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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To Disqus or not to Disqus

The pros and cons of commenting service Disqus

The waters are divided these days on the blog commenting service Disqus, which we’ve also installed here on the Kaplak Blog. Personally I was impressed with it when I first saw it on the How To Split The Atom blog, and decided it could do great work for the Kaplak Blog too. So when we moved the blog, it was a natural step to install their WordPress plugin.

What Disqus does is deliver a cross-blog and cross-platform commenting plugin for blogs, which hosts and connects comments, and feeds them back in different ways to the blogs. There are several great advantages from this ‘fragmentation of blog comments’, and so far about 4000 blogs (according to Disqus) think so too – and there are some apparent drawbacks, at least for time being.

I’ve been trying to gather the pros and cons of Disqus as it looks right now, and ultimately I am pretty undecided. Robin Good, blogger and new media reporter (who, among other things, did a remix of Steal This Film) sums the undecidedness up pretty well in this video :

To sum up as they’ve been put by Robin and others recently :

Pros

  • Users who comment on different blogs can easily find their comments again and organize their discussions.
  • Users are much more able to interact with other bloggers and commenters, independently of the blogs they comment on.
  • Bloggers can easily reply to comments via Disqus email, which saves a lot of ‘logging in/out’ hazzle if you receive many comments.
  • Discussions can be feeded easily from Disqus into other services, such as FriendFeed, drawing other people into following discussions and commenting.

Cons

  • Bloggers potentially lose out on the Google juice provided by comments, while Disqus gets the juice – at least if they use the JavaScript based plugin.
  • Bloggers potentially lose out on the income from ads, if too much commenting activity is moved from “their blog” to Disqus
  • No support for trackbacks or pingbacks, which is a pain, since these play a vital role in the blogging “if I link to you, you link to me too” ecology. Daniel Ha of Disqus says they’re working on something big in this department. One can’t help but wonder, though, if they foresaw what kind of a dealbreaker not including this to begin with could be?

You can find Kaplak’s Disqus Community page here. I’m curious to learn more, as I am still pretty undecided. All things balanced out, for now we keep Disqus on the blog – even though we might use a temporary hack to enable WordPress trackbacks. In my current estimate the social benefits and effects of using Disqus are greater than the Google juice we get from comments (we don’t get a lot of comments yet), although it is a difficult estimate, since we are a young blog and needs to attract readers. I guess it adds up to this : why can’t we have both the Google juice and the trackbacks, as well as the great social functionality and effects that Disqus can give us?

How does the balance look for you and your blog or commenting habits? What are the scores, advantages and benefits? What is the dealbreaker?

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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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Kaplak and del.icio.us

Too much is happening these days in the Kaplak universe for this blog to keep up to speed. We have attended a pre-springboard (early investor’s presentation, still among “friends”), attended a conference for computer game producers and have met with some great people. We’ve also interviewed 8 applicants for a designer position in the core Kaplak team, and have invited 3 candidates to further talks. This is a very exciting process.

The slowness of getting all this information out to the right people is highly dissatisfying to me. I come from a wiki background where small changes or huge revolutions can be done rapidly, by one or several people. The architecture is open, which means that anyone can add to the growing pile of hyperlinks and information. A blog is somewhat different, it’s a lot slower for me. In Kaplak, we need both. We need the wiki for rapid information gathering and sharing, and we need the blog as a core official communications channel instrument. We also need email to play a functional role. Our mailing list has long served primarily as a filtering mechanism for people interested in Kaplak – it has not been a practical instrument as a communications channel, as I so far prefer contacting our customers personally, and not mass mailing some message out. We’ve also been slow on our survey, which are not yet flying.

In other words, there’s much to improve and much to be done. I’m looking forward to rolling out more of our online presence in the coming time and hope to remedy the shortcomings of our present online communications shortly.

In the meantime, please follow our kaplak “tweets” on Twitter which I’ve found to be a tremendously valuable tool in fast communication with a lot of people simultanously. We’ve also begun to systematically use del.icio.us for Kaplak’s growing bookmark collection. These are the latest added links on our del.icio.us profile :

Both Twitter and del.icio.us are fast and tremendous tools for following Kaplak for the time being. For those of you, who don’t know or use del.icio.us yet, it is a wonderful “social bookmarking” service, which lets you instantly share the things you find of value on the web. All you need is a small browser plugin and it is just as easy as bookmarking pages in your browser. The huge advantage of this of course being, that since your bookmarks are online, your collaborators, fans and employees will be able to follow your sources, without you having to ship every link to them via email. And vice versa. If you, for instance, tag something with the tag “kaplak” on del.icio.us, it will rapidly get my attention. Please do, if you find something we should take a look at.

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What is a niche?

At Kaplak we’ve adopted the use of the term ‘niche’ in order to describe an aspect of the industrial economy, even though it is quite insufficient to describe the changes and challenges we mean to describe. We’ve already gotten a clear definition of ‘niche’ from Chris Anderson, which is that ‘niche is something which interests few people passionately’, in contrast to mainstream, which is what many people are moderately interested in.

However, this is looking at things from the viewpoint of an industrial economy, not from the perspective of the people and businesses who live and experience a particular field of expertise, meeting and selling to particular customers.

Inevitably, to begin with we’ll have to use the vocabulary of the industrial economy to describe what’s happening in the new economy of a digitally connected world. Along the way we’ll find if the meaning of the terms we use change to mean something else, or if we need to invent completely new concepts to describe what’s happening.

If we want to understand how niches work, we need to get in touch with you, who may be our future user and customer. What do your online activities entail? What do you produce? How do you sell it? What are your greatest opportunities and challenges? To paraphrase Steve Blank, “opinion is inside the building, data is outside the building”. This is what we need our mailing list for. We hope to obtain your help to give us a refreshing reality check on “what life is about on the slim end of the long tail”. If you’d like to help out, you can do this, by signing up on our mailing list here. We’ll get in touch.

[Note: The mailing list has been suspended for the time being - please follow our feed or create an entry about yourself in our wiki if you'd like to help out.]

This blog will keep on investigating the challenges we face, not just theoretically. With your help, we’ll seek to unfold more examples of online niche communities and businesses which shed more light on the day-to-day methods, practices and challenges in what we (so far) refer to as branches of a global “niche” economy.

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The Purpose of This Blog

Before we begin exploring concepts and concrete examples, we may do well from presenting the boundaries, within which this blog will operate.

First, this blog is a blog of a start-up company, which has the overall purpose to make money, eventually. This is worth noting. We view everything through this lense of creating a surplus of value, first for our customers (for without these, we won’t make any ourselves) and second, for Kaplak. It is also, and most importantly, a blog exploring a specific set of problems concerning cultural distribution on the internet. Last, but not least, it is a channel to communicate our progress, to eventually link to our demos and prototypes for you to try them out, and to ask for help filling in our surveys.

We need to get in touch with people, who share our problem and vision, and who can help define, explore and shape it. We need to test assumptions, collect qualified data and ressources for us to build valuable, flexible, lasting solutions to the problems at hand. We also need to hook up with people, who has very specific expertises and talents, in order to succeed with Kaplak.

According to the description for Kaplak.com in our internal wiki, the blog is part of Kaplak’s strategy to generate traffic from very specific individuals, which could be our first early customers, actively looking on the web for solutions to their very specific problem. We do this best by writing a well-written, (somewhat) regularly updated blog with great articles, containing

[...] valuable information relevant for our target group, around the specific theme “the ecology and economy of niche products in the digital realm”, in the past, present and future. Secondly, the blog will seek to identify challenges (at the core) for niche producers, and thirdly, explore how Kaplak is going to meet these challenges. At a later stage, the blog will also seek to follow the development of Kaplak prototypes, and present them to the public as we go.

To examine the ecology and economy of niche products in the digital realm means :

In the past, present and future

Understand the premises we stand on, past and present examples to learn from, and future technologies and social patterns which promise new solutions to known problems.

To identify challenges

What are the problems met by niche producers? What are the challenges for their customers? What does the digital consumer-producer convergence entail for cultural production and distribution? How does one get “seen” on the internet? How does one get paid? And much more.

How is Kaplak going to meet the challenges?

Conceptually, architecturally and technically, how do we want to tackle the problems, we need to solve? What does our solutions look like? How do they work? How much do they cost? How can they be made available?

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Exploring Kaplak

Kaplak’s first website is online! It is yet a very simple website. For now it basically consists of a mailing list and this blog, and a few pages with what may be quite insufficient information about Kaplak and what Kaplak is about. There are good reasons that information so far may be insufficient.

The primary one is that we want to develop Kaplak with you, and develop what Kaplak is about during the course of this blog. While we, being the initial founders of Kaplak, indeed have some ideas of our own about it, we want Kaplak the product and Kaplak the company to meet and seek to solve real problems, faced by our customers.

We don’t want to pre-determine everything by creating too complete descriptions, saying, for instance, that Kaplak is an advertising agency, an affiliate marketing service, a search engine, a web host, a web index, an open source software project, a p2p filesharing network, a wiki, a new YouTube or an online payment service. This will close the project much too narrowly on just one particular method, concept or branch of services. Kaplak is neither of these things, yet Kaplak will probably contain and converge many of the assets and characteristics, we have come to associate with online services and phenomena as these.

We do want, however, to focus on the problems, which you, as an established or emerging cultural producer, face on an internet, which grows by millions of new websites every month. What do you create, and how do you make a living? How are you seen? How do you make yourself and your product visible? How do you utilize the possibilities the connected world offers you today? What problems do you see? What tools do you need, to make your life easier, tomorrow?

This blog aims to explore what Kaplak is about, and what life is about on the slim end of the long tail. We welcome you onboard this virgin voyage of ours, and we hope to see you here again and hear what you think!

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