Natti Bar On Hi, I'm a member of the Syndu founders' team. I like cats, web, reading science fiction novels and making them come true.I'm helping people achieve their dreams as entrepreneurs, and that's why I'm building the Syndu Machines. Powered by Syndu Building ships others can sail on towards new horizons
Building ships others can sail on towards new horizons

I haven't written in a while, but I'll drop a few lines now. There's something exhilirating going on in the last few weeks - seeing how businesses perceive what we're doing at Syndu as platforms they can build their own businesses on. It shows me we're all on a journey.

< /div> ]]> Sun, 04 Jan 2015 21:14:59 +0200
The joy of looking back in time
The joy of looking back in time

One of my favorite books is "A Fire Upon The Deep" - it's a science fiction novel, a kind of a space opera, involving higher biological and artificial intelligences, space travel and variable physics, human modification and other cool ideas.

The plot kicks in by having an expedition of humans discover an old information archive (4 billion years old), which they greedly decrypt and upload to their ship's computers. The archive contains a malevolent AI, which starts spreading across the cosmic network.

I've been thinking about this plot over the weekend, because we've (Syndu) assimilated the archive of one of my favorite websites, "Hole in the Net". We copied and re-formatted old stories which go back to 2006 (less than 4 billion years...). These stories form a step by step coverage of the evolution of the web in Israel, and they're a treasure trove for a geek like me. In them, I can see the early emergence of Facebook in Israel, and of the mobile web. Going even further back in time, it's possible to see the first local versions of social networks and the incorporation of blogs into major news sites.

What would other people think about this archive, now made more accessible? Will they enjoy it the same way I do? Will they derive the same sense of nostalgia I experience? It's going to be interesting to know.

< /div> ]]> Sun, 13 Apr 2014 06:52:03 +0300
Getting attention to your content by building distribution channels
Getting attention to your content by building distribution channels

After we faced the challenges of creating content (for whatever purpose) the next challenge is to get people to find it. In marketing, this is called exposure - exposing your target audience to the message. And, the best way marketers have to get the audience exposed is to position this content where the target audience can find it.

On the web, the question “where the audience is” isn’t easy to answer. There are numerous websites, blogs, Facebook pages and groups, forums, articles and more. The more such venues to publish your content on, the better exposure you’ll get. We call all of these venues “Distribution Channels” and building these channels over time is the best thing you can to grow your exposure. With so many channels, the question arises - where should you start?

Before we answer this question, let’s first make a few distinction regarding your potential audience: Your audience breaks down into the following groups:

- People who have subscribed to your content

These people are your known audience, those you can talk to freely because you proved to be interesting. They’re fans of your Facebook page, follow you on Twitter, subscribed to your newsletter, and may have your content in their RSS feed. When you send an email informing them of new content, a large part will click through to read it. The goal of all other exposures is to form a stronger relationship with an audience, by having them subscribe to your content in some way.

- People who have expressed interest in content similar to yours

These people have subscribed to Facebook groups / forums or newsletters which showcase content that is similar to yours. Sharing your content on such websites, or within these groups will get your content exposed. If your content is interesting and helpful, these people will join your audience. You can feature your content as part of an answer to someone’s question, in comments or as it is. The important part is that you know the virtual places your audience hangs out at, and participate in the conversation taking place there. Some social networks offer you a way to create ads that target these audiences; it’s part of “Social Media Marketing” or SMM, and is considered as Paid distribution.

- People who have expressed interest in the content of others, who compliment your content.

Just like you have built your own audience, there are many others who have successfully collected an audience of their own. Some of these others will perceive you as a competitor, while others will be happy to collaborate. Collaborating with these people by sharing their content to your audience, and having them agree to sharing your content with their audience is an excellent way to gain more exposure. Some social networks offer you a way to create ads that target these audiences; it’s part of “Social Media Marketing” or SMM, and is considered as Paid distribution.

- People who are searching for information relevant to your content

A significant source for long-term exposure is having your content appear on search engines. When people search for terms or phrases that appear in your content, it will show up in their search results. The more content you create, and the more you collaborate with others and have them feature your content (with links back to your website and so forth) the better ranking you within search results. It is possible to show up in search results using ads, and that’s called “Search Engine Marketing” or SEM, and is considered as Paid Distribution.

- Friends or contacts of the people who expressed interest in your content, or in someone else’s content that’s similar to yours

If your content is helpful and interesting, people will share it. This is usually described as “Viral Content”. When they share it, what happens is that their friends are exposed to the content (and through it, to you). It offers them a chance to join your known audience by subscribing, following, and so forth.

- None of the above

You don’t have an audience yet, and you don’t know any groups or websites that deal with content similar to yours. If that's the case, it’s most likely that you need to re-define what it is you are talking about, and take a more extensive look at groups on the web who take interest in similar content. There’s nothing new around the sun, and in most cases, what you’re dealing with is an extension or elaboration of things that are already out there. If you’re trying to solve someone’s problems, or experience something you wish to share, you’re most likely not the only one. Back to research.


Distribution channels usually have a mix of three flavors of exposures: Organic, Viral or Paid.

- Organic means that people are exposed to the content because they chose to. I get newsletters which I read for sheer curiosity. Having someone follow you on social media, or receiving your emails, or attending your events means that they’re willing to hear you out.

- Viral means that when people meet your content, they have a desire to share it, of their own free will. By sharing, they expose it to their contacts, who may in turn choose to share it and drive more viral exposure.

- Paid (or sponsored) means that you pay to get other people exposed to this content, through multiple services - Facebook advertizing, Google’s search engine ads (Adwords), OutBrain’s content distribution network, or BannerPlay’s display banners. Paid exposure usually broadens the circle of people who are exposed to your content.

Organic and Viral exposures have a limited lifespan. Once the content has been viewed, people will stop paying attention to it. Paid or sponsored exposure can prolong the lifespan of content, allowing it to circulate over long periods of time. Naturally, this will require that you spend more money.

While creating interesting and valuable content is the first step, the next thing to take care of is building distribution channels. It's just as important as creating content, and will help get your content reach the people who should read it.

< /div> ]]> Mon, 31 Mar 2014 11:52:59 +0300
What's the secret sauce for a successful community?
What's the secret sauce for a successful community?

What makes a successful community? Here at Syndu, we research this subject day and night, since the value of empowering communities is so intrinsic to our way of thinking.

When we ask our customers and partners, who are community leaders themselves, they give us numerous questions regarding working with key members, empowering the community, making sure everyone is communicating properly, that people meet and network and so forth. In many ways, what they’re pointing at is that a community without member-interaction, is just an arbitrary group of individuals. People who live in the same place, yet ignore each other altogether cannot be considered a community, and on the other side of the coin, individuals interested in the same thing, without knowing one another or having any valuable communication, are nothing but a crowd.

Therefore, the key to having a thriving community, and assessing the quality of the community, is to look at their interactions. Therefore, empowering communities means enhancing the quantity and quality of interactions - but before we take that step,  we need to take one step back and ask: what kind of interactions are there within a community? Here at Syndu we defined it into several distinct patterns:

1. Identity & networking

Members of the community know one another, or at least know prominent figures within the community. Identity is a building block to knowing and finding a person, and a way to engage that person. The most common identity interactions is networking, and since most communities don’t have an online directory service, networking takes place at events or via peer-to-peer introductions. Helping people get to know each other is a prerequisite for them to engage in any other form.

2. Shared information

There are many forms with which members of the community may share information - emails, newsletter, FAQ,  Facebook groups, etc. Some communities have taken the plunge, and created a website to service the information needs of community members - instead of having loose flow of information, all members have direct and easy access to information they care about. Sharing information and knowledge empowers the individuals within the community, as well as gives exposure to prominent figures who share their knowledge.

3. Shared events

Events are a way to provide a tremendous boost to the community, as long as they’re properly managed. Inviting people to a party, conference, picnic or workshop allows members of the community to meet in a shared space, network, and learn about the things they care for.

4. Sharing resources (giving away, lending or bartering)

Sharing is caring (or at least that’s how the saying goes). While digital content can be shared without being reduced (information), physical goods are limited by scarcity. Giving, lending and borrowing, as well as bartering for goods is an interaction pattern which is common in geography based communities. In the past few years, there has been a tremendous growth in sharing applications - from couchsurfing and apartment sharing to ride sharing and meal swapping. The switch to community based arenas is still in its infancy, and market leaders such as Zaarly (which is local) or AppCoin are interesting players. Empowering a community with such a marketplace has a great value, both in terms of human relationships and financial welfare.

Through sharing, community members can part with stuff they don’t need, or share it, while enriching the life of those who need it.

5. Commerce

There are two aspects that are important to note in relation to community commerce. The first aspect  is that people would prefer to buy from people and businesses who share their worldviews and values. At the same time, most people would like to avoid doing business with people who take a stand against their lifestyle choices. The second aspect is that commerce within community members contributes to the financial welare of all community members, while commerce done with businesses who aren’t committed to the community weakens the community financially.

Community commerce strengthens both the people who share our worldviews, and the community we belong to.

6. Templating

As communities mature, they adopt official rules and procedures. They may operate as a “co-op”, a “non profit”, a “village”, and so forth. They may have procedures through which formal representatives are elected, and help organize shared efforts to the benefit of all members.

Formalizing the community helps it become more organized, attract new members and allows it to interact with other communities in an easier fashion.


To appreciate the cohesiveness of a community, we must look at how individuals who identify themselves as members interact with one another. The more contact and engagement there is, be it networking, meetups, sharing knowledge, lending and borrowing, trading or voting - the stronger the ties, the stickier the community is, and the more prosperous it becomes.


< /div> ]]> Sun, 16 Mar 2014 10:24:50 +0200
Will RSS be a part of the next web?
Will RSS be a part of the next web?

I've just read a post by Boris, from "The Next Web", who explains why they're truncating posts in their RSS feeds. It appears that earlier this week they've cut down the length of their post for RSS readers to 150 words, for three main reasons:

1. They want people to click through and visit the site, and get some ad views with a chance of clicks.

2. They want people to see the article in the format the author intended, and allow the reader to engage with the post (comment, like, share, etc).

3. They want to promote their pro bundle, which will open up an RSS feed of more than 150 words and free the viewer from ads on the site.

This is all legit, and The Next Web team are doing an awesome job with their content, and deserve any chance of making an extra buck from it.

I personaly feel this isn't the place to trim - most of their traffic arrives from social feeds, and there's a very small number of people who get it from RSS (Boris says so himself). It feels more like nitpicking on a feature that has a few fans remaining, rather than a true improvement or a chance for profit.

Reading this post made me wonder, if RSS will remain a part of our future web. Seems like the people at TNW are making a bet against it.

< /div> ]]> Fri, 14 Mar 2014 19:28:33 +0200
My trip down memory lane has a data warehouse in it
My trip down memory lane has a data warehouse in it
The first ever software project I was involved in (about 17 years ago) was a data warehouse project. It has left quite a mark on my choice of projects, and over the years I got the odd chance to dabble with this type of application.

In the past three years I played in a whole different domain, which is web development. The tech is entirely different; more front-end programming, with a focus on user experience, interaction and design.

This past week was a trip down memory lane:  Syndu now requires that we design a data warehouse - and it's a real joy for me. I loved this kind of work years back, and I love it now. Pieces of information from the past float back into my mind without any effort, and I'm surprised to discover how they have always been there, waiting to be put to use.

Why is it such a joy? Why does it feel so good? Maybe because now, all of a sudden, it feels effortless.The most similar thing I can think of is music memory, which is a type of muscle memory musicians develop. Playing music is complex, and involves activating multiple brain structures. When it all works together, and all the pieces fall into place without effort, there's a sense of harmony. Practiced musicians often finger the tunes they listen to, and can easily play pieces they have learned years ago after practicing them once or twice.

Another reason for my joy is that the people who work with me today, are friends with whom I worked on that first software project. It's another full-circle, and the experience of having relationships that last through life's journey.
< /div> ]]> Sat, 15 Feb 2014 15:39:55 +0200
How does grit affect product success?
How does grit affect product success?

I've written before that the most important characteristic for success is grit: the willingness to just keep at it with determination. When you take the long view on how grit affects your results, the impact becomes extremely clear.

A mature product is define by its ability to respond to a variety of the user's needs within a specific domain. The iPhone started off without a copy-paste function, and it was added somewhere along the line. Initially, there was no built-in flashlight function, and we all had to buy a specific app - nowadays, it's built right into iOS, and accessible via the new control center, which has been added to make more functions easily accessible.

As product developers, committing ourselves to 2 improvements a day builds up to over 730 improvements a year (these could be new features or bug fixes).

Committing to a 1% improvement a day may yield a rate of 3700% improvments a year. These are staggering numbers.

A more mature product makes it easier for users to succeed: They face less bugs, the flows are more polished, the design communicates what they're expected to do in a clearer way, and so forth. When users succeed more, they're more likely to buy a product, or recommend it to their friends. A more mature product may have an easier time raising funds, or attracting high quality super-talents (would you like to work on GMail or iOS developer team?)

This is completely realistic; today, I have made about 6 minor improvements to products across the Syndu suite. Most days I get the chance to add between one to three features, respond to feedback, hear what users want - you get the point.

Grit. It's a key to improving consistently. It's the key to getting it right. It's the key to success.

< /div> ]]> Thu, 13 Feb 2014 20:06:30 +0200
Pushing against the grind
Pushing against the grind

I woke up today determined to fix a flow I didn't like. Ages ago, when we just launched Media, the pilot customer wanted a quick fix, and I patched up the flow in the nastiest way possible. Today I had the 4-5 hours required to change it, and a code freeze on other features I couldn't hack into.

Then, the world happened. Lots of calls, lots of emails, two unplanned frontal meetings. They were all fun, and productive, but they were entirely against the plan.

I had every excuse to postpone my plans for tomorrow. But instead, I pushed a bit harder and got that flow working the way I want it to, and rolled up to the web.

It feels great. If you have the dilemma, choose to push against the grind, it will pay off in the future.

< /div> ]]> Mon, 10 Feb 2014 20:02:56 +0200
The Age of Loneliness
The Age of Loneliness

Over the past few weeks, I came across multiple texts, songs and conversations related to loneliness, and it has lingered in my mind and congealed into something I want to write about.

The reasons why people feel lonely are numerous, they're practically coming at us on all fronts.

We may be growing apart from one another because technology is shaping us. We are so connected through social networks and instant messaging, it may be driving us apart. Even when we're together, each of us is hooked to a mobile screen.


Our presence on social networks is a curated version which drives others to feel inadequate and apart.

I've witnessed several conversations where people referred to the exciting life of my friend, having no awareness to her hardships and struggles. The general undertone of the conversation was - "you're so lucky, my life is nothing like this" - which is just not true, but drives away any sense of empathy.


After a few conversations with my gay friends, I went to check if this is an issue which gay people are more exposed to, and there's a lot of texts on the subjects. My younger friends talk about the hookup apps, and how they drive people apart by commoditizing sex. Mathew Ebert event went as far to declare his 2014 resolution is to dump hookup sites, and calling others to become more involved in their respective communities.

Older gay men speak of the generation gap between themselves and younger gay men. They share how they lost many of their friends to AIDS, and are now living in a community which worships youth, making them feel invisible.


Reading the blog of Stephen Fry, I found his very personal description of his loneliness, which is entirely stripped of the sexual orientation context and phrased as an individual, personal dilemma. He doesn't want to be alone, but he wants to be left alone, and at the same time, has somewhat grown weary of his own company. "Only the Lonely" is an eloquent, personal and moving text and I recommend taking the time to read it.


A quick google search informed me that it is not just a Gay problem. A study in the UK shows that a third of people over 50 experience loneliness, perhaps linked to divorce. Older women are more inclined to suffer from loneliness, since they tend to live longer and lose their spouses. Having a family is no longer an insurance policy, because everyone is so busy.


I don't know why I stumbled upon all of these texts; at this point in time, more than any other, I want to go into my shell and be left alone, moments before I leave the city to the countryside (I find myself humming Joni Mitchel's "River"). Perhaps they are here to serve as a warning - take your time, but don't drift to far.

And if the Arcade Fire song is right, the age of loneliness may later be known as the reflective age

< /div> ]]> Mon, 30 Dec 2013 08:34:28 +0200
The debatable value of advertizing on Facebook
The debatable value of advertizing on Facebook

Recently, Forrester released an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg stating that Facebook is failing marketers. The letter states “While lots of marketers spend lots of money on Facebook today, relatively few find success. In August, Forrester surveyed 395 marketers and eBusiness executives at large companies across the US, Canada and the UK — and these executives told us that Facebook creates less business value than any other digital marketing opportunity.”

Many have commented on the validity of the claim, among which other consulting firms and advertising companies who enjoy massive budgets from Coca Cola, Nike, and other superbrands. For example, Thomas Justin from KRDS explains in detail just how profitable marketing on Facebook is, and his arguments make perfect sense:

Large advertising agencies have sophisticated software tools to build an audience, target and remarket to this audience, and generate engagement by developing custom apps on top of Facebook’s platform. Agencies get discounts on bulk purchases. Naturally, they hire full-time social media managers that post 3-6 times a day, effectively bypassing the 16% reach filters that Facebook imposes on non-paying customers. (Though every post is filtered, the filtered audience isn’t always the same, so they reach up to 50% of their audience.)

But are any of these things relevant to small businesses who wish to use Facebook’s plain vanilla advertising solutions? It seems the answer is no. Rob Marsh recommends “If you use Facebook ads or are considering it, we highly recommend that you test your ads very carefully to verify that they not only get the clicks you want, but that those clicks translate to sales. Many small companies are finding this very difficult to do.”

My own experience shows me that small businesses don’t know how to use this platform effectively. They don’t know how to calculate ROI, judge the impact of their social activity in terms of sales, and generally come with a skewed set of expectations, which assures their disappointment. The level of rumors, contradictory information and confusion is rising faster than Facebook’s changes to the algorithm.

The key promise of the Facebook platform is, in my opinion, designed for small businesses with a DIY option. If each business paid 1$ a day on advertising, Facebook’s revenues would be tremendous. For SMBs to become a sustainable source of income, Facebook has a lot of work to do in tools, training, setting expectations and empowering their customers.

< /div> ]]> Fri, 20 Dec 2013 16:06:37 +0200
Facebook's free lunch is going to cost you...a lot
Facebook's free lunch is going to cost you...a lot

A few days ago Facebook made another change to the news feed which seriously screwed many businesses who invested heavily in their Facebook business page.

It seems they further reduced the visibility of status updates from business pages by 50%, which cut down traffic significantly to the pages, and perhaps the websites these updates originated from.

Just a quick reminder - about a year and a half ago, Facebook limited the outreach of business page's status update to max 16%, with the excuse of keeping high quality content in people's feeds, and shortly afterwards launched the sponsored posts feature. Brands that were willing to pay, got exposure.

And so, last week they took it up a notch. They're now expecting businesses to pay for advertising, instead of relying on social media managers (just like what Google did in the past year for SEO wizz kids). This is a major shift in the way marketing worked so far on Facebook...

So, what should SMBs do now? Businesses should invest in new ways to enhance their relationships with customers, extend their own web presence, build their own mailing lists, implement good CRM apps, and form their own content-based marketing strategies.

The end of "free" marketing lunches on Facebook is about to end, if it hasn't ended already. It's time to wise up.

< /div> ]]> Sun, 15 Dec 2013 00:34:51 +0200
Media is a means to empower citizens
Media is a means to empower citizens

Holes in the Net, the largest independent news website in Israel, published a story yesterday about police misconduct. A policeman brutally arrested a young man who criticized his behavior in public.

This story was viewed by over 50k people in less than a day, shared and liked over 10k times.

A week ago, one of the foulest gossip events broke out, and traditional media was all over it. A famous singer in Israel was suspected for having sex with minors. Tracx, a company that specializes in monitoring conversations on the web published a research which estimated 60k interactions with content related to the event. This was one hell of a viral event.

Yesterday, another famous israeli singer passed away, and traditional media was talking about it non-stop. It was on the tv, in the newspapers, and even today his songs were played in most radio stations.

One of the commentors on the police brutality story asks: why isn't this discussed in mainstream media? This story should be all over the place!

But it's not. It's only available online, shared and liked and tweeted by the web community, which spreads it virally. In a few hours it will fade out from social networks, but it will live on for posterity on the website.

To me, this is what empowering citizens looks like: providing multiple alternative for expression, for sharing information, for slipping under the radar of the old power structures, being out there without governmental or commercial censorship. I am proud to have a hand in this, and I hope my work continue to serve this movement.

< /div> ]]> Thu, 28 Nov 2013 19:06:41 +0200
Quality and motorcylce emptiness
Quality and motorcylce emptiness
"The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there" - Robert Pirsig, in Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Pirsig discusses the concept and meaning of quality, and ends up by saying that it's quite undefinable: to truly experience quality, one must embrace and apply it as best in as many situations as possible.

I had the chance to experience the joy involved in pursuing quality by coming back to an old project of mine, and improving it. A loved Syndu user, Yaron Svoray, wanted to make certain changes to his website, and due to his technological barriers I gave him a hand. While I was doing that, I went and tweaked many small details which I failed to notice a year ago, and were easy for me to handle today (both because the product evolved, and my skills did too).

According to Pirsig, a pursuit of quality is a remedy to the dissatisfaction common to modern life. The sense of emptiness which emerges in consumerism, secularization, breaking of traditions and the adoption of individuality. In the book, such a pursuit is a very abstract concept (I think) but for me boils down to something really simple:

Try to leave everything and everyone you touched slightly better off than how you found them.

< /div> ]]> Thu, 28 Nov 2013 17:16:30 +0200
What's the next step after effective networking?
What's the next step after effective networking?

My team is now working closely with community leaders to launch websites for their respective communities. Each community leader is going to be a Media admin; they will work closely with community members to get content, form commercial partnerships with companies who will sponsor content and activities for the community members, and collaborate with other communities to create business opportunities for members of different groups.

Today happened to be a first session in which several community leaders joined me to work in a shared workspace on similar tasks. I was surprised to discover that instead of what we all agreed of doing seperately, something entirely different took place. I hate having my plans disrupted, but I was wise enough to shut up and observe what unfolded before my eyes. And it was fascinating and beautiful.

What I saw is this: They immediately started sharing what it is they’re working on, and what resources they’re looking for, and what resources they have and can share. They immediately brought up problems each of them faced and asked for advice, help and connections. After the first round, once everyone knew more or less what everyone else was working on, they started sharing contacts from other domains which can help out - actively doing business development for each other. They quickly recognized how similar they are (one said: We’re cut from the same cookie dough). And after going through all of that, only then, they started forming their own partnerships.

It was a stunning example of effective networking: Instead of meeting new people, connecting people we already know, and keeping others in mind before we head on to take care of our own business. Seeing it in action, it’s no wonder that these people are community leaders, since forming connections and relationships are the building blocks for value community (Communities of values mean: people knowing each other, working together, sharing successes, and helping each other out, giving and receiving - all of these things feed positive energy into the networks they belong to, and strengthen relationships.)

There is a great power to networking, but even greater power to communities, and these people know how to wield it, in a way that teaches me a lot and I can benefit greatly from. I left the meeting more hopeful and happy from what I saw, and slightly privileged by helping it take place.


< /div> ]]> Tue, 19 Nov 2013 10:27:59 +0200
Is there a cure to worrying? I believe this is it:
Is there a cure to worrying? I believe this is it:

Worrying is a cognitive capacity, of using our imagination in a way that projects our fears into the future, painting undesirable outcomes. At times, the most imaginitive minds can map out the most fearful consequences.

The problem with worrying is that it is an active task. It consumes our attention keeps us busy with doing nothing. Worrying is wasteful, counter-productive; it induces stress - which means it's destructive to our health. It's a nasty mental habit.

But here's some good news: worrying has a cure, and only today I learned of its name: It's called Grit - a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve it.

It appears that grit is much more important to success than any other mental resource; it's more important than IQ, or EQ, or imagination, or any other element of one's intelligence. It is what keeps one moving forward when faced with obstacles.

So, instead of worrying, push forward. If you find your mind reaching out to the far future to pull up terrible consequences, write down 2-3-4 things you can do right now, and just do them. Two hours of pushing forward will make another dent against the dire consequences, it's how we can turn the tide, and slowly win the battle. Lower your head, and push forward.

And the bonus is - the more you actively stop worrying, the easier it gets, because grit is a capacity that practice improves.

The photo I used belongs to "True Grit", a movie by the Coen Brothers, and it's a movie worth watching; If you want to hear this post in song format, play the attached video.

< /div> ]]> Fri, 15 Nov 2013 18:34:42 +0200
A framework for analyzing large content websites
A framework for analyzing large content websites

I had to write up a website analysis review for a prospective customer, so it was a good opportunity to explain the framework with which I perform the assessment. Now that I have it written down, I can share it with the world and let others benefit from it.

It's important to note that this framework is used to evaluate and assess large websites, meant for a news organization or a large community - it is not meant for small businesses which run an online shop or an online card.

The numbers on the graph denote the order in which processes takes place, and the arrows describe the process flows.

Let's start :-)

The first phase is content acquisition - website editors are responsible for creating content, engaging authors, work with authors to improve the quality and quantity of the content they provide, inform readers on content that originated elsewhere, form syndication partnerships with other website editors, etc. By pursuing these processes we get a website with high quality content; content that promotes a set of values and world views, and engages readers who care about these topics, values and world views (eg, community).

Once the content exists, it can be published, linked to other pages on the site, recommended as further reading, broken down, arranged into a series of articles, tagged, placed into sections, contradicted with other stories, and other techniques related to the editors' content strategy.

After the content is published, the editors are responsible for disseminating it across the web. This includes processes such as marketing the content, forming partnerships with other content outlets, and increasing the visibility of published content in search engines.

As content becomes visible on other places on and off the web (such as social media profiles, other websites and even old media), people start clicking on those other sources and reach the website, and engage with the content.

Engagement may mean many things; on our category of websites, we usually mean reading more, liking, commenting, and sharing. With the right mechanisms, each of these activities are pushed out to the social web and help market this content further.

Additionaly, we may want people to do something specific, related to the monetization of the website; actions such as clicking ads, subscribing to a newletter or a premium mailing list, and maybe even buying something. Optimizing this is usually called conversion optimization, and it involves many skills, from design to statistics. 

Once sharing takes place, more people are exposed to the content off-site, which results in more visitor traffic. As fresh content is added, the cycle is renewed and visitor traffic grows. A growth in visitor traffic implies that the set of values and world views, promoted by the editor is spreading out to a larger part of the community.

The cycle is constantly fueled by hight quality content, which drives more traffic, which yield more engagement, and on and on.

Two comments: The first, that's why it's so important to write. This is what drives the content based marketing cycle. The second, Syndu media (and Voice, for that matter) are built around this understanding, and we constantly optimize these products so that our customers enjoy the maximum outreach for their content.

< /div> ]]> Mon, 11 Nov 2013 18:31:31 +0200
Mental context switch; What is it, and what is the price I’m paying for it?
Mental context switch; What is it, and what is the price I’m paying for it?

I had a fantastic day yesterday. I worked at home all day long, focused on coding new features, which will help Syndu users get ahead, and fixing minor bugs, which slowed them down. I hardly get long stretches of focused development work work; I enjoy these stretches very much, and yesterday felt absolutely awesome.

This joy-in-coding may sound perverse; On one hand, as a founder I get to experience a very diverse type of work. I get to run a sales cycle, plan the product, design interaction, provide customer support, code new functions, fix bugs in old software, read legal documents, think of marketing strategies, and do some networking and business development. I don’t want to make the wrong impression - I’m far from being a specialist at any of these tasks; I’m just barely competent at most of them (though, I get better at each of them step by step).

The problem is, when I have to switch between different types of tasks; In computer speak, this is called “context switching” and it is a very wasteful way of doing things. Mentally, for me, switching context has a price tag attached: losing concentration and attention. Many people say they’re multitaskers; I’m a unitasker, capable of processing just one task at a given time.

Losing concentration is expressed as having a hard time knowing what to do next. Forgetting where I left off a task, and slowly warming up the next steps required to dealing with it. Combine this with the different mental resources required for different tasks (programming vs. design, or writing posts or advising a client on their marketing) and I actually feel how long it takes me to boot up the different brain processes for these capabilities. It is the opposite of Zen, and as far from the state of Flow as possible. It’s start, stop, change, start, stop, change, again and again.

While working across multiple domains is very good for one’s personal growth, I personally find it extremely difficult (which may mean it’s working). The days in which I can focus and carry out just one type of task are few and far between, but when they happen, I just feel great.

< /div> ]]> Wed, 06 Nov 2013 17:52:26 +0200
Is it time to lose the notebook?
Is it time to lose the notebook?

I’ve made some time for myself, and started to read a book in physical format (Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson)Reading the book is great; I haven’t read a novel for a long time, and I like the story.

Unfortunately, the experience is frustrating: When I stumble upon a word I don’t know I instinctively reach out to touch it for the definition.When it gets dark, I can’t go on reading because the pages aren’t illuminated. I have to use both hands to read, otherwise flipping the pages is uncomfortable. I have to keep it open to find where I last stopped, or use a bookmark. When I’m out and about and have a few minutes to spare, I can’t keep reading on my mobile where I last left off.

This reminds me of a what happened the during the last writing training I taught at. Most of the people brought stylish notebooks upon which they could write their stories. At some point, I recommended using a notebook to write ideas or outlines, and switch asap to using Google Docs. Using a digital medium to write helps us get our ideas out on the page quite quickly, and then we can shuffle them around until they make sense. It’s also easier to balance the text later to make sure it’s clear, like removing a sentence here or adding an example there.

Most of the participants were over 30, so there was a discussion about the feeling of writing in a notebook, how the senses of smell and touch increase the experience; the joy we derive when we touch high quality pen to high quality paper. One of the participants was 25 years old and he said he never uses notebooks anymore. For him, writing in a notebook is like writing words in the air. They get lost so quickly, they’re unsearchable, impossible to edit properly, can’t be shared with others. He claimed that this medium is generally obsolete.

After a few minutes of writing, crossing over, trying to squeeze in more ideas, starting fresh, I think everyone came to realize that we’ll have to part with our romantic notions about writing in personal stylish notebooks.

Back to the book - ironically, the book was given to me by a friend who, for a long time, rejected reading in digital format and ended up working for an e-book company.


< /div> ]]> Sat, 02 Nov 2013 11:08:15 +0200
Why does It take four sessions before writing gets easier?
Why does It take four sessions before writing gets easier?

Every time I teach writing, I try to set expectations with the people who write. I tell them it’s going to be very difficult for the first four posts, and then it gets easier. I could never explain why that is so, so I had to give it some thought and I think I have a reasonable explanation. Also, I suspect that what I’m about to explain applies to other domains, though I’m not sure yet.

So why does it take four posts to get comfortable with writing?

First time at it, we get stuck on the very big things. We want to know for sure it’s going to work, we want to be satisfied with the end result, we think it will work in the first go, and none of this happens. We judge ourselves for it not being easy, and we get stuck. It takes time to give it a try, to be willing to experiment, and get some kind of result. When there’s a result, there’s something to work with; fix mistakes, ask for feedback, fix based on the feedback, and so on. Eventually, we get to something we’re pleased with.

Second time, people remember the last time. We remember how difficult it was on the one hand, so we’re not keen on starting. Some may still suspect the previous experience was a fluke, a one-off, which will never happen again. On the other hand, we have an experience and a result. We intuitively know the process,  and we’re slightly more willing to give it a go. Usually, we get to a result much quicker than the first time, and with much less hassle.

On the third time, they sit to write. they’ve got more confidence, and less doubts, so there’s more space for the task at hand and less bother with the psychology of it. We approach it with more ease, because we’re willing to trust that it will work out. Suddenly, pay more attention to different aspects of the task, such as humor and style, and we enjoy some of the process. It’s not necessarily flowing, but there’s a trust that it will work out. Also, by the third text, the people in our lives start talking to us about what we wrote and we know someone is reading, and we’re still being loved despite the stuff we’ve shared.

By the fourth time, trust is no longer needed. It worked for us three times in the past. We don’t need to believe, we know we’re up to it (some even get bored because the challenge is gone). It is no longer an issue, just another form of expression that we can use to share and spread our ideas. We’re willing to enjoy the time with ourselves, our growing competence and the peace of not-having-to-deal-with-our-demons.

Some say it takes 10000 hours to become a master at a skill. What they don’t say is that you can get reasonably good at writing in a few hours, and really good in a less than a hundred hours. It’s the barriers we have to face when we start, that are the worst.

< /div> ]]> Tue, 29 Oct 2013 12:18:23 +0200
Warning: The rise of SkyNet
Warning: The rise of SkyNet

So, as part of our quality time schedule Saar and me have signed up for an introductory course in Arduino.

Saar has been playing around with Arduino at home for quite some time, hitting a knowledge barrier when it comes to motors and motion. I have a strong background in software development, but everything related to mechanics, electronics and electricity is part of the mystery of life - just like divination or statistics.

Let’s try divination - there are a few domains which strike me as full of promise. Robotics, online education, 3d printing and the maturation of the SOHO market segment. I’m already trying to mature the SOHO market segment with Syndu, and I’m thinking of adding some online training products, but I’m very lacking when it comes to robotics.

Now we’re here, to learn everything required to build SkyNet. Or silly toys for cats. In the meanwhile, Saar and me are making private snide remarks, like the two old men from the muppets.

For the record, the room is packed with men; there’s just one woman who braved the field, and hopefully this will change in the future and we'll see more lady-droids.


< /div> ]]> Sun, 27 Oct 2013 16:44:16 +0200