Seth Godin is an exceptional marketing consultant. I’ve read all his books – my favorite is Purple Cow. I routinely bring up his ideas when talking to companies about the best way to get media and early adopter attention: build an exceptional, attention-grabbing product (and if you haven’t, go back and start again). It seems obvious, but most startups don’t think that way. They build something first, then think about the best way to market whatever it is that they’ve built (often by hammering away at journalists and spending whatever capital they have on Google adsense, Overture, etc.).
So when Seth put his name behind a new startup last year, Squidoo, people noticed, and expected one hell of a Purple Cow. The Squidoo idea was simple and easy to explain: allow anyone to build a single page, called a lens, on a topic that he or she is passionate about. The person building the lens, the “lensmaster”, gets recognition as an expert in his or her area of expertise, and cash. Squidoo shares a percentage of profits with its authors.
Now here’s the problem. If Squidoo doesn’t work out as planned, and I don’t think it will, Seth loses more than his time and whatever capital he’s put into Squidoo. He also loses credibility as an expert in product marketing. To borrow the metaphor, Squidoo could become an albatross around Seth’s neck.
Why Squidoo Won’t Work
Squidoo is a mixture of evergreen (static) and refreshed content.
Wikipedia is an excellent example of a site with evergreen content. Sure, its updated and refined, but the idea is that content on Wikipedia is something that is fairly stable and can be linked to reliably, as I did above. Wikipedia has a tremendous amount of authority for just about any piece of content. With all of this authority and inbound links (traffic), a site like Wikipedia could be massively monetized.
Blogs, on the other hand, are the very essence of refreshed content. People go back to blogs every day to see what’s new. Good blogs generate stickiness and repeat customers, which is also a model that can be monetized.
An example of a service that combines evergreen and refreshed content successfully is Myspace, which has both static content about a person and blog-like aspects where people can add fresh content.
Myspace works, however, because it’s a social network, with pages linking to eachother (your friends) in a way that produces massive inter-site traffic and networks-within-the-network. You can surf around Myspace all day just by clicking on a friend chain. People are also passionate about Myspace because the central plot of a page is you – and most people are pretty passionate about themselves.
Squidoo shares little in common with any of the services above because no one person can really be authoritative on a given topic. Wikipedia is group-created, edited and refined content, which gives it the authority it needs to get people to link to it. It’s unlikely that a Squidoo lens on a given topic (when there are a potentially infinite number of other lenses on the same topic) will ever gain that kind of authority. It would be like a Wikipedia with multiple entries on every topic – one for everyone who cared to write one.
To be fair, I have the benefit of hindsight. When Squidoo launched last December I was as excited as anyone about its potential. And Squidoo is still young and may very well reverse its current stagnation. But from what I see now, I wouldn’t bet on Squidoo being what Seth would call a Purple Cow.
I was forwarded a copy of the May email that Squidoo sent out to Lensmasters. It’s quite obvious from the email, as well as the Alexa trend (flat), that Squidoo is not seeing viral growth:
Date: May 5, 2006 8:36 AM
Subject: Your First Squidoo Paycheck (the real one!)
It’s time for your first Squidoo paycheck.
(NB: If you got a cryptic one-liner email from us about this yesterday, please disregard it. Our computers went a little batty!)
We’re just out of beta, and we’re betting no one is going to retire on their lens earnings. But already some of you have earned as much as $30 (dinner for two!). Others have earned about $1. And still others have pooled their money to send thousands of dollars to places like Room to Read, which helps build schools for children in developing countries.
Chances are that what you’re seeing now is just a drop in the bucket. If you’re more interested in spreading ideas and traffic than making money, just send your share to a charity, where every bit counts. Or, check out SquidU’s tips for upping your earnings: http://www.squidu.com/Learning_Library/making-more-money.
Below you’ll find a statement of your money earned from March 1 to March 31, 2006. Probably not on par with the lottery, but at least you can enjoy a cup of coffee on us.
The SquidTeam: Seth, Corey, Megan, Heath and Gil
Squidoo’s Inevitable Destiny
The best lenses are generating $30 or so a month for the lensmaster. A true expert on a topic could generate many, many times that number by creating a blog, along with some static content, and putting up simple Google adsense ads. So top content producers are not going to be heading to Squidoo for the money, ever (Squidoo’s model is set up in such a way that they could never make as much money from a lens as they could on their own). And besides, the blog format just works better for experts – fresh content generates lots of links, which equals traffic and search engine juice.
The only unanswered question is whether or not experts will go to Squidoo even without the financial incentive. Maybe, but Squidoo’s tools are not particularly advanced – self publishing is easy these days.
Squidoo may generate some content creation growth, but I don’t see it generating serious page view growth under their current model.
So, if Squidoo continues to go sideways…how long before Seth starts to distance himself from his albatross?