A new service is about to launch that will allow individuals to create, manage and maintain "mini-guides" to specific topics, products, people and issues.
Mini-Guides, or lenses, as Seth Godin, the idea man behind this service has named them, are nothing else that well organized web pages focusing on one, very specific topic.
Photo credit: Elena Buetler
Differently than blog pages or news articles, lenses cover a specific niche item in great detail while providing links to relevant related resources, selected opinions and reviews from others, recommended books on the topic, key source authorities and blogs or news sites covering that topic.
A lens it's a mini-universe of know-how and resources focusing on a very specific topic. It is a one-page encyclopedia about a specific topic, product or issue.
The new service called Squidoo is now in "secret" beta, will allow anyone to build their own public mini-guides on whichever topics they will want to cover. It will make it easier, faster, more credible and more accessible than it has ever been possible until now. And at no cost.
It will make this proposition economically sustainable by providing the means to integrate contextual advertising, relevant affiliate products and sponsors as well as commissions from affiliate products and services promoted on the page while sharing the returns with each mini-guide author.
I couldn't find this proposition more timely.
I think Seth has indeed framed a peculiar need for information aggregation that has been ripening for the last 18 months and has conceived a truly effective proposition to allow individuals the ability to make more experts than a simple blog can make them.
It is indeed by writing and maintaining mini-guides that I myself have gotten the visibility and exposure that I now enjoy. If it wasn't for the "lenses" that I myself have built and continued to maintain over time, I would have never made the amount of revenue that has made a completely independent online publisher that can live and re-invest exclusively out of content generated revenue.
Here are some of the "lenses" I have published, that over time have given me such powerful visibility, topic credibility and trust from thousands of readers worldwide:
I would not be exaggerating in saying, that nearly 50% of my traffic comes daily from people who find these mini-guides very useful for their specific needs. Instead of having to go to multiple places and collect all the information they need, they find all they were looking for in a simple to access page.
But indeed, like Seth Godin has rightly pointed out in an introductory ebook accompanying his new service, creating, maintaining and extracting the best revenue from these unique resource pages is a dear pain in that place. Some of the typical problems include:
a) the way that these mini-resources are built is not standardized,
b) the need for a good dedicated RSS feed for each one,
c) the missed opportunity to showcase and add more related and relevant products requires costly customization jobs,
d) visibility and exposure are only as good as your skill in titling, categorizing and giving proper exposure to your site (something not everyone is very good at these days),
e) creating a mini-guide from scratch is not easy, and does require competence, research abilities and time,
f) hardly no tools facilitate this process while providing tools to facilitate the different needs a newsmaster (my term for a human information aggregator) would have.
This is why I think Seth's new idea is right on target.
I haven't been invited to test this out, and while I have requested access as a beta tester I have not been yet accepted.
So, what I am saying here is all based on what I have read on Seth's own blog, what I have seen through the samples he has put up, or by checking some of the information available on the Squidoo blog.
I strongly invite you to evaluate, analyze, test and question Seth's upcoming new service. I strongly think that this is indeed a great opportunity for independent publishers or would-be ones, to more effectively focus their knowledge, research abilities and desire to establish themselves as experts within their specific topic universes.
Here below is an edited summary of the key idea, strategy and benefits behind this new service, as originally conceived and written by Seth Godin himself (Everyone is an expert - PDF).
LET’S SAY YOU JUST DISCOVERED ESPRESSO.
For years and years, you were afraid to try it, sticking with herbal tea and the like, but one day, wrestling with boredom and hunger at
O’Hare, you broke down and ordered a decaf latte at Starbucks. And fell in love.
Now, you love espresso. You need it. All the time. But you really don’t want to spend your entire income at Starbucks, and you believe, deep down, that maybe it’s possible to make even better espresso at home.
So, you do the obvious thing. You go to Google. And you type in “buy espresso machine.” Of course, you’re not ready to buy an espresso machine right this second. Even if the perfect machine at the
perfect price from the right vendor appeared in a Google ad at the top of your screen, there’s no way on earth you’d buy that machine right now. Right now, you’re just looking. You just want to learn about what’s going on.
So, you do your search and find way more than 820,000 matches (*). The first few are triumphs of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). These sites sell espresso machines and have done a great job of getting listed high up in the
Google results. But that, of course, is not what you want. You don’t want to only see the listings of machines, not yet.
You want to understand what’s important, what matters, what’s worth it. Seeing the machines now is like shopping for a car before you know how to drive. Without meaning, it’s a waste of time.
A few sites down the list, I found that Engadget.com, a site I know and trust, has an article. So you click on it. It’s a pretty worthless article. But you notice that there are literally hundreds of comments. You click and read a few. The first few comments are worthless because they are unsubstantiated boasts from people you’ve never heard of. But about five comments down, you discover a long, thoughtful post by someone who knows all about espresso
machines. Not everyone is seduced by rational textual argument, but you are, so you get excited.
Finally! You’re starting to understand.
So you go to www.coffeegeek.com , which you find through another comment. Nirvana! This is the site that should have been #1. But alas, it’s disorganized and hard to follow. So you spend three hours (I’m not kidding, three hours) reading up on espresso. Now you’re informed, you know what’s out there and you’ve read a few reviews of different machines. Finally, you know enough to think about buying.
So you go back to your original Google search. And now you click on an ad. You look at that site for a while, hit Back, click on another ad. After you’ve clicked on six ads, you decide to go back to coffeegeek and buy a $1,400 espresso machine.
Did you know that those ads sell for about $5.50 a click? You clicked on six of them. That’s $33 Google earned because of your incessant clicking. And you ended up buying somewhere else. Google deserves every penny, of course, because even though you didn’t buy anything, you were exactly the kind of prospect the advertisers were looking for. You just weren’t ready yet.
This is the best advertising the Web has to offer.
Congratulations. Now you understand how surfing the Web really works. You used to think that a magic search engine would find your answer and you’d be done.
You found clues, you invested time, and you turned it into meaning.
Since 1994, Web 1.0 has been an ongoing effort to give you more (and better) clues. Web 2.0 is about something else entirely.
I BELIEVE THAT WHEN YOU GO ONLINE, you don’t search. You don’t even find. Instead, you are usually on a quest to make sense. That’s the goal of most visits to Google or Yahoo! or blogs or the Wikipedia.
How do you make sense of the noise that’s coming at you from all directions?
You won’t take action, you won’t buy something, book something, hire someone, or take a position on a political issue—until you’ve made sense of your options.
Think about the way you shop—online or in the real world. Unless the item is a staple or the store is quite familiar, it’s unlikely that you buy the very first option you come across. Instead, you circle the store, putting off the salespeople (“I’m just browsing”), or you click around the Web, poking and exploring and searching until you
understand your options.
You’re not seeking the answer at first — first you want to understand the meaning behind your choices.
Before you download that software or buy that product, you might want a better understanding of how a
technology works. Or you might want to find three or four choices for your budget before you book your hotel in London. You might want to be more comfortable about the ways to persuade your school board not to ban a certain book, or you might want to know how Moby’s new album is coming along.
If this sounds a little like word of mouth, that should come as no surprise. Not only does word of mouth give us
confidence in a decision, it acts as a filter. It gets rid of the extraneous and presents just the focused good stuff.
Sooner or later, you’ll figure out whatever it is you’re trying to understand. Sooner or later, the picture will snap into focus, and then you’ll stop investing your time on researching the issue and take action instead.
After that, maybe you’ll take your newfound understanding and use it to teach and persuade others (after all, now you’re an expert). Or maybe you’ll move on to discover something else.
Searching online should really be called poking online. Because that’s what you do. You poke around. You poke in Google or at Yahoo! and you poke at some ads. You’re not ready to take action, but you are willing to spend a few minutes poking.
After looking at a bunch of links and pages, then, finally, you get it. You understand enough to take action to buy something or make a decision.
The thing is, this takes a long time.
The Web ought to accelerate and even replicate that word of mouth phenomenon that works so well in the real world.
The mistake: The engineers who built the Web believed that if they presented the “right” answer, intelligent
humans would be pleased.
In fact, before you get it, before you discover the meaning, there is no right answer.
But what if there were a librarian you trusted?
What if she had a desk near yours, or she was available on some
instant messaging program, a click away, standing by, waiting to hear from you?
You could say, “Hey Sarah, there’s a reference on Scoble’s blog to a guy named Seth. Who’s that?” And she would know. And she could tell you in two or three sentences, and the picture would snap into place and you could go back to work. Because Sarah is trusted, and because she’s a person — a person who understands ideas and context and relevance, she could give you meaning far faster and with far more authority than a computer ever could.
The first version of the Web — the clue machine — continues to get better and faster and more complete. The first version of the Web is, in essence, a miracle, something few people could have predicted even ten years ago.
But the first version of the Web is still focused on poking. It always will be. It delivers matches, but it doesn’t deliver meaning.
A LENS FILTERS LIGHT AND SHOWS US WHAT WE NEED TO SEE.
It focuses on some elements and hides others. Lenses are often different and frequently personal. (“Don’t wear your friend’s glasses,” mom shouts; “you might go blind!”).
An online lens is a page, a single page, that highlights one person’s view of the Web—not the whole Web, just one
tiny part of it.
A lens gives context. When it succeeds, it delivers meaning.
A lens can tell you which books, records, and Web sites are the best way to appreciate Miles Davis. A lens can show you the ten most important things you need to know about copyright on the Web. A lens can highlight the key players in the hospital crib business and give you the confidence you need to go ahead and buy something without worrying about whether you missed a key player or didn’t understand a critical choice.
A lens quickly answers the question “What do I need to know?”
I call the person who makes a lens a lensmaster. A lensmaster uses the tools available online to provide links, feeds, abstracts, and lists to users who are trying to make sense of a topic. These are users in search of meaning, users in a hurry, users who won’t wait.
Give users meaning, and they are far more likely to take action.
LIKE MOST EBAY SELLERS OR VIRTUALLY ALL SUCCESSFUL BLOGGERS, lensmasters are individuals with strong personal agendas, expertise, causes, products and even opinions. They are not employed or directed by a corporation. Lensmasters build their lenses for fun, or for
ego, or to drive traffic to their corporate sites or their blogs.
Lensmasters build lenses to raise money for charity or to earn royalty checks for themselves.
Blogs were a breakthrough because they allowed intensely personal thoughts to be shared (over time) online. A lens is the perfect companion to a blog.
A lens amplifies a blog; it doesn’t replace it. A lens gives the surfer a window into a blog and into the world that surrounds it.
A lens doesn’t pretend to deliver the complete truth, any more than a blog does. Instead, a lens says, “Here’s my take on what you need to know about this topic.” The topic might be your favorite business books, or everything you know about bars in San Diego, or lists of reasons to support your local alderman. The topic might be the lensmaster himself! Where better for people to find out about you than on a page you build? A page that points to your résumé and your photos and your Flickr account and your current employer. If you don’t claim your name, who will?
The idea is simple: A lens provides meaning and the links necessary to take action on that meaning.
A lens is a guide.
Provide the meaning, and the surfer will go ahead and take the action.
Lenses are connected.
UNLIKE A BLOG, just about every single item in a lens is connected to something on the Web. Lenses don’t hold content. They point to content. And like all good guides, they comment on what they point to.
So your lens can point to blogs or to predefined Yahoo! searches or to a MapQuest map to your favorite restaurant. Your lens can point to the weather report or to treasured books on Amazon or to your wedding
pictures on Flickr.
A lens isn’t filled with content. It points to content.
And your lens also points to other lenses. Lenses on similar topics. Lenses by people you know and trust. Lenses that are highly rated by Web surfers, and lenses that a lot of other people have linked to.
A lens doesn’t work unless a Web surfer can find it when she needs it. And a lens doesn’t work unless it’s easy to build and even easier to maintain.
Squidoo lets lensmasters build lenses quickly. Then it connects those lenses to other relevant lenses and provides a search engine to make it easy for any Web surfer to find the right lens at the right time.
Make it pay.
THE BENEFITS OF A LENS include:
MAKE NO MISTAKE. You can build your own lens, right now. You don’t need help from me or from Squidoo. You don’t need permission from anyone. You can hire a designer, get some hosting, and build a page. That page can have ads from Google or Yahoo! or someone else, so you can make money if you need to pay the overhead.
Your page can have links to sites you like. It can aggregate RSS feeds or feature searches you’ve done on your chosen topic.
Once you build a lens, you can compute how much you’re making on the average visitor. Or you can discover how good a job you’re doing in teaching people what you were hoping to teach them.
And once you discover that, you can invest money in buying AdWord traffic or doing other sorts of promotions to get visitors to your lens.
There are lenses all over the Web.
They’re not very well organized, though. And they are hard to find and they’re not very well linked. And they cost too much to build. And we need more of them.
You can build your lens. And of course, you could have built one yesterday, but you didn’t. You didn’t because it’s
too much of a hassle and because it wouldn’t have been worth the trouble. It would be great if someone would make it easier."
Here some samples:
If you’d like to see a lens…… that a jobseeker might build, visit
… that a radio station might build, visit http://www.squidoo.com/samples/radio.
… that an entrepreneur seeking income might build, visit http://www.squidoo.com/samples/royalties.
… that a celebrity might build, visit http://www.squidoo.com/samples/oprah.
… that a political activist might build, visit http://www.squidoo.com/samples/rwanda.
… that a fan might build, visit
… that an author might build, visit http://www.squidoo.com/samples/sethgodin
Read Seth's ebook Everyone Is An Expert (PDF)Robin Good - Seth Godin [via Stephen Downes] -