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23 March 2012

Curated Web

What is Curated Web? Why is curation on a rise nowadays? 
Well, let's first answer this question: Where is the Web Going?

User Experience
Nir Eyal - who is a behavioural engineer - wrote that "disruptive web innovation comes from changes in interface".
Foursquare, in a way or another, is not any different from Google Latitude when it comes to their basic functionality which is sharing your location with friends. So are Gmail vs Hotmail. Yet almost everyone I know uses Foursquare and Gmail, and I can't think of any of my friends who uses Latitude or still uses Hotmail.
What's Tumblr but yet another blogging platform, yet it almost kicks the ass of many of the existing platforms when it comes to the number of users and published content there.
Can you define Pinterest? Probably it's a mixture of a social-bookmarking service a la and something like 9Gag. Right? So why are some service on a rise while others are pretty dead, given they basically are doing the same thing?

I can't deny that marketing plays a big role in that. But also Interface and User Experience are the kings here. It's the user experience an applications gives to you that encourages you to interact more or less with it. Let me quote Nir Eyal one more time here.
The percentage of users creating content is a function of users’ ability. That is to say, the easier it is to create content the more people create it. But why should we care about content creation? Because content creation has exponential benefit to the community and is by definition how online media platforms succeed.

And that's why Design Thinking is on a rise, which Paula Thornton defined as, "Design thinking is not about solving design problems, it’s about solving problems with design".

The Web is Fragmented
But the ease of creating new content comes at an expense. There is too much content nowadays, and it makes our lives harder to find the useful needle in that social-media haystack.
The web is fragmented. That fragmentation gave rise to search. And it’s given rise to the role of social within finding.
The ‘finding’ problem exacerbates as content / product grows. Great examples of the problem: eBay, Amazon and iTunes have nearly unlimited inventory and are often painful to explore (for that precise reason).

Web 1.0 => Social Web => Curated Web
Nir Eyal continued to explain the idea in his blog:
That’s exactly the cry the founders of companies like Pinterest, Evernote and Tumblr are answering. These companies mark the dawn of what I call the Curated Web.
The Curated Web is characterized by a fundamentally different value to users than the social web. Whereas Web 1.0 was characterized by content published from one-to-many and social media was about easily creating and sharing content, from many-to-many, the curated web is about capturing and collecting only the content that matters, from many-to-one. Like all successive phases, the curated web is a response to the weaknesses of the previous phase.
What does this mean? Where do those curators come from?
In her blog post, Lauren Picarello defined three categories of content curation, however I'd like to focus on two of them here:
Consumers as curators: Everything is curated now. We view the world through filters – trusted sources like friends or online communities to which we belong. ‘I want to look at topic X through your lens because you are someone I trust.’

Brands as content: This one is simple. Consumers use your brands to express themselves.Therefore brands have to provide variety and portability if they want to show up in their customers’ content stream. By allowing people access to the raw material of your brand, they can better identify with your products and amplify your messages.For example, many consumers “Like” brands on Facebook because they want that particular brand to show up as part of their profile. In a sense, ‘brands as content’ is why social media has been able to become such a force in our everyday lives.

Is Curation the Next Big Thing? Does this mean the Web2.0 is dead?
Yuri Milner, a popular Russian Internet investor who has invested in Facebook, Groupon, and Zynga, says the next space he's looking at is Curation, "With the number of sources, and doubling of information every 18, 24 months [Moore's law]. I think the next big thing is curation".

But no, this doesn't mean that Web2.0 is dead, not at all. In fact those waves of trends are so overlapping that it's hard to tell when one of them starts and when one ends. Let's take twitter as an example, on one hand it's a sort of curation tool, where your friend read the news sources for you, filter the important ones and feed them into your timeline. But on the other hand, with the loads of tweets you get into your timeline, you need an extra layer of curation to aggregate only those important tweets to you. And this is where the likes of Storify and were born. I'll go into twitter and the curation trends there in more details later on, but what I wanted to say is that it's like layers of user-generated content and curation on top of each other, curation is a user-generated thing by the way. So neither Curation was born, nor Web2.0 is dead, we are just witnessing those layers of user-generated content and curation being added on top of each other day after day according to the consumers' needs.

Twitter Search Sucks!
Now let me end the post with some examples, and let's start with twitter. We all know how hard it is to find a tweet. Maggie McGary (@maggielmcg) who is online community & social media manager; gave an example to how hard it is to find tweets.
Take the tragedy in Haiti. Mainstream media is featuring Twitter as an integral part of the Red Cross's efforts to raise an amazing amount of money in record time and through previously untapped channels. So what happens a month or six months from now when a reporter is tasked with researching the total number of tweets containing the words "Haiti" or "Red Cross" in the weeks after the earthquake? I'll tell you what will happen: nothing, as in "no results," because those search results will be long gone.

A part of our job in Global Voices Online is to "work together to bring you reports from blogs and citizen media everywhere, with emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media", i.e. curation. And we once had a discussion about the different types of twitter-curation and the below table was my $0.02 in the discussion.

Comparison of Twitter Curation tools
As you see, there are different tools, or different layers of curation, and it's hard to tell which is better as each is meant for a specific need. Yet the existance of all those tools, and many others, means one thing, people are in need of Curatiom.

Finally, I'd like to add two/three more examples. Tumblr and Pinterest on one hand can be seen as both Curation tools or new/simpler Blogging platforms. Focusing on one aspect of them and ignoring the other means that you will probably miss their value and won't be able to understand their sweet spot. The real value of those two tools is that they combine the beauty of both curated web and the simplicity of web2.0 where user content can be added easily. The third example here is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a decade-old platform and guess what, it's a sort of curation platform. Whenever you add new information there, you are asked to add reference to it, so basically you are just curation the content in those references and putting them together in more organized and easier to find articles. Sure, it's not just curation, but I am just trying to prove to you that curation is not really a new trend as you might think.

06 March 2012

Meraki - Cloud Managed Networking

Every now and then we stumble upon new products, whether they are software or hardware products, social networks or networking gears. And the beauty of writing about those products is that they help you understand marketing strategies by example.

Niche Marketing & Market Segmentation

Before going into more details about Meraki and their Cloud-Managed network products, let me first introduce you to "Market Segmentation" as it was described by Laura Lake here.

Market segmentation is one of the steps that goes into defining and targeting specific markets. It is the process of dividing a market into a distinct group of buyers that require different products or marketing mixes. A key factor to success in today's market place is finding subtle differences to give a business the marketing edge. Businesses that target speciality markets will promote its products and services more effectively than a business aiming at the "average" customer.

Trying to sell product to everyone might look a good thing, but in fact it isn't. Selling your product to everyone means adding features to cover the needs of everyone, and you will definitely fail in designing a product to meet everyone's needs, or at least you will excel more if you focus on the needs of a homogeneous segment of the market. Also identifying and targeting a niche market will make it easier for you to tailor a Marketing Message specifically for such niche. Beyond Niche Marketing summarized the strategy for niche marketing in the following three steps.

1- Identifying the niche
2- Identifying the problems experienced by this audience
3- Communicating the solution your product/services offers for the problems being experienced by the niche audience.

Meraki's Cloud Managed Networking

Now let's go back to Meraki. Meraki is cloud networking company based in San Francisco, California. Initially they were making Wireless Access Points and recently they added Switches and Security Appliances (They don’t call them Firewalls/UTMs). Their selling point is that their devices are Managed from the Cloud. I.e. You get a Switch or Access Point from them, install it, and then log in to a portal in *their* Data Centre to manage your own Switch or Access point.

Their Marketing Message is that this approach simplifies the management process. And to understand their message more, let's see who are their possible market segment, which is somehow clear also in the case studies mentioned in their marketing materials and videos. It's clear that they are selling mainly to SMB’s or enterprises with big number of scattered offices. Take a coffee chain like Starbucks for example, they have coffee shops in different places, and they are normally not connected to each other, so having them all managed from the cloud makes life easier for their small IT staff. This is different from a Bank for example, where they have bigger IT team and they normally have a LAN connecting all their branches. In the Bank example, they probably will prefer to have on-premises management and they have no problem having some IT engineers in each branch, and now with the consolidation trend they might have all their servers in their headquarters. For the Coffee Shop Chain example, they probably on the other hand don't want to have an IT engineer in each of their Coffee Shops, they want to minimize their IT budget as much as possible, so they have no problem sacrificing having their networks management and provisioning software on-premises and have them installed and maintained by the vendor in the cloud instead.

You can see Meraki sales model clearly in their product-line. For example when it comes to the switches, they only have edge 24- and 48-ports switches, no backbone or data centre switches. And for the Security Appliances (Firewall/UTM/Wan Optimization/Link Load Sharing) they range from 100 Mbps to 2Gbps Firewall Throughput, which again is Branch Office numbers according to today’s standards. They are also having features tailored for such market segment such as automatic software updates for the networking products over the air. They make it easier to profile the connected users based on their mac addresses and fingerprints, so you know this is an iPad connected to the network and that one is the Windows PC you run your vending software on

It's clear that knowing their niche market helped them tailoring their marketing materials, message and product-line. And that's why when I try to understand what a company does from a pre-sales point of view, I see first what is their market niche, based on their message, and then it's easier for me to get a better understanding for what features to look for in their products, how to compare them with their competitors, etc.