Category Archives: Free

Beyond all hype: The 3 simple things
to get right with your company’s homepage

O.k. I’m sure you don’t need just another of these How-To-create-Your-Killer-Homepage-Today guides, as web portals appear to be fed with all day. I also don’t believe that any kind of magic or spiritual inspiration is required. Once you combine, match and melt down all these hundreds of pages of guidance, it (almost) always comes down to the same few priciples.

Fighting irrelevance and ambiguity

There are uncounted homepages of businesses of all sizes and industries, who cannot answer every visitor’s most pressing question: Am I right here?

Lots of homepages cannot tell if the business is an investment bank, a pharmaceutical or tool manufacturing company. Non-telling images along with ambiguous headlines, such as Beating The Competition In Every Single Field do not demonstrate anything but corporate PR hybris.

So always makes sure your homepage appearance immediately reflects your industry and value proposition to any visitor stopping by.

Avoiding the Paradox of Choice

This is the opposite extreme (and a widely discussed issue): A website trying to be everything to everybody and thus leaving alone the most relevant ones, overwhelmed and helpless. Hey come on — you’re not Yahoo! or some other general web entry-point. Instead admit your visitors some intelligence and trust them to be able to figure out, if your company’s offering is right for them or not.

Have your homepage provide descriptive entrance points (ideally no more than 4, with one pre-selected a.k.a. The Power Of Defaults) leading prospects deeper into your site, where you provide them the means to refine their search, so you can guide them to the relevant infomation much more reliably as a one-size-fits-all homepage could ever do.

Catering to the wrong half of the visitors’ brain (in all the wrong places)

You likely have learned at school already, that both halfs of the human brain take care of different aspects of your daily life: To most people their brain’s right half is heavily involved handling body perceptions along with the more emotional data to be processed, while the left part caters more to the rationale.

Since, just as with your eyes’ fields of view, the processing of visual impression crosses and overlaps, which is why it has turned out to be wise to place visual information more left in the viewer’s field of vision, while adding the facts (e.g. product USPs to its right). If you like, visit Amazon to learn how to do it.

And now: Have fun adding impact to your own site.

Fascinating Insights from the First Ontologist Workshop at Max-Planck-Institute Leipzig

Having joined the OBML workgroup‘s 1st workshop at the University of Leipzig Max-Planck-Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology for the last two days, I am left quite impressed.

Not only by the presenters’ track records, but also by the sheer number and diversity of researchers and practitioners Prof. Dr. rer. nat habil. Heinrich Herre managed to bring together for the event. Commonly such gatherings here in Germany would consist of ten people at most 😉 — this time there were more than 50 experts, including international guests, from institutions and companies all over the country.

Nevertheless, something extremely re-assuring that I am taking away is not only the obvious development progress in the ontology sector, but also the fact, that even the most renowned experts in the field struggle with the very same technical insufficiencies as we do, when designing new data models for our SemaWorx application base.

Therefore we also had a very enlightening (entertaining goes without saying…) evening at local Cafe Madrid, where over the delicious meal discussion focus lay more on the practically achievable short-term benefits of current semantic modeling approaches, rather than their long-term optimization wishlist (hopefully I didn’t get this imprecise now… ;-)).





Book Review: Never Eat Alone — with Keith Ferrazzi

Do you know, what it’s like to drive a real Ferrazzi ?  Well, as far as this book is concerned (with a German Edition available as well), this Ferrazzi (model "Keith") clearly is driven by making both a connection and a difference.

Once you got used to sentences starting with expressions such as "networking super-hubs like me" ;-), you find this book to be a suprisingly complete guide to Book cover: "never eat alone" by Keith Ferrazzienhancing your very own interpersonal skills — always one connection at a time.
   At the beginning Keith Ferrazzi convincingly explains, why he believes reaching out to other people and offering your help being together the most effective (if not the only) way towards a happy as well as successful life, constantly telling examples from his own experience. You learn how to define your personal goals and then identify the right people to help you complete it. Then one gets instructions on how to get into the right mindset, while avoiding common pitfalls.
   Afterwards, Keith Ferrazzi teaches you the trade of how to successfully making connections, from in-advance research on the people you would like to meet, over pre-warming "cold" phone calls and adding meaning to small talk by showing some vulnerability, to detailed Book cover: "never eat alone" by Keith Ferrazziadvice on how to make sure, the people you once contacted won’t forget about you, while you still successfully survive the information flood caused by phone calls, appointments and contacts you gather.
   Then you proceed to the advanced concepts, containing guides to mastering typical business scenarios: You learn to systematically expand your network by e.g. finding "anchor tenants" out of other social groupings, getting most out of conferences by adding your own events and finally, well, not eating alone by inviting other people for dinner.
   Here it has to be said, that Keith Ferrazzi knows the art of pulling together the right people inside out and that his single chapter of tips on running successful dinner parties probably makes up for more substance than some entire magazines devoted to solely that topic.

Though some of the author’s advice may need some adjustment to your particular cultural environment, following his guidelines building your own brand by neither giving in to hubris, nor getting boring, will inevitably allow you to get along with other people in your own life much more joy- and successfully.

Want to give Ferrazzi’s practical approaches a try ?  Take this video as an example:

Unfortunately the book-accompanying website has been replaced by the one of its reportedly even more renowned successor Who’s got your back ?. But it’s still worth a visit, especially for Keith Ferrazzi’s blog, containing a multitude of valuable networking tips (many of which "never eat alone" discusses in greater detail…), and its community section where you can connect to and exchange with many other people practicing Ferrazzi-style business networking.

Revenue 2.0: Is it really just about advertising ?

Currently most institutional Web 2.0 investors still seem to think of advertising as the key revenue driver for any type of web-project. Considering the advertising market being a rather volatile one, to me this still seems to be a quite strange move for someone basically caring for someone else’s money to multiply in foreseeable ways.

So what to do, if you are about to start a web business and going the vc-funded, giving-it-all-away-for-free, over-hyped, profit-through-exit way is not an option to you ?

Chris Shipley and Jens Kunath discussed the need of alternative approaches to generate money from the companies’ business on their blogs these days.

   But, as you can see from the comments they got on these posts, there are not too many people agreeing with them, that enough web users would be willing to pay for an online service.

Scenarios are, there would always either be a well-funded competitor giving it all away for free or the service would likely start cannibalizing itself by offering a great share of its value for free in order to attract more ‘future’ paying customers to the particular site.

As we should probably ignore the IMHO foolish aspect of the latter approach for a second – what else than giving away your product for free to all and trying to sell it to some at the same time may drive people crazy enough to consider paying for an online service ?

 Subscription or sponsoring have not really been powering the big success stories these days…. Revenue sharing has been huge with eBay or Google and also taken grip with German companies like my current employer Spreadshirt or (more recently) laying the foundation for the success for the physical-media sharers at Hitflip. Though it needs a huge number of customers to provide a steady flow of income for the service provider.

When considering various business models for SemaWorx I’ve come up with the following (admittedly quite manageably sized) list of approaches on how to get people to pay real money for an online service and especially to provide a reliably contnuous cashflow for the venture itself:

1. Sponsorship of Membering (though not exclusively… ;-))

Ever visited a website living (either in part or even entirely) from Sponsoring (where I will leave out common keyword adversing) ?  Usually a variety of more or less well known firms offers discounts on their products inside a dedicated section of the site.

Did you ever take them on such an offer ?

Many of these are quite typical examples of advertisers and platform operators thinking way more of their own comfort, rather than providing additional benefit for their customers:

Wrong target audience

Does anyone log-in to a business networking portal (like e.g. LinkedIn or XING) in order to rent a holiday car ?

Seemingly crooked offerings

Is a 10% discount on rental car fees a ‘gain’ for a German business network’s members, if the competition advertises a 30% rebate to any Automobile Club member (the vast majority of German car drivers) ?

Ridiculous fine print

You all know these from your mobile operator’s € 0.0x offerings: The advertised product is astonishingly cheap, but the catch is, it is only available in combination with expensive services or warranty trade-offs.

Cheap, aggressive messaging

Undoubtedly the infamous ‘You Won It All!!’-fake advertising banners probably won’t support you building a reputation among business people as well…

This is just plain WYSIWWPTSY.

So how can sponsoring on a Web 2.0 platform be successful, if everything is being customized or self-adjusts to the users needs, only the business model unfortunately doesn’t ?

Sponsoring for online services needs to be directly related not only to the target group and their oucomes, but also to the company it finances and the business relationship it has with its customers.
   Companies living on sponsors’ wallets should avoid backers providing no value to their target groups as these on the other hand won’t deliver the expected returns to the financiers, if they are disappointed or even annoyed by their offerings. The additional value delivered needs to be immediately obvious to the particular online services’ customers. What does it help e.g. being Premium in a so-called Social Network, when the ‘average’ user get’s the same offerings !??

Good examples on the opposite for outcome-related privileges provided by sponsors may be free welcome snacks or a "special treatment" upgrade for hotel chains, shorter check-in intervals for airlines and last not least sponsored premium memberships for the corresponding online services.
Mostly any kind of cross-subsidized offerings as described in Chris Anderson‘s editorial essay in WIRED perfectly fits in here as well. 

2. Be Your Own (Cashflow-)Bank

The Fuggers did it. The Mafia did it. And, of course eBay did. And most recently they did it as well: Setting up an own payment infrastructure, that is.

Isn’t that cool: You own the money, before you own it !

Simply do it like the big Casinos have been doing it all the time — let yout users cash-in the money even before they have actually spent it. This very cleverly camouflaged version of pre-payment is the method to secure your cashflow. Call your virtual currency 'Game Dollars', 'Flips', whatever you like — or simply leave the bucks named €uros or Dollars.

It’s just important, your company is trustworthy enough to make your users pay-in early and (hopefully) not wanting to be paid out again – at least not until your cashflow has grown to some reliable steadiness. And, of course, you will also need to keep an eye on the inflation of your lit(t)erally self-mad(e) richness… 😉

3. Create Value-Sharing Communities

The porns did it first !  If you are a lonesome man, admit it: You have noticed these eye-catchers on your lonely, nightly roundtrips on the web. The 'Gold Card' networks promoting flat-rate access an often quite huge set of porn portals (obviously equally often run by one and the same person…) spreading across red light advert-farms everywhere – always trying to lure your credit card details into their databases for 'later' deployment, while promising a lot of instant fresh flesh in return.

May their concept occasionally be lewd — the promoted business model isn’t so at all.

On the web it’s currently a bit like back in the early days of loyalty cards; you needed to keep a separate one for every shop or store causing your wallets and, yes, occasionally even your pockets 😉 wear out faster then they were used to before.

But it needed some both wise and influential store-managers to recognize the dilemma and come up with one card to pay them all: Welcome to the first credit card.

Even though the need for standardization nowadays is a wide-spread word on the net, talk lacks a lot of action as mostly all existing approaches have either security leaks or require at least a minor degree in information technology to be used.
   Greed at upstart young ventures (originally out to provide reasonable solutions to the issue) and big corporation trying to prevent establishing an open system in favour of their proprietary solutions have each had their share that we are to re-sign all payment and delivery details with every damned vendor we are going to do business with over the web.

If anyone of you can come up with a proper solution to this, please drop me a hint and I will be proud to be one of the first to join.

4. Franchising ?

"That’s for the big guys only…", is what reportedly Fred DeLuca throught either, back in the early days of one of what has become one of the worlds biggest franchise food-chains: Subway.

Especially being a young company one cannot be everywhere in the world out there and much less finance rapid growth from a just freshly inflamed cashflow.

Why not let this be financed by other people’s businesses who are already in the market, providing an entire bunch of customers waiting to be served by your product and, in return, leaving the franchisees their share of the earnings while keeping to what you can do best: Care about, develop and improve your product.

This may be one of the few ways for truly rapid expansion without taking money from investors or being a millionaire yourself in advance.

5. Product Placement

And finally, for those who really dare to jump onto the advertising bandwagon, what about the still rarely deployed flavour of product placement ?

Selling computer games ?  Shoot the advertisers’ product to dust. That guy is selling food ?  Throw it at your mates ! Selling trips to Florida ? Create them a baggage-packing game. Let them name it !

Hopefully my guesses could spark your own thoughts on how to make reliable money from your own Web 2.0 app. Any ideas, critics or suggestion I missed ?  Leave me a note in this article’s comments and I will be happy to start exploring any new approach.

The Macintization of Windows’ Mice

Being a powerful interface widget for Mac users for quite some time now, Exposé has now come to Windows either.
Well, sort of. When I first experienced this, I actually thought it was the recently installed beta version of Safari for Windows, who had secretly smuggled this onto my computer.
   Though, alleging this being from Apple, it would have been a working but poor piece of design. Later on I remembered I had also upgraded the drivers for my Microsoft Intellipoint Mouse. Bingo ! The latest Intellipoint Driver installer switches the auto-scroll "click" function of your mouse wheel to this all-open-app-view without asking, so you have to discover this by incident or (like me) accident at some time.
With so many Windows under ones hood, you’re now officially a pimp (and all of this completely advertently, of course…). 😉