Week in Review

It’s midweek, time to look back over the last seven or so days in social media. Perhaps the biggest story was the birth of the Cuil, that is, the prominent launch of the search engine of that name.

Less prominent, but more interesting to me personally, was the rebirth of BricaBox as an open source project. For context, see my earlier posts on BricaBox, and Nate’s post on the closing of BricaBox, the .com startup.

A weekly review of social media should probably include something on Facebook, iPhone, or both. I’ll go with an opinion piece from Mashable Don on why it’s time for Facebook to sell. I concur, although I might have put it less mildly: sell that Facebubble before it bursts!

This is the first of my weekly-on-Wednesday reviews. Some of its successors may actually appear on Wednesdays. Most of them will be more comprehensive, since I’ll get more systematic about noting things as I see them, rather than going back over the last week.

Web 2.rightnow: Vertical Platforms

The term vertical platform sounds like an oxymoron, or, at the very least, like a difficult thing to stand on unless you’re a gecko lizard. But I found myself using it when posting about Pikiware yesterday to describe something that’s going on right now.

Let’s briefly revisit the “What is Web 2.0?” discussion and recall two good answers:

  • The web as platform, i.e., if you want to build software, build it for the web and the browser, rather than for any specific hardware and operating system.
  • User-generated content, or the read/write web, or the web as Sir Tim originally intended it.

One of the features of Web 2.rightnow is the web as a platform for platforms. For example, if you want to build a social network, you should consider as your platform, not the web itself, but a platform built on the web. Here’s how the folks at Ning describe their offering.

Ning offers the latest social networking features, all infinitely customizable to meet your unique needs. The Ning Platform makes this possible… your social network on Ning runs on a programmable platform.

Then there’s Bricabox, has been described as Ning for content, the above-mentioned Pikiware, more that I haven’t mentioned, and, I’m sure, more vertical platforms to come.

Thanks to Masato Ohta for making available the vertical photo of a platform at Koga station.

Making Money From Your WordPress.com Blog

There is a new record-holder for most popular post at this blog: Making Money From WordPress.com. It is part of a series on how Automattic, which runs WordPress.com, can make money as a firm based on free/open source software.

Seen out of the context of that series, the title can and has suggest that the earlier post is about how bloggers can make money from their WordPress.com blogs. It isn’t, but this post is. To be more specific, the current post is mostly about affiliate programmes, with a few words on each of a couple of other ideas.

I should start pointing out that this post reflects my opinions and my opinions only, but that I hope to see other opinions in the comments. One of my most fundamental opinions on this subject is: if you want to make serious money blogging, then WordPress.com is not currently the best place for you. There are exceptions, such as those already so well positioned to make money blogging that they are a natural fit for VIP hosting (e.g., Om, Schill). Most of the rest of us can’t afford VIP hosting, and if you have to ask how much it costs, you are among those of us who can’t afford it.

As I write this, I have in mind a reader who: wants to cover the costs of the WordPress.com extras they buy and use (e.g., CSS, domain); wouldn’t mind also covering the cost of the Flickr Pro account where they keep their photos; but doesn’t see making money as the purpose of their WordPress blog. If you’re still reading, then thank you, and it is just for you that I identify and explain three things you might do with you WordPress.com blog.

  • Use affiliate programmes, such as Amazon Associates.
  • Link to other sites from which you can make money: your Etsy store, your self-hosted WordPress blog which carries ads,…
  • Promote your consulting or other services.

I’m not going to write a lot here about “problogging” itself. There’s a lot of good stuff about that on the web already. I’d start with Darren Rowse’s page for beginners: Make Money Blogging. Darren’s top income stream is Google AdSense.

But, as the WordPress.com FAQ tells us, Adsense, Yahoo, Chitika, TextLinkAds and other ads are not permitted to be added by users. Change to this policy has been under consideration for a long time, and I presume it’s still under consideration.

If you read on down the above-quoted FAQ page, you’ll find a link to another page: Types of Blogs. That page explicitly states that things like linking your book review post to Amazon are allowed. It implies, to me at least, that some affiliate links are allowed. I’d self-servingly classify my post on The World is Flat as a respectable example: here’s my take on the book, following this link will give you, not only a chance to buy this book, but also further information to help you make the decision.

That said, much of the code generated by affiliate programs such as Amazon Associates will not work at WordPress.com. That’s not so much because of the ads/affiliates policy as it is because of security issues. Javascript is not allowed at WordPress.com, and much affiliate code uses Javascript.

For this reason, one of my criteria for using an affiliate program on a WordPress.com blog is: will the program give me plain enough html code that WordPress.com won’t spit it back at me? But before it gets that far, affiliate links have to pass the following tests.

  • Is it likely that some readers will find the link helpful? Amazon links do well on this test, because the provide user reviews, further recommendations, etc.
  • Is it likely that other readers will find the link annoying?
  • Do I use the stuff myself? For example, do I wear Threadless tshirts? Yes, and I feel a sense of affiliation with Threadless that goes beyond getting a free shirt every few times someone orders using m “street team” code. Do I stream music using Rhapsody? Yes, almost every day, and so I am confident that some of my dear readers will be interested to know that they can get a 14-Day free trial to Rhapsody Unlimited then pay only $12.99 per month.

I’ve set up a site to keep track of affiliate programs for bloggers. There are probably existing directories, but I don’t know of any that tag programs that generate plain enough html to be acceptable to WordPress.com. The first five programs I added do so, and so are tagged html.

If you’re wondering when we’re going to get on to the topic after affiliate programs, and link to an external site revenue-generating: we just did. BricaBox, the tool I used to set up the directory of affiliate programs mentioned in the last paragraph, allows ads. By the way, BricaBox is a “social content platform” about which I’ve previously posted.

Finally, there are lots of examples of WordPress.com bloggers who make their readers aware that they do more than blog. For example, Lorelle is a consultant, photographer, and teacher as well as a blogger and writer.

I hope that this has been helpful. Due to technical problems, I had to retype some the last few paragraphs, and re-edit the whole post. I hope that I caught everything.

If I’ve made errors with respect to WordPress.com policies, or to anything else, please let me know by email or commemt. Talking of comments, I see as I do the final edit (again) that we have a comment already.

BricaBox: Deja Ning All Over Again?

Is BricaBox staking out the undesirable market territory that was already prospected, and then abandoned, by Ning? Several people have in effect asked this question: most recently, Hashim in a comment on my post; earlier, some of those who commented on the RWW post.

To refresh memories, Ning launched in October 2005 as a web service for the building and use of “social applications.” The Ning Launches! post at TechCrunch was enthusiastic: “allowing people to build cool new stuff that they normally wouldn’t (empowering the users) is one of the best things you can do on the Web 2.0 space.”

But by January 2006, Mr TechCrunch was suggesting it was RIP/deadpool time for Ning. Let’s look at his reasoning.

The idea of Ning… is brilliant… But the reality of Ning is that it’s lost whatever coolness it had, no one uses it and Ning is going to have a very hard time getting people’s attention when they finally do roll out better functionality.

Here’s are the problems:

First, You have to know PHP, or at least HTML, to build anything unique on Ning…

About a year later, in February 2007, Ning relaunched as “your own social network for anything.” A year after that, Ning CEO Gina Bianchini lit the virtual birthday candle and remarked on the size (over 185,000 networks) and growth of the service since the relaunch.

On the same day (Feb 26 2008) BricaBox launched its public beta. Having brought ourselves up to date, we can now address the question of whether it launched into a space already proved by Ning to be inhospitable.

First of all, let’s have a look at the above quote from Mike Arrington. He described the idea as brilliant, but found the implementation lacking. The first of his specific points is that you needed to be able to code in order to do anything with Ning.

BricaBox, in contrast with the Ning of a year ago, does not require coding. To build your BricaBox, you drag and drop content blocks into columns. For example, in my BricaBox keeping track of WordPress Multi-User sites, the page for each site includes a comments block (here’s a sample page).

I could go down the rest of Mike’s list of what was initially wrong with Ning, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader. I’ll tell those of you who skip such exercises that BricaBox does not seem to have made the same mistakes.

So, looking at Mike’s critique of Ning, BricaBox does not seem to be following in Ning’s misdirected footsteps. You might of course disagree with his critique, or with my application of it.

Now let’s look at the question (remember the question – the one in italics right at the top of this post?) from a broader perspective. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen the growth of blogs, the growth of social networks, and, more recently, the awareness that there are opportunities between the two, or combining the two. So the environment is now friendlier for BricaBox, as a social content platform, now than it would have been a year or two ago.

In particular, BricaBox launched into a more promising territory in February 2008 than did Ning in October 2005 – even if much of the difference is in time, rather than in location. It is also avoiding some of the potholes into which Ning fell.

That’s enough from me. I’d be interested to hear from you. If you are one of those who posed the “Ning question” about BricaBox, what do you think of my answer? Whoever you are, if you’ve read this far (and I thank you for doing so), you might as well take a little more time and leave a comment.

BricaBox: Platform For Social Content Sites

BricaBox, according to Blake at ReadWriteWeb, is a new type of service that combines elements of social networking and content creation into a medium it calls a “social content platform”. What does that mean?

One way of answering that question is simply to read BricaBox’ manifesto. CEO Nate Westheimer blogged part 1 of the manifesto a couple of weeks ago. He started by contrasting “content platforms” (e.g., WordPress) with “social platforms,” (e.g., Ning). This is similar to my favorite web-characterizing contrast: the one between content and connection.

Nate went on to describe “social content sites” such as Flickr and Yelp. (Such sites are sometimes described as object-centered social networks.) That Nate describes such networks as sites is crucial. He argues that there is no platform enabling the creation of such sites. The lack of such a platform is the motivation and the opportunity for BricaBox.

[W]e have set off to create a universal social content platform: a way for anyone to create a social content website using any combination of tools and data sources, just as easily as someone can create a blog.

I got interested enough to pursue the best method of finding out what someone means by their characterization of their product or service: trying it. So I signed up for the beta and created a BricaBox: WPMU Sites. I’ve been thinking for a while about a better way to keep track of the many sites running WordPress Multi-User (WPMU) than the blog I’ve been using to do it (and have neglected for too many months now).

Based mainly on a couple of the early hours of this morning, I think that BricaBox may well be the right tool for this task. I certainly think it’s a better fit than Ning, which I considered for the task a month or two ago.

That’s not to say that BricaBox is better than Ning. Rather, it’s to reinforce Nate’s distinction between a social network platform (Ning) and a social content platform (BricaBox). Because of that distinction, I have to disagree with Mashable Kristen’s description of BricaBox as a Ning competitor.

Another distinction between BricaBox and most of the other web services mentioned in this post (and in the posts to which it links) is that BricaBox entered public beta a matter of hours ago. So it’s rougher around the edges than services that are out of beta (whatever beta means these days) or have been in public beta longer.

For me, BricaBox is one of the more interesting new web services. I expect to write more about it – but not in this post, which is already longer and later than I intended.