The ‘Way’ of TheWayoftheWeb

It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more and more in accord with his own.

When I originally started blogging, I played around with a couple of websites and names before settling on ‘TheWayoftheWeb’. It was inspired by the film Ghost Dog, which in turn led me to finally reading Hagakure, a work which contains thoughts and instruction from the age of the Samurai.

Since then, what began as a personal blog has become much more than that, particularly since TheWayoftheWeb Ltd came into creation. It’s becoming a hub for a growing team of people working under that name to provide a range of services for decent and fast-growing list of clients.

 

So what is ‘The Way of the Web’?

I did question whether it’s the right name for a company rather than a website. But I think it fits the philosophy and strategy I have for the future, so I felt it was time to clarify the name a little.

  • The Way doesn’t refer to a set method of tactics. It’s not a prescription for how to set-up a Facebook page or write a blog post. It refers to a set of principles which should be applied to building a business at a strategic level in our modern digital era, and coping with the benefits and risks which are inherent to the world now and in the future.
  • The Web doesn’t mean simply the fixed line internet accessed via a desktop computer. It means all communication technology, both via humans and devices in the coming age of the ‘internet of things’, which encompasses all manner of connected and semi-autonomous devices.

What that means is that we combine a small number of disciplines to allow us to help clients grow their business and understand what changes are required now and in the future, with the right mindset for a digital world.

Or to put in another way, we provide content and content marketing, search engine optimisation, social media marketing, accompanied by the tuition and insight into how this impacts the business as a whole, beyond plans to publish a blog post per day or five tweets a week.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t handle ‘straight’ SEO work, content outsourcing or social media marketing, but it means that we work harder to align that as part of the overall business, no matter what level of investment is being made.

That’s just the right Way.

Rethinking how I manage my sites

I’ve been pretty busy with client work and my own sites recently – and managed to commit a cardinal sin in forgetting to renew the hosting package on one of my oldest projects, 140char.com.

I still own the domain, which I registered back in 2008 to give me a place to write about Twitter and Microblogging as it started to gain interest from early adopters and a wider audience, and over time I included the likes of Tumblr, Posterous, Plurk, Yammer etc, with whatever insight and analysis I could provide, as well as covering the bigger news stories.

Over time it proved reasonably popular, and a few articles got some great links from prominent bloggers such as Stowe Boyd, and prominent tech sites such as Engadget – but I always saw it as a smaller side project alongside this blog and my day job at the time. Move onto the 2010 and having seen traffic level off, and given the launch of other projects which seemed more viable, I decided to effectively park it for a while, and operated it as just a link blog, reposting everything on the subject which came into my Google Reader via Diigo, while I considered what to do with it, and whether or not to keep it or sell it etc. At the same time, I saw the deserved success of virtual friend Shea Bennett when he launched the far more focused Twittercism, which has now become AllTwitter after acquisition by MediaBistro

Traffic obviously dropped due to the linkposting, to the point where it was steadyish at around 1000 uniques a month, but in terms of priority, it’s dropped below all my client work, this site, and 3 others I’m currently working on… So when the hosting account was coming up for renewal, I planned to transfer it over to my main reseller account, and at the same time, work out the best use of the domain for the future…

And whereas I always set-up all client and current projects with multiple reminders to ensure this never happens, as an older project from the days before I was so diligent, it didn’t have any of that in place.

Tactical Facepalm

So the question is what I do with the domain and content now?

And at the same time, it seems like a good chance to re-evaluate all of my websites, profiles and web activity to ensure that I’m practising what I preach when it comes to an effective, efficient and productive internet strategy.

So be prepared for a bit of soul searching over the next couple of days as I review everything I do. And at least I’m not alone in a hosting slip-up, considering Disney managed to forget to renew the Club Penguin domain and leave several million users without a site!

In the process of re-evaluating everything, I’ve also started to tidy up my old accounts on places like Tumblr and Posterous, and start using them with a bit of actual purpose, so if you’re interested in the somewhat esoteric interests I have in cult books, music, films and comics, then you can always see what I’ve been enjoying at http://badgergravling.tumblr.com/.

So the question is whether I pay to just renew my hosting with all the original links intact, and then start transferring everything over to another site with the appropriate 301 redirects to maintain most of the value of the original links, which would be time consuming, but would retain something from the 3 years of posting, and would be generally what I’d do with clients. Or in the interest of time, just nuke my past like Steve Rubel.

Do I set myself up to continue a half-hearted attempt at updating by linkposting for the sake of it, or is there a more valuable use for that domain?

I could probably sell it for a tiny amount, considering that although it has respectable page rank, I’ve never really monetised it effectively.

Or is there another way to utilise it which would mean that it’s providing value to people – considering that Twitter coverage in particular has spread to mainstream traditional news publications?

In the meantime, my current main sites are:

TheWayoftheWeb – you’re here, so should have an idea what I do. Hopefully. But it’s all around freelance digital content, marketing and running that business.

OnlineRaceDriver.com – online race games. Currently growing by over 20% every month, and getting to a good, solid traffic level.

FPSPrestige.com – FPS games – i.e. Call of Duty, Battlefield etc. Far newer, but growing faster than ORD, and again, getting to a decent traffic level already.

MyDpip.com – the site for Digital People in Peterborough. Slightly neglected due to the fact that both of the people originally involved have been a bit distracted recently, but getting a bit of a reboot in the near future.

Jodanma.com – and this is why we’ve both been a bit distracted. As the non-designer in the company, it’s been slightly frustrating to be waiting with a holding page whilst we’ve been working on client projects, but we’re building in some space soon to finish our own site, which will be a relief.

Not a bad tally, even without 140char.com, and without including a few smaller, more experimental ideas…

BBC’s The Apprentice needs a disclaimer

One of the few TV programmes I end up watching against my better judgement is BBC’s The Apprentice, which never fails to provide irritation and bemusement in equal measure. Ironically having created a mobile app in a previous challenge, this week the contestants were tasked with creating a print magazine, essentially acting out my career path in reverse.

One of the few positives is always the hilarious commentary provided by my Twitter network, and one very valuable suggestion appeared tonight courtesy of @kaigani

@kaigani tweets the apprentice needs a disclaimer

Now I know that The Apprentice is a reality gameshow and not a business documentary. It’s easy to forget that behind all the apparent analysis and insight, that it’s essentially Big Brother in the Boardroom, and I’m not going to start going into psychology when it comes to first perceptions, interviews or workplace performance.

But there are times when it really is legitmately painful.

Besides claims that engineers can’t run companies (Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford and originally an engineer, for example?), or Lord Sugar doesn’t need to be taught how to use a phone (Amstrad E-M@iler anyone?), it’s the judgements that tend to make me want the disclaimer more than anything.

So far we’ve had the better mobile app return a lower amount of downloads due to a crap app store description, and the better magazine idea return lower advertising revenue due to the refusal to negotiate at the end of the first pitch to an ad agency, for example.

Despite the fact that the losing idea and team would have been likely to be far more successful in the long run, the ‘rules’ state that they’re being judged purely on one number, generally the financial return.

At which point, the person responsible for the app store description and the refusal to negotiate is selected to survive for another week due to a perceived ‘glimmer’, and a candidate named Glen is fired primarily for being an engineer as far as anyone can tell.

  • If you’re going to claim that it’s all about the numbers, then you’ve wrecked that by ever seeing or meeting the candidates.
  • If you’re claiming it’s about someone you’re able to work with, then actually the decision could be made after the initial few minutes with them.
  • And if you think The Apprentice is about business, then presumably Fawlty Towers was a guide to hospitality management?

Obviously Lord Sugar has been hugely successful in business, but does that actually give him the best insight into what was responsible for his success, and would he have actually made it through his own gameshow?

The natural decay of business structures

I’ve been interested in how businesses organise themselves for a while, but working outside of a corporate structure has been allowing me to think more about what works.

As I previously posted, I’ve been reading PW Singer’s Wired for War recently, and nature is a huge influence on the world of robotics and AI – after all much of the work is finding automated equivalents to the brains and mechanisms of humans and other animals. But is was catching some of Professor Brian Cox last night in a programme about Destiny and time that sparked this particular idea (The show is currently on BBC iPlayer here)

Big piles of sand by cobalt123 on Flickr (CC Licence)

Basically in a section on entropy, the example used was a pile of sand, which could be re-arranged in a huge number of ways without really altering the structure of the pile, and therefore it demonstrated ‘high entropy’. By comparison, a sandcastle containing the same amount of grains would be changed significantly by even just a small re-arrangement, and therefore demonstrated ‘low entropy’.

So with an extremely limited knowledge of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, what on earth does this have to do with business?

Entropy, time, nature and businesses:

Well, entropy affects all things, and is really a measure of energy changes as things disperse – think of a block of ice melting. And these changes which can increase entropy can happen spontaneously.

So busineses which arrange themselves like a pile of sand should retain their broad shape through a far bigger number of changes. The prime example could be the branded venture capitalism of Virgin. By using a branded VC model, they’re able to get in and out of various industries and fields relatively quickly and painlessly, whilst the overall company values remain. And they can experiment with space flight, for example, without fear.

Technology companies seem to be more adept at this – the 20% Google time for engineers to work on pet projects in one example of expanding and changing whilst apparently staying somewhere within the Google values (e.g. ‘Do No Evil) – hence the search and advertising business also includes a range of other projects which tie-in to a greater or lesser extent.

And smaller businesses which follow these ideas seem to be growing – for instance, the virtual agency model which tends to be occurring more often in the creative and marketing disciplines (as opposed to the crowdsourcing model which can often be more akin to ‘spec work’ – i.e. you just post your demand and someone meets it for the lowest cost). The virtual agency should be a collaborative co-creation environment, and certainly the better ones seem to fit that build (Disclosure – I’m a member of both Blur Group and Guided Collective)

The natural end of the formal structure:

The entropy idea seems to suggest that initially you had small, local groups, which turned into large formal ones due to advances such as the Industrial Revolution etc. In terms of the impact, the change was massive, but in terms of the duration of the change, 200 years isn’t such a long time.

Which makes me think that the move towards collaborative groups coallescing, splitting and reforming may well be the most natural state, and the time for the large formal institutions really is at an end.

Ronald Coase is attributed with the idea that economic tasks are performed by firms when the transactional costs suggest it. (Cheers to @jobucks for succeeding where Google and my memory failed).The earliest reference to it via Wikipedia comes from John R. Commons:

It is this shift from commodities and individuals to transactions and working rules of collective action that marks the transition from the classical and hedonic schools to the institutional schools of economic thinking. The shift is a change in the ultimate unit of economic investigation. The classic and hedonic economists, with their communistic and anarchistic offshoots, founded their theories on the relation of man to nature, but institutionalism is a relation of man to man.

But the digital age seems to enable a shift back to commodities and individuals with a basis in natural and social relationships. If each grain of sand is an individual loosely linked to the others in the group on the basis of selling a commodity, then it can exist with high entropy and continue to retain its shape in the face of the majority of external forces. Whereas tight formal rules of an institution bind ‘man to man’, but mean spontaneous external forces are far more likely to blow it apart.

Two results for December already!

Having written about how I was going to work flat out in December, it’s nice to be able to share a couple of examples of it working already.

Firstly – I’m pleased to say that a recent pitch has been successful, and I’ve now got a couple of new clients to work with. Happily news of my availability appears to be resulting in a steady growth in demand for my services – which is brilliant news both for me and my bank manager. And a big part of that has been down to the fantastic response by a group of wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with over the years – your assistance continues to be invaluable, and without naming you individually, I just wanted to say a big thank you for all your support and more!

While I’m thanking people – every blog comment, link to my sites, reweet, like on Facebook, @ message, DM, recommendation to a social bookmarking site etc – these are hugely appreciated and they all have an effect on me personally as well as helping to improve everything I’m doing – so thanks to everyone reading this, whether it’s on the site, via RSS, a social network….

Secondly – I’ve been thinking a lot about the potential concerns clients may have, and finding solutions for them. One potential concern might be that by hiring what is essentially me on my lonesome, they might encounter some risks if I get abducted by aliens, or that I might not be able to offer the range of services that a larger, full-service operation might be able to provide.

So, I’m pleased to say I’ve been speaking to a small number of the very best people I know in various areas. That means that I’m not only able to plug-in respected experts to cover in the event of an emergency, but I can also offer project-managed delivery of various additional services, whether it’s a design for a social media profile, or a complete website or mobile application build.  So you really can go from nothing to a complete website, social media presence, and have content supplied whilst only ever dealing with one person!

Not a bad start for the month!

December – an opportunity for great work?

Dominated by Christmas, the month of December often seems like a chance to relax a little, and churn out some blog posts looking either back at the past year, or making a few predictions for the next. And while I’m probably going to end up writing some variations on those themes, I also have a much better plan for December this year.

I’m going to be working harder than ever to take advantage of the fact some people will be easing off. Whilst I know a lot of great companies and individuals will be working as hard as they do for the rest of the year, if even 5% of the rest take a bit of a break, I need to be making the most of that opportunity!

TheWayoftheWeb:

In terms of freelancing and consultancy, I’ve got a small and growing number of clients, which is great news. But to make it truly sustainable I need to increase that number, so the fact that many companies will be looking to improve their content and digital marketing for 2011 is a great opportunity.

On that note, this blog will be more focused going forwards. I’ve had some very nice offers to contribute to some very good sites, and I’ve struggled to find topics which I didn’t already cover. But with my concentration on content creation and marketing for my own business, it makes sense to funnel some of my writing on the media, journalism and publishing onto some more relevant sites…

Personal Projects:

  • OnlineRaceDriver.com: In under 12 months, the site has done really well with sustained growth in terms of content contributors and traffic. But the difference between a nice little blog and a publishing business comes down to the business model, which is something I want to prove can work for smaller sites.
  • 140Char: I started 140Char almost 3 years ago now, and although it’s been great fun, the time and effort to run it hasn’t evolved into something which makes a good enough return. For the last month or two it’s been mainly dormant while I look at whether it continues with some big changes, transfers to new ownership, or the content gets archived on a free host for the time being.
  • DPiP: The first two Peterborough meet-ups have gone well, and I’ve been talking to a couple of people about how we can involve DPiP into something which offers more educational and business opportunities alongside the social side of meeting local digital people for drinks. Most of that should be in place for the next meetup in January.
  • 1-2 new projects: At the moment, I’ve probably got just enough time and space for one, possibly two, of the new projects and ideas I’m been discussing with a couple of people. In the next week or so it should be clear which is the best business proposition, and I should be able to start talking about what is going on.

So a pretty busy time. As ever, client projects come first, with OnlineRaceDriver remaining as an example of building a site and business with great content and some of the digital and social marketing techniques available for very little financial investment (time is another matter!). DPiP is very much something which will grow with the involvement of everyone that has expressed an interest, and I’m pretty confident one of the new projects will soon evolve into a productive business interest.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t make time for friends and family over the holiday period – especially as someone with a young family to indulge and spoil this year. But all the time I can be building a future for my family, that’s what I’ll be putting first this year!!!

Content Marketing continues to grow

The use of content marketing and branded content publishing will continue to grow, particularly as new research suggests it is more effective than other forms of digital marketing.

Research by the Association of Online Publishers (AOP), reveals 60% of regular web users surveyed trust brands’ content sites, 43% on portals and 39% on social networks. Just under a third (32%) feel more positive towards a brand on a content site, 17% on portals and 14% on social networks. The study also showed advertising around content to be more effective than on other types of website and social network.

Obviously an organisation whose members are publishers, broadcasters and online media agencies might like those figures – but it’s also important to remember that content sites don’t have to mean ‘just’ traditional publishers. Developing content for your business should encompass your own website or blog through to what is being written, or supplied to, other websites.

And marketing campaigns in the U.S are certainly supporting the use of content in marketing:

Content Marketing Usage in the US

Traditional content creators obviously have an advantage here, and it’s an area bloggers have been utilising for the last ten years.

But how does your business start using content marketing?

There is a huge amount of potential in content marketing, and the best method for your business depends on your industry, company size, areas of expertise. The solution can range from training your existing staff to hiring external content experts from the journalism and blogging worlds, but in my opinion, the key element of content marketing is a focus on how it actually benefits your business. And that includes deciding the key metrics and analytics that make sense from day one, whether you’re looking to drive direct sales, leads, or brand awareness.

And if you’re stuck, obviously I’m always happy to help with a range of content creation and marketing services!

Technology is rarely the answer

I’m obviously a huge fan of technology, but when I’ve been explaining what interests me most, the key aspect of it is how technology has an effect on the people and business that use it. And that effect is always about the interaction with other humans as much as with the technology itself.

Image by 'Andrea in Amsterdam' on Flickr (CC Licence)

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, as I’ve found myself running a freelance business, and three+ websites all on a six-year-old computer running the free open-source Ubuntu operating system (and an older version at that), and a smartphone which isn’t the latest or coolest on the market (although it’s one I really like).

And while I wouldn’t turn down the latest technology if anyone wants to send me some to test or keep, and I certainly wouldn’t mind more people hiring me so I can pay to upgrade – none of it is an excuse for not getting on with things, particularly now that my output is directly related to the amount of money I earn.

There’s plenty of other examples around me. The gamers I regularly meet on Xbox Live are planning to get together in-person, despite chatting online every night (and that’s something which happened with the last two groups of gamers which I’ve hung out with).

I still regularly use a handful of forums – they’re some of the best places for the interaction and information I need, regardless of the fact I’ve been using forums for the last decade.

And my experience of applications and mobiles/tablets suggest that if people weren’t happy paying a fixed amount every month for your content in print (for example), or online on the fixed internet, that the current rush to replicate the print experience pretty closely on a new device isn’t going to be sustainable for long.

The things that really matter are connecting, creating, sharing, and all the other things which technology allows us to do more easily, but which we were all able to do before it existed.

Need an example? In 1911, The Times sent a telegram around the world, with the message travelling 28,000 miles and being relayed by 16 operators. Total time: 16.5 minutes. So what’s the excuse as we’re about to start 2011?

Mixing marketing, technology and more…

There’s an interesting presentation, post and comment thread on Mashable at the moment regarding the idea of a new job role within companies – Chief Marketing Technologist.

Scott Brinker, president and CTO of ion interactive, presented the idea at the Pivot Conference, and although I often think there are far too many titles and buzzwords already in existence, there may well be a compelling enough case for this one…

The three missions Brinker outlines for the CMT are:

  • Translating Strategy into Technology
  • Choreographing Data and Technology across Marketing
  • Infusing Tech into the DNA of Marketing

There are already people doing these jobs, and plenty of comments to that effect on the Mashable post. It’s similar in some ways to the roles I’ve had, except this example places much more emphasis on the technical and engineering skills of the CMT – I’ve tended to learn as much as I can, and do as much as I can manage without breaking things, but ultimately leave the heavy lifting to people far more talented on the technical side. Plus in my case, there’s probably the need for an additional letter, becoming CMCT – Chief Marketing and Content Technologist, to include my skills and experience in creating content in a way which hopefully engages people, but also works for SEO etc.

Plus I don’t think choreographing data and infusing technology should be limited to just the Marketing Dept unless you’re in one of the biggest global companies. You need to be able to work with all departments, and infuse the value of data, technology and integration throughout the company for it to work effectively. Otherwise you’ll have powerful marketing with no backbone…

But I do think there should be a recognition of the need for digital and technical skills in marketing which bridge the gap between traditional marketing, social media/co-creation, data and analytics, and internal collaboration. Certainly more than being seen as ‘the geeky one’ by the rest of the marketing team.

The other argument would be to do away with traditional titles altogether, and either just learn what everyone does (As practised by Gore), or just letting people call themselves whatever is simplest and most descriptive. In my case, the best I’ve come up with so far is Digital Content Creation and Distribution Specialist, which isn’t ideal, but at least encapsulates some of the fact I can go from sourcing and creating content to ensuring it’s published on the right type of platform, appears on the right screens, and is given the best chance of popularity via social media, search, advertising etc. CMT might be a better alternative than the world’s largest business card.

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Upcoming events and a bit of mobile

At the moment it’s hard to know which events I’m guaranteed to attend – there’s a lot happening and my diary is subject to massive change at the last minute.

But I’ll definitely be at two upcoming conferences, as I’ve been kindly asked to host roundtables at both of them.

The first is the Specialist Media Conference on May 25th, which takes place in the delightful surroundings of Peterborough, about 5 minutes walk from one of my former employers. And the table I’m on will be all about mobile, hopefully discussing what lays beyond the iPhone, developing a mobile strategy and application development etc. What’s interesting is that the Specialist Media name brings to mind niche targeted magazines, but obviously websites, blogs, radio etc which have a defined belief and purpose are all specialist media outlets.

And then on June 1st, I’ll be on another round table at the M-Publishing event. This is going to be really interested as it’s part of a full schedule of mobile knowledge and insight. And in the midst of it all, each of five roundtables will be given the task of creating a mobile strategy for fictional publishers. And the other tables are being hosted by some very intelligent people: Nick Lane from MobileSQUARED, Belinda Parmer from LadyGeek, and my friends Jonathan MacDonald (JME.net) and Ilicco Elia (Reuters).

So it’s a bit handy I was able to share some news about one of Absolute Radio’s mobile apps (Cos that’s where I work). The Absolute Radio Player for Nokia phones has now been downloaded over 100,000 times by people who are not only lovely Absolute Radio listeners, but also happen to own a 3rd or 5th edition S60 handset. And considering it’s only been out for about 2.5 months, that’s not bad going. And it also goes someway to counteracting some of the oft-quoted figures on mobile which are using a U.S. audience, rather than European or global. Which will make Tomi Ahonen happy.

So hopefully I might see you at an upcoming event, and if not, just go and download the Absolute Radio iAmp for iPhone/Android or Absolute Radio Player for Nokia/BlackBerry.