Entries in 'What is kaplak?' ↓

A Xerox for the Internet

Sometimes you can get very valuable insights from someone out there, if you try to listen instead of continuously ‘shout’ on your own. It’s especially crucial, if you’re building a startup, because you want to understand and learn how your potential market relations (especially potential customers) think about what you have to offer, and how they see the world and what their problems are. In the oft-quoted but still wise words of Steve Blank, “opinion is inside the building, data is outside the building”.

Recently I received an email from Søren Storm Hansen, a Danish blogger, from whose blog I had shared a handful of posts using Google Reader, Ifttt and Kaplak.net. Søren didn’t want his posts ‘republished’ on Kaplak.net. Apparently not because he wanted to keep his readers fixed to his site (he publishes full feeds and every item carries ads) but because he didn’t want “his name associated with services, which didn’t contribute anything”.

As it is of no paramount importance to me personally whether Søren’s stuff is shared on Kaplak.net or not I ended up removing Søren’s feed from my Google Reader subscriptions, so in the future I will not read (and therefore not share) items from his blog. But his request still left me slightly puzzled, because why would you want to risk losing readers or potential readers like this, if you’re a blogger? I suppose even a successful blogger wants more readers? Apparently Søren shares no similar reservations as to whether his readers share items from his blog with services such as Google+ and Facebook, and they’re not even so kind to email him a pingback (which I do precisely because I want the sharing to be noticed which may spur conversation), and they do not carry his ads.

As a blogger I’ve had stuff shared or republished from my blogs in the past too. Some of my writings have even appeared in self-published antologies about web entrepreneurship. I do not share Søren’s reservations about this as I do not believe my ‘personal brand’ is associated in particular with any one particular item, or with any one context in particular (which potentially could damage it beyond repair, or more plainly, risk not to contribute anything to it). Similarly I do not believe in copyright, because I don’t think I (or others) would or should benefit financially from any particular work. Rather I believe I benefit from what may be termed my total brand equity value – what I’ve proven I can do in the past, and so in what I may be able to do in the future. In fact, this is the crucial factor which got me my current job, which has gotten me earlier engagements, and no doubt will help me receive offers in the future.

What I learned from Søren’s request is something along these lines : the distribution as well as the ‘non-distribution’ (control of distribution – in so far as this is possible) of one’s online activities and the contexts they create, seem to be two sides of the same concern : to build one’s online reputation (or ‘personal brand equity’ in advertising speak) to a level where one may successfully convert this to financial benefits, job offers, speaking engagements etc. – and therefore also take steps to protect it. If one specializes in one line of work, one may not be interested in seeing one’s stuff in a context which puts it in another light. The question is though, if the cat is not already out of the bag, once you hit the “publish” button? Meaning – is it really up to you, how your recipients use what you’ve given them yourself?

As many people building websites are, I’ve been preoccupied with eyeballs, i.e. the problem of ‘how many’ a given message or product may reach. I’ve seen Kaplak through the lense of aggregation and syndication of RSS feeds, and as such, my first instinct upon receiving Søren’s request was to jump in and talk feeds and the ‘grey zone of syndication’, as I’ve discussed previously on this blog. But this turned out not to be Søren’s concern. His perception of Kaplak is more in line with a ‘xerox for the internet’ – a place where you can make a copy of an article or blog item and share it with others to read. This certainly makes sense, although this has not been Kaplak’s primary focus – instead we use already established technologies and services such as RSS/Atom feeds, Google Reader, Ifttt and Posterous for the ‘xeroxing’, while Kaplak admittedly (yet) doesn’t contribute much, except try to make a number of shared items available in a new context, where they may ultimately reach recipients, they would otherwise not reach, and reduce costs in creating these new connections, so that products on the ‘slim end’ might benefit from these.

I’d certainly be interested to hear other POV’s on what online sharing (or ‘xeroxing’), aggregation and syndication mean for the value of one’s online reputation or ‘personal brand equity’. In what ways are the ‘xeroxing’ of items on Kaplak.net different from the context, one’s published items may appear in, in say, search results or in one’s feed reader?

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Two kids and a full time job later

I’ve recently been provoked to take a serious look at Kaplak again. I thought I would drop a few lines in this place to announce that I’m back to work on Kaplak – if only in a tiny slice of my time – but no less ambitiously.

The truth is I’ve never really left. For various reasons, it made a lot of sense to close down the company Kaplak and focus on other things, but I’ve never quite left the ideas we worked with in Kaplak, and I believe the world still needs what we had coming for it. In the meantime there’s not much else to do but figure out ways to build upon the experience we had then.

So in the back of my head, this is what I have been doing. I am right now on three months of parental leave from work – which among other things, have lent me some long-missed time to think about the meaning of my life and the connected world. When teaching one does actually do a lot of thinking – but it’s mostly about teaching and planning classes and lessons, and not much else. Since August 2009 I’ve been teaching history and media full time at Aabenraa Statsskole – and since the summer of 2007 I’ve also had two kids (one now aged 4 and one nearly 9 months), which in sum means that my life is totally different today than what it was when I first started Kaplak.

So what did provoke me to take yet another long arduous journey to the far far away land of the slim ends of the long tail? (Plural because they come in large numbers!) Among other things, I’ve come across a couple of online phenomena which deserves a few words in this space.

Google+
Earlier this year Google launched Google+ which I have embraced and played with – at times enthusiastically, at others somewhat reluctantly. It’s like Friendfeed has come back – but different and with a whole new feature-set, which combines the best of what Twitter and Facebook have to offer. But it’s still a proprietary monster, where Google (among many other things) gets to decide what their users are ‘allowed to call themselves’, simply because while Google+ empowers users to share their stuff in ever more flexible ways, the network is still owned by Google and this ownership is never in question. Nevertheless, the ease of sharing stuff on Google+ has made me into a regular poster.

Google has been quick to add hashtags to it’s service, and I’ve now begun to add hashtags to my stuff, which makes it easy to find #copyfight stuff and posts on #landvaluetax, as well as all those #thingsthatmakeyouseetheworldjustalittlebitdifferently. It often has stricken me though, that I ought not to use Google to make what is in essence niche micro sites much like the ones we were developing with Kaplak Stream. Instead, I’d like to share stuff using WordPress as a platform as we did in Kaplak, and only use Google+ as a secondary channel.

If this then that
Just recently I stumbled (via my Google+ network) across an online service which goes by the name If This Then That, which stirred up a lot of thoughts about Kaplak in the back of my head. Occasionally I come across something which contributes a piece to this ongoing puzzle. Ifttt, I believe, is such a piece. Now these stirred-up thoughts have fallen into place again, and although a lot of the ideas we worked with in Kaplak remains (making a sound business out of less-than-popular (“long tail”) products – and transforming work life and the universe as we know it in the process), some have landed in new places.

My instinct tells me that Ifttt (and similar services) paves the way for the future of the internet. Ifttt truly empowers users because it puts users in charge of the what, when and where of their online activities – not the services they use. It widens a door already opened by the APIs of online services, which adds a new parameter to the equation. Companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter will increasingly have to compete on how well they serve the needs of users to bring their data where they need them to go (and in that process make more data available flexibly and cater to the needs of services such as Ifttt) – and not where those companies would like them to go.

Now, what does this entail for Kaplak?

We had two working strategies in Kaplak – one was widgets, the other was Kaplak Stream. Both aimed at the same target : selling niche products in rich niche contexts, which would easily be found by their niche customers, and in doing this connecting seller with buyer. The middleman – the “skipper” making the connection, would in turn earn kaplak, a percentage of the product value given by the seller.

Now, it’s a top priority to concentrate efforts on making Kaplak economically feasible. This means, that with the greater ease and the less hazzle we can create these connections, the better, as the turnout (kaplak) from each sale must be expected to be very small. Therefore, we will focus on the “stream”-approach, but with a few decisive changes to make sure we must do as little “clean up” and maintenance as possible – more on this at a later time and place.

This aligns well with what my life looks like right now. Among other things, I can not dedicate as large a portion of my time as I would like to build up Kaplak, at least at this point in my life. I will keep teaching history and media, and continue to devote a large part of my spare time to my precious family.

But what I do have, are those spare minutes during the day, which cannot be used for much else. I will continue to cruise the web and share stuff, using my phone, my laptop and my PC. But increasingly I will ‘share with Kaplak’ i.e. develop a sharing platform and work out posting routines accordingly, using Kaplak – rather than use Google+ just because I am too lazy to use my own platform. Google+ has other excellent possibilities and uses – but should never be the end destination for shared stuff, no less so than Facebook or Friendfeed should.

Using services such as Ifttt we can easily distribute items to their proper place, and since I’ve last worked seriously with WordPress, useful and valuable plugins such as FeedWordPress has only improved – and will assist to help create the niche sites, which in turn will deliver the helpful contexts for future Kaplak products.

What is important though, is that I sense that it is in fact possible – right now, using the tools that we have right now – to build a site architecture, without the need for a lot of coding, which will (if very slowly, to begin with) help accomplish the beginnings of what we set out to do with Kaplak.

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The Kaplak Manifesto

Kaplak

I seek out your messages and products on the internet
If I find your stuff intriguing, important and useful
I help promote your stuff where I go

If you like what I do
If you want to encourage me
If you want to support my work
you can leave me hat money (i.e. kaplak) in return

Or you can help me get my message out too

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Taking a Deep Breath

Preparing a battle plan for integrating WordPress µ (or MU) with our network of sites. I will commence the execution of this plan at a non-disclosed time sometime in the near future. The Kaplak Blog and Kaplak Wiki will remain online but the site in our root will be completely removed and therefore unreachable. This in effect terminates the old Kaplak site in favour of a complete WordPress µ install. We will work from there to rebuild the root site with new texts and the subsite network reachable from subdomains to kaplak.com, which will be known as the Kaplak Stream.

I’ve never done an install of WP µ before. I’ve performed lots of installs of web software before, but I have no prior experience with µ. Installing web packages I’ve usually taken the backups I felt were necessry but otherwise simply plunged ahead and learnt from my mistakes. I’ve always learned to prepare mentally for a one way process of steep learning dotted with the occasional tumble, which makes me spend days beforehand searching for other users’ experiences. A little planning and knowing the road ahead doesn’t hurt. So I’ve spent a lot of time these past days reading up on other people’s experiences and problems, to get an idea about what to expect. Unfortunately, what we’re doing with µ doesn’t seem to be the usual thing – so we will no doubt learn things the hard way, either way.

Here’s what the general plan looks like right now :

1. Install WP µ package in our root
2. Create the pages we need to make the root site functionable
3. Create the initial round of subsites we need for archival purposes. Every external service we use will be set up to feed a site of it’s own. I.e. all of our bookmarks will be archived from delicious, all our tweets will be archived from Twitter, and so on.
4. Install and make sure WP-o-matic (or another appropriate automatic RSS feeder) is acting up to speed. WP-o-matic should be fully compatible with WP µ.
5. Feed our archived streams back into one major subsite channel, which will be the Kaplak Stream, as well as to other subsites to which they are of interest.

This completes our first setup and the site is functional. It only starts getting interesting, though. Next, we generate any subsite we wish at a particular time by feeding it the appropriate RSS lumps of interest. For this work we will use Google Reader to begin with, with it’s built-in tagging option, which makes it easy to generate new feeds from existing RSS feeds. Each subsite aims to sell preferably one product only, or a very limited range of products. To begin with, these will be products made available via affiliate programs such as (but not limited to) Amazon Associates, eJunkie and RedAntenna, depending on the product. These sites need not be popular, nor updated or visited frequently, but will seek to stay highly focused on their subject of interest, in order to offer as rich a context as possible when they are visited, commented upon or linked to. This makes it easy and valuable for related sites and communities to tap into these streams, as they build up lasting value.

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The Kaplak Widget’s Online Journey

This early sketch illustrates how a product/widget from a niche producer is made visible in a niche context somewhere else on the web :

A web user and niche producer (A) encounters a Kaplak widget on a website, he knows and trusts (B). The producer finds Kaplak can be used to distribute a product of his own. He decides to sign up, and subsequently uploads a product and submits basic product information.

The Kaplak interface (C) spits out a widget a.k.a. a “kaplaklink” for the product. The widget is also published to the Kaplak market network, from where it may be fed via RSS or other means, to subscribers within particular channels or categories.

A website-owner (D) run what we may term a “filtersite” (E). D feeds or filters widgets from the Kaplak network from a range of categories or tags, in order to capitalize on sales, i.e. earn a share of kaplak from each sale made on E. His motive is primarily of commercial character. Among the widgets filtered is the widget for A’s new product.

In order to avoid what we term the mainstream problem, i.e. that just a handful of “hits” are prominently displayed and amplified, Kaplak depends on filtering sites of all kinds, i.e. index websites which seek to filter Kaplak’s feeds according to particular specialized interests or criteria. We have a lot of this kind of websites in the online landscape today, many of which are financed by advertising. Kaplak will offer one more type of income for index type sites, and one which may allow a sharper edge in filtering, because the size of income streams may not always be proportional with the amount of traffic generated by a site. A large site may suffer from greater problems in making the “slim end of the long tail” presentable, than a smaller and more well-defined niche-friendly site will. Both may be filtering sites, though, basically performing the same task of feeding and filtering.

The widget from A on D’s site is now discovered by (F), who puts the link into her blog, because she finds that the product is interesting and relevant to the article she’s about to publish. F’s blog is visited by a much more select crowd than D’s site, who rely mainly on search as a source of traffic. F gains a lot of attention through a social networking site popular within her field of expertise (G). Motives here weighs more heavily towards the professional, contextual, idealist side than the money side. F earns a fair share from her Kaplak widgets though, as her choice in widgets is much more finetuned to her readers, than the bulk filtering of D, which earns from a few sales of a lot of products (the “pure” Chris Anderson model).

Finally, a friend from G alerts another friend, who happens to be the owner of a nichesite (H), which deals particularly with A’s subject and finds the new product intensely interesting. The regulars of H knows the deal and can instantly see the value of A’s product. A’s product finds a potential market here, he otherwise wouldn’t have found.

None of H’s users would have discovered A’s product without Kaplak, even if it was accessible via Google or filesharing networks. First, none of them would know about the project. Had one of them actively searched for the product, she would have had to pick very delicate keywords, endure the timeconsuming process of browsing search results to page 7 or 8, only to discover a dead link to a torrent, which may have been alive and kicking, but of which there are no seeders.

The owner of website H publishes A’s widget from both professional and financial motives. The professional, interested motives weighs in the heaviest, but since the site engages A’s target group, the collective sales pays off decently in kaplak, which contribute to financing the site. H’s traffic may be slight – if the group of “regulars” is sufficiently interested and the price right, then H need not care greatly about the amount of traffic.

The producer A expands his market with H’s users and anyone who made a transaction along the widget’s “route”, who wouldn’t otherwise know about the product. The process repeats itself, this time with one of H’s users in the role as producer A, who discovers she may use Kaplak to distribute one of her own products. This process happens across Kaplak’s entire global network, with the intensity dependant on the demand for the products offered by users, and on the ease or difficulty by which a product/widget can gain an entrance into the niche environments and markets “in the other end”.

The sketch illustrates what Kaplak’s primary product is. As we’re on the web, all sites and actors in the above diagram are accessible to everyone all the time, from anywhere they may be situated in the world. The problem is knowing the product exists and next, to find where it is. Search engines such as Google and others offer one model, filesharing index sites such as The Pirate Bay and others offer another. Both however, are primarily based on active search for information, from the buyer’s end.

Kaplak offers a third model, which brings the product to the target group, through the web services and communities the target group uses every day. When Kaplak works, web users will find interesting links/widgets on sites and services they regularly visit and trust, before they even know they want the particular product – and long before anyone even thought of using Google or something else to go look for it. Finally, the Kaplak model can be fully financed by the market, which is opened up, rather than rely on upfront payments from our niche producer, before he or she knows if there is a market.

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What is Kaplak?

Over the next handful of articles I’m going to dive into what Kaplak is and how it works, as far as I can at the present time. This first article is a slightly modified re-run of the background article from our old main site :


Background

Originally, kaplak is an old maritime judicial term of Dutch origin. For bringing a shipment of stores safely to port, a skipper could be paid a bonus, i.e. káplak, calculated as a percentage of the shipment’s value. This served as financial compensation for the risks taken and hazards overcome at sea. Káplak literally means ‘fabric for a cap’, with a reference to the incentive it provided to stay on deck even in bad weather.

The internet is like an ocean, travelled by data packages. It is happening all the time, everywhere, at the same time. It is a global network of instant communication, of conversations, information and knowledge. Of human experience, artworks and products in all kinds and forms. As long as it can be digitized, i.e. made understandable and transportable by computers and cables, it can be made accessible on the internet.

In a global world of ‘unlimited shelf space’, as Chris Anderson coined it, there’s a market even for products on the very slim end of the long tail. If you can approach your market precisely enough, using the internet, you’ll be able to reach the unknown destinations, which will make your product meet it’s niche customers. This is one of the great promises of the internet, but it doesn’t come without problems.

Your problem

How do you get noticed? – and more importantly, noticed by your target audience, on an internet which grows by millions of new websites alone every month?

How do you get paid? How do you get safe and fast transfers of your digital goods and digital money, which will allow you to keep doing what you do best, without the hazzle of setting up and running your own ebusiness and marketing networks?

Visibility

The World Wide Web alone grew by a staggering 4.4 million websites from april to may 2007, and this number is increasing. Paradoxically, while all this information is made available and accessible all the time, to everyone, at the same time, it also makes it difficult to find a particular piece of information, if you don’t know where to look. We come to depend on recommendations, from people and companies we trust, to find what we’re looking for. Search engines deliver such recommendations. Your friends, colleagues and social networks provide others.

One method of communicating our preferences and recommendations is to create hyperlinks on the World Wide Web, which points others to interesting files, information and communities. As the amount of hyperlinks on the internet increase, however, we also need methods to filter the hyperlinks; to select certain criteria for collecting, ordering and presenting them.

At Kaplak, we don’t believe in re-inventing the wheel. Search engines and web indexes are doing great jobs at filtering information, answering queries and creating visibility on the World Wide Web. But we recognize a few significant problems with search as the only method of filtering and finding information.

In order to search for something, you need to know what you’re looking for, at least generally. You need to be motivated enough to take your time to use a search engine, type in your query and sort your results according to your preferences. For some queries and products, this process can take hours, as the most interesting results (typically niche-oriented results) remain buried deep down the results pages. And of course, you can’t search for information or products you don’t know about.

Even peer-to-peer filesharing technologies such as bittorrent, which otherwise holds great promises, has difficulty tackling files with less-than-mainstream interest. One has to be something of a hero to keep one’s bittorrent client open all night, in order to seed one’s work for the lone leecher which stumbles upon it by chance.

A large amount of information and products remains unseen by their potential customers and markets. You come to depend on marketing agencies and banner advertisements in order to be seen. Most marketing schemes however, are not precise enough to reach very delicate groups and environments. And you need to have established your business model, in order to use them.

Making your ends meet

Cheaper hardware, internet connections and free software make it economically feasible today for almost anyone to create a business model using the internet. This has so far led to a tremendous growth of thriving webbased businesses, whose economical and social ramifications have possibly not yet been fully understood or recognized.

Business models on the web, however, have mostly been thought in terms of luring customers away from whatever they were otherwise doing on the web, into ‘visiting’ a specific website. This website typically offers particular ‘webshop’ software, handling inventory presentation and customer monetary transactions. Alternatively, the website offers all its contents for free, relying instead on income from advertisments, of which some of the least intrusive are the popular text ads from Google and others.

In either case, if you want to sell something using the web, you’ve also been left with the task of maintaining a website and administrating online transactions, taking time from what you do best; creating new products. If you’re successful, you soon face the choice of hiring help to administrate your growing online business, or cut back on the hours spent creating products. This makes you a manager, which is great, if this is what you want, but not so great, if you want to focus on creating and working within your field of expertise.

If you sell very little or receive only slight traffic, none of this is feasible. Your time will be spent optimizing your website, and your traffic will be too insignificant to bring you any income from your advertisements. Perhaps you will be tempted to make your products more ‘mainstream’ to attract more customers, in order to make an income from your ads. If you receive great amounts of traffic, but still sell very little or otherwise fail to monetize your traffic, you will be hit with bandwidth and bottleneck problems too.

So, apart from tools which help your products ‘be seen’ by your target customers, as a niche producer you also need tools, which gives you an income, but without the time consumption needed to necessarily run your own webshop. At the same time, it can’t hurt if your product can help others finance their websites and internet businesses.

Kaplak’s offering

We’re cultural niche producers ourselves. We know what it means to make a living on the slim end of the long tail. Kaplak was launched, when we realized, that no other market or non-market actors today on the internet seemed to offer distribution tools, which could help us meet our present challenges. Sure, there are distribution tools if you want to give away your work for free, but none which solves your problem at the core : making money while doing what you do best.

As niche producers, our products have often targeted audiences and markets, which are so slim, that setting up and running a website and ebusiness, along with ads or other methods required to market and sell, is impractical and often deemed inefficient and unprofitable from the very beginning.

Kaplak is a tool which will seek to remedy these problems for our customers. What Kaplak is about, is creating economically sound distribution methods and tools for these kinds of products, which may not sell much, but still do find their markets.

How it works

Using Kaplak can be boiled down to these three steps :

1. Provide your product (or a link to it) and a few details of information.
2. Pick your price.
3. Determine how much of your earnings you’re willing to part with in Kaplak.

Kaplak will then spit out a widget, i.e. a small piece of code, which can easily be inserted on a website. You can use the widget yourself, on your own website, and you can distribute it to others. You can even just leave it on the Kaplak network for others to find it and redistribute it, if and when, your product is in demand.

Your product is made visible and sold by local “skippers” (i.e. website owners, admins, forum visitors etc.) on the niche websites and networks your potential customers use. They help bring your product safely to harbour, across the oceans of the internet, and in turn earn their share of Kaplak. Your product helps them finance their work,
while you sell your product in a place, you wouldn’t otherwise have reached.

You don’t need ads for your product sprinkled all over the internet or on mainstream media websites, visited by masses of people, who could care less about your not-so-mainstream product. What you need is well-placed and precise recommendations in those niche environments and web communities, your customers visit.

Company and financing

Kaplak is owned and developed by Morten Blaabjerg. A number of partners have acquired warrants for b-shares in Kaplak, including our hosting partner MC Solutions.

Kaplak’s first goals are :

1. To present a public online platform, which presents the project and invites initial customers and collaborators.
2. To create a company capable of building a first, early version of our service and sell this to our first customers.
3. To document this process and generate income streams to finance further development.
4. To create a publicly accessible workspace in the form of a wiki. The Kaplak Wiki will host our growing information base and invite participation from all interested in developing Kaplak.
5. To present a thorough second edition of the Kaplak business plan aimed at venture capital, and spend at least 10% of our time to actively develop and sustain durable investor relations.

Sounds interesting?

Please sign up, if you may be interested in Kaplak as a future user and customer, or simply would like to know more, follow our demos and our online events. We will be happy for your support. It helps us, that we can tell our investors, that we have interested customers waiting. We’d also like to ask you to take our online surveys, when we get around to that. We believe we can create a product, which is most useful to you as a niche producer or consumer, by inviting your input and participation to the process, at a very early stage.

We also welcome you to follow our blog, which is also available via RSS. Our RSS feed makes it possible for you to post the latest Kaplak headlines on your own website, blog or online profile, to tell others about this project, or simply enjoy our latest articles with your favourite RSS reader.

Investors

Kaplak issues warrants for shares in Kaplak to interested parties. Please contact us for further information, if you are interested in joining Kaplak as an investor. We’ll be happy to help you with further details.

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Kaplak’s Online Strategy

If you’re reading this, you belong to a select group of people who have managed to find their way along intricate paths into this new home for the Kaplak Blog. Kaplak’s first site was since it’s inception last summer born as a temporary website for Kaplak. It’s primary purpose was to host the blog and the mailing list until we had developed our first online strategy. Now, we’re in the process of implementing this strategy for our online presence. This mindmap roughly illustrates what this entails :

Kaplak is not just one website – we’re building a presence on a number of different platforms, from Twitter and del.icio.us to YouTube and Facebook, and on countless others. Many of these platforms are tied together by RSS, which makes it (which is the goal) comparatively easy or convenient to travel (i.e. follow links) between these different platforms and communities.

One important step in the process has been to move the blog to it’s own domain, with new powerful software (WordPress) and plugins, so that we could ‘free up’ the main domain for a complete revamp. The purpose of Kaplak.com changes to become a key entry point on the web for the “signup and upload” process for new customers. This will be closely connected to the Kaplak Marketplace, which will be Kaplak’s main original contribution to the web. We have some clever ideas in Kaplak about how to avoid what we have termed the mainstream problem and look very much forward to showing this part of our activities off to the world.

The next step in the implementation of our strategy will be setting up a decent skin for and opening up our public Kaplak Wiki.

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How Do You Reach People You Never Knew Existed? – And Who Never Knew You Existed?

A local department of a political party of which I am a member (never mind which party) had a discussion rolling some time ago concerning spam mail, which led our web editor Rasmus Larsen to ask a few questions concerning Kaplak :

Let’s say that I am organizing an independently financed political forum on the web, with a range of interesting articles by a mixed group of connected people – some writing small newspaper pieces, others longer dissertations. [...] The purpose is not to generate a profit, but 1) to create attention around the webforum as a supplier of meaningful political articles, and 2) to inspire and influence the activities of the target groups, as a kind of prolonged think tank activity.

If there’s an article which supply something innovative on integration policies, it needs to get out in some way to all relevant people who’re already occupied with the subject and are active online. It could be high profile debaters and thinkers, people within different political parties, which leads particular workgroups, certain students and researchers at universities etc.

Now I face these challenges :

  • How do I get this article out to the target groups described here, without a firm grasp of who and where they are?
  • How do I make sure, they won’t consider it spam or unimportant?
  • How do I get it out to the target groups, which I haven’t even considered exists?

These questions hit the nail on a crucial challenge also for Kaplak : “Search” pre-conditions a pre-knowledge, a core of conscious information, which makes someone able to search for something. How do we reach the other someones, who are interested in what we do, without knowing who they are, and they not knowing who we are?

The answer is deceptively simple, yet incredibly hard work. The answer is hyperlinks. Most people don’t realize how important they are. A search engine, for instance, is really nothing but a very advanced index of hyperlinks and hyperlinked webpages. So to be visible for the someones who do search for you, if they know who you are or what your “product” is – let’s imagine you manage to get that information to them by some other means – you have to build a strong interlinked system of hyperlinks, pointing to your site from related sites, networks, communities, blogs etc., which will make search engines better pick up your site and rate it correctly and appropriately.

You can use special techniques often referred to as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to optimize your visibility for people who search for you on the web. But your efforts will be most efficient, if 1) your target group know beforehand that you exist or already are looking for what you offer, or 2) you can define precisely or near precisely, who your target group is and what they will search for.

The bottom line is still, however, links, links, links. A well placed link in a good spot will direct the right kind of people to your product or message.

So what is ‘a good spot’? I’ll discuss this in a second.

Concerning the questions about how recipients won’t consider your message or product ‘spam’, and how to reach groups you haven’t considered existed, I’d like to flip the questions around a bit. In other words, what will recipients consider spam? And how do you reach people, who haven’t even considered your existence?

To the first, clearly most people consider unsolicited mail spam. Information they seek out themselves, are motivated for and have accepted to receive is not spam. If you want your message out, you have to find a way to reach people where this is the case or seems to be the case. The second point has really the same answer. In order to reach people, who don’t know you exist, you have to create a situation, where they seek you out themselves. So how do you do this?

You find out what the good spots are. Get your hyperlinks to the places where you find people who are potentially interested in your message and won’t consider it irrelevant.

At first, this may seem like an impossible task, especially considering the enormous growth of the web. But if one reconsiders, there’s good reason to praise this further atomization of the internet. The growth of the number of sites in the world also means, that there’s a much greater variety and finer segmenting of target groups. If you can define them right and precisely enough, that is. Segments can be anything on the web which has an audience or some point of communication. They can be website communities, but need not be. They need even not be on the web – they could also be mailing lists, intranets or darknets, i.e. closed p2p networks. A segment can be as small as the group of friends around a Facebook profile, or as large as Barack Obamas following on Twitter.

To describe and predict segments like these are exceedingly and increasingly difficult to do from any central point of view (although any SEO will certainly try). This is why we need to utilize local forces and filters (by means of “peer production”), which will help decide for us, what kind of segments will find what pieces of information. Local peers have what we don’t : the expertise in knowing their communities and segments much more precisely than we do. Connecting with these mediators is how we find ‘the good spots’.

In a way, this is what is already happening now all over the internet. An atomization followed by more precise forms of segmenting and reaching audiences and markets. There are a lot of affiliate programs and products such as Google AdWords/AdSense which help mediators make these connections. But in Kaplak we don’t see really efficient solutions which helps the producers on the very slim end of the long tail, because these customers are not really the concern of most market players operating on the web.

What we propose at Kaplak is (among other things) to introduce a capital bonus (i.e. kaplak) to those peers who successfully connect a niche product with a niche market. This, supported by other tools, will help speed up the connecting of products with their markets in online niche contexts and generate larger margins for our customers – as well as for the mediators.

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What’s brewing at Kaplak

Kaplak is undergoing some changes re: ownership and leadership these days. In short, we’re abolishing the Association of Kaplak Investors in favor of a company with clarity of ownership and leadership, and we’re doing it a bit sooner than originally anticipated. I’ll get back to why in more detail in a later post, after all formal proceedings. I just wanted to line a few things up about what’s in the pipeline :

  • We’ll be looking high and low for a high-class webdesigner, possibly at partner level.
  • We’ll start building our public wiki!
  • We’ll complete our “investor business plan”.
  • We’ll complete a pre-springboard with ConnectDenmark, which is a Danish organization who promotes and connects innovative businesses with investors, in particular growth oriented, scalable businesses and (mostly) what would probably be termed angel and seed investors in an international context.

Last, but not least, we’ll develop and launch our initial range of complementary products, i.e. services and products which complement our core idea, can give us customers and income streams, as well as further data and information on our customer’s core problem. This all means we can fund Kaplak’s core product development.

In other words, lots of hard work ahead, with only too few hours.

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When is Kaplak ready?

Frequently Asked Questions Part I

We’ve had a number of questions via email, and I’d like to answer and expand on some of them here. The type of question which tops the list is this one :

When is Kaplak ready? When can I start downloading films?

We usually distinguish between two phases of development, Kaplak v1 and Kaplak v2. Kaplak v1 is the first, simplest working solution, which helps meet the two key challenges (so we think) for digital niche producers, visibility and payments. Kaplak v2 is the construction of a backbone structure which utilizes p2p technology, and can be used by our customers for very fast transportation of data. Kaplak v1 has a timeframe of 1-2 years, unless our key assumptions prove to be misguided in the process, and we have to start over or redo parts of our development. Kaplak v2 has an estimated timeframe of 3-4 years.

In the fall of 2006 we initiated a lengthy process of researching and developing our product, organization and market. And we have only just begun. Last month we launched this website in order to reach out towards potential customers. How longwinded our process will be from here, we really don’t know. There’s a lot of financing, consulting, educating, recruiting, data analyzing and software engineering ahead. However, we believe it will pay off to take our time to do this kind of dedicated development, and do it well.

If you want to sell toothpaste, people already know what your product is, and you can go ahead producing, marketing and selling your product right away. Nobody knows what Kaplak is, just yet. Kaplak is not simply about ‘downloading’ stuff, even though we hope our product will make this a very simple (and fast) matter.

Therefore, we have to work very carefully to develop our product, while we simultanously get to know our customers and their key problems. We may think we know a lot of things, but we need to document every last one of our assumptions in order to build the right product, sell to the right customers, create the right business model, recruit the right people and construct the right organization and right type of company. To that end, we need your help. Not to buy our product (just now) but to inform us; to educate us about your product, your business and your needs.

Like to help? Please join our Mailing List.

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