On Old-School Web Content Curation

Posted by: on Nov 17, 2009 | No Comments

There’s been a lot of talk over the past few months (and really, years) about how content curation is the next wave of social media. The reasoning goes that with the massive rise in new information channels spewing a flood of content at consumers, we’re teetering in the midst of an attention crash of sorts.

Better content filtering – feed searches and such – is one way to cope, paired with dedicated tools and even people whose job it is to curate all that information into useful collections for the rest of us. The tools – social bookmarkers like Delicious for example – help everyone who uses them become a vast web of curators in effect. Newer tools like Alltop in effect attempt to curate blogs around selected topics. And link sharing via Twitter and Facebook are exploding the concept even further, with more focus on realtime push and less on the archiving and organizing aspect found in social bookmarking.

I’d like to highlight an older kind of Web content curation, that I think often gets left out of this conversation: the link blog. It wraps the “filtered and trusted firehose” style of link sharing found on Twitter with a touch of commentary and editorial that ads real value and context to those links.

By way of example, take two very popular blogs: Boing Boing and Daring Fireball. Another great tool for this sort of thing by the way is Tumblr, but I won’t dive into it here.

Boing Boing, kind of the granddaddy of all link blogs, bills itself as “A directory of wonderful things.” Which it truly is – it’s a firehose of content in its own right, but of organized content sprinkled with light editorial provided by interesting authors, serving as something of a guided tour to all the quirky parts of the Web.

Daring Fireball, the link-ish blog of John Gruber, in contrast is mostly focused on the Apple community and in particular the Apple developer community. Lots of small links, with a sentence or few of editorial, interspersed with a longer article here and there.

Neither blog is designed to really “curate” content for long term categorization and reference in the way a social bookmarking tool does, yet they do spew out links in much the way you’ll find on Twitter. The value, and the difference, lies in the commentary attached to each link, commentary coming from sources whose judgement and authority many people trust.

It’s because of this short form editorial, from authoritative authors, that they are both among my first stops in the morning. I trust the Boing Boing crew and Mr. Gruber to find and share interesting, relevant links and I enjoy the bits of commentary they provide on each.

In the current era of mass link sharing via social networks, Boing Boing and DF can appear to almost be anachronisms. After all, blogs are soooo 2007, right? But their continued success and relevance I think points to a larger point: everyone has their own preferences for how they consume drips from that grand firehose of Web content, and no one tool or format is the “right” one.

Some people prefer to consume curated content in 140 characters or less (Twitter), some want it only from close trusted friends and in lower volume (Facebook), and some enjoy it with a bit more commentary fed out via RSS readers (link blogs). Which is why I see a future filled with a variety of Web content curation tools and styles, and tend to discount all the frantic stories that surface about how the rise of App X will kill Apps Y, Z, and everything else for that matter. In the case of Web content curation, we have a wide variety of tools and styles already co-existing, as people select what best suits their needs and taste.

MMO corpse spam proves you cannot hide from marketing

Posted by: on Nov 17, 2009 | No Comments

Found via a post over on Virtual Economics (“The growing value of URLs you can easily spell out in dead bodies“), I have to give a hat tip to the spammers (ahem, marketers) behind this little innovation in our field:

Go to any major city (Stormwind, Orgrimmar) [in World of Warcraft] and you’ll see the name of some gold-selling website or other spelled out in dead bodies on the ground.

Yes, all those little red and purple spots in the above photo are, in fact, player character corpses from WoW. Seems to be a rather creative new way to promote websites within the game – just get a ton of accounts, kill off each character in a specific location, and I assume use another character to maneuver the dead bodies into letters to spell out your favorite domain name.

Though yes, it’s spam, I have to say I’m impressed. This is a serious step up from sticking a useless character in a game town square and having him scream out sales pitches to every player that strolls by. I have no idea if it’s effective or not, but these guys get an “A” for the effort.

*screenshot via Virtual Economics

Where Ivar’s thumbed a barnacle at transparency, and it worked

Posted by: on Nov 16, 2009 | No Comments

“He has been called the greatest self-promoter in the history of Seattle.” So said the Seattle Times this past September about Ivar Haglund, the founder of the Ivar’s seafood restaurant chain. The article goes on to describe the “discovery” of a barnacle encrusted billboard in the waters of Puget Sound out in front of downtown Seattle, supposedly put there in the 1950’s by a very forward looking Mr. Haglund.

He apparently foresaw the coming of a future of cross-Sound underwater ferries and a wonderful opportunity to promote his 75 cent cups of chowder. A local historian even chimed in, citing documents discovered in the company’s archives which supported the authenticity and hinted their might be more submerged billboards yet to be found.

A fantastic story, one which perfectly supported the Ivar brand, and garnered reams of local press coverage – and a 5-10% uptick in customer volume in the middle of a major recession.

Of course, it was all a hoax. A masterful joke played on the public, and the local media, by the crew at Ivar’s, the aforementioned local historian, and a local ad agency named Heckler Associates.

In this age of authenticity and transparency, was Ivar’s wrong in running with this oddball marketing campaign? After all, this wasn’t just some creative misdirection, or a hidden sponsor of some viral video. The company flat out lied, and even pulled in a credible historian to lie for them.

Shouldn’t they suffer some blowback or tarnish to their otherwise feel good reputation?

In this case, I’d have to say no. In an odd way, this blatant lie in support of a marketing campaign adds more to the Ivar’s brand – that of blatant, over-the-top, and creative ways to push some tasty clam chowder – than any wholly transparent social media or marketing effort I can think of.

The lie, in effect, makes them more authentic. Genius in its own way.

Photo via the linked Seattle Times article.

On how I slavishly follow Cory Doctorow’s advice

Posted by: on Nov 12, 2009 | No Comments

“They” say that the power of trusted recommendations is the ultimate form of marketing. Well here’s my example of how true that is.

I just bought a novel by Terry Pratchett – The Monstrous Regiment – basically because Cory Doctorow told me to. Not me, directly, of course, but everyone via his post about Terry’s latest book in the Discworld saga, the “Unseen Academicals.

Thing is, I enjoy Cory’s writing enough that I took a leap of faith a while back on another of his recommendations, John Varley’s Red Thunder series. That turned out to be some of the most fun I’ve ever had reading a science fiction book (and eventually, the series). As a result of that recommendation, when Cory came along again and spoke so glowingly of Terry Pratchett, whom I’d heard of but not read, I ran right over to Amazon and picked up a copy with overnight delivery.

Will I enjoy it? Who knows. The point is I’m willing to give it a shot because I’ve previously had a positive experience based on Cory’s recommendation, which itself was based on a certain level of trust I had in his taste through his blogging and writing.

Trust rules all. I can’t wait for my book to arrive.