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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Yet Another Sweet Little Autoblogger

Aggregation tools such as WP-o-Matic and FeedWordPress just got a promising little brother, and I’m currently playing a little with it in the Kaplak Labs. The name of this nice little plugin for WordPress is Yet Another Autoblogger or YAAB in short. It is developed by Satheesh Kumar, who was kind enough to post a note on the blog about it just recently:

I too have made a similar but better plugin called YAAB-Autoblogger. Yaab has all features of wp-o-matic and in addition it can create automatic blog carnivals in your site. Also it supports SMS blogging and Youtube cloning. Ebay product syndication and automated content rewriting are upcoming features. After all I myself is a doctor ( not a programmer ). I started making this plugin for my personal use, but when I doveloped it, it was highly impressing and I have planned to release it for public. Kindly download it from http://www.psypo.com/yaab , try it and if possible please review it in your valuable blog

I have only just played around with this plugin a little, but it looks fairly promising. Here are my initial comments and feedback for further improvement (which I also posted on Satheesh’s blog) :

  • I can’t get YAAB to fetch multiple posts in separate posts, like FWP or WP-o-Matic does. It fetches only the latest post or saves the complete feed into a single post, no matter what values I provide it with. I’m sure this is easily fixed or explained.
  • YAAB is very userfriendly and has an almost cartoony tutorial-like quality. I like the little character who helps guide setting up a feed for aggregation. Neat stuff, but it makes me wonder how flexible the plugin will be for more “unusual” type feeds.
  • I also like the template very much. It’s very similar to what Guillermo did in WP-o-Matic, and I liked it there too :-)
  • However, there are no variables for author, date posted, permalinks back to the source, or other data included in the feeds. Would be nice to be able to extract all the information in the feed, and place it where I want in the post. Also would be nice to have a regex like functionality to replace terms or code in a feed item, like the one used in WP-o-Matic. But especially the author and source/permalink information is crucial, IMHO.
  • There are no functionality for tagging incoming posts, or fetching the tags included in the feed. Also a bit crucial in my book.
  • YAAB has some very promising YouTube feeds functionality which makes it easy to set up an autoblog with automatically embedded YouTube videos. I haven’t played with it yet – but I will :-)

As previously stated, I have absolutely no idea how flexible this plugin is yet when it comes to feeds from Twitter Search and other such weird Atom sources. But as this is the first version, I’ll worry about that later :-) Keep up the good work, Satheesh!

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Work in the Kaplak Labs These Days

Thought I’d share a few notes on the things we test in the Kaplak Labs these days. Kaplak Labs is simply a WordPress based site in our WordPress MU powered setup, on which we test themes and plugins before we employ them on other sites. Right now I’m preoccupied with setting up a filtering process for Kaplak Stream. This filtering process aims to sanitize feed items and add some stuff to each item, which improves it’s chances for survival in the stream :

  • Retrieve all tags/categories from posts and create new tags/categories if they don’t exist.
  • Semi-automatically tag/categorize all feed items. Sometimes feed publishers don’t tag/categorize posts very well, and even a well-tagged/categorized item may have new meaning in a different context. We use the Calais Autotagging plugins for WordPress to do this, for the time being.
  • Convert all categories and tags to categories only, to keep things clean and simple. We actually treat categories as tags, though. Because WP categories is the more widely used functionality of WordPress of the two, we’ve decided to go with categories over tags.
  • Add link to the item source directly in the feed item content, to make sure (sort of) that it stays with the unaltered post when it is fetched and possibly re-published from the Kaplak Stream.
  • Cache all images locally to improve performance and avoid traffic spikes on source sites, when subsequent sites fetches images all way back from the source. Kaplak Stream hosts all images (for which we will probably be using Amazon S3) to ensure their availability for all sites which fetch items from the stream.
  • It should also filter out spam and duplicate items. We still have to sort out however, what happens if an improved version of a post gets fed back into the Stream. Ultimately, we’d like users to be able to tag and categorize items according to the contexts they use them in, and be able to retrieve these back into posts in the stream.

In the process of setting this up I discovered Yahoo Pipes, which looks like a very useful tool taking in an amount of data (in a feed format), manipulate it and spit out a new feed. Experimented a bit with it, and found it a bit tricky to actually create something useful, but will no doubt give it some further attention. We may be able to use it for something.

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FeedWordPress Extensive Update

FeedWordPress has received an extensive update. Latest version of November 5th 2008 (including subsequent interface bugfixes) is available here.

Great to see this round of improvements! Some of the most important features seem to be support for tags and formatting filters. The plugin has also been removed from beta status and supports all the latest versions of WordPress (2.5 and 2.6).

Find our earlier review of FeedWordPress and WP-o-Matic here.

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How Kaplak Stream Creates New Value for Web Publishers and Niche Contexts

Sometimes I prefer to visualize an idea using nothing else but notepad – or preferably just pen and paper, whatever I have in front of me. The ‘back of the napkin‘ philosophy fits well with me. In fact when I tidy up old stacks of paper once in a while, I always find sketched down ideas on the back of envelopes and in impossible places such as the backside of letters from the tax office. Do I archive it under that particular idea and project – or does it go into the tax papers stack?

The Kaplak Stream napkin model

Here’s an updated napkin model for Kaplak Stream which I recently created in Notepad :

This model shows the very basic idea of Kaplak Stream. The Arts and History websites are different sites, but have some tags or categories in common, such as ‘knights’ and ‘romantic’. But each site has no way of knowing about this; they may not even be aware of the other site’s existance. They’re separate systems, islands of information. A visitor clicking on a tag on the Arts site won’t see the items tagged the same on the History site. Now, when the feeds of both sites are fed into the Kaplak Stream, it allows new types of long tail sites to be created.

By pooling our feeds, we allow new contexts to be created. This can happen when feeds are extracted from the stream for particular tags or categories. When feeds are pooled, even tags and categories that are not used a lot on an individual website, may spawn new rich web contexts, which are capable of sending traffic back to the original publishers, but, what is more important, enable the distribution of products (via affiliate models) which are otherwise hard to sell in a mainstream context.

In this case a Knights site and a Romantic site can be easily created. Neither of these new sites could exist within the History or the Arts sites, but because we pool and channel the information from a wider range of sources, they can now.

Here’s the expanded version of the above model (which is also an improvement over the model, I previously posted on Kaplak Blog) :

As this model shows, linking back to feed publishers for increased visibility of their sites and contexts is a key feature of the network. Submit your feed and gain greater visibility, because more sites “on the way” will link back to your site. This is key for publishers to actually want in and be part of what we’re doing. However, this is just the short-term benefits.

Connecting the disconnected

When feeds are extracted from Kaplak Stream and into other niche contexts, publishers will connect more easily with these contexts and communities, empowering both publishers and communities, who would otherwise not know each other. Anything may arise from these new connections : meetups, exchange of ideas, products, etc. It is in this new context, that the sales of niche products are more easily arranged, probably most likely and easily via the use of affiliate programs.

As we have previously learned, attributing value to the context of finding information, rather than to any particular piece of information, is the more effective route to Kaplak’s goal, in an environment such as the web which literally explodes with new information every day. Creating very finely segmented sites will enable passionate users to more easily reference interesting niche material, i.e. create recommendations socially for interesting information items as well as products sold in these niche domains. Simply because there are now rich niche domains and contexts, which will be worthwhile the link, contrary to the situation before the aggregation and filtering, where the niche items were spread out all over the web – and very difficult and timeconsuming to find using search, bookmarking services, Wikipedia, StumbleUpon or Digg-type sites.

With time, some of these new niche sites and contexts may connect otherwise disconnected communities with each other and possibly even grow their own small communities, which will enrich those contexts even further with valuable context. The value of these new contexts do not depend on the short-term Google juice of linking back to sources I mentioned earlier. Instead, it thrives and builds on the social connections and recommendations, which now can rest on increasingly more bonified points of reference – and (probably with time) even greater tools for sharing than what we have right now.

What’s important for this project to succeed is to tag/categorize incoming items conveniently and precisely. We’ll continue to work and experiment with autotagging, but the best bet is (with time) to make tagging a social proces which can take place for each item all the way of it’s ‘journey’. For the time being however, we rely heavily on feed items being richly tagged by their source publishers. This is one challenge, we face right now.

Any ideas?

Because it’s so critical to what we do to thoroughly understand what’s at stake, it’s also vital that we invite input every step of the way. If nothing else we want to give you the opportunity to read, think and absorb our ideas, and go out and implement your own tools and architectures – for every step of our way. And when you’ve done that – come back and tell us about it. We’d love to learn more.

We have yet to setup proper forms for receiving feed submissions, but we’ve begun to receive them anyway. For the time being, please submit your feeds to The Kaplak Team or directly to me via Twitter or Identi.ca. Remember to give us a few keywords on the contents of your feed (just the most important ones).

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Obituary for a Mailing List

The Kaplak Mailing List was an important part of the first website of ours at Kaplak.com. However it didn’t come to play the envisioned role in our business strategy; as a direct communications channel and method of communicating directly with our potential customers. As you may be aware, we have focused instead on building a somewhat active blog.

The blog offers a number of RSS feeds for your convenience, which can be read using any feed reader you prefer, and thus offer greater choice and ultimately convenience for most readers. It is not confined to people who have first signed up for our list, and it can be easily shared with others. It also means that every communications effort we make, be it here on the blog or in the wiki or via social messaging tools, help create transparency. The greater transparency and the more widely we can make our particular pool of information accessible, the less work for us, now and in the long run.

To clarify this change in strategy, in a operation of tidying up some of our loose ends today (and the mailing list is a big loose end), I wrote this email to all our mailing list signups :

Dear Kaplak Mailing List Subscriber,

You belong to a select group of people who once managed to locate our Mailing List at http://kaplak.com/ and find what we had to say there sufficiently interesting to sign up your email address for the list.

For a number of reasons, the Kaplak Mailing List didn’t come to play the envisioned role in our business strategy, as a communications channel. Instead we have focused on building a blog (now located at http://blog.kaplak.net/), which offers a number of RSS feeds for your convenience, which can be read using any feed reader you prefer.

As part of rebuilding our site structure, we’ve now taken all email adresses from the mailing list and grouped them in our GMail setup. We’ll maintain and add to this group to keep track of a larger group of people interested in Kaplak, including potential customers, investors, advisors, associates, developers and others generally interested. If you want to stay on this private list, you don’t have to do anything further. We’ll use this list only rarely, to direct attention to high points of interest. Among these, we’ll be sure to notify you when we launch our first product, the Kaplak Stream.

If you still want to keep up to speed with Kaplak, please follow our main Kaplak Blog feed here : http://blog.kaplak.net/feed/

Here’s a list of recent popular posts :

We also use Twitter, Facebook, Identi.ca and a host of other online services. Find a non-exhaustive list on this page : http://kaplak.com/contact/ and feel free to connect with us any time on any of the online services we use, which are convenient for you.

On the other hand, if you want out of the mailing list, have become disinterested with Kaplak and don’t want to have more to do with us, please do mail us back and we’ll remove you from the list right away. We really don’t want to waste your time. We’d also really like if you said a few words about why you want to be removed from the list, if you care to share that with us.

Thank you for your attention and perseverance!

Yours Sincerely,
The Kaplak Team


Kaplak has chartered unknown waters and reached strange shores :
http://kaplak.comhttp://blog.kaplak.net

One of the reasons hinted at in the email is simply financial. Our early customer meetings and experiences revealed to us that we had a very difficult time processing the knowhow gained into our system, at the speed we were generating it. We simply didn’t generate any income from our activities and had trouble financing our time.

Therefore, it became critical to us sometime in the spring of 2008 to focus on planning and executing a re-build of Kaplak’s root site and connected sites, in a way which makes it economically feasible for us to intake large amounts of information, and be able to apply this information to our business. The cornerstones of this re-build are the Kaplak Blog and the Kaplak Wiki, and what we call Kaplak Stream (working title). Kaplak Stream will be our first product and our first dash at connecting the dots and making niche producers more visible to their interested target markets.

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Aggregation Tools For WordPress: The Pros And Cons of FeedWordPress and WP-o-Matic

We’re in the process of setting up our Planet-like website Kaplak Stream. I’ve done some extensive reading and testing of the two most prominent aggregation plugins for WordPress and WordPress MU : Guillermo Rauch’s WP-o-Matic plugin and FeedWordPress by Charles Johnson (aka RadGeek) of Feminist Blogs. This article will examine the pros and cons of both these plugins, in their present state.

Both aggregation tools are open source and distributed under a GPL license, which means that anyone may adjust the workings of these plugins and re-publish their version. They are each however developed and pioneered by one developer only, and rely heavily on the committment of their developers.

WP-o-Matic

WP-o-Matic is developed by 16-years old Argentinian wunderkid Guillermo Rauch, who has done a remarkable job. Schedules are very easy to organize. They are called campaigns, and each campaign can fetch as many feeds as you like. Campaigns are executed by cron, which runs on the server and executes the fetching script at specified intervals. If you can’t get cron from your web host, the WP-o-Matic script can be executed by Webcron. Webcron has been a free online service until recently. Now, the service must be paid for, however (at a very low price, one may add).

Pros

  • Wonderfully flexible customization options of each campaign, directly accessible from a brilliantly designed WP admin interface: specified expressions or URL’s can be transformed, and additional custom text or code added to each post in the campaign (such as ads). Great stuff.
  • Uses cronjobs for executing the script, which should provide the greatest reliability, if you can get it.

Cons

  • Doesn’t use timestamp of fed posts, if they are older than the time window set for the campaign. I.e. if a post is months old and you’ve set your campaign to fetch every hour, posts will be timestamped with the time of feeding it, rather than the original timestamp. This sometimes means older posts are published in the wrong or opposite order of the feed, which messes up the chronology of a blog. This, combined with the bugs which makes it difficult to re-run fetches without completely removing the campaign, makes correcting the timestamps a very tedious affair. If timestamps are important to you, this is a no-no.
  • Uses Unix/Linux cronjobs for fetching feeds, which is good if you can get it – and know how to set it up, but not all can or do.
  • Seems unreliable when used without Unix cron. Campaigns are not processed at all, or processed at the wrong time intervals.
  • Bugridden – small bugs such as campaigns not resetting properly, when reset. Complete campaigns and posts have to be deleted if one wants to re-fetch a feed to test a new configuration.
  • Uncertainty if the plugin is supported and developed further by it’s developer. Last release is from October 2007. Guillermo (who has now turned 17) recently announced his continued support for WP-o-Matic and the release of a new version in the near future, along with a new website specifically for this plugin.

FeedWordPress

I initially had problems with feeds from Google Reader (and Twitter, for that matter) – titles showed, but content disappeared. At first I thought this was a general problem with Atom feeds, but it turned out it’s because WordPress (even the latest versions) comes bundled with an outdated Magpie RSS parser. At first glance, the problem wasn’t fixed by exchanging the rss.php and rss-functions.php with the updated ones bundled with FeedWordPress, but reinstalling these files and re-entering the feeds did in fact solve the compatibility problems with Atom feeds. At first, coming from WP-o-Matic’s advanced campaigns setup, I wasn’t impressed with the interface provided by FeedWordPress initially, and the hazzle I had with Atom feeds gave me the impression that this plugin was no match for WP-o-Matic. But as I worked with it, FeedWordPress turned out to be an extremely competent agent for the job.

Pros

  • Extensively well documented
  • Seems to be the more stable and reliable candidate of the two. Works great with WordPress’ built-in cron alone.
  • Built-in API for WP themes and plugins to use
  • Maintained, supported and seems to be actively developed by the developer (last build 8 May 2008)
  • Works great with timestamps – fetches all timestamps from feeds 100% correctly.

Cons

  • Can’t add custom text or code to the posts of each particular feed, except if one utilizes the API. If one utilizes the API from a WP theme, custom changes will apply to all syndicated posts, when they are displayed on the site. This is a solution in cosmetics only, in that the custom layout and text is applied only in the visuals – and not reflected in the actual contents of a post. One has to access the API from within a plugin, which hooks itself up with an action or filter in WordPress, to actually ‘inscribe’ posts with custom text or code, which stays with the post, no matter how it is skinned or re-published by other sites. This requires a bit of PHP coding/hacking skills.
  • Can’t import tags. Tags can be imported by FeedWordPress as new categories, however, which somewhat alleviates the problem, but forces you to go with the category system over tagging or both.

Conclusions

Both these plugins reviewed here possess tremendous power, at the point of your fingertips. None of them are perfect, however, and both still need work, but I’m impressed with both. What they can do, and the power and speed of which these plugins work, is impressive. I’d love to have FeedWordPress feature the powerful customization scheme of WP-o-Matic, and I’d really like to have WP-o-Matic use the WordPress cron so reliably and steadily as FeedWordPress does. And I’d really really like to have WP-o-Matic just get timestamps right, with the ease of FeedWordPress.

However much I adore the flexible and powerful customization interface (the ‘campaign’ setup) of WP-o-Matic, we have to go with the more stable candidate of the two, which is FeedWordPress, IMHO. Especially since we can’t get cron right now, and are reluctant to pay for it right now, if we can get something which works great at this level, without paying for it.

We’re going with FeedWordPress, for these reasons mainly :

  • It works well, even without setting up cronjobs (using WordPress’ built-in cron).
  • It deals well with timestamps. There’s no messing around with the chronology of posts.
  • It is the best documented plugin of the two, and it has an API which makes it easy for us to tweek it for our uses.
  • And we have greater trust in it’s developer Rad Geek/Charles Johnson to continue support and development for this plugin.

When using free software plugins, I find picking the ones you want to use comes down to what killer feature you really want and which developer you trust the most to deliver it and continue development and support.

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The Anthropology of YouTube

I can’t say how much I enjoyed this video of a talk by cultural anthropologist and media ecologist professor Michael Wesch of Kansas State University, famous for his extraordinary video on web 2.0, which gained enormous popularity in the YouTube community.

Now, in this video Wesch shares his thoughts on YouTube as a historical, social and cultural phenomenon, which is as entertaining as it is insightful, on the complete pallet of workings of the new order of the web, of which YouTube is a great example. Please enjoy :

Thanks, once again to Raymond for the tip on this video.

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The Grey Zone of Syndication

As I mentioned in an earlier post, syndicating stuff is also one huge grey area of legal hazzle. Stumbled over this discussion from a couple of years back (as well as this one), which airs not at all uncommon concerns. You risk being called a scraper, a spammer and a splogger, if you pursue the path of syndication.

Pariah S. Burke wrote :

RSS feeds are published for individual, private consumption; they are not a blanket license to, or waiver of, reprint rights. Taking and republshing content—no matter how much or how little—without the original author’s permission is a violation of U.S. and international Copyright laws. There are exceptions, of course, detailed in the Fair Use doctrine, but such exceptions are very specific and do not apply to the vast majority of sites using FeedWordPress, Autoblog, and the like. In fact, Charles Johnson, the creator of FeedWordPress is in constant and frequent violation of copyright law because the apparent majority of his blog’s content is stolen without the original authors’ permission.

In that case, Google, which enables users to very easily tag and share (i.e. republish) feeds they find interesting via their popular service Google Reader, is guilty of same said constant and frequent violation of copyright law, or at least, in willful and assisting infringement. The same of course goes for YouTube and any web service, which allows anyone to embed their videos, images and games on your own local site.

Who says a tool has to be used in one way only? Let’s get creative! That’s how problems are solved and new business models are developed!

Here’s another POV, from a guide on setting up an automatic blog which automatically generates a ‘shitload of traffic’ and is ‘just about hands free’ :

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of people scraping content that people have sweated over. However, one thing I don’t mind doing is thieving from thieves.

You’re on the hunt for “disposable” content – generally not text based. Think along the lines of Flash games, funny videos, funny pictures, hypnomagical-optical-illusions – that kind of thing. The Internet is awash with blogs that showcase this stuff. Check out Google blogsearch and try a search like funny pictures blog. There’s hundreds of the leeching bastards showcasing other peoples pictures, videos, games and hypnomagical-optical-illusions for their website. They can hardly call it “their” content. With this ethical pebble tossed aside, we can go and grab some content.

There’s loads of ways you can hunt down potential content. You’re on the lookout for RSS feeds with this rich media. So you could try; Google Blogsearch, Technorati, MyBlogLog – basically any site that lets you search the blogosphere.

My personal point of view (this is also Kaplak’s stand) is that the problem of visibility for sites and products is larger than the largely fictional problem of “theft”. If you make syndicated feeds publicly available, you implicitly want and ask for syndication, because you want your message out. Syndication will help your site or product become visible in places and contexts it would not otherwise be seen in, and that’s why you use it and why you should use it. If you do not want your message out in other contexts and do not want to see your articles appear on other websites in a syndicated format, you can simply choose not to make articles available for syndication. The benefits however, in the Google Juice and traffic which syndication brings back to your sites and products, are in most cases much greater than the disadvantages.

Accusing syndication sites and services for theft and copyright infringement is IMHO ridiculous at best, as these services actually help your site become seen and achieve better rankings in search engines. It helps your interested readers and users find you in the first place. And if you don’t want to be read – why publish to the web?

At worst, these allegations are harmful, as they instill an atmosphere of fear and create distrust of using RSS, feeds and aggregation tools. Instead, we need to urge and encourage syndication and use of syndicated feeds, as it enables rich web contexts, which would otherwise not be possible, and makes it easier to direct interest and relevant traffic to sites and subjects of interest. It is above all a tool, which can be used for our mutual benefits – or for spamming and creating yet more “get rich quick” mentality kind of sites filled with stuff the world could care less about (but apparently doesn’t). I am of the opinion that these types of sites may provide their owners with short-term rewards, but ultimately will fade to authentic sites of much stronger lasting value. How to build lasting value, and help these sites and products build lasting value, is what we’re interested in here.

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The Structure of Kaplak Stream : Our Goal

I’m in the process of setting up Kaplak Stream (working title), a project we (part) deliberately have been pretty silent about – at least in it’s deeper ramifications, even though we did touch upon the wider picture of feeds and aggregators recently, when I discussed Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody in a recent post.

Kaplak Stream is a network of websites, in fact, it is a network of Planet-like websites, each dedicated to a particular niche. Using automatically and semi-automatically fed RSS feeds as our vehicle, Kaplak Stream consiste of an ever-growing pile of niche websites, which all are part of our new WordPress MU install. These sites can be homegrown and consist of from just one to several articles, or they can be houses of RSS feeds, fed from our customers’ own sites and preferred services and related web sites of interest, which offer publicly accessible feeds.

The feeds from each subsite are then fed back into the main channel (the great “planet” site), as well as all the external sites, which tap whatever is interesting to them. We’ll also tap into the greater Kaplak Stream from the Kaplak Wiki, where pages will be fed relevant items based on categories and tags used.

Here’s an illustration of the feed traffic and link love created by Kaplak Stream :

What’s important is this network of niche sites help build context for the niche products offered by our customers. We aim to create very low-maintenance sites, which will help sell some of the “slim end of the long tail” products, we mean to help our customers sell.

These marginal products only sell the occasional copy, so each site cannot cost too much to maintain. This is where syndication comes into the picture. With syndicated sites, we can maintain rich contexts easily and we don’t need lots and lots of traffic for each site individually to pay the bills.

How does this help me sell my product?

So how do you sell with Kaplak Stream? You opt in for a site in the stream, free of charge, with a subject and RSS content of your own choosing. For now, your product must use an external affiliate program and a shopping cart provided by third party services. Products/widgets must also support a revenue sharing model, which shares revenue with publishers.

Each site is focused on one product or few related products only. The widgets for these can be placed at site-level in the sidebar. In this case, Kaplak will be an affiliate publisher of your product.

Alternatively, products may be sold at post-level, i.e. from widgets included in posts in a feed. For these sales, you (or anyone else responsible for the feed) will be the publisher. If unused, the sidebar will be utilized to sell another related product in the Kaplak household, if applicable, or house our usual ads and other stuff circulated among the sites. It’s also in this space we’ll begin to introduce our URLsale widgets when we get that far.

Once the site has been created, you can nurse it and cultivate it – or simply leave it alone and forget about it. Until it makes the occasional sale. A site can be a silent sleeper for years, until someone re-discovers it’s existance and makes a purchase. In Kaplak Stream, this is not a problem.

Only when your product makes a sale, do you earn a dime, which in turn is shared with the publisher. Making the sale is not the only benefit of using Kaplak Stream however. The greatest benefit may be the improved targeted visibility created by the linking activity in the stream. Feeds from Kaplak’s niche sites may easily be pulled back into niche sites everywhere, which adds context and value to these sites, to the advantage of their owners and communities. The links across the network and pingbacks in WordPress MU makes it easier to connect the dots between “separated” islands of niche contexts. Kaplak Stream could be the first step in our ‘making the world’s ends meet’.

As with everything we do, this project may be subject to change – any time. Much in the setup depends on further testing and development, particularly of the plugins we use.

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