Surveying The Landscape

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Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day;
teach that person to use the Internet and they won’t
bother you for weeks. — Author Unknown

I know that you are chomping at the bit to learn how to become a rich and famous Internet tycoon, but before we get down to it, I want to make certain that you’ve surveyed the plot of land that you are trying to build on.

If your last major web project was setting up a wireless router and the words Digg, Twitter, Flickr, Wordpress, and AJAX sound like the characters from that art film from college that you don’t like to talk about, then it’s time to catch up on what the modern web looks like.

Trust me, when you are trying to figure out why no one is bothering to visit your site for the fourth month in a row, you won’t care about one extra bit of marketing slight of hand — what you will really wish is that at the beginning of your journey, you had understood the web well enough to build an application that people might actually want to use.

Let’s start off by looking at the canvas.

What is the Internet?

I was going to open this little song and dance with a quip about Al Gore and the birth of the web, if you’re really quick you might still find it tucked away in the PDF version of this book. Upon reflection, I decided a better way to go about describing the Internet is to take a cue from the Department of Transportation.

The modern web is not unlike a Subway system.

It’s a series of loosely connected fiefdoms where no matter where along the tracks you might be, you can convince yourself that your station represents the entire world.

Need proof?

Ask anyone who uses MySpace or Facebook what the Internet is to them. If you can sit through the descriptions of “pokes” and “zombies” and “Top Eight” lists, you will begin to appreciate that the web is quite a different place than you might have believed if your entire Internet experience was wrapped up in your Gmail box.

Asking me, “What is the Internet?” is like asking someone to summarize the meaning of life on the back of a postcard. You will probably get an answer, but I guarantee you won’t like it.

Instead of wasting ink trying to give you a comprehensive description of the web, let’s take a walk past some of the larger sign-posts along our path.

The Religion of the Blog

There is no better way to explain the modern web than through blogs, and there is no better way to explain blogs than to say that they are a much easier way of getting published than writing a book.

Blogs range from personal journals sites read by a few dozen people to huge, multi-million dollar media networks that draw the attention of hundreds of thousands of loyal readers a day. A lot of people have a hard time understanding what blogging is. One way to think about it is to look at a blog as a soapbox.

Anyone can, with a little bit of know how, buy a soapbox, set it up in the middle of Time Square and start screaming at the top of his lungs about anything he wants. There are only a select few, however, who can make people care.

Care enough to act.

This kind of passion has a lot to do with where you put the soapbox, of course, but more importantly, it’s how the ideas are communicated from it. If you strip away all the talk of citizen journalism and “new media,” Blogging is just a mode of quickly delivering ideas in a way that resonates with an audience that you may never see.

What you need to understand about blogs, as a person trying to get an idea out onto the web, is that blogs will be one of the key avenues of exposure.

Unless you have more money than you know what to do with and a team that can turn that cash into some useful PR, the best way to get attention to your product is to get it covered by bloggers.

Lots of people know this.

It’s no wonder then that the knee jerk reaction that many inexperienced web entrepreneurs have when they are feeling a bit unloved is to start beating down the door of every blogger they can find an email address for, sending out the same, generic press release to each and hoping that one out of the hundred will care.

Do not fall into this trap.

Before you start sending out your story of competitive, crowdsourced, synergies, remember that you are playing in someone elses sandbox, and that you need to have the humility to play by their rules. Before even thinking about contacting a blogger about covering your site, take some time to learn about who you are dealing with (by the way, this is good advice for just about any decision involving people).

Generally, bloggers (myself included) don’t take kindly to generic press releases and we just love to talk about how much we hate them. If you hope to get any attention at all, recognize that good PR is personal. Good PR is two people talking about an idea where one just happens to have a platform available to spread it. Understand this and behave accordingly.

How then do you start down the path to forming this kind of warm, fuzzy relationship with the press?

Start by learning the name of the writer you are hoping to review you, see what else she has written and try to get an idea of what might be interesting to her. You would be amazed at how many people don’t even bother to figure out who they are addressing their email to and what the publication actually covers before sending out a release.

More simply, avoid the shotgun approach.

After you get past the formalities (the part where you find out their name), write up a short description of your product and tell them why you think it’s worth covering. Many bloggers get dozens of requests just like yours in their mailboxes everyday. The only way to stand out against the noise is to quickly and clearly explain what makes your product great.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s shift our focus back to the culture and take a look at privacy.

Privacy Is Dead

When the big ISPs ruled the world and darkness hung over the land, Internet users were isolated.

Don’t get me wrong, there were chat rooms and forums and the like but most communication was separated from “real” identity. Fast forward a few years and you will find that the modern web takes these cozy bastions of anonymity and puts them on the 11 O’clock news. Everything is open, everything is “transparent” and many of today’s Internet users feel perfectly comfortable allowing most of their private information out into “the tubes.”

As a big for example,

In 1994, the idea of a ubiquitous social network like Facebook would have been laughable. No one would have believed that people would knowingly put so much information about themselves in a semi-public Forum. Today, some 100+ Million people do and the more interesting question is not how much we are willing to share, it is what is still too taboo to publicly display in a profile.

A big factor driving so much of this change is:

A New Economy

Most of the growth in advertising is coming from online sectors, and even in an aching economy, venture capital is still trickling into web properties. Online services and the traffic that they drive now have real dollars and cents value. 15 years ago, few people would have thought that a technology like blogging, whose early incarnations included such emoticon enabling platforms as Xanga and Live Journal would grow up into an industry that generates millions of dollars worth of revenue yearly. At best, we assumed that big companies might move their storefronts online, and a few web journalists might pen book deals but to think that entire businesses would spring up with no product except virtual ones was the realm of William Gibson novels.

The Internet is growing up, and the concept of universal connectivity is giving rise to real economies. Not only have brand new product lines sprung up around the web, but cottage industries have appeared that use the web as a spring board.

I mean, it’s still pretty hard to believe that there are entire businesses built around selling MySpace themes.

All of these little changes changes have come together to form a new world with new opportunities for entrepreneurs willing to exploit them.

A Brave New World

It wasn’t long ago when the only way your average person could make money online was by learning the great mysteries of eBay. Now, you and I can create media companies in our backyards, build and host web applications that sell for millions for less than it would take to buy a brick and mortar storefront, and reach a global audience with little more than laptop and a bit of marketing savvy.

None of that is easy by any stretch, but the miracle is that we can do it at all.

The next point I want to drive home is that while all of this is true, it’s important not to get swept up in the idea that the web is the Wild West and you are Clint Eastwood. No matter how esoteric it seems at times, you are still building a business, and like their brick and mortar cousins, web businesses should still be built on the principle of selling a product or service for a price. Whether that product is eyeballs or iPods it doesn’t really matter, but great entrepreneurs are the ones who use the web to open up new channels instead of believing it is a bandage that heals all wounds.

Speaking of Brave New Worlds, let’s take a moment to explore an evolution that the web is going through that will affect not only what you produce but the tools you use to market it.

What is this Web 2.0 thing?

We love to define ourselves on the Internet.

Besides casual observations of society, self-reflection is the force that drives the web forward. To this end, every few years the digerati band together under the banner of self-awareness and create a storm of text, hoping that from it we will find the elusive kernel that will give our lives meaning.

Web 2.0 and its adorable first cousin Social Media is the latest signpost along this path.

Its guiding principles are simple, the web is a tool for collaboration and “conversation.”


Trust me, if you spend enough time in Social Media you’ll learn all about “conversation.”

What does it mean? Well, there was a time when web pages were static documents, now they are being dressed up as dynamic platforms. “Conversation” is the gospel that reads that the Internet is a tool for cooperation, and the highest form of web development is that which improves our abilities to share information with one another.

Quite a pretty picture, isn’t it?

Unfortunately for those new in town, it is a picture that denies the fact that all of the social, collaborative muck that we have raked together in the last half decade and called Web 2.0 is only an extension of what the web was initially designed to be. There is nothing new to see, just new ways to see it.

The “first” web (if you buy into versioning) was little more than a collection of Bulletin Boards — made manageable because it was small enough that everyone knew everyone’s name – kind of like Cheers but on a SVGA monitor.

The web as it is today is trying desperately to return to this simplicity.

The results are quacks, charlatans, bloggers and book writers (I like to think I fill at least two of those categories) who spend their days trying to explain what the web is and how to use it to become fabulously wealthy.

That brings me to my next and first real lesson of this book.

Learning to Be Skeptical

Let me tell you the story.

Clicky McSpamerson is a marketer who has something missing in his life. He’s great at buying email lists, and has been setting up automated phone dialers for the Do-Not-Call list since the late 80s. His problem is that recently, all of his clients have been clamoring about this new Internet thing that they’ve been hearing about on the news.

Always the innovator, Clicky decides to go to the “There’s Gold In Them Hills - How To Make Friends On The Internet” conference being held at his local Ramada Inn. There Clicky meets many others just like him, marketers who want — no need — to learn how they to can spread their message of love, hope and cheap pharmaceuticals to the masses, over the Internet.

The keynote speaker at this conference is Tony Blacklist — the Typhoon of Akismet, the man who has tamed a thousand socnets. He tells them that the future isn’t contextual links in blog comments or even distributed botnets — no, the future is in Social Media.

“What is Social Media?” Clicky asks, eyes wide with anticipation.

“It’s an incredible, unfetable, inedible traffic building machine! Just sign up for these ten services: Twitter, Friendfeed, Plurk, Facebook . . . I could go on all day! Just sign up and sell, sell, sell my friend. People are just sittin’ there waitin’ for you. Before you know it, your clients will be buzzin’ like bees with all that fresh new Social Media traffic you’re sendin’ em.”

Clicky hangs on every word, stunned that he could have found a marketing genius like Tony right in his backyard. He leaves the conference with a notebook full of fresh ideas, a Social Media Marketing Guru™ certificate, and the dream of conquering this brand new world.

Soon after returning to his office, he makes his accounts and starts making friends. Not being one to wallow in the inefficiency of real participation, he buys the More Friends Now, Auto-friending Script™ off of Tony’s website and makes certain that all of his accounts have marketable names like jane1878 and sarasex37 because as Tony always says, “Girls sell in Social Media hell! You can take that to the bank!”

Clicky is on top of the world.

By the end of the afternoon he has 150 accounts all over Social Media. He has half dozen MySpace pages, twenty Facebook profiles and 80 twitter accounts (Tony loves Twitter). He’s generating hundreds of friend requests an hour, and filling his status updates with link after link after link, hidden behind carefully crafted messages created by Tony’s Auto Conversation Generator™.

Content with his progress, Clicky decides it’s time to sit back and wait for the traffic to start rolling in.

A few weeks pass and Clicky notices something strange. There are a few people coming to his client’s sites but certainly not the Flood Of Targeted, Contextual Traffic!!! ™ he had been promised. When he checks his accounts, he is stunned by the amount of anger that he sees there. Messages and updates start popping up everywhere, warning people against visiting his clients. Blogs are being written calling his clients spammers and much worse than that, these blogs don’t have a single link.

Days pass like this and Clicky’s clients are beating down his doors. Some of them threaten to take him to court for “poisoning their brand.” The ones that aren’t sending death threats are being buffeted by emails calling them “idiot spammers” (among other less nice names), and are begging to know how this could have happened. Clicky has no answers.

Broken, he turns to the only person who might be able to help. Clicky goes back to the Ramada Inn to find Tony but his sage is nowhere to be found. Right as he is about to leave, he notices a sign-up sheet on the desk that reads, “Learn the Internet in 24 Hours — A Social Media Masters Course by Tony Blacklist”

Clicky signs up on the spot.

Do you see where our friend Clicky went wrong?

Before coming across this book, you probably read a few things about launching products on the web. Your local bookstore is filled with manuals that promise to make you an Internet superstar in ten weeks or less. Each of them sells champagne riches and silicon dreams for the low, low price of a dozen grande Latte’s at Starbucks. Before you dive into my little screed, I want to arm you with one of the most important tools that an entrepreneur learning about the web can have — healthy cynicism.

The Secret is in the Oat Clusters

Look at it this way, from the second you decide to put words to a page as an author, to the time when your book finally sees the light of day, if you’re very lucky, about a year has passed. That would be just fine if you were writing a service manual for a nuclear reactor, but when you’re dealing with the web — change is a question of weeks, and paradigm shifts are always less than a season away.

The magic solutions you are being offered one week, may not apply the next.

The thousand dollar seminar you went to at the beginning of the year, will probably be mostly irrelevant by years end.

You’re chasing after a moving target and any information you consume will, in all likelihood, age very ungracefully.

To that end, if I can give you any advice right off of the bat it’s that you don’t have to believe the gurus, chances are they are moving along the same treadmill that you are. You don’t have to believe this book, its main purpose is to give you a jumping off point, not change your life. What you should believe in is your power to learn and the necessity for you to be constantly doing just that because it doesn’t take long for a well intentioned evangelist to become a useless shill and in the space of time between, you’ll most often find complacency.

The Short Version

In my heart, I’m still a blogger, so to make things easier for you, at the end of every chapter from here on out, I’ll leave The Short Version to summarize everything I hope you learned. For this one, it goes something like this:

  • Give up on the idea of “defining” the web, it’s something different to everyone and that’s just swell. Instead, take some time to try to discover which part of the web you feel most comfortable working within.
  • Generally, people don’t take kindly to you asking for favors if you don’t at least know their names, bloggers are no exception to this rule. Do your research before sending off your release.
  • Privacy may not be dead, but it has seen better days.
  • Don’t get too swept up in the idea that the web is a shiny, new land with brand new rules. At the end of the day, your ideas still need to follow the basic rules of business to be successful in the long term, the big difference now is that you can fail spectacularly without losing your shirt.
  • Web 2.0 and Social Media are the web trying to remember that it was designed with people in mind.
  • When dealing with the Internet, take all information with a healthy skepticism — even this book.


  • Read ten blogs today, add them to your RSS reader, see how they are written and take notes on the styles that you like most. If you need help putting together a reading list, check the Appendix.
  • Make a list of every advertisement you see on the web today. Decide which of these ads would work with the product you are creating. Next, visit Google (, Tribal Fusion ( and Federated Media ( and read about how advertising networks function.
  • Open your favorite engine and search for “MySpace Themes,” “Wordpress Themes,” “Facebook Applications,” and “Twitter Applications.” Take some time to get to know some of the metabusinesses
    that have sprung up on the web.
  • Read the Wikipedia entries for “Web 2.0” and “Social Media.”
  • The next time you read a blog post, book, or essay on the web read it with a critical eye. Try to dissect which parts of the text do not gel with your common sense. In all likelihood, you will be right.
  • Treat yourself to lunch.

Next: Case Study, Svetlana Gladkova, Profy | You can take this book with you, for such a low price!

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