The Kindle is dead, long live the Kindle

I’ve been complaining (whining) about the Kindle for some time now.  My main argument was that with the impending emergence of netbooks and tablets (which weren’t out yet when I started this thread), a dedicated “e-reader” was pointless and destined to fall by the wayside.  It was clearly a stepping stone to devices that offered an e-reader as just another piece of software on a device that was capable of far more.

Amazon has now released the Kindle Fire, a color tablet that is based on the Android OS rather than their proprietary Kindle OS, just as I told them to.  The world doesn’t need another OS, and Amazon doesn’t need to waste money designing one, so they’re much better off leveraging Google’s OS and adding the Kindle software on top of it.

While Amazon is still offering Kindle dedicated e-readers, it seems clear that the Fire will be Amazon’s focus going forward, and the dedicated e-reader platform will probably be de-emphasized and fall by the wayside as tablets get cheaper and the price difference between tablets and dedicated e-readers approaches zero.

So to Amazon, I say well done: you’re focusing on what you’re good at and providing a reasonably full-featured tablet at a very competitive price.  Will it put pressure on the iPad?  Probably not a lot because it will be the category leader for the foreseeable future, but clearly the race to the bottom for tablet prices has started, just as it did for PCs a few years ago.

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Moderation Queue now live

While we normally recommend that you let conversation flow freely on your site, some site owners have communities or subject matters that are more sensitive and require active moderation. Our new Moderation Queue lets you review all new questions and/or answers before they are shown publicly on your site, so you can guarantee that only appropriate content gets shown to your visitors.

To enable your moderation queue, go to your Dashboard and click “Settings” for the site on which you want to enable the moderation queue. You can choose to review new questions before they go live, or new answers, or both. When you go back to your Dashboard, you’ll see that your site has a new “Moderate Q&A” link – this is where you can review and approve or reject new submissions. To keep the flow of conversation moving smoothly, we will notify you immediately via email when you have new submissions waiting to be moderated. Try it out, and let us know what you think!

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Netflix thoughts, question locking, more languages

How about that Netflix, eh?  They always seemed to show so much promise and had what appeared to be a dynamic, forward-thinking management team, but their recent announcement to split up the company into streaming and DVD divisions with no data-sharing between the two is just bizarre, and perhaps even customer-hostile.  Now, the move was admittedly inevitable because the business model for streaming needed to evolve, but it was handled so strangely that one has to wonder what is going on over there.

I could talk about the “Qwikster” brand for the DVD service, too, but I try to avoid using expletives here.

Like a lot of people, I put up with the recent Netflix price hike because the service was still convenient and the Netflix queue is super useful.  But, now that I’ll have to deal with two different companies, two bills, two support systems, and two movie queues, there’s no way I’m keeping both subscriptions.  While it feels like a step backwards in time and away from the promise of THE CLOUD, I’ll probably keep the DVD subscription and drop streaming because the streaming selection is just too poor.  Netflix is bound to lose a good chunk of subscribers to both services over this, and it will be very interesting to see if they can continue to acquire content for their streaming service as their revenue drops.  If not, their business could become a downward spiral very quickly. (Full disclosure: I have had a short position on NFLX for some time now.)

Where do you guys think Netflix is headed?  Can their streaming business survive on its own?

Enough Netflix chatter – on to the real business!  We have just rolled out a couple new features that people had been requesting:

  1. Question locking: Admins may now lock individual questions so non-admins may not submit new answers.  To lock questions, make sure you are logged in as an admin, open the popup window, and you’ll see a “Lock” tool next to the “Hide” tool under each question.
  2. Site locking: Admins may now lock questions across their entire site, so only they may answer them.  To set this, go to your Dashboard on Degree3.com and click “Edit Site” next to the site you want to edit.  Any visitor to your site may still ask questions, of course, or using our plugin would be pretty pointless, now wouldn’t it?
  3. Customize the welcome message: To change the welcome message on your Q&A module, see the bottom of our Customization Guide for details, or if you’re using WordPress, just update your plugin, and it’ll be in your Settings.  Note: this does not apply to the popup window, just the in-page module; if you’re using the tab layout, this does not apply.
  4. New languages: Chinese (Traditional and Simplified) and Danish are now available!

Let us know how you like the new features, and keep those feature requests coming – we want to know what’s important to you!

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Don’t Settle for Comments

That's a lot of comments. How many were helpful?

A recent article on Mashable had some good things to say about how websites integrate community with content.  The author’s main gist was that site owners should not just give up on providing community and leave that to the likes of Twitter and Facebook.  Instead, you should

Do it on your terms, but have a goal of enabling people to engage in the ways that they want. The content itself should be the hub for web discussion, and not just another spoke on the wheel. These practices will increase the value of your community, your content and your brand.

I agree completely that content should be the hub for discussion, and that we as site owners should be looking for better ways to enable this discussion.

Most sites these days settle for “comments”, which often take the form of an unthreaded pile of user-submitted content that sits below an article.  Comments tend to make sites look busy, but how many real conversations or exchanges of knowledge do you see taking place within comment threads?  On most sites, not many.  This may have been enough “community” to engage people in the early days of the web, but we have the tools to be smarter about it now.

Each site owner must ask him or herself, “How can I help my visitors interact with and help each other right here, on this page, without sending them to Facebook, Twitter, a forum, or, god forbid, Google?

The answer to this question will vary depending on the site.  In the case of ecommerce sites, the answer may be user reviews, or user ratings.  If you are selling a product or service, the answer may be customer support forums.  If you’re discussing politics, comments may indeed be the way to go.  In my (somewhat biased) opinion, social Q&A could fit the bill in any of these contexts.  In many cases, you’ll want more than one of these solutions to fit your users’ various needs.

When thinking about adding community tools to your site, consider the following questions:

  • What type of knowledge might my visitors have that would help other visitors? (Feedback on products, tips on solving a problem, personal experiences, etc.)
  • If my visitors have knowledge that could help, how can I best enable them to share it? Is a plain text box enough, or would some structure help them organize their thoughts?
  • Would a structured tool like user reviews or Q&A provide more value than plain comments?
  • How can new visitors find the knowledge that other visitors have shared? Are you truly leveraging your UGC? Are the nuggets of wisdom buried in comments or forums?
  • Is real-time helpful?  Real-time tools have a lot of buzz, but do my pages have enough simutaneous traffic for these tools to make sense?
  • What can I do to make it easier for people to interact on my site? Don’t worry about people abusing/spamming the site until it actually happens – it’s great to prevent spam, but not good if captchas and email confirmations are keeping your community from getting off the ground.  Try to use passive spam filtering (like Akismet) rather than active moderation queues that slow down your feedback cycles.
  • How can my community tools integrate intelligently with social media?  Don’t settle for “Post this comment on Facebook” because that type of interaction is unlikely to generate much interest when it appears in the user’s Facebook feed.  Look for tools that post things to Facebook or Twitter that are likely to generate feedback or direct people back to your site.
Once you’ve considered all these, remember that you are not constrained to a single solution.  Maybe User Reviews and Comments would work well together on your site.  Whatever route you choose, be sure to experiment!  Try out a few different solutions, and choose the one that feels right for your site, and then keep a close eye on how your visitors are using it to see if it’s really increasing interaction on your site.

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Facebook fires two shots across the Google+ bow

Google+ has been out for only a few months now, but apparently Facebook felt the pressure.  Facebook this week add two of the main features that differentiated Google+ from Facebook, and it could be very bad news for Google+.

When Google+ launched, its Friend List feature quickly became one of the highlights of the service, making it easier for people to track their social circles and communicate with them independently.  Facebook has now released a new take on Friend Lists that brings their mostly unused version of Friend Lists to the forefront and makes them even easier to use that the Lists on Google+.

Because Facebook knows so much about you, they automatically group your friends into several default Friend Lists (work, family, etc.)  This makes a lot of sense for Facebook because they already have so much data about your relationships, so they should be able to do Friend Lists even better than Google+, and it looks like they finally are, despite their previous failings in the area.

The second big move Facebook just made is to allow people to “Subscribe” to other people.  This is a shot not only at Google+, but at Twitter as well.  Both of those services appeal to people who want one-way “follow” relationships, while Facebook has always required two-way friendships, meaning that if I “friend” you, you have to accept it in order for us to be friends and for me to see your updates in my feed.  But with Facebook’s new Subscribe feature, you can follow anyone who has a public feed.

These updates could game-changers for Facebook.  Until now, celebrities, politicians, musicians, and others who have a public persona and want people to “follow” their updates had to use Twitter, and a few (primarily tech-oriented) public figures recently started moving to Google+ because those services allowed one-way follow relationships.  With Facebook now supporting the same functionality, it is going to be much harder for Google+ to keep signing on celebrities and brands, particularly when so many marketers are already on and very familiar with Facebook and its tools.

Perhaps even more interesting than the features themselves is the fact that Facebook moved so quickly after the Google+ launch to counter its product positioning.  Is Facebook actually afraid of Google+?  Was Google+ putting a dent in its growth?  Or maybe G+’s early growth prompted FB to try to smack them down before they become a threat.  Either way, Facebook is clearly out for blood and is not going to let anyone edge into their territory.

So grab your popcorn and soda, because the fireworks between Google+ and Facebook are really heating up, and I think it’s very possible that Google+’s user growth will slow once people understand and start leveraging these two new features from Facebook.

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Categorizing Q&A, Customizing, and German Q&A rolls in

This week we released two fun new features: categorization, and German language support.  Adding another language to our quiver is pretty straightforward, but we should spend a minute here to explain how our Category system will work. (Note: Categories are not currently available in the WordPress plugin, just the JavaScript plugin.)

Our Category system is built to help you group your Q&A appropriately within your site, so your visitors see related Q&A no matter what page they’re on.  When you build your JavaScript plugin, you can add a category, and then all questions asked through that plugin will be “tagged” with that category.  Furthermore, your plugin will show questions that are tagged with that category first before backfilling with other questions from around your site, so the questions are always relevant to the visitor.

This will let you group questions about a topic, a product, a service, or a section of your site together, so your visitors can more easily find questions that are relevant to their interests, and they’ll be more likely to ask and answer questions.

On the topic of backfill, we’ve also added a Customization Guide that shows you what’s possible with your plugin and how to tailor it to further enhance user interaction.  Let us know what you think, and of course, feel free to ask any questions!

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Q&A in the Language of Love

Credit Tristan Nitot

French bread, French toast, French fries, and now… French Q&A.  We are very happy to announce that Degree3 Q&A is now available in French thanks to our good friend Hicham Radi of Damarint who provided the translation.  As usual, please update your plugin to get the latest languages!

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Comrades! D3 Q&A heads towards Russia

For our second language added this week, we are very happy to announce that Degree3 Q&A (or B&O if you prefer) is now available in Russian.  Many thanks go to Администрация of SocEngine.Ru who provided the Russian translation.

As soon as you update your plugin, you’ll see Russian as an option. (Update Javascript, WordPress.)

Other recent features:

  • URL auto linking: If you visitors include a URL, we’ll automatically turn it into a link.  Easy as pie.
  • In the main screen of your popup where it shows the list of questions, just scroll to the bottom, and more questions will automagically appear.

As always, please keep that feedback coming!

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¡Degree3 Respuestas ahora disponible en español!

While I would love to write this blog post entirely en español, I’m afraid my three years of high school Spanish classes have faded far enough into ancient history that I’ll have to settle for my native tongue.  However, my deficiencies in that romance language do not take anything away from my pride in announcing that Degree3 Q&A is now available en español!

To update your plugin, just sign in on Degree3, click the Dashboard link at the top-right of the page, and then click Get Code.  From there, you’ll be able to select the language of the plugin.  We are also working on French, Russian, and Turkish, and if you’d like to help translating into another language, please contact us at support@degree.com.  Naturally, our WordPress plugin now supports both English and Spanish (make sure you have version 1.1!), and it will support any new languages we add as well.

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SEO and SEM simultaneously? Razorfish says “Yes, Please”

Razorfish‘s “Department of Searchology” has produced a report claiming that, at least for brands, both paid search and search engine optimization are important, and even that they are more effective together.

One of their more interesting findings was this:

Before a consumer clicks a Paid Search ad, the probability that the consumer already visited the site’s homepage through Organic Search is very high.  Our research showed at least half (53%) of conversions and revenue happening through Paid Search are preceded by Organic Search visits within the previous 7-days…

…For Branded Keywords, Organic Search visits impacted the Paid Search visits by 81% indicating the cyclical switching between Paid and Organic listings.

So they’re seeing visitors do research first, but then later, after they’ve mulled over their potential purchase, they do a search again, and are in this case more likely to click on the PPC ads, perhaps because the messaging is more action-oriented, and they think it’s a faster route to their goal of making a purchase.

So what to make of this?  If you’re still building your brand, you should still focus your PPC efforts on generic terms to snag comparison shoppers, but it’s worth running a test of paid ads on your own brand to see if you can convert those comparison shoppers more effectively when they’re finally in a buying mood.

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