Ripples Radiating From a Pebble Dropped Into The Center Of a Lake
by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 04/11/2012
It’s very liberating not caring whether anyone is reading my online journal or not. I merely need to sanitize it enough to not give too much away, but also to give enough away to be a rewarding experience to those with the patience, interest, and masochistic tendencies to actually read these things. I believe more than anything else, they will have maybe, perhaps, if I’m not narcissistically deluded, some historical value if anything I do actually catches on and becomes popular.
Story, story, push it forward. There is nothing better I can do now for my office job, my career in SEO, and my online brand than to systematically release new 360iTiger tutorial videos and start (re-)building tribe. No matter what else is going on at work and in your life, it will feel like you are making progress so long as you are always releasing the next video. It is essentially a prerequisite for building tribe, and having something interesting going on. It’s where you communicate effectively that something interesting actually is going on here.
Okay, it’s time to talk about having something interesting going on. This is how to be successful online. Sure, bloggers can pontificate and build audience all they like, but it was a tiny team that built Instagram and sold it to Facebook for a billion dollars. Sure, this is the equivalent of hitting the developer jackpot, but they got all the little details right to build audience, followers, and user-base phenomenally quickly—exactly the type of user-base that’s so important to Facebook: the mobile phone social media-using kind.
The valuable thing is building audience amongst the desirable demographic. I hate to sound like an advertiser, because even though I work for a marketing firm, I rather despise the whole world of advertising, and obtrusively bullying your way into someone’s life, because you have a large enough budget. I’m positioning myself as an earned media optimizer, and this really comes down to having something interesting going on.
This creates quite a paradox, because having something personally interesting going on is inextricably bound to you and your personal identity, and it’s a difficult thing for advertisers to ride on, without you looking like a sell-out. It’s the proverbial celebrity endorsement. No matter how large Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter following is, there’s something insincere about him shilling Nikon cameras. But even without planning to shill, such a soapbox is valuable for career, income, and personal mission in less advertising-like ways. Think Linus Torvalds. Now, he’s got interesting stuff going on.
Well, the project nicknamed Tiger, and officially named 360iTiger is my interesting thing right now, which I get to spend time during the day on. In the longer-term, it’s my Levinux distribution of Linux, derived from Tiny Core Linux, which I hope to make the platform for 360iTiger 2.0, once people have groked what it is. It’s too much to ask for people to use a virtual machine before a critical mass of people have had that ah-ha moment, and 360iTiger has wormed its way inextricably into peoples day-to-day workflow.
Speaking of which, that’s the point where I’m at now. I have to get a somewhat tricky message out there, and build a tribe based upon the product and value proposition. I haven’t done this sort of thing since 2006 and HitTail, which was six years ago now. Unfortunately, I find myself on the wrong side of Metcalfe’s Law, and this feels a lot like starting from scratch. It was a pre-Twitter world back then (just barely), and social media meant blogging.
Fast-forward six years. Sending unsolicited personal emails is considered intrusive, and somewhat obsolete. There are new channels of communication, all modeled loosely on email, but with varying levels of public-ness: Tweets, DM’s, status updates, and whatever they’re calling posting in Google+. There are influencers, repeaters of your message who become the highly echoed dense hubs of getting your message out. And there is the meme payload—that simple elevator-pitch message that resonates truth, maybe uses humor, and is easily passed along.
There is a obtusely encoded meme that is the official company line: a powerful cloud-based technology that automatically gathers website data, such as titles, meta tags, tweets, Facebook likes and more, directly into a cloud-based document with the click of a button.a powerful cloud-based technology that automatically gathers website data, such as titles, meta tags, tweets, Facebook likes and more, directly into a cloud-based document with the click of a button.
…then, there is the highly accessible meme that Danny Sullivan said was much clearer: tool that we just released to the public that crawls sites directly into Google Docs using the bookmarklet approach. It also gets social counters like Tweets, Likes and +1’s on the URLs.
I like the later text, because it’s honest and direct about what it does. I think folks don’t like it because it ties the tool excessively to Google Docs, which it in practice is right now, but not because of being dependent on Google Docs, but rather there simply not being a feature-equivalent or appropriate Web spreadsheet API out there from anyone else. I looked at Microsoft, but it requires a Sharepoint server, and I looked at Zoho, but their API only let you manipulate files: copy, etc. GData was the only API with the granular control necessary to do away with UI development.
I need a new way to reach out to people. And I don’t want to reach out willy nilly. And I don’t want to reach out to the wrong people who will put down the product or try engineering it themselves sooner than getting the word out about our version. In addition to promotion, I need to start working on the next video.
So basically, this is about re-engaging myself in the SEO community, as I did with HitTail in its day. There are discovery mechanisms, and there are places people will go because we (or search) drives them there. Community has one foot in each… so much discussion will occur in Twitter, because that’s where announcements live. Another discovery location will be Google+, because a lot of the SEO community resides there, those pages are themselves SEO-friendly.
But the place we drive them will actually be the 360iTiger website, but not into a forum, as was my first inclination, but rather into Disqus discussions hanging off of Video pages. I believe the video tutorial pages stand the strongest chance of becoming the heart of the 360iTiger site. Each one represents some issue central to the tool’s use, and by limiting the number of discussions that can get created, we’re limiting the URLs and the amount of surface-area in the site. Each video chooses its target term carefully.
The FAQ is the other place where discussions will exist. Currently, the Disqus system is not being used in the FAQ, but it soon will be. Also, there is currently no way for the public at large to submit questions for me to review and turn into FAQ answers, but there soon will be. It looks like I’m going to be becoming quite an expert at Drupal, like it or not.
We are in a different age than the mega-blockbuster… actually, I want to believe that, but things like Instagram hitting the jackpot makes me rethink that. So, we are in an age of… I guess Chris Anderson would call it a more pure 1/X distribution curve of the popular and the unpopular. Popular things near the central Y-axis have the ability to gain infinite popularity, because discovery mechanisms amplify each other, and drive certain successes into mega-successes. Call it “perfect discovery”. Those things that got all the subtle details correct have started on a course of inevitable rewards, so long as they don’t shoot themselves in the foot somehow.
Conversely, the other people in the game who previously couldn’t exist that far to the right of the Y-axis, due to scarcity of distribution and limited channels to get the message out. But today, it’s easier to get into the game than ever, and there is correspondingly nearly infinite competition for attention in the “long-tail”.
This is the challenge that anyone faces when starting out. It is compounded by the fact that things that didn’t take long to invent or develop are easy to reverse-engineer, and if there is value in it, surely will be. So very often, the game is to acquire as much user-base as fast as possible, and plant your flag in that concept and public awareness to achieve a sort of shut-out momentum against anyone else who tries to enter. How many other Dropboxes are there today that offer more storage, but how many of us are using Dropbox anyway?
Getting all the little details right that everyone else missed, building a massive user-base fast, achieving shut-out momentum… these are the ingredients of success today. You don’t even have to charge for your service, because the ultimate currency on this planet turns out to be the mindshare of users. Somehow, that always is valuable to someone, or key to someone else’s business, or some-such, and transforms into reward.
But this thing that I built is not Dropbox, nor is it Instagram. It is of infinite use to a limited audience who need to harvest data into a spreadsheet easily, and mash up that data through APIs, directly in the spreadsheet environment. 99% of the people this is described to would get a glazed look in their face. But the 1% who actually need to do this sort of stuff, their eyes will light up.
So, the pebble has been dropped into the center of the pond. The ripples MUST radiate out before someone else comes and drops a similar pebble. But they won’t radiate out on their own without help, and doing too much online promotion would be impolite and not entirely appropriate. The tool itself has to have its self-fueling mechanisms built-in.
What are those mechanisms? They are actually more important right now than the next video. I have to be able to answer the question: “Why will 360iTiger take off like wildfire?” Right now, it’s clearly not. There were a few tire-kickers, but it has sort of leveled off.
What are my channels for reaching out? What are the best channels for this SEO / social media insider audience? First, list the channels. Then, evaluate them.
- YouTube, because I’m hosting the videos there, and there’s some audience built-in.
- Google Search Results, because I will be targeting keywords that align to qualified traffic.
- Twitter broadcast announcements, because it’s so darn easy, and where this stuff most politely and naturally lives: 360i account, plus my personal account.
- Twitter direct messaging, because its slightly more polite than email.
- Email, but only to those I have a prior existing relationship.
- Facebook friendship network broadcast, because it’s still sort of appropriate.
- Facebook email, but only to those to whom it would be welcome, and not be unexpected.
- Google+ stream with Public permission set. Is there any special targeting by including appropriate circles, even once Public is set?
- Google Hangouts, per Mike Dobbs’ suggestion, to REALLY show people how it works. Screen sharing?
- Potentially through the documents themselves?
It is unclear which ones will pay-off and how. But THIS is my interesting thing going on, that will make me interesting to follow online. Most people blogging are just pontificating into echo chambers. Others are post-success killing-timers, while still others are engaged in real work, but are not blogging the day-to-day gory details. This is my sweet-spot. I’m trying to do something big, and I am right in the thick of it, and blogging it all the way.
I have developed a killer tool, of interest to a great many people, although they don’t know it yet. It’s transformative of the way people work day-to-day, adding great new facility to a tool people have been gravitating towards anyway—Google Docs. I am not asking any money for its use, because my employer is happy to be releasing the free service for the leadership position it provides. But to do right by them for allowing this to happen, I have to do my part to make sure that the ripples radiate out on the surface of the lake.