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.

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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Kaplak and The Wiki Way

This video is a few words about our online method and work ethos, which is greatly inspired by what has been coined “the wiki way”, by our friends at About Us, among others (and yet others).

I’ve previously written about Kaplak’s multi-platform strategy and compared our business aspirations to the world of grafitti painting in our local neighbourhood. We want to create a company, which is capable of inviting “tags” and “shouts”, i.e. inputs from outside our company, so that we may, in the process and with time, learn how to do a great “piece”, so to speak. Inviting outside input is more difficult, than one would imagine, as everything in the business world as is, is built around keeping closed circles closed and creating stiff hierarchies, which are detrimental to the very kind of open, global process, we mean to help kick off and participate in. By all means, we want to steer clear of the corporate thickness, which quickly creeps into a company and prevents it from doing bold things.

Thus, we mean the “wiki way” in broader terms, than for just the work of building a wiki. We consider it a way of doing business and a mindset, which we need, in order to maintain a broad online presence over a number of different platforms and web architectures, without being overencumbered by the sheer vastness of what we’re doing – “making the world’s ends meet”, as we say, i.e. making financially viable connections between niche products and global niche markets.

Building and writing a blog sometimes can be like working against the clock. Posts are time-stamped and articles read and digested in the order they are published.

Not so with wikis. They evolve slowly over time, as additions to the wiki accumulate, from vastly different and otherwise territorially and contextually dispersed contributors. A wiki is built from time to time, when there’s something to add. A page can be an inactive dead end for months or even years, and it can see a sudden outburst of activity from one moment to the other, when it finds it’s use in a new context.

We understand and implement our online strategy much in this way. We use web tools and services, when they are useful to us, and we try to add bits and pieces to our network, when we need to. We don’t write blog posts every day, just for the sake of it or just to draw in traffic. However, we do work systematically to find explicit ways to add information or new contacts to our network. Precisely where the activity occurs – whether it happens on Twitter or Friendfeed, or somewhere else – is less important, as long as our pieces and nitbits are closely interlinked, and as long as we can feed stuff from one platform to another. The last thing is a high priority, which is why RSS and widgets are important. But what is even more important, is that in most contexts, not just in our wiki, we invite replies, comments, reactions, input, if just for the rare case, when someone in some unexpected context stumbles upon one of the bits and pieces, which help he or she activate that page and connect with us.

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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 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 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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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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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 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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