Conventional wisdom tells us that the easier an action is, the more people will do it. It's easier to write a blog than to publish a book, so there are more bloggers than published authors. It's easier to tweet than to write a blog post, so there are now more tweets than blog posts per day. And of course, it's way easier to read than write, so there are far more lurkers than participants.
This helpful pyramid from Clara Shih also reflects this behavior. In the typical online community, there are more taggers / voters than commenters, and more commenters than content producers. It's hard work to write a blog post or a review, slightly less hard to comment on said post, and really not a big deal to vote / like / or tag that review.
Current media darling Foursquare is built around an action that is even simpler than commenting or tagging - Checking in. On an iPhone, a Checkin is just a single tap of the phone. If other patterns of UGC participation are any guide, a community built around a single tap has a better chance of going mainstream than a community built around a more in depth behavior like writing an article.
But is there any value in the content created by a single tap of the phone? On Foursquare, yes. My Checkin tells my friends where I am. It tells the business that I am a customer. That Checkin gives the (awesome) future me a historical list of the places I've been. And on the aggregate, those Checkins tell Foursquare what places are hot at any given time.
One little tap can carry a lot of data.
By now, if you're like me, you are probably thinking about how you can let folks check in to your web service. And taking a quick look around the social media landscape, there are plenty of Checkins to be found.
You can Checkin to a piece of content on Facebook: try "liking" something in your newsfeed.
You can Checkin to a product: try clicking "I want this" on GDGT.
You can Checkin to a link: just click it.
And on and on.
Checkins are easy, fast, lightweight, and most importantly, are a data point tied to a larger intention. For Foursquare, a Checkin represents a person's connection with a local business, their location, and probably an indication of a dollar spent. For Facebook, a Checkin is a signal of the content preferences of the "liker," a newsfeed story in its own right, and a gentle, hugely important tap of encouragement for the content creator. For Google, a Checkin is revenue, a signal of content quality, and on the aggregate, a view of how the world surfs the web.
The dirty little secret of User Generated Content has always been that a tiny percentage of the population contributes most of the content.
Perhaps the proliferation of Checkin-like actions can begin to change this.
Chitika looked at referral data for more than 120M impressions across 60,000 sites and concluded that Search remains the undisputed king of traffic referrals - and it's not close:
According to Chitika, search accounts for all but a rounding error of referral traffic. Social (sites like Facebook, StumbleUpon, and Twitter) are growing as a referral segment, but accounted for only 0.55% of referrals in September. Twitter referrals actually fell, leading Chitika to suggest that "Twitter users appear to be becoming link-blind."
Another interesting tidbit is that after a buzzy launch, Bing is starting to slip as a referrer.
So let's digest this. Search represents nearly 98% of all referral traffic and its share is growing. Twitter referrals are tiny and getting tinier. Bing is slipping. StumbleUpon is the top social site referrer.
Does anyone else see a disconnect between the hype and the data?
I've heard reports of early adopter focused sites whose social referral traffic has started to matter. But it certainly doesn't seem to be a mainstream phenomenon.
So the implications of this in no particular order:
- All bow down to the Google God
- Think hard about committing resources to social optimization over search optimization
- Don't let Silicon Valley's love affair with social media fool you: search is showing no signs of getting dethroned any time soon.
- Flat traffic and eroding referral share are troubling signs for Twitter
Thanks to Chitika for exposing this fascinating data.
Note: One possible explanation for why this data might be skewed in favor of search - sites that use Chitika might be more search friendly than social friendly, due to this product.
This is a baby step to be sure - companies like Cartfly and Adgregate Markets are being far more aggressive about functionality within the widget itself and are focused exclusively on commerce, while Widgetbox's RSS to widget publisher is a bit more general purpose.
But you can bet that eBay will be tracking store propagation, click throughs, and conversion from this new project. If things go well, we may see more movement in this area.
This is also a nice distribution win for Widgetbox - I consider their RSS to widget publisher ("Blidget") to be the best out there, and apparently eBay agrees with me.
Here's a sample widget.
I've long considered blog comments to be one of the more fascinating social media startup battlegrounds in terms of the pace of innovation, the importance of the channel for distribution, and the lessons that can be learned by any company looking to build cross domain features.
Here's Michael Arringon on JS-Kit's new product ECHO:
And in this post, TechCrunch is taking Disqus 3.0 for a spin.
Additionally, Seesmic video comments seem to have been ripped out of TechCrunch.
I'm not going to spend any time debating which of the two services is better - both are well backed companies with quality products and solid teams. But this looks like a critical moment in the ongoing skirmish between JS-Kit and Disqus.
When Twitter unceremoniously dumped TinyURL for Bit.ly, the URL shortening wars were all but finished. I don't expect TechCrunch's decision to carry quite the same impact, but there is no question that TechCrunch sits high on the distribution head for any company looking to secure blog commenting. It does big traffic, it reaches virtually all earlier adopters / bloggers, and it will no doubt be a fabulous case study for whoever wins the business. And TC's decision can't come soon enough - I don't know of a blog on the planet with more of an anon troll / commenter reputation problem than TechCrunch.
Additionally, the blog commenting space may very well be a winner take all situation. As I wrote in an earlier post:
I believe that the blog commenting space has some serious network effects - the more blogs that adopt a certain, distributed blog comment provider, the more pressure there is on other blogs to switch over as not to silo themselves (and their commenters)... Because of these network effects, we may very well see a winner take all scenario emerge at some point in this space. For this reason, today's skirmishes between the blog commenting contenders are worth following.
It will be interesting to see whether a nod from TechCrunch will be enough to tip this space in either Disqus' or JS-Kit's direction.
My employer, RateItAll, just enabled instant review posting of anything via email. Just send an email to email@example.com with the thing you are reviewing in the subject line (e.g. District 9, Negra Modelo, TechCrunch, etc.), and the rating and the review in the email body, and the review will post instantly. You can see some coverage here, here, here, and here.
This feature is an obvious ode to Posterous, the lightweight blogging platform whose primary publishing UI is the user's email client / service.
We're a small shop, so choosing what to work on is a big deal. There were all sorts of other important things that we could have worked on - improving our search engine, making our service more accessible to mobile users, improving new user experience, etc. - but we chose to focus on email, an older, less sexy format.
I'm always interested in hearing about the thought processes that drive other entrepreneurs' decisions, so I thought it might be interesting to share ours. Here we go.
1) With a small team, we try and put resources into the things that are working (as opposed to things that aren't). This philosophy applies not only to our own projects, but what we see when we look around the social media landscape. Posterous is working.
2) We are constantly looking at ways to reduce the barriers to contributing content. We've implemented Facebook Connect, we've experimented with delaying the registration prompt as long as possible, and we've tried other UI tweaks to make it easier and faster to contribute content. We're enamored by the concept of "lazy registration." With emailed reviews, the emailed review IS the registration.
3) Email still figures prominently in our referral logs, much more so than Facebook and Twitter. Social distribution gets all the buzz, but based on our logs, email still dwarfs those channels as a distribution channel. Clearly, people are very comfortable sharing content via email - why not let them post it as well?
4) Virtually everyone who is online is comfortable with email as a publishing UI. By teaching our service to accept content from a universal UI, we hope to make it less of a scary proposition for new users to get involved with our site.
5) Emailed reviews represents our first baby step towards being a mobile service. Anyone with a smartphone can now post reviews on the go.
That's our story and we're sticking to it. In the meantime, you can post a review of this blog - instantly - by sending an email HERE.
A while back, in what I will call the Sheep Throwing era of the Web, when everyone was starting to bitch about social media being too trivial and inane, and Umair Haque was (unfairly) calling Scoble (and the rest of Silicon Valley) a selfish, naval gazing, frat boy, and O'Reilly was steering his conferences towards a save the world theme, there were a couple of smart people talking about the concept of "Web Meets World." The concept was simple - instead of fucking around tagging, commenting, and linking to each other's stuff, why don't we make the rubber hit the road, and actually apply these social media / web 2.0 tools to real world issues. In other words, the web world needed to meet the real world to help solve the world's problems.
Union Square Ventures made a similar Web Meets World observation when announcing its investment in Meetup - the online tool for organizing and managing offline communities. Here's Union Square Ventures partner Brad Burnham describing Meetup as the original "web meets world" company:
Today, the backlash against fun and and non world saving apps seems to have subsided, likely due to Twitter. Twitter's ability to be trivial, silly, and, yet sporadically, unintentionally useful has made it hip to be lightweight again, as has the success of social gaming companies like Zynga in achieving traction + revenue.
Now, Union Square Ventures lists "playful" as one of it's six guiding principles. This institutionalized acceptance of "fun" is a big switch from even a year ago.
But let's get back to Web Meets World. I've always held that the strongest online communities were the ones that had offline extensions of their online relationships. The WebmasterWorld Forum was my first exposure to an online community that pushed its tentacles out to the offline world. In 2003, when independent web publishers like myself were trying to make sense of Google's Florida update, the same guys who debated Google's algorithm with me in the forums congregated in Orlando to get drunk, and help each other live and in person. Online meeting offline, thus making the online community stronger.
And there are plenty of other examples. I'm convinced that Yelp succeeded while the similarly well funded Insider Pages, Zipingo, and Judy's Book failed in part due to its early emphasis on offline community. I remember sitting in Zeitgeist in 2005 (?) and having two cute girls approach me and ask me if I wanted to go to a Yelp party. These parties became the thing of legend, and increased Yelp's rep among urban hipsters, who now generate most of their content.
Again, online pushing out to offline, reinnforcing the online.
Now, I am starting to notice a new aspect to this Web Meets World phenomenon.
Web Meets World is becoming more than just the online relationships moving offline. Now, there are companies like Foursquare and Booyah (and Brightkite) whose APPS are spanning offline and online. Here's an excerpt about Foursquare from the Observer:
"If you're having a slamming Saturday night, there's no reason why it shouldn't feel like a game of Legend of Zelda," said Dennis Crowley, who was presenting his new mobile social networking application, Foursquare, on March 9 at the monthly New York Tech Meetup. "What we wanted to do is turn life into a video game. You should be rewarded for going out more times than your friends, and hanging out with new people and going to new restaurants and going to new bars--just experiencing things that you wouldn't normally do."
These are fun apps - they're not trying to solve the world's problems, but they are trying to integrate themselves into the daily, real lives of their participants via mobile applications. These apps are trying to make a game out of existing behaviors. You're doing all this stuff anyway, say Booyah and Foursquare, why not win some points and badges and reputation and keep a digital diary and meet similar people while you're at it.
These companies are not feeding the world's hungry, or beating malaria, or rebuilding New Orleans - in fact, the infamous Keg Standing Scoble critique made by Umair Haque would probably be applicable to (and embraced by) both of these companies. But their work in binding offline and online worlds is important for our industry. It's showing us that Web Meets World doesn't have to be heavy and world changing - people like to keep score, they like to win, and they like to have fun - even in their most mundane activities. And mobile is providing the recording device.
I suspect that we will see more apps that attempt to log existing offline behavior in a game format in an effort to blend online and offline - this is the fun side of Web Meets World.