Sep
2
2010

Facebook Like Fraud and Like Farms

Categories: Social Networking, Web

It was only a matter of time. Give spammers an easy way to reach millions, and they’ll do it.

It is already pretty easy for a motivated spammer to commit Like Fraud: the act of creating a Facebook Like button for a URL other than the one on which users click.

In a similar manner, spammers have created sites that carry little else other than Google ads and funny phrases that users can “like” and share on their Facebook profiles. These sites are known as Like Farms. Many aren’t necessarily substituting a different URL, but theoretically, they could. This would give the target URL a lot of attention.

Seem like harmless fun? Sorry, it’s not. Here are some of the potential consequences of “liking” random messages from spammers:

  • Google (GOOG) has already flagged at least one as potentially carrying malware that may harm your computer. Be careful of clicking on the URLs of these funny messages. They may lead you to harmful sites.
  • You may be inundated with Facebook spam. By “liking” a spammer’s message, you are giving that spammer permission to start sending you Facebook updates. Lots and lots of them.
  • Although this doesn’t hurt you directly, these “likes” may make the spammer’s site seem more important to Google. Therefore, the next time you do a Google search, you may see that spammer’s site listed higher than a legitimate one with real information. I’m sure Google will correct this someday though.
  • Similar to gaming Google’s search results, this can game Facebook’s search results too.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that Like Farms have sprouted; it was only a matter of time. Now that they’ve blossomed, be careful where you tread and what you Like, for not all Likes are created equal.


Aug
30
2010

A Scrappy Entrepreneur’s Free Business Cards

Categories: Entrepreneurship

Being a scrappy entrepreneur means being financially efficient.

I saw an example of that when I met Joe Greenstein, the CEO & co-founder of Flixster. When he handed me his card, I noticed the design looked oddly familiar.

Then I flipped it around. On the back of the card were the words: “Business Cards are FREE at www.vistaprint.com!” The design was one of Vistaprint’s business card design templates.

Yes. The CEO of Flixster, a company that has raised around $7M and acquired the movie reviews site Rotten Tomatoes from News Corp (NWSA), doesn’t spend money on business cards. Instead, he prints them for free with Vistaprint.

Why? Because he’s a scrappy and financially efficient entrepreneur.

(The rest of his team has official Flixster business cards though.)


Aug
14
2010

Evan Williams, The Man Behind Digital Publishing

“Simplicity is powerful.”
- E. Williams

Evan Williams What a lucky duck. Evan Williams, I mean. He was at the front of two digital publishing revolutions: blogging and microblogging (and almost at podcasting).

The way he developed his businesses and products is fascinating, for entrepreneurs, product managers, and 21st century writers alike. Here are some highlights that I consider particularly notable. Much of what I’ve gathered is secondary research from various articles, interviews, Wikipedia, and the great book Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days.

In 1999, Evan Williams co-founded the company Pyra Labs. Their aim was to create online project management software.

During this time, the term weblog (remember that?) arose as a log (a “web log”) of a person’s activities, much like a journal. Many website owners began publishing weblogs, though it was a relatively cumbersome process that required technical knowledge. A few, like Williams, decided to write a simple script that allowed themselves to publish their thoughts without having to FTP or SSH into their servers and write HTML each time.

Then Williams had a shot of insight. He integrated that simple script into Pyra as an internal feature called Stuff. Later, it was launched as Blogger. Although it wasn’t an overnight success, this simple script eventually grew much faster than the project management software of Pyra.

For you younger readers, it may be hard to believe that blogging once wasn’t commonplace. But there was a time where pundits and journalists wrestled with its value. “Why would anyone blog?” they asked. And more importantly, “Why would anyone read a stranger’s blog?”

For writers, this opened up a whole new field of opportunities. Here was an easy way to publish your stories, your thoughts, and even your photos to the whole wide world. No technical knowledge needed; anyone could do it. The transformation was incredible.

Then, despite raising half a million dollars, Pyra ran out of money in January 2001. All of its employees left. Williams remained to keep Blogger running, striking life-sustaining deals and developing Blogger Pro, until Google (GOOG) purchased them in February 2003.

At the heels of the blogging phenomenon was podcasting, the publishing of audio content. People could now publish their writings or photos on a blog, or words as a podcast. A whole new class of publishers arose as a result.

Seeing the next digital publishing trend, Williams left Google to co-found Odeo in 2005, a podcast publishing and aggregation platform. It was like Blogger, but for audio.

Podcasting didn’t take off as vibrantly as blogging, but it’s still a strong phenomenon. There is definitely a niche of consumers who enjoy creating and listening to podcasts.

During one fateful brainstorming session at Odeo, Jack Dorsey introduced the idea of an SMS group messaging service. A prototype was built soon thereafter, then publicly released as Twitter on July 2006. Another new publishing platform.

Williams and team spun off Twitter as a separate company in July 2007. As of this post, it appears they’ve raised around $160M. $5M of that came from a series A round, perhaps buoyed by Williams’ track record.

You can imagine the immediate reactions to such a service, however. “Why would anyone tweet?” Pundits and journalists asked. “Why would anyone read a stranger’s tweets?” I wonder if Williams appreciated the irony and enjoyed it as deja vu all over again.

Although many use Twitter as a marketing vehicle (as they do with blogs and podcasts too), countless others see it as a publishing platform. It’s even known officially as microblogging in the industry.

That’s how I primarily use it too. Within its 140-character constraint is the ability to create a whole new class of art. Whether it be haiku, imagery, short stories, or even novels, there’s a lot of creative potential in Twitter as a publishing platform for 21st century writers.

Being a writer has never been more exciting. New technologies keep on revolutionizing the field and enabling new classes of creators and artists. It is easier than ever to publish a story, a thought, a song, a photo, a video, or any piece of art to millions of people around the world.

Sure, there are still questions of quality (how do I know if this artist is worth following?) and discovery (how can my art be seen?), but the tools are there. The means of publishing are there. Anyone can use them.

I sometimes wonder if the next company that revolutionizes the digital publishing world will be another Williams company. I’m not an EV fanboy, but I envy how he’s been at the forefront of two digital publishing revolutions so far. Being someone who loves this field, I gotta say: What a lucky duck.


Aug
10
2010

A Funny Resignation Letter

Categories: Psychology

Why quit quietly when you can quit hilariously?

Here is a hilarious resignation letter that was written by a friend of mine. The letter stirred such a ruckus that HR circulated it amongst their team, like one of those funny emails you forward to friends. Here is that letter:

Dear Company Name,

After four wonderful years, I regret to inform you that it is time for me to move on. I can imagine what you must be feeling now: betrayal, anguish, frustration, sorrow. This is normal and the pain will fade with time.

It’s not you, it’s me. Please know that, in my heart, I will always love you. I do honestly believe this is for the best, and I know you’ll find someone new that is an even better fit for you than I was.

It’s been a really great run and I appreciate all the good (and bad) times we’ve had together. I hope we can still be friends.

Ha!

I don’t know about you, but milk shout out of my nose as I laughed out loud over this letter. And I wasn’t even drinking milk.

Okay, so this is no dramatic “exit out the inflatable evacuation slide” departure, nor a creative “quit using a series of dry erase photos” resignation. Cheers to both of them for milk sputtering exits of their own. But I thought this letter was pretty hilarious too.

Known of any other funny resignation letters?

UPDATE 8/11/2010: The “quit using a series of dry erase photos” is a hoax!


Jul
30
2010

6 Ways Your Office is Literally Killing You

Prepared for the Worst Now for some Friday fun.

Jerry Seinfeld will love this. Since the 1970s, energy conservation strides led to sealed office windows, which has led to recycled air, which has resulted in polluted & germ-infested, yet energy-conservative office air. This is known as the Sick Building Syndrome. Delicious.

But wait, there’s more. Freelance writer Kathy Benjamin offers these six ways your office is killing you softly:

  1. Sick Building Syndrome
  2. Gadget Pollution
  3. Over-Illumination
  4. Forced Positive Thinking
  5. Boredom
  6. Sitting

Now that I’m done with this post, please excuse me while I open my windows, turn off my electronics, shut off the lights, and go for a run outside.

Photo by: Adam Witwer


Jul
19
2010

Why Entrepreneurs Make Good Product Managers

What makes a good product manager? I once asked this question to a number of product executives. Several of them gave me an answer like this:

A good product manager thinks like a CEO.

What does this mean?

It means you know all aspects of the product – its market, its customers, its operations, its team of talent, etc. You know your product’s and your team’s strengths & weaknesses. You know the market’s current state, potential trends, major players, economic factors, regulatory issues, etc. You know your customers and how they currently solve the problem you are trying to solve.

It means you care about the product deeply. It’s not just a job. It’s a calling, a passion. You have a strong, compelling vision and are willing to work hard to make it happen. And you know how to inspire others with your vision as well.

It means you are pragmatic because this is your livelihood. You are constantly gathering & analyzing data to make your decisions. And when you don’t have enough information – which you rarely will – you are willing to make an informed, yet bold decision.

It means you find people smarter than you and spend a lot of time rallying them. They are the lifeblood of your product and the means to bring flesh to the vision, and you know it. Roadblocks in their path are demolished feverishly & quickly.

It means you are flexible. The world is constantly changing. Your product and your team will need to change with it. Mistakes are embraced and learnings and shared enthusiastically. You’d rather move quickly and course-correct often with your eyes open, than to pick a single direction and go forward blindly.

Product manager, CEO, entrepreneur, business owner – in the end, they all share the same basic mindset. They are trying to build a product that people will love, use, and tell their friends about.

Photo by: Joi


Jun
24
2010

The Emotional Adoption Curve

You’ve heard of the Technology Adoption Curve, yea? In Marty Cagan’s book Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love, he references an insightful talk he had with Jeff Bonforte, then a VP at Yahoo! and now the CEO of Xobni.

Bonforte has a slightly different view of Geoffrey Moore’s Technology Adoption Curve. Instead of looking at just the psychographics of each user group, he adds an additional layer: the driving emotions of each user group. Here is how Bonforte’s user groups map to Moore’s:

The Lovers = Innovators
They purchase something new because they believe it is cool and feel passionately about it. Determining product or service offerings on them can lead to misleading results because their motivations are very different from the other groups.
The Irrationals = Early Adopters
They purchase something new because they are very frustrated with a problem this product or service aims to solve. Their purchase decisions are driven by the same emotions as the majority, but with more intensity. This means their purchase decisions are not always economically rational.
The Efficients = Early Majority
They purchase something new because it solves their problems in a practical way for a reasonable cost. Essentially, they are driven by the same emotions as Irrationals, but with less intensity. Thus, their purchase decisions are more pragmatic.
The Laughers = Late Majority
They purchase something because it is proven, readily affordable, and easy to use. Like the Efficients, they are driven by the same emotions, but at a low, muted level.
The Comfortable = Laggers
They feel their current solutions are good enough and don’t see a good reason to purchase new solutions. While they may have the same problems as the others, they don’t mind.

New technologies tend to attract Lovers and Irrationals alike. However, for the longevity of your business, you should target Irrationals and not Lovers. If you don’t distinguish between the two, you might accidentally build features for Lovers, leaving Irrationals unserved and disappointed. Why is that bad? As Bonforte puts it:

Lovers are the worst possible people in the world from a product manager’s perspective. …they mislead you one hundred percent of the way. Lovers buy a Prius because they like the battery technology.

On the other hand, Irrationals buy a Prius because they love the environment so much they’ll spend $22,000 over the benefit of the environment. They could just buy carbon credits and carbon neutralizers themselves, or they could get a motorcycle, but they overspend on the solution because they’re passionate about the problem they’re trying to solve.

…You really need the Irrationals to slingshot your business into the Efficients and the Laughers. Without that emotion from those irrational people you don’t get the passion that carries the product over the chasm.

If you have a new product, does it target Lovers or Irrationals? How can you tap into customers who care so passionately about the problem you’re trying to solve that they’ll pay a premium for your offerings?


Jun
21
2010

Business Scalability

Scales I’m obsessed with scaling.

Not in the technical, keep-the-Fail-Whale-away sense. In the business sense.

Every time I work on a particular business issue, I can’t help but think: “How can I scale this process?” What can I do to increase efficiency, to produce more with less effort?

This is, of course, rooted in laziness. As Carl Stoddard said: “If necessity is the mother of invention, then laziness must be its father.”

Have you thought about how you can be more lazy with your business? About how you can make your business operations more efficient?

Thinking About Scalability in a Service Business

To get you thinking about business scalability, here are some processes we’ve set into place for our web development agency, WebMocha. A service business like ours is different from a product business, so keep those differences in mind if your business is of the latter type.

Scaling Resources

Revenue potential in a service business is tied directly to your resource capacity. The more talent you have, the more client projects you can take.

However, resources are finite. So how can you scale your resources?

By increasing their productivity. This can be done through training & mentoring, providing them with efficient frameworks & methodologies, automating repetitive tasks, and removing roadblocks from their paths. Doing this well requires careful examination of their workflow, since a well-intentioned but unenlightened process addition can sometimes hurt more than help.

This is why service companies that have been around for years tend to be better than newer shops. Assuming they’ve been actively scaling their business, they’ve had more time to study and improve their methodologies. The result is more value for their company and their customers.

Scaling Clients

Another revenue driver of a service business is the number of client projects you can get. The more paid projects you have, the more revenue you are making.

However, finding customers is difficult. So how can you scale your clients?

By increasing the number of projects you get from existing clients. Since customer acquisition costs are high, if you can encourage current & previous customers to pay for your services again, you’ve skirted those acquisition costs. This requires providing high-quality work, personalized attention, thoughtful follow-up, going above & beyond, and an attitude of “we’re all on the same team” as opposed to “us vs them.”

Another way to scale your clients is to streamline the customer acquisition process. This requires exploring various channels and analyzing which offer the most efficient conversions. For some companies, it’s SEM. For others, SEO. Yet others, social media. For us, it’s the use of brand champions and word-of-mouth marketing. An analysis of our channels has taught us to focus on what works best. The other channels are de-emphasized: we do a little SEO and social media marketing, but no SEM at all.

What Can You Do?

Look at your business processes. Your resources, customer acquisition process, marketing tactics, inventory, distribution channels, etc. If you have the data, examine each one to see where you can be more efficient. If you don’t, instrument your processes to get some data. Or interview your employees to get some qualitative information.

Then you’ll need to think creatively. The answer isn’t always obvious. Talk to a mentor if you have one. Post a question on LinkedIn Answers or Bright Journey if you want outside help. Or even better, talk to your employees. The people doing the actual work will often have lots of good ideas. After all, this will be making their lives easier.

Then you can sit back and revel in your laziness.

Photo by: ~Brenda-Starr~


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