Kaplak.com wrecked, blog down

As you will know if you’ve been following my FriendFeed lately, Kaplak.com and all subdomains suffered a a major wreck when the server crashed due to the change of some hardware. What was worse is that the latest backup of the database turned out to be 3 months old :

I’ve now managed to reconstruct the lost articles on the blog – now in a new home at http://blog.kaplak.net (hosted by Slicehost) as well as the lost comments, partly thanks to Google’s cached versions of the articles, partly thanks to Backtype for comments to the latest article which was not cached by Google. Unfortunately Backtype doesn’t carry the accurate timestamp information of posted comments, so the timestamp information on those 6 comments remains permanently lost. But it’s a small price to pay in order to recover almost all Kaplak Blog data.

Over the course of the next half year or so I will begin to redefine the purpose of Kaplak (a process already in the works). To a very large degree I will have my hands full as a teacher of history and media studies – especially as someone learning and aiming to become a good teacher. But for one thing, I still very much want to maintain and improve my web building and web developing skills in my spare time. And for the second, I still want to explore the problem we set out to solve (“helping niche producers have an easier time connecting with their markets”), which in turn have shown to be a wide set of interwoven and ongoing challenges to be worked with continuously rather than just one problem to “solve”. In other words, the Kaplak site will take form and shape again, as we continuously rebuild.

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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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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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Who reads Kaplak.com?

If Kaplak is to succeed in ‘making the world’s ends meet’, we need to get in touch with potential customers globally. This is a daunting task, to say the least, and not something you do from one day to the other. Kaplak’s product may depend on technology, yet we can build the best solution in the world technology-wise, but if noone uses it or knows about it, it doesn’t matter. This is where this website, and this blog in particular, comes into the picture.

We need to connect niche producers with new markets, document that we are able to do this, and that our efforts pay off. What’s more important is that we have to do this simultanously with our product development, not after we’ve spent millions building the product, only to find out things didn’t look exactly the way we imagined.

In this respect, it is interesting to take a small peek at some of the traffic data we’ve collected so far.

This model shows an early tendency which is very reassuring. After the last two months of this website’s uptime, there’s a clear indication already, that Kaplak will not simply remain an obscure Danish project. We’re capable of reaching out and building a larger global base. The important question to ask at this point is why this is possible?

The model illustrates the effect of something I find incredibly important for the Kaplak Project, but which is often difficult to describe and communicate even to people involved in the project. This is why I wanted to show it here.

We have thought and contemplated Kaplak in a Danish context, in one particular local spot of the world. We’ve performed no marketing efforts at all, besides spreading the word through our local off- and online networks. Our initial traffic therefore consists mostly of our friends and colleagues, and their friends and colleages. But it may very well be, that our best, most motivated first customers are in Buenos Aires or in Koala Lumpur, and not in our local spot. We don’t know yet.

But we do know, that the only thing which have made it possible for us to attract visitors from as far away places as Uruguay, Viet Nam or Ireland until now is a mixture of hyperlinks pointing to our site and of texts, images and links, which makes it possible for search engines to index our site appropriately. This is why I make such a great fuss out of cultivating as much activity on the blog (among other things), as we possibly can, including real case studies with real answers from real people and companies, who feel what life is about on the slim end of the long tail. Because every time someone searches for terms in a unique way which matches the way our site has been indexed, we gain contact with someone who may share the aches, challenges and opportunities we describe.

The model also shows, how much more work we still need to do in order to accomplish what we’ve set out to do. It’s an uphill struggle for each blog entry, each reference, each visitor, each comment, each link which may connect us with someone, who really feels the niche producer’s ache.

We don’t need or want massive amounts of traffic for our website, at least not for the time being, but we’re very interested to see a healthy growth and composition of our traffic evolve over time, which makes it possible for us eventually to reach someone who is motivated enough to single our site out of the millions, and sign up for our mailing list, if he or she is interested in Kaplak.

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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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