of the winners, and a jump in attendee/reader interest. (more…)

Innovation starts with people, not tools

Many businesses struggling with how to grow digital revenue decide “we need (insert CapEx investment here)”.  Sometimes they are right. I consulted with a B2B publisher who wanted a new CMS, because their existing CMS was an unmitigated disaster, and actively impeded their ability to grow revenue or traffic.

In their minds, the new CMS would deliver workflow efficiencies and SEO benefits (and it did) and increased revenues would follow, as if by magic (they did not). The new CMS certainly made it possible for them to innovate faster and more cheaply, but it didn’t actually supply them with the market-specific product innovation they needed. (more…)

How to find and hire Web developers

You need great Web developers but have no clue where to find them. You’re not alone. We hire entry-level journalists from j-schools, so can we find entry-level Web developers in university computer science or IT programs? No, we can’t.

College computer science and information technology programs are not producing the great Web developers marketers need. Part of the problem may be that “Web developer” does not actually describe a standard list of skills or competencies.


How to use website wireframes

Can you save time and money with your next site launch by using website wireframes? If you are careful about setting expectations up front, wireframes can be an excellent tool for getting everyone on the same page before your designer invests time in developing a user experience. And since building a wireframe takes no special skills, it’s easy for marketing folks to lay out their expectations and then iterate quickly.


Five keys to uncovering a profitable data business

Many B2B publishers are sitting on a gold mine of rich data disguised as dusty old directories, sold to libraries and a dwindling population of industry customers who order more out of habit than need.  Even when those directories are turned into an online application, they rarely deliver on their potential to be significant revenue drivers.  Directories often get moved online in ways that make them hardly more useful than the printed product, with clunky interfaces that discourage users from digging into the information.  That’s a shame, because even a moderately successful data product generates 50% margins.

I can’t tell you what your publication’s gold mine will look like, but I can help you find it.  Here are five basic rules about turning a sleepy directory business into a serious data products business.


iPad nirvana for B2B media: Get serious

Last year I read an assertion by a well-regarded digital media thinker that the iPad and its eventual competitors represent a “huge opportunity for B2B media“.  The article then goes on to give a series of unremarkable examples of how B2B media is leveraging the iPad, which pretty much prove my contention: A successful B2B iPad app solves a significant reader need, period.


Website requirements document best practices

Building a website or selecting a content management system (CMS) requires a clear idea of what features and functionality the site will need. How you define and implement those features will go a long way in determining the success of the site. That’s why a comprehensive requirements document, which gives your site developers a clear description of site functionality and workflow and the objectives behind that functionality is critical.

What should a requirements document include?   Alas, there is no magic fill-in-the-blanks template you can finish in an hour.  You need to do some research and thinking.  However, carefully answering these 6 questions will serve as a pretty good website requirements template:


Should you build a Facebook app?

Should you consider building a Facebook application?  Rob O’Regan lays out 5 tangible benefits of a Facebook fan page that you should read.  My favorite point in the article is the one about sponsorship revenue.

For consumer publications, there is a real opportunity to create large, profitable marketing programs for advertisers with a Facebook app. Facebook apps collect detailed information about users that can be used (carefully) to narrowly target an advertiser’s marketing, or your editorial.

Good apps leverage something people already want to do, like play games or share pictures, so they can be self-sustaining without a lot of paid promotion.  Scott Varland, CEO of social/mobile agency/app developer SocialBomb, says successful apps offer either value, utility or pleasure to users.


Marketing authenticity and art

I’ve been reading another great Seth Godin book–Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?  Seth has some powerful ideas about the changing nature of work and what will command value (and what won’t) for pretty much everyone in the near future.  A core idea in the book is that value is be created by artists, not clock-punchers.  An artist is not just someone with a paintbrush, it’s someone who does what he does out of love, not just a paycheck.  The result is exceptional…exceptional ad copy, teaching, bricklaying, whatever.  Art is almost never captured in a job description, because it involves things that can’t be categorized, systematized or legislated.  Because art, in the form of exceptional work, is scarce, it tends to command higher prices and sincere admiration.


Preparing journalists for irrelevance

Classes in magazine production?  Really?  It seems the top j-schools are  doing a decent job of preparing students for a very different media landscape.  Columbia, Stanford, Harvard are all tackling the future of the media in exciting ways. But what about the remaining 95% of schools?  A completely unscientific survey of curricula from 10 or so schools of journalism in the U.S.  makes me feel sorry for thousands of students innocently believing they are preparing themselves for a rewarding journalism career by spending hours learning utterly irrelevant skills.

Best advice to those who to aspire to a glamorous career in print media?  Don’t put yourself (or your parents) deep into debt based on a hazy concept of an industry mainly gleaned from TV and movies.  Actually talk to some people who are doing it for real, or even aggressively pursue an internship to see it from the inside.

For those of you who have already gone through J-school and possess media skills of use in the 21st century, you might want to read a little about how (not) to get a journalism job.

History of science fiction as a data visualization

Pure, geeky genius here in Ward Shelley‘s visual history of science fiction until 2009.  I suggest all you hardcore science fiction fans set aside a couple hours in front of a large, quality monitor to really look closely at this.  Lots more in this vein, though mostly about the world of art, on Shelley’s website.

Full size History of Science Fiction map

Click to see the full size History of Science Fiction map

Is finding the right platform the key to success?

It’s relatively easy to come up with a great idea for a new online product, service or business.  You see the unmet need, you know the market, you have a good idea how you can make some money by removing friction between buyers and sellers.  You flesh it out some, talk to some people, and pretty soon you’re excited about this opportunity just sitting there waiting for you.  If this works, you might be able to pay off debt, send your kids to college, quit your day job, whatever.  The point is, this could be huge.

Now, since your idea is a web business, you start looking for a platform, or a software package that can be readily adapted to your new idea.  If you’re lucky, that platform will have been architected by someone with real expertise in the kind of thing you want to do, so it will save you lots of trial and error.  If you can just find the right platform/software/cms/coder you’ll be profitable in no time.

And that’s when you fail. (more…)

SEO Basics for publishers

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a complex art, but by applying a few simple ideas to all website content, publishers can grow their traffic dramatically. Search engines rank sites on their results pages based on how useful and relevant the sites are to people searching for information. They take into account the words you use, your site’s reputation, and how many people find your content valuable. SEO is aimed at influencing the search engines to rank your site higher. But since the search engines, and Google in particular, want their rankings to be completely organic, they are constantly changing how their search algorithms rank pages to make them less susceptible to manipulation.


Which mobile platform should you focus on?

With five major mobile platforms in the US market, where should publishers place their bets? Here is some data to help you make the right decision.  Of course, before you invest in building mobile apps, you should ensure your website is optimized for mobile browsers. If users have a good experience using your site from their phone, they are more likely to consider downloading your smartphone app.