Ubuntu Founder on Microsoft Challenge; Ubuntu Has 8 Million Users

powered_by_ubuntu.jpgUbuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth chats about Microsoft, marketing and open software…

Q: What about growth in adoption rates, any kind of numbers that you can give me?

A:We know now that there are probably at least 8 million [Ubuntu] users….

and later…

On the other hand, what they do want to do is they want customers to feel slightly nervous of Linux. I think Microsoft is certainly sort of becoming a smarter operator into how they interact with Linux and with free software. They spent a lot of time saying it doesn’t exist, it is a toy, it is a cancer, and it is dangerous, and calling it anti-capitalist, and now they seem to be engaging in a much more realistic competitive pragmatic fashion to that problem.

Read this and then read this

Don’t think Ubuntu (or any Linux distribution) has anything to do with online marketing in general? Wrong. Think of Firefox. The browser was just the beginning of the sea change.

Circles and Cycles: Online Marketing’s Revolution

earth_sun050506.jpgToday is the last day of 2006 and tonight at midnight we’ll pass that spot in space and time in our planet’s revolution around the nearest star which people and places around the earth following the Gregorian Calendar mark as the beginning of a new year.

The calendar that we use to mark this new year is relatively new, dating back just about 450 years and based on the Roman calendar which is about 2200 years old. There are still older calendars, such as the many calendars of ancient Mesopotamia (the Assyrian calendar being my favorite) which are based on lunar cycles. There are numerous other calendars in use by many people on earth today, and this particular coordinate doesn’t mark the beginning of a new year on those.

What most of these calendars share in common is their emphasis on cycles and the implications of a once-dominant agrarian mode of life. We sowed, we reaped, we stored and we celebrated.

This cycle of the year carries over into our own online marketing existence. In most instances, we don’t have to wait an entire season to reap what we’ve sown in our own program’s ad buys, media spends or affiliate programs. In some cases, the ROS (Return on Sow… I just coined that!) happens within hours or days or in the course of a few weeks. Rarely do we have to wait months for the germination or even ripening of the fruits of our work in online marketing.

Back in October of 2004, Steve Rubel wrote the following during the launch of Firefox’s important and monumental ad in the NY Times…

Open source marketing is the future. Need proof? Study how the Mozilla Foundation is building momentum behind Firefox.

Mozilla today launched a community effort to secure enough funds to take out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times. The full-page ad will include the names of everyone who supports the campaign along with a message about the benefits/features of the awesome Firefox browser. An individual contribution of $30 will get your name included in the ad ($10 student rate). eWeek has more details.

However, that is not always the case, especially when we consider the seed-to-maturity time that some ideas need for their development and harvest. In some cases, thoughts, ideas or insights that we plant in fertile soil can take years before they are ready to reap.

Perhaps this is the case with the ideas of Cluetrain or even open source marketing. The idea has caught on, web2.0 has given the incentive and platforms such as widgets are allowing for the expression of open source marketing from marketers with Madison Ave budgets to affiliate marketers and merchants working with a small and limited budget.

These are exciting times in the history of messages, conversations, communication, media and marketing.

We may be passing the same point in space and time that we’ve passed over and over for the last four billion years, but something revolutionary is happening in our short lived and young species…

We are combining new technologies, new educational models, new sociological models, new psychological insights and a deeper understanding of how we communicate with each other (verbally, graphically or silently) as animals… and turning that mash into something different.

I don’t know what that “different” thing is yet, but it has something to do with open source marketing, technologies, lifestyles and experiences.

My favorite example? Beer (yes, I am brewing some… I’ll send samples on request… Cost Per Beer?). Ponder the history.

Here’s an interesting “8 Part List” from collaborativemarketing.com to ponder as we come closer to that point in our planet’s revolution around the nearest star…

These strategies are as sophisticated as the new markets themselves but a few principles are emerging.

1. BACK TO THE SOURCE Consumers are no longer happy to sit back and be fed a brand and its values. They want to interact with the ‘brand source’ in the same way that Linux programmers want to get their hands on the programming source code. That means giving consumers access to the brand and inviting them to co-create on branded projects. Open Source marketeers understand this and make it easy for customers to get involved with a brand and affect its direction, maybe even its values.

2. SPOT BRAND FANS The new breed recognise there is no point in ‘demanding back the source material’ because it is well and truly out there — in the public domain. And it’s not coming back. In fact, they look to put the brand source materials in the hands of the consumers, especially brand fans like George Masters. Then they sit back and watch the fireworks as communities create and innovate in ways that enlarge and enrich the community.

3. BE A BRAND HOST They know that that brand guardians are no longer relevant to the marketplace and that brand hosts are more in tune with the times. Today’s consumer wants to interact with big, exciting, sexy brands, but on their own terms. Brands can host the party and try and make it attractive to consumers but they must realise that the new consumer has a full diary and plenty of suitors. marketplaceWelcome_1 and that brand hosts are more in tune with the times.

4. ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME? The voice of the mass markets was a LOUD and BOOMING monologue. Which didn’t leave a lot of time to listen to anyone. Open Source communities are all about conversation and dialogue. Open Source Marketing means listening really closely to the rumours and whispers that bring the new marketplace alive.

5. GET REAL (LIKE SCOBLE) Authenticity is one of the most valuable currencies in the transparent marketplace. So human, friendly voices (like Robert Scoble) are particularly effective. Corporate speak and PR flack is just ignored. And it’s no good just pretending. YOU WILL GET RUMBLED. This can be a difficult leap of faith for companies who have been used their brands like shields, to keep the world at bay.

6. YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE CLEVERER THAN YOU Open Source marketeers understand that their customers are clever, cleverer than themselves and their agencies. So they try and tap into this intelligence to help grow their brands. By the way, this includes the obssessive customers who make a racket about every last product detail or development and constantly get in touch with leftfield ideas. They are probably the most valuable.

7. LET GO Open source marketeers understand, most importantly, that people are now in control of the brands that for so long have been wrapped up and locked in corporate safes. Brands are no longer proprietary and companies need to adapt to that reality. There’s no point in calling in the lawyers to try and change things back. The world has moved on.

8. OPEN MINDS Open Source marketeers also know this new environment is not as dangerous as it sounds. They know the greatest barriers are the mental ones built up during the reign of mass marketing and TV.

By setting some rough parameters and then challenging consumers to get involved, or co-create, they are already seeing some fantastic results.

Here’s to a happy revolution!

Can Wikipedia Work with Affiliate Marketing?

200px-wikipedia-logo-en-big.gifHere’s the last part of our series (unless you’d like a particular service/platform covered)… how are merchants/marketers/affiliates using or not using Wikipedia?

Wikipedia has received tremendous press and is appearing at the top of organic search engine results on every platform for most topics.

Aside from the “Affiliate Marketing” entry, I’ve not been able to find much use, or attempted use, of Wikipedia by affiliate marketers. The affiliate networks do have entries, but they are rather short. ShareASale has no entry yet, and I’ve not been able to find any CPA network entry, either.

One exception is Jeff Molander’s The Partner Maker’s entry.

So, is there a place for affiliate marketing to make use of Wikipedia as other flavors of online marketing have done? For example, see the web2.0 chat client Meebo entry and compare it to the rather paltry CJ entry. There is a vast difference in the intended audience.

Is there a way to tastefully and ethically use Wikipedia to promote an affiliate program? With the exception of FatWallet’s entry, no program has attempted to take on this challenge.

There’s not even an entry on ABestWeb, which is thought of as the most relationship based community in affiliate marketing.

Affiliate marketing is said to be based on the leveraging of relationships. What does it say about the relationships and communities we’ve created when even the most recognizable brand in the industry has such a skinny entry on the world’s repository of knowledge?

Since this is the last of our web2.0/affiliate marketing campaigns, I thought I’d include a link to this informative post from Dion Hinchcliffe.

Firefox, Online Marketing and Community

150px-mozillafirefox-logo-white.pngI’ve been schooled. Asa Dotzler (community coordinator of many Mozilla Foundation projects including Bugzilla, the Quality Assurance Program, co-founder of Spread Firefox and fellow lover of astronomy) and I have been trading comments here on CPN regarding the FF browser and it’s community.

I’ve included the initial part of the post which stirred the conversation and the string of comments that followed.

It is more than worth the time it’ll take to read. Thanks to Asa for his thoughtful comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

As an aside, also see Firefox co-founder Blake Ross’ blog entry on why he distrusts Google in their “tips” on search results…

While advertisers compete to be first in a string of lookalike ads that are often shunted to the side, Google now determines the precise position and appearance of ads tips that are not subject to any of the same rules. Its ads get icons while others don’t, and if you think that’s small potatoes, you are not an advertiser: images boost clickthrough. Google can make a Picasa ad say “Easier to use than Kodak,” but Kodak cannot create an ad that reads “Easier to use than Picasa.”1 And the kicker: neither the highest quality ads nor the highest quality search results can replace these tips.

Back to the issue at hand… Here’s the initial part of the post and the comments follow…

[As an effort to show my cards and provide disclosure, I’m a hippie libertarian (deep down I think Shawn is too) teacher/student and online marketer who distrusts efforts to make knowledge (or access to knowledge) proprietary at heart and this post was made on the Drivel blogging platform (Gnome blogging platform) inside the Linux-based open source Ubuntu OS with links provided by the Epiphany web browser (a Gnome based browser similar to Firefox but more community minded). I listen to my music (non-drm) on a Rockbox hacked iPod Mini while reading my feeds on Liferea and chatting on Gaim.]

Asa Dotzler said,

December 26, 2006 @ 9:45 pm · Edit

I’m curious why you think that Epiphany is more community minded than Firefox.

I mean, Epiphany has a community that’s a tiny fraction of Firefox’s and it’s only available in one toolkit (gtk) which means it doesn’t play well on KDE or other non-Gnome Linux systems (not to mention a dozen other platforms where Firefox is a good citizen). Mozilla and Firefox, on the other hand, have a massive community of developers, testers, marketers. localizers, and extension and theme developers, it’s available for just about every platform under the sun, and on top of all that community, Mozilla provides code to many other projects including the overwhelming majority of the code that makes up Epiphany.

How have we managed to build such a massive community (I’m happy to provide numbers for both Epiphany and Firefox/Mozilla if you’re interested) if we’re not as community minded as the Epiphany project which has attracted a only tiny fraction of the participants?

– A

Sam Harrelson said,

December 26, 2006 @ 10:14 pm · Edit

Hi Asa-

I stand corrected… but I would like to get the numbers for both Epiphany and FF/Mozilla (sam@costpernews.com) and figure out a way to tie that into a conversation about online marketing. That would be a fascinating piece if you’d like to provide that information as the foundation.

I know my readers here would love to read and take part in such a discussion as most are FF users (around 67%) when they visit and I suspect when they are working.

You’re right… that was an unfair comparison in terms of community development. I’m a fairly monogamous user of Gnome and tend to appreciate the simplicity there rather than the richer KDE interface, although I do appreciate what it provides to certain users (especially platforms such as Konqueror).

FF is definitely more flexible in terms of how it can be adopted to other systems. Epiphany is pretty much glued to Gnome, but being a Gnome-fanboy, I’m OK with that.

And you’re right that the Firefox community is just as vibrant as the Epiphany developer community. I’ve been a FF fan and lover since the first releases and I credit FF with helping me to realize there was a world beyond Windows and IE.

The real question, I think, comes back to defining community and realizing that different types and sizes of communities provide their members different resources and experiences. I’ve always been a fan of smaller and more concentrated communities, whether it’s my favorite bar or my favorite OS or my favorite browser.

For my own personal tastes, I’ve gotten a richer experience from my interaction with the Epiphany crowd rather than the FF crowd, but that is a completely objective assessment and I’m sure most would find a better experience with the larger FF user and dev crowd, and for good reason.

Thanks for your insights and your participation! Looking forward to that information and more of your thoughts-

Sam

Asa Dotzler said,

December 28, 2006 @ 10:58 pm · Edit

First, pardon my slightly ranty response above. Upon re-reading it, I see that I could probably have said my piece in a fraction of the words and included some actual data. But rather than correct my earlier mistake and opt for brevity in this post, (I’ve got a few minutes so) I’ll give you a bit of history and then some numbers.

The history is obviously colored by the teller and the “roughness” of the stats reflect my mild impatience with the tools and the disparity between my familiarity with the people involved in Mozilla and people involved with Epiphany. Still, I think you’ll find the overall picture interesting.

History:

We were not always this large of a community. When I first got involved with Mozilla, back in the middle of 1998, “the community” was essentially non-existant. There were about 100 or so Netscape software engineers and about 30 QA engineers with next to no real volunteer base. Their management, and even the handful of people that made up the mostly independent mozilla.org Staff group, were overwhelmingly focused on bringing what they called “external” or “outside” _developers_ into the project. Back then, Open Source was about developers, nearly exclusively.

I came to the project looking for a way that a non-technical person like myself could get involved. There really wasn’t an opportunity for people who weren’t software engineers. Back then, Mozilla only provided source code and no binaries, so you couldn’t even download Mozilla and check it out unless you had a compiler, a powerful enough computer, and the skills to set up a pretty crazy build environment.

I spent a most of 1999 putting in 20-30 hours a week volunteering on Mozilla with the explicit goal of opening up the process and finding ways to involve other non-developers. In that time, we got Netscape to start shipping daily binaries for testers and we increased the number of regular volunteer testers from a tiny handful to hundreds — going from just a few thousand active Bugzilla accounts to about 15K by early 2000 when I was hired. I happily take a lot of credit for the building of and and the subsequent care and feeding of that early testing community — and mozilla.org Staff’s decision to hire me to work full-time on building community for Mozilla seemed to validate that.

After getting hired as a community person at Mozilla, I started work on opening up the project management process to a larger community. As part of the drivers@mozilla.org group, I worked to solicit product requirements from all of our participants and build those into our technical roadmap. I was instrumental in designing the systems (first keyword based then using the new Bugzilla flags features) for community input into defining release requirements and making sure we could track progress on and hit those targets.

In early 2002, working in my evenings as a community coordinator with Blake, Dave, Ben, and Joe on a side project called “m/b”, I started building a new, more focused community of testers and developers, around what would eventually become the Firefox web browser. We ramped quickly to add a few more engineers but most importantly, we started to attract a new community of users and activists who mostly weren’t even aware of what open source was. These users, testers and advocates grew from just a few dozen people who found out about the first m/b updates at my weblog to literally thousands of active participants and millions of happy users well before we shipped the first release version of Firefox.

By the end of 2002, Netscape was pretty much no longer contributing any resources to the Mozilla project. In April of 2003, the Mozilla Foundation was started with 10 employees that included an engineering team of one Firefox developer, two Gecko developers, and me doing half-time QA. There was no path to sustainability, much less success, that didn’t require growing a thriving community of contributors — and quickly. It was around then that we shifted from the old Mozilla browser to what would become Firefox with a community that was quite discreet from the older Mozilla community.

In the lead-up to Firefox 1.0, Blake and I launched yet another community called Spread Firefox — to give our thousands of fans, active advocates and marketing volunteers a tool suite for spreading the word about the upcoming release. Spread Firefox grew to tens of thousands of active members in short order and launched groundbreaking community marketing projects over the next two years.

OK. That’s a quick history of how our communities came to be and the various roles I’ve played.

Here are some rough estimates on community size I extracted from the two projects’ Bugzillas (btw, we — our community — make Bugzilla too, which is probably the most important community coordination tool for literally hundreds of open source projects) and from the two projects’ Bonsai tools (another project from Mozilla that lets non-technical and technical people alike examine the changes to files in a CVS source code repository) as well as some reading elsewhere and in project documentation.

Both projects go back to about the same time so this info covers participation at any time on the project.

Community Metrics:

Browser Developers

Firefox Developers who have checked into our CVS source code repository number around 140. There are also an additional 250 or so people who have submitted patches that were checked in to Firefox by someone else. Based on my quantitative and qualitative analysis of how many people could be considered “serious” Firefox code contributors since the beginning of the project, I’d put the number at around 90.

There’s another 700 or so developers who have checked significant code into to Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine which is a core Firefox component and not included in the Firefox numbers above (Gecko also a core Epiphany component, responsible for everything inside the content area). There are also about 600 people who have contributed Gecko code that was checked in by someone else. While the Gecko developers essentially contribute to Epiphany (and several other browsers) I don’t believe I’ve seen any significant or ongoing contributions in the other direction (not to discount the few patches that have come to Mozilla) so I’m going to call them Firefox community.

Developers checking into the Epiphany project number about 30. There are an addition 20 or so that apparently don’t have cvs access but have submitted patches that were checked in to Epiphany by others. Further analysis suggest that about 8 of these people could be considered serious code contributors since the beginning of the project and the bulk of the code seems to have come from 2 people.

Extension developers

Firefox has over 1000 add-ons developers responsible for nearly 2000 Firefox extensions.

Epiphany seems to have about 18 extensions most of which are written by the same core team of 8 or so Epiphany developers.

QA Testers and Bug Reporters

Firefox has roughly 50,000 people that have filed bugs. (add another 20K for people who have filed bugs exclusively on Gecko.) There are about 3,000 people that make up the core bug reporters for Firefox.

A quick scan of Epiphany bug filing shows that fewer than 2,400 people have ever filed a bug on Epiphany and the active bug filers (those responsible for the majority of bug reports) number about 150.

Advocacy and Marketing:

Firefox has just under 200,000 people signed up at Spread Firefox, more than 70,000 of them have posted Firefox buttons and banners at their websites and weblogs resulting in tens of millions of Firefox downloads. Firefox has wow’d not just the open source software world but the mainstream and especially the marketing pros with events like the New York Times celebration that raised more than $100,000 from around 10,000 fans who gave small donations to take out two full pages in the NTY to announce the release of Firefox 1.0. Other major marketing successes that came from our volunteer community were the nearly 300 Firefox Flicks 30-second videos, 4 of which — thanks to firefox fan sponsorship, are playing on television as we speak. And just a couple of months back, a team of volunteers carved out a 40,000 square foot crop circle in Oregon which got coverage in nearly every major tech-focused website, as well as major magazines like BusinessWeek, Inc., Fast Company, Wired, and more.

Epiphany’s community marketing page seems to be completely blank but they do offer a button/badge somewhere on their site.

Users:

Firefox has an installed base of around 100 million users with tens of millions of daily users. Most webstat companies put Firefox usage at between 12 and 25% (mostly depending on geopgraphy. We’re as high as 40% market share in some parts of Europe, but down around 8% in Japan.)

Epiphany has a fraction of the Linux desktop which seems to account for between 1 and 2% of the desktop market. Epiphany doesn’t register at all on any of the major web stats lists.

Conclusion:

Firefox is massive. The Firefox communities dwarf not only those of the other browsers, Epiphany included, but they dwarf the entire Linux ecosystem in terms of both size and impact on today’s consumer desktop. That sounds pretty arrogant as I type it but it’s basically the truth.

Other:

As far as marketing goes, I’d love to talk with you more about that. I’ve been intimately involved with Mozilla’s marketing program since before we had a marketing program and I’ve had my hands in not just the organization of this community but the actual projects and campaigns we’ve been running. Unfortunately, for now, my time has run out and I’ve got to go get some other work done :-)

Take care and have a happy new year!

AdventureQuest – Online RPG with Affiliate Program

ss-algern.jpg

AdventureQuest, from Artix Entertainment, is a four year old flash based online role playing platform hoping to sustain a community in an already crowded field dominated by World of Warcraft.

However, AdventureQuest has taken a unique twist with its plans to enroll members by signing up with the affiliate management company Partnercentric and starting a program this month…

Gamers and business owners alike will all be excited to hear that there is now a FIRST EVER affiliate program for a Massively Single Player Role Playing Game (MSPRPG). That’s right, you can now earn up to 50% for all upgraded customers for Artix Entertainment’s AdventureQuest and DragonFable RPG titles.

The affiliate program is being run on DirectTrack and starts with a 30% payout for new sign-ups but can tier up to 50%. Play is free unless the member wants to upgrade to “Guardian” status within the game, which costs a one time payment of $19.95.

Program manager Dan Fink of Partnercentric says that the site has had tremendous growth in numbers since creating its affiliate program. Fink was interested in managing and developing the affiliate program for Artix since this would be the first time an online RPG had used affiliate marketing to reach new customers and members.

Being a gamer myself it’s great to see a quality game company like Artix Entertainment bring affiliate marketing to online gaming. Not only can the quality of their work be seen in their game, but also their creative used in the program. We have about 70 different flash creative that are all of high quality design and convert extremely well so far.

I’ve played the game for a few minutes here and there today and it does flow nicely. Granted, it is no WoW, but it is promising to see new online RPG communities seeking out affiiate marketing as a means to increase reach and distribution.

Charity Tagging

Yes, this is another tagging ring, and yes I’ve used the term “meme” (apologies to Shawn Collins and David Lewis).

However, this one came from a blogger I hadn’t yet heard of and supports good causes, so I’ve posted this here.

What if the game of Blog-Tag going around the blogosphere in which bloggers are sharing five things about themselves that relatively few people know, and then tagging five other bloggers to be “it” morphed into bloggers sharing the five charities they believe are most worthy of contribution?

Let’s see if this idea will work. I will start by tagging Stefan Tilkov, Scott Mark, David Heinemeier Hansson and one blogger whom I don’t know (even virtually) but will tag via trackback in hopes that they will consider charity a higher priority over etiquette or other secondary concerns.

Somehow James found me and sent me a trackback to participate, so here are five of the charities and groups that I’ve given time and money to over the last few months. This list will vary for you, since I believe that charity should be as immediate and personal as possible. That’s not always possible (Darfur) but it’s a goal that I strive for.

  • Asheville Humane Society
  • Asheville Homeless
  • Asheville Manna Foodbank
  • Heifer.org
  • ACLU (no, I’m not joking… I’m a hippie libertarian and card carrying member)
  • Carl Sagan Foundation

Instead of “tagging” 5 others, I’ll just put out the idea that anyone who reads CPN is encouraged to consider giving either to their local communities or to their region, to their country, world and the Cosmos in general.

However, there’s a better way to spread worthy meme’s like this rather than through tagging (especially since everyone is sick of the “5 Things You Didn’t Know About Me” virus) as I’m sure James knows, and I’m glad to see he’s trying to turn the 5 People thing into something worthwhile. Tagging is wonderful, but it can come across as too forceful. Attack with love and spread good ideas through more subtle means and the payoff for the good causes you’d like to support will be higher. Doing good should be a subversive maneuver hidden away until it germinates. Just my thoughts.

Can MySpace Work With Affiliate Marketing?

logodotcom.gif
If you haven’t listened to the latest AffiliateThing by Shawn Collins and Lisa Picarille, you need to download that now and give a quick listen. There’s some interesting stuff on there for your listening pleasure.

One of the things they hit on are our ongoing posts about affiliate marketing and web2.0 platforms such as Twitter and YouTube.

So, let’s do the obvious and tackle MySpace.

I’m sure you are all familiar with the platform. How does/can affiliate marketing work with MySpace for you? I’d argue that it can’t. I think most affiliate marketers use too much of a “push” mentality to work with MySpace. Have any marketers successfully used MySpace (beyond the site placements) to effectively drive traffic to their site/program?

(BTW, Shawn evidently owns affiliatewidget.com… contribute to costperlove.com to help me buy it from him!)

PayPerPost Acquires Performancing

performancing_logo.png payperpost2.jpg

Michael Arrington is announcing on TechCrunch that PayPerPost is acquiring Performancing, the blog advertising platform.

A number of blogs in the online marketing sector use Performancing (such as Linda Buquet and Steve Rubel among 28,000 others), and I wonder how this will affect or not affect their use, of the Performancing platform.

Is this a complete buy-out or will PayPerPost only be acquiring part of Performancing’s services? Arrington says the Firefox plugin is not being acquired and will be spun-off, but that seems odd to me.
More answers when they come…

Open Sourcing Affiliate Marketing

Could affiliate marketing, or online marketing for that matter, ever work on a complete open source model?

Or perhaps to frame the question more appropriately…

Could an affiliate marketing network, broker, agency or even publisher ever succeed (yes, I know that’s a subjective term) with an open source model?

Quicken and Quickbooks Move to MyAP

quicken.gif    myaffiliateprogram.gif

The much talked about MyAffiliateProgram v9 platform has landed another large merchant client.  Intuit Inc. has announced that it will use MyAP for its Quicken and QuickBooks affiliate programs.

Intuit has joined a number of our marquee clients, like Yahoo! Search Marketing and Yamaha, in choosing MYAP to manage their affiliate relationships, said Todd Farmer, president of KowaBunga!. The increasing complexity of affiliate marketing and partnering strategies makes it appealing for companies to find more powerful solutions to manage their affiliate channel.

MyAP v9 has received a good deal of buzz in the network and hosted solution spheres lately because of its flexibility and ability to offer highly specific an drilled-down stats across various channels.

Will 2007 bring more defections from networks such as CJ or Linkshare towards networks such as Kowabunga or ShareASale?

(I hear Jim K wants a ticket to the WWE Smackdown event at Quicken Arena tonight if anyone has a connection).

Will the New SSL Safety Features in IE7 Hurt Small Merchants?

40mm-padlock.GIFSmall merchants who rely on channels such as affiliate marketing could possibly be feeling some unwanted side effects of the adoption of IE7 and other web browsers such as Opera in January when Microsoft will begin to use a new verification feature to stop phishing scams.

The problem could be in a new digital certificate that can better verify a site’s legitimacy than the older “SSL padlock” which was readily available for large and small merchants and included a rather simple approval process.

The new system is far more thorough, but because of the way that it works, many small businesses will be excluded. They can still get an SSL certificate, but their sites won’t get the green “safe” bar in IE7 and Opera.

The new platform will be called “EV” which is short of Extended Validation SSL Certificate and includes a lengthy and purposely more difficult approval process in an attempt to stop the rise of scams and phishing sites who can currently obtain SSL certificates.

Here are the draft guidelines (pdf file) which go into exhaustive detail about what certificate authorities must and must not do when issuing EV’s.

To give only a single example, certificate authorities must ensure that the address they are given by the company is its actual place of business. If the CA is unable to verify this using public records, it must send “a reliable individual” on a site visit to the address. The visitor must look for a permanent sign, must note whether the building is a condo, office building, strip mall, etc., look for evidence that ongoing business is taking place at the location, and must take photos of the exterior and the reception area.

Small merchants (especially pertinent to our niche) need to develop a way to deal with such rapid changes to make sure visitors and potential customers to their sites know they are on a “safe site” for purchasing items and giving away private or credit card information. Otherwise, www.jennifersbakedgoods.com (I’m not sure if that’s a real site or not) won’t be able to compete.

One possibility could be a dual or split program where smaller merchants have different amounts of hoops to jump through in order to gain EV status rather than going through the same exhaustive process as Forbes 100 companies. However, such dual programs might allow the phishing sites the CA/Forum is attempting to head off access to certification.

Ars Technica has more here.

Yahoo News has more here.

The Affiliate Blog List

affiliatelboglist.pngScott Jangro has released his Affiliate Blog List project.

It’s part affiliate blog index where you can perhaps discover some new affiliate marketing blogs. It’s part RSS reader where you can see the latest affiliate blog entries all in one place. And it’s part Digg — you can give individual blog entries a boost in the rankings (or the opposite).

The site is impressive in its functionality and simplicity out of the gate, so be sure to visit and subscribe to the feed there. Take the time to pour through some of the entires and vote on them as well.

A social news “Digg-style” ranking system for affiliate blogs is highly needed and Scott has provided a great resource for all of us here.

It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Advertising) Revisited

pop_classics_2.jpgMaybe the Flaming Lips have it right on their new album…

If you knew all the answers and could give it to the masses?

Would you do it?

No no no no no no are you crazy?

Almost THREE years ago I wrote the following piece about online advertisements, spyware, banners, pops, email and the general state of online and affiliate marketing at the time. I think this is still particularly appropriate for our current place in space and time.  When I wrote this, I’d been in the industry for a while at this point and I was getting particularly upset with the state the of the whole enterprise by this point.

However, I believe in the general mission of online marketing more than anyone and know that affiliate marketing, in particular, has incredible transformational potential for society (at least of the American variety) due to its emphasis and ability to stress relationship.

Three years from now, let’s make sure we can look back on this point in time and space and realize what we have learned.

Here’s the piece…

Try to imagine life without advertisements. At this point, it is ultimately worthless to attempt such a feat. However, the backlash against advertisements has been an ongoing phenomenon well before digital recorders, email filters and pop-stoppers. The advent of the VCR brought the same apocalyptic predictions from advertising analysts. However, these reports of impending doom soon proved baseless. However, products like TiVo, the Federal Do Not Call list (60 million Americans have signed up), and email “junk boxes” (present in 54% of American homes) do present a different sort of challenge to advertisers looking for eyeballs. Can consumers ever filter advertisements out of their life? Ultimately, what do advertisements mean to the mythos of our society?

Andy Warhol took the symbol of the advertisement and was able to express an incredible amount of meaning from common icons of pop culture. Part of Warhol’s genius was his ability to reproduce images that were seemingly so mundane into complicated representations of contemporary life. In Warhol’s works, Coca-Cola bottles, Brillo boxes, Campbell Soup cans and everyday brand images become hieroglyphs (literally translated means “sacred texts”) of contemporary American life. In Warhol’s vision, advertisements serve as an important key to understanding the complex visual nature of pop society.

Public feelings and opinions aside, what fundamental service and meaning do advertisements serve in 21st century American culture? Are ads contemporary hieroglyphs as Warhol posed, or are they more defined by Dylan’s contention in his 1965 song It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)?:

Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.

As direct marketers, we’d certainly like to think that Warhol’s canonization of advertisements is more valid than the opinions of those who would love to see their demise, whether on email, tv or radio. However, returning to the first question posed in this article, imagine a world devoid of advertisements. Certainly, culture as we know it would be radically different.

Advertisements supply a great deal of contextualization, meaning, and dare I say, value to pop-culture. It can be argued that ads actually supply a socialization tool that helps to predict and secure norms within the culture. If it were possible to choose every advertisement that we saw as consumers, or block them entirely how would that affect the social situation held together, in large part, by advertisements?

Good or bad, advertisements have become the sacred scripture of the American dominated global pop culture. In the global culture held together by “market capitalism” the signs of the world’s great religions have been usurped by the Golden Arches and the red and white Coca-Cola bottles. Warhol tapped into this by exposing the sanctification of advertisements in their ability to supply and convey cultural truths, norms and ultimately, definition.

Where is the line to be drawn? Is spyware or adware acceptable forms of advertising? What does “acceptable” mean? Should we be subjected to so much advertising in our daily lives that it fills our memory banks to the brim and spills over? Advertising has always existed. No doubt, it always will. Advertisers have constantly sought the most eyeballs available for the dollar and looked for ways to codify themselves in the normal life of consumers. Post-modern bombardment of the sub-conscious can truly seem like a troubling issue that we as direct marketers and advertisers must face and answer. However, at a certain point, advertisements do fill the gap in our collective need for stabilization and provide social “norms” in a fragmented post-modern society.

As consumers continue to invest more time and money into “ad-blocking” technologies, the question of advertisement’s place among the masses is raised in this new context of direct, targeted and instant marketing. Will the Warhol of the 21st century proclaim the sacredness of weight-loss or mortgage html email creatives?

Verizon to Accept Ads on Mobile Phones and Online Marketing Implications

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Verizon is going to begin allowing the placement of ads on the phones of users

Beginning early next year, Verizon Wireless will allow placement of banner advertisements on news, weather, sports and other Internet sites that users visit and display on their mobile phones, company executives said.

In terms of online marketing, this is a huge deal. In terms of affiliate marketing, this doesn’t matter…yet.

The main reason has to do with the incredibly high CPM rates that Verizon will probably charge (through a Madison Ave agency probably) for placements. Most companies using the affiliate channel as the main resource for customer acquisition, retention and purchasing won’t notice or care… and for good market reasons.

However, larger merchants who are looking for cost effective ad buys will notice. It’s no secret that the inventory for advertising on the main online hubs is steadily beginning to reach saturation and once that plateau is hit, the market will shift back to where we were in 1998 with a space-seller market of high demand and low supply. Even with blogs, A-Listers and feed readers, most online readers will navigate (pun intended, Jason) towards a collection of hubs in the online sphere. That’s network game theory and it’s highly predictable if you have the tools and time.

Eventually (within the next 15 months), CPA will hop from the online fishtank into the mobile fishtank and begin to gobble up CPM rates and force a needed evaluation of quality placements. We’re certainly not at this point in this early stage of online and mobile marketing, but you still need to have someone evaluating this particular space for your future developments. The same thing could be said of early developments in banners, email, and even search. This game has only been in play for about a decade, so don’t get caught up in the present. Keep an eye on the past and the future as well.

Specifically, affiliate and CPA networks should take notice. No one is making use of the mobile space (yet… until the fabled acquisitions of 2007), but this is going to be lucrative space. If you are a network, get in now.

Google’s Incentive and the Open Source Movement in Online Marketing

The blogosphere has been all abuzz with the latest news from Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, in that he is attempting to construct a human generated search platform to rival Google.

Search is part of the fundamental infrastructure of the Internet. And, it is currently broken.

Why is it broken? It is broken for the same reason that proprietary software is always broken: lack of freedom, lack of community, lack of accountability, lack of transparency.

Here, we will change all that.

There are already dozens of thoughts and opinions on whether or not this will work or if it is even original or feasible (see the holy tech trinity of Techmeme, TechCrunch and Technorati if you haven’t been following).

However, one of the questions very few are asking is whether or not Google is doing a decent job at providing access to all of the world’s information, which was one of the company’s original mission statements.

Does Google have enough incentive to provide a decent search platform? I’d argue no, because Google is at its heart an advertising company.

Dave Winer sums it up the best with:

Today Google’s profits come from ads, and that business gives them a reason to keep search weak. They want you to do a lot of searching to find what you’re looking for — and the stuff they find for you for free is competing with the stuff they make money on. So Google actually has a disincentive to make search better.

Amen, Dave.

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Whether or not Jimmy’s project succeeds or fails is important to watch, but realizing that Google’s hegemonic grip on providing quick access to our information is beginning to loosen is also important to ponder.

It means everything to online marketing.

Whether you like them or not, CPA networks reflect the democratization of the affiliate network structure which held the affiliate marketing industry back in terms of reach, technology platforms and stature within the larger scope of online marketing. In a way, CPA networks show the market’s ability to prefer democracy over hierarchical and non-transparent imposed structures.

The next 50 years will see the exponential demand for “open source” and “free” technological equipment and platforms. This will extend WELL beyond just software such as browsers (Firefox) and begin to make us question why we allow companies to set boundaries on our own entertainment and consumption habits (think of how restrictive your iPod really is on your music).

Think of fonts. If you had told any professional newspaper or magazine publisher that consumers and individuals (from 3rd graders on up to grandmothers) would know the difference between the Helvetica and Verdana fonts in 2000, they would have thought you were crazy. We don’t realize the impact that such technologies as MS Word have had on our culture in terms of opening up the publishing and content creation business to non-specialists, but now it is taken as cultural competency that kids entering college know the difference between Courier New and Times New Roman since you can squeeze an extra page and a half out of a 10 page paper if you are using Courier New rather than Times New Roman. Profs and freshmen know this, and that’s just odd considering the course of human history.

If you don’t watch Ze Frank’s The Show, you should. At least watch this episode (on this very topic) for me.

So, what does that have to do with Google and online marketing? Everything.

Consumers will begin to examine why they can’t listen to their iTunes music on more than 5 computers if they bought their music fair and square. Consumers will begin to wonder why Vista restricts the application of certain handy software programs. Consumers will begin to wonder why Google doesn’t provide the best links on the front page.

And this will happen soon.

So, don’t get stuck in the present or the 2005 as we enter the new year. Realize that it’s not a matter of consumers becoming more educated about technologies, but they are becoming more accustomed to using these technologies and realizing what things like Google, search, affiliate links and top down technologies and services can and cannot do.

Eventually this will be a mute debate, but as a species we have constantly dealt with attempts to co-opt and control the learning process, going back to the roots of literacy, trade and sociological functions such as religion. It is inevitable that everything will be open source and non-proprietary, it’s just going to take a few more thousand years to get there.

Knowledge is power and Google’s power seems to be slipping as consumers realize that Google’s main product is not knowledge, but advertising.

[As an effort to show my cards and provide disclosure, I’m a hippie libertarian (deep down I think Shawn is too) teacher/student and online marketer who distrusts efforts to make knowledge (or access to knowledge) proprietary at heart and this post was made on the Drivel blogging platform (Gnome blogging platform) inside the Linux-based open source Ubuntu OS with links provided by the Epiphany web browser (a Gnome based browser similar to Firefox but more community minded). I listen to my music (non-drm) on a Rockbox hacked iPod Mini while reading my feeds on Liferea and chatting on Gaim.]

[EDIT: Here’s the link to the Search Wikia page from Jimmy Wales.]

Newsweek Says 2007 Is the “Year of the Widget”

200612082044-1.jpgFirst, Time Magazine anoints web2.0 users as the “Person of the Year” (see below for conversations on whether or not that includes those involved in the affiliate marketing community).

Now, Newsweek is describing 2007 as the “Year of the Widget.”

“It’s better than advertising,” says Om Malik. “It’s in front of your eyes constantly; that brand becomes your brand.” Your widgets certainly don’t need to come branded, however. Indeed, that’s the whole point: to help the World Wide Web become your Web”

Nice job, Om.  It is better than advertising.  As Jeff D. says in the comments below, our experience online and offline with brands is quickly becoming a part of our own identity and in the future we’ll be debating in an explicit manner on what types of brands to associate with on a day to day basis.

As Bob Dylan sings, “Things have changed.”

Is big media reading the blogs such as CPN or Steve Rubel and making these claims in order to appear as if they are not absolutely out of touch, or have they wised up to the future? Based on media buys and advertising dollars being spent, I’d say that it is the former.

Matt Cutts on Pageviews and Rubel Says Google Digs Digg

The Holidays are in full swing here, but I wanted to give you two quality posts to check out if you have any down time this weekend…

Google’s Matt Cutts discusses page view data and defends Yahoo…

I want to come to Yahoo’s defense about something. A recent spate of reports says that Yahoo has been surpassed by various companies in terms of page views. Why is that relatively bogus? Because of Yahoo’s switch to AJAX for its mail. According to Alexa data, 49% of Yahoo visitors go to mail.yahoo.com. Everyone knows that I take Alexa data with a grain of salt, and that 49% fraction may be high, but Yahoo definitely gets a lot of traffic from Yahoo Mail. Yahoo’s new mail system uses AJAX. And how do the metrics companies handle AJAX? Typically, not well.

And Edelman’s Steve Rubel points out that Google is indexing social sites such as Digg in its blog search service.  What does that mean for SEO??  I’d argue it means a great deal

Despite the gripes about Google Blog Search and its inability to filter out spam, the site has been improving steadily. It now indexes lots of non-news content as long as it is published in a feed.

Don’t these people take a break from writing quality stuff on the Holiday weekends??  More after the eggnog kicks in…

Happy Holidays and Thank You’s

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I hope everyone has a fun, happy and warm holiday where ever you are and whatever you are doing.

Marketing is a distinct human endeavor in which we attempt to persuade, either directly or indirectly, others of the valuable nature of some service, product, program or idea that they are not yet aware of or using.  Let’s all promise each other to do marketing right (whatever that means) in the new year.

I’d also like to thank you for making CPN such a success over the last few months. Since launching at the beginning of November we all (you and me) have managed to create a pretty valuable and interesting niche community discussing some of the most important questions we could ponder in the industry.

2007 promises to provide many more additional questions, so I hope you’ll continue to come here for discussion.

I also wanted to give a few shout outs to people who have explicitly made CPN possible over the last few months with their money, time, thoughts, encouragement and links:

There are a good deal more of you out there who have participated in the discussion, given suggestions and sent a long helpful tips or ideas, but I wanted to thank those who have directly affected this site and made it such an interesting place in only two months.

2007 will be a hectic year here because of CostPerJobs, a couple of great new sponsors coming in January and some other exciting new things going on behind the scenes here and there.

There will be light additions here until next Tuesday due to the Holidays. Check this out in the meantime and leave your hopes.

Thank you again for your help and your conversations! Here’s to many more-

Sam

All Widgets Considered

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Widgets will be hot in online marketing in 2007.

Why do I keep insisting that?

The metrics are right, the market is in demand, the new OS systems rolling out (Vista, Mac’s new OS X, and even Linux distro’s like my beloved Ubuntu) are encouraging widget use, and consumer adoption has begun now that the early adopter market has been saturated.

Watch for CPA networks and affiliate networks to increasingly make use of widgets over the next six months with the ability to share new offers, reporting, coupon codes, payout increases/decreases made available on the publisher’s desktop.

It will be an exciting time.

Here are two good sites I recommend checking out to help you contemplate the widget:

During the Holiday downtime, play with a few of the widgets and give some thought as to how they can improve your program whether you’re a marketer, merchant, network or a publisher.