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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Get WordPress MU To Stop Worrying And Love Embedded Stuff

Kaplak Stream is based on a WordPress MU install (currently v2.6.1), where a network of niche sites are fed one or more feeds on a particular subject in the ‘stream’ or from particular online services, using feed aggregation tools.

Building the setup for Kaplak Stream so far has revealed a path ridden with challenges (as one might expect). WordPress MU, which is a tremendously powerful package, is not as widely used as it’s popular little sister, and therefore is less well documented and supported, which goes too for the compatibility and effects of various plugins.

One initial thing which gave rise to some trouble, was to get WordPress MU to stop worrying and love embedded stuff such as YouTube videos and widgets. WordPress MU was designed for great environments hosting thousands of blogs, with thousands of different users, and has a higher security threshold than regular WP. And there’s no way to turn this filtering of tags off in the Admin interface.

Now, there’s a plugin called Unfiltered MU which will remove this filtering of posts and thus allow the embedding stuff. Unfortunately this plugin works only with posts actually published using the Admin interface editor. It doesn’t work with imported posts (from your old single-WordPress setup), and apparently it doesn’t work with aggregated posts either. So if you setup MU and want it to import an old blog or set it up to aggregate items from a feed, you still got trouble.

I found out one has to manually edit kses.php to enable the tags used by embedded stuff, at one’s own peril. For our purpose, however, we’re not concerned with security in the sense that we are the only users of our system, for the time being.

At your own peril (I underscore the fact that you may put your setup at risk enabling these HTML tags, but hey, life is dangerous) : Put in these tags and something along the lines of the below code into your “allowed” arrays in kses.php : object, embed, param, script.

'object' => array (
			'id' => array (),
			'classid' => array (),
			'data' => array (),
			'type' => array (),
			'width' => array (),
			'height' => array (),
			'allowfullscreen' => array ()),
'param' => array (
			'name' => array (),
			'value' => array ()),
'embed' => array (
			'id' => array (),
			'style' => array (),
			'src' => array (),
			'type' => array (),
			'height' => array (),
			'width' => array (),
			'quality' => array (),
			'name' => array (),
			'flashvars' => array (),
			'allowscriptaccess' => array (),
			'allowfullscreen' => array ()),
'script' => array (
			'type' => array ()),

Pick the ones which you need for your videos or other embedded media to work. Allowing the ones listed will allow video embeds from most providers, incl. YouTube, Google Video, Viddler, Blip.tv and others as well as widgets from a lot of sources. It works on posts aggregated by FeedWordpress for instance, which was my problem with the “Unfiltered MU” plugin.

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Widget Test

Testing embed of early widget version, just out from the lab :

Great, it seems to embed fine! Now, looking forward to play some more with it, with input.

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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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Digital insights and forecasts for online visionaries

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki I just stumbled over this brilliant article, which should not be missed by anyone following Kaplak, or by any online startup for that matter.

Written by Frank Kochenash, head of Strategy and Insights in Avenue A | Razorfish’s Seattle office, the article stems from the company’s 2008 Digital Outlook Report (PDF). In the piece, Kochenash addresses the role of users ‘as advertising models evolve on social networks, and [...] how users should be compensated as the economic models on these properties mature.’ I specifically note the following predictions of what’s going to happen in this field which Kaplak operates in :

Expect to see increased competitiveness and specialization among social media sites and utilities, each trying to differentiate the network through perks available to members. The fragmentation of social media sites implies four other effects:

1. Advertising networks that can effectively leverage social information will become marginally more important.

2. Widgets, as vehicles to carry a message effectively within and across various social media environments, will become more popular.

3. Exchanges or clearing houses will arise to provide compensation in some form (e.g., cash, rewards, points, status) for users. [wouldn't call this compensation though, as 'users' rapidly converge into 'producers', but rather to connect and facilitate transactions between users]

4. Niche social media will become attractive places for brands to engage in SIM [Social Influence Marketing] because relevance can be increased.

Emphasis and comments in square brickets are mine.

Kawasaki was allowed to make the complete report available on his blog – he recommends getting it before they change their mind. Like Kochenash’s piece, the full report is stuffed with the kind of insights and backed up data which can make any online entrepreneur drool, because they can use this stuff to back up their business plans and their otherwise very-hard-to-document assumptions.

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