Archive for September, 2008

New ‘Google Moderator’ tool tames lecture-hall chaos

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

When I was at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York last week, many of the panelists and speakers invited the audience to ask them questions by submitting Twitter messages. A Google engineer named Taliver Heath has gone one step further by creating Google Moderator, an application that lets the audiences at lectures and discussions submit questions and vote on the ones they’d like to hear answered.

Google Moderator, then named “Dory” after the inquisitive fish from Finding Nemo, started out as an internal tool. It was originally intended for the audiences at Google’s “Tech Talks” series, then to company all-hands meeting and other lectures at the company’s Mountain View, Calif. headquarters.

“There was never enough time for all the questions, and it wasn’t clear that the best questions were the ones actually getting asked,” Heath wrote in a blog post. “And since many of these talks were led by offices outside of Mountain View, it became harder for distributed audiences to participate.”

After a few requests, Google has now released Moderator to the general public as part of its Google App Engine platform, and it’s now available for free use. I’ll start by asking a question about Moderator: What if audiences are too busy reading and voting on question submissions to actually listen?

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New ‘Google Moderator’ tool tames lecture-hall chaos



14 celeb-powered start-ups: Where are they now?

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Earlier this week Gwyneth Paltrow’s new start-up Goop.com went live. The site promises to have tips for food, shopping and life in general from Paltrow. There’s no telling whether it’s going to be more of a blog or an actual business venture with branded products, an editorial staff, and a synergistic TV program. What we do know is that Paltrow is simply the latest in a long string of celebrities that have come off the big screen (or recording studio) and onto the Web with products and services backed with their money and persona.

We’ve listed 14 of the more recent ones below, including the status of whether or not they’re still around.

Celebrity: 50Cent

Site: ThisIs50.com

ThisIs50.com is across between an online resume and a place for fans to gather. What makes it an interesting business venture is that it’s been created using the build-your-own social network service Ning. 50Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson has leveraged in all sorts of brand integration like a Kyte.tv video player and links to various places to buy and stream his music including imeem.

Status: Alive and kicking although it’s a visual mess. There’s also a 50cent.com, which is far cleaner and powered by MTV-owned Flux.

Celebrity: Ashton Kutcher

Site: Blahgirls.com

Kutcher, who is also the founder of VoIP start-up Ooma launched Blahgirls earlier this month at the TechCrunch50 conference in San Francisco. While mainly an animated video series it’s also a celebrity gossip blog that plans to make money through advertising and branding that shows up inside the videos.

Status: It’s too early to tell but celebrity blogs can rise to prominence and fall back down with startling volatility. Much of Blahgirls’ longevity will come down to the content, which in the case of the SouthPark-esq animated show makes it fairly watchable, even to newcomers.

Celebrity: Andrew Shue

Site: Cafemom.com

Shue, better known as “Billy Campbell” from the 1990s TV series Melrose Place is also the co-founder of Cafemom.com, a social networking site for moms. The site launched in 2006 and offers a place for moms to share tips, stories and come together with other moms close by.

Status: Cafemom is doing very well. It picked up a $5 million round of funding less than a year after launching and according to its about page it’s getting over 6 million unique visitors a month.

Celebrities: Baron Davis and Cash Warren


Site: IBeatYou.com

Davis and Warren are both co-founders of IBeatYou which is a competition site. Users can create challenges and have others compete in order to earn points. Much like Worth1000 it’s become a repository for quirky user creations like photo contests and one-upmanship.

Status: Alive, although it’s too early to tell where it will end up. The site launched in late March and has since picked up just under $1 million in seed funding.

The Baron Davis-backed IBeatYou is a fun way to approach casual competition for all sorts of things. In this case it's a photo contest.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

Celebrity: Damon Wayans

Site: WayOutTV.com

WayOutTV was a video comedy site that was to be curated by Wayans. Originally slated to be its own site, shortly after launching it moved to being a channel on YouTube.

Status: WayOutTV is effectively dead (for now that is). There’s still the WayOutTV channel on YouTube, however there are no longer any videos. WayOutTV.com is also dead, although according to the Los Angeles Times it will return at a later date.

Celebrity: David Caruso

Site: LexiconDigital.tv

Lexicon Digital Communications may be most famous for its CSI-star founder and CEO David Caruso who announced the company at the Consumer Electronics Show back in January. What made the announcement noteworthy is that nine months later we still have no idea what exactly the company does.

Status: Still yet-to-be-launched, but if you want to see a really amazing three minute plus promotional video that doesn’t show you what a company does you can find it here.

Celebrity: David Hasselhoff

Site: Hoffspace

David Hasselhoff had a posse. So big in fact that he got tired of using other social networks to keep track of all his fans, and created his own, which has aptly been dubbed “Hoffspace” Like 50Cent, the Hoff has chosen to use Ning, although has managed to make it look pretty good.

Status: Hoffspace is alive and well with over 16,000 members after launching in late August.

Celebrity: Gwyneth Paltrow

Site: Goop.com

As mentioned before, it’s hard to know what will become of Goop. If anything Paltrow has enough star power to run a brand without having to do all of the dirty work as Martha Stewart and Oprah have done with some of their online efforts.

Status: Kind of launched. There’s no actual content yet.

Celebrity: Kanye West

Site: KanyeTravel.com

Kanye Travel is like any other travel site. You can buy plane tickets, book a rental car and pick out hotel rooms in the same place with one bill to pay. Where West is doing things a bit differently is using the same space to sell tickets to his shows, and getting attractions on board to give out special rates to KanyeTravel.com users.

Status: Alive and kicking but slow. The site has also not yet taken on the challenge of mixing in the ticket sales and discounts.

Celebrity: M.C. Hammer

Site: DanceJam

DanceJam is a really interesting service that’s a bit like an encyclopedia for forms of dance that blends in competitions and instructional videos. We checked it out back before it launched in late November of last year.

Status: Alive and kicking. According to Compete.com it’s had a healthy zigzag of unique user growth leading into September, although it’s still got a ways to go before it’s a household name.

Celebrity: Peter Gabriel

Site: TheFilter.com

The Filter is a media recommendation engine that Gabriel has invested in. Users tell the service what kind of music and videos they like and it spits out recommendations that get smarter the more a user rates.

Status: Alive and well. The site had been focused on the European market, but opened up to other parts of the globe after a re-design in May. The one thing that might hinder its mass adoption is the inclusion of playlist recommendation in both Apple and Microsoft’s latest MP3 players.

Celebrity: The RZA

Site: WuChess.com

The RZA might be most well known for being a member of the rap group The Wu Tang clan. WuChess is an extension of that brand that mixes social networking with online chess. Users can play against the computer or other users for prizes and stat points that are tracked on their profiles and determine their ranking for matchmaking and tournaments.

Status: Still alive, but again we have another case of a celebrity backed venture that uses existing technology. In this case it’s two-year-old Chesspark.

Celebrity: Will Ferrell

Site: FunnyorDie.com

Ferrell is the co-founder of FunnyOrDie.com a comedy site that lets amateur comedians post their homemade creations alongside content made by professional comedians. The site received a boom of traffic from several of its videos hitting the Web, including “The Landlord” which has netted close to 60 million views.

Status: Doing real well. In June, HBO made an equity stake in the site with plans to produce 5 hours of content that will appear on the paid TV network. We also heard that as of late July, more than 140 of its videos had hit the front page of social news site Digg.com since its launch.

Celebrity: Will Smith

Site: PluggedIn.com

Back in mid-April Smith was one of the investors in a $2 million round of funding for music video site PluggedIn. The site serves up its videos in spiffy looking high resolution with the use of a special plug-in (which incidentally ha s nothing to do with the site’s name).

Status: Alive and still very much around. Like Peter Gabriel’s investment in The Filter, this isn’t Smith’s idea as much as he’s just helping to fund it.

Honorable mentions for tech/web spokespeople: William Shatner, Leonard Nemoy (for Priceline.com), and Barry Bonds (Bling Software)

Any we missed? Drop us a line.

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14 celeb-powered start-ups: Where are they now?



Blogger Outreach for PR – Worst Practices

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Despite the fact that several smart PR bloggers, including Cece Lee, Laura Moncur and Elge Premeau have written about what works in blogger outreach for PR, there are still a lot of agencies and PR people who just don’t get it. Their efforts at appealing to bloggers are awkward at best, counterproductive at worst.

Want bloggers to write nice things about your product, service or company? First, it helps to understand how to get bloggers to write about you. Second, here are 6 practices to avoid.

1. Just send a press release.

This is likely to do your company or your client more harm than good. There is an extremely low chance that a blogger will write about you based on getting press release, but a pretty darn good chance that he/she will view you as a spammer and ignore any subsequent emails you send.

Imagine it’s a phone call instead of an email. And imagine you’re on the phone with a really influential blogger, like…Seth Godin. Seth answers the phone, you introduce yourself, and Seth says, “I’m really busy but, tell you what, I’ll give you five minutes.” Would you really spend that five minutes reading your press release to him?

Didn’t think so. You’d acknowledge his interests, then tell him in a compelling and straightforward manner why he and his readers should care about your story. So, do the same in your email outreach to bloggers, and you’ll have a far greater shot at getting some online coverage than you will with a press release.

2. Act like you expect coverage.

If a particular blogger doesn’t respond to your outreach, it may mean that your pitch wasn’t interesting, or it may simply mean that he/she was too busy to get to it. Or any of a hundred other reasons. Sending a follow-up note saying “Hey, I wrote to you about this a week ago, why haven’t you written about it yet?” is another great way to really annoy a blogger, assure that all of your future messages are viewed as spam, and you get no coverage.

Note that this is not to be confused, however, with polite, periodic follow up. It’s perfectly acceptable to send a follow-up note along the lines of, “Hi, here is a new development at our company that I thought you might find interesting. I know you’re busy, but whether you decide to write about this or not, do you mind if I send you updates from time to time on what’s happening here?”

3. Send exactly the same message two (or more) times.

This is almost worse than #2 above. Sending exactly the same message to a blogger more than once makes it appear that you are either a) hopelessly disorganized (which makes you look bad), or b) using some type of automation for blogger outreach (which makes you look even worse).

4. Promise something you can’t deliver.

This actually happened: a PR person sent a blogger a press release about a report that was coming out based on some economic research. In her accompanying note, she offered the opportunity to interview the author of the report. After a few emails back and forth, the blogger sent her half a dozen questions for the economist to answer.

She bounced the blogger back a couple of days later to tell him that the report author couldn’t answer the questions posed (despite the fact that they were rather obvious follow-up inquiries based on the high-level findings in the report). A complete waste of time.

A month later, she sent the same blogger another press release and interview offer. Unbelievable.

5. Don’t acknowledge return correspondence.

If a blogger responds to an email you send, ignore it. Just send that same blogger another message that completely fails to acknowledge their response. This is even more effective than worse practice #3 above at making your outreach practices appear automated and oblivious, and guaranteeing you a spot in the blogger’s junk mail folder from that point forward.

6. Don’t acknowledge coverage.

When a blogger actually does write about your company or product—just ignore it. Don’t send a thankyou note, don’t Digg/Mixx/Stumble or Twitter it, don’t post a link from the news area on your website, don’t do anything. Act like it never happened.

While all of the tactics above are bad practices, this one is the worst. Why? Because this is the practice bloggers are most likely to talk to other bloggers about. Sending a blogger an unsolicited press release will just get you ignored by that blogger. Failing to acknowledge, in any manner, positive coverage, can get you blackballed by an entire swath of the blogosphere.

If you want bloggers to cover your news, follow the advice of people like Dave Taylor, Cory Doctorow, or this cartoon. But if you just want to really screw up your own and your company’s or client’s reputation among bloggers, use the six worst practices above.

*****

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Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Blogger Outreach for PR – Worst Practices



WooMe wants you to watch other people date

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Social dating site WooMe has launched a new video service that is so amazingly hard to watch it’s bound to be a hit. It’s called WooMe.tv, and it takes recordings from the site’s speed dates and hosts them for all to see.

Not every video is available. Both users must opt-in to have the session shared post-date, and only then does it go into the public directory. What makes it an attractive proposition is that the videos are only 60 seconds long (or less), so you can watch two or three of them in rapid succession. Better yet, each video is linked up to the members’ profiles, so if someone catches your eye you can message them, or view some of their other social interactions.

User ratings have been employed to weed out the good from the bad using the same five star system that’s found on YouTube. WooMe’s creators are also highlighting especially watch-worthy videos in a special featured section. If you find something you like you can also share it with friends either through a direct link or with an embed, which is what I’ve done below.

I think you’ll agree that this has the makings of a really watch-worthy service, however there are a few things that could make it better. For instance:

-Give me an annotation tool. I spent countless hours watching Blind Date back when it was on TV, and seeing little moving notes on the videos was wonderful. I can imagine that someone, somewhere can do as good a job as that production team, especially if they’re limited to just 60 seconds. Better yet, team up with Veeple to do it and make some cash.

-Make inter-network sharing more functional. I just found a video of someone that seems like a good match for my friend. Let me recommend it to him or her with a customized message.

-Let me filter the videos by age group and location. The current system is a good start for exploring, but not as much for meeting other people nearby.

See also WooMe competitor SpeedDate.com, which has made certain member dates public for the sake of promotion.

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WooMe wants you to watch other people date



Confirmed: The blogosphere is mainstream

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

With nearly 1,000,000 posts a day, the blogosphere is overflowing with content and now fully established as a mainstream rather than fringe phenomenon. Traditional media have adopted blogs as a complementary form of content to the traditional news and feature stories. According to Techhnorati’s latest report on the state of the blogosphere, many bloggers are making money. Technorati surveyed a sample of about 1,000 bloggers and found that the mean annual revenue for advertising is $6,000, but sites with 100,000 or more unique visitors are generating more than $75,000 in revenue.

(Credit: Technorati)

None of these results is surprising. Blogs started as a means of personal expression, and now offer more than a billion people the tools to self-publish. Traditional publishers and an armada of new, innovative publishers, as well as millions of readers, have embraced the blog format and ethos. Marketers, readers, publishers, politicians, and most people on the planet with access to the Internet understand the diversity of voices, as well as the cacophony, that blogs allow. The more savvy bloggers are getting sophisticated about search engine optimization, developing a niche, and making money. Technorati will dribble out more results from its survey this week, illuminating the what, why, and how of blogging.

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Confirmed: The blogosphere is mainstream