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Flickr is changing its user terms to sell a specific type of user-generated images without compensating the user. Not surprisingly, people are mad about this. This old post about Facebook changing its terms of service to use uploaded photos in ad continues making its way around the Internet (ironically, posted mostly through Facebook). And just yesterday a business owner was complaining to me about how Facebook’s monetization policies are keeping her from reaching her audience’s newsfeed (her rant was inspired by this WSJ.com article).
My question to her: Why are you surprised?
The relationship of user:Facebook is the same as that of tenant:landlord, except that no money really changes hands (insert “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product” line in the argument). What it means is that you have no control over what happens to your creative goods.
There’s an equation at work here: It’s less of an investment to go with what’s out there than to custom-develop something, even if it’s as simple as a website. When I worked for a large state agency with thousands of photos to manage, we lacked the funds and the organizational oomph to invest in a photo archive system that was open to the public but still serve the agency. So we put 4,000 photos on Flickr. It seemed like a good idea in 2010. It could still be a good idea, assuming that Flickr doesn’t continue to lose its mind and try and profit from there (the secondary lesson: frequently check the permission settings on any “free” social platform).
This equation is at the the center of the argument that you shouldn’t build on land you rent, only on land you own. It makes sense when you want to do improve a house and it makes sense when you want to base an online presence somewhere. The problem with free services it that you’re entirely at the whim of the service provider (Facebook limiting brand Page appearances in users’ newsfeeds is a good example, as is Twitter’s decision to insert favorited tweets into a person’s followers’ feeds). These places aren’t in business to lose money, so why wouldn’t they manipulate the business model to their advantage?
The underlying problem is that we’ve become accustomed to being given something for nothing. It’s Facebook’s and Twitter’s and Flickr’s and everyone else’s business model. You can only do so much monetizing the basic service model. The big money is in licensing, in advertising and in making brands pay for reach.
How do you counteract it?
— Buy a piece of land. You don’t need to go as far as building your own server stack, but you need to be in control of your platform.
— Build a website and concentrate on the engagement functions: quality content, newsletters. Bring people into your home, not an apartment that you rent.
— Don’t ignore the freeish social platforms like Facebook, but don’t make them the centerpiece of your engagement. If you want people to visit those locations of their free will, make it worth their while to check it by having frequent deals and incentives.
I really should just call this “Something to put pre-roll on,” because that was the point of the presentation. I gave this last Thursday at the Walter B. Potter, Sr., Conference: Innovation and Transformation in Community Newspapers held at the Reynolds Journalism Institute (note: I am a huge fan of conferences held two floors above my office).
Slideshow is embedded below, but here are the takeaways:
1. About 3/4 of online video watchers watch in-stream ads (like pre-roll) to completion. That’s fantastic in this day and age and a way to help an outlet’s advertising rate card.
2. You need something to put in-stream ads on and if you’re the Cabool, Mo., newspaper, local content is going to play better than anything else. Especially local sports and man-bites-dog stuff. So you need to figure out a way to produce it.
3. Mobile tools provide a relatively cheaper way of providing an all-in-one gather/edit/publish experience.
4. Then there’s two conceptions of what a mobile kit looks like, RTE’s mobile grab-kit and the one we’re giving our advanced mobile students at the Missouri School of Journalism.
Saved you a bunch of clicks right there. Presentation is below if you want to see it.
ThingLink is a wonderful thing. Easy interactive graphics, easily embeddable multimedia. But it’s frequently misused, usually because it’s employed for a “wow” factor, rather than as something that makes sense or really adds value to the user.
I’ve seen a lot of bad ThingLinks. Here’s another in the list of best practices that I’ve developed (the first installment is here).
Lesson 2: The underlying structure is what’s important.
Interactivity is awesome. Research shows that readers like to play with stuff online. But it only really adds value if it makes something even more effective. This is the old programmer’s chestnut of “garbage in, garbage out.” Having something that’s graphically sound and easy to navigate before we add an interactive layer makes for a better user experience.
Here’s a good example of how to do it from the Arizona Daily Star. It’s an interactive layer on top of a graphic that ran before a University of Arizona football game. The graphic itself is common enough before a football game — who’s opposing who on each side of the line of scrimmage.[thinglink http://www.thinglink.com/scene/303326264272355328]
What makes this work is that it’s built on strong principals of user design: There’s chatter that’s defined by a hierarchy of type. There’s contrasting colors for each team and the players are in consistent positions. There’s a source line and a credit line, both of which speak to credibility. The interactive points are placed in a consistent position. The visual design is workmanlike, but that’s the point. What’s under the interactive layer is what’s important to the reader. The interactive layer just helps.
Here’s my guideline for what a good ThingLink infographic should have (this isn’t always the case, when it comes to photos with stuff embedded in them):
1. A headline in subject-object-verb format
2. Chatter that provides context to the user and links the graphic to whatever is around it.
3. A source line and a credit line. Both of these speak to credibility issues.
4. A lack of dependence on the interactive elements to tell the story.
Who doesn’t love ThingLink? It’s easy, inexpensive and lets you create interactive graphics. Or at least graphics with interactive spots. They work great on mobile devices and can be created right from your phone (or your desktop).
But with such great power comes great responsibility. I’ve seen some bad, bad ThingLinks. It’s easy to get enthralled with the power of an interactive layer on top of a graphic. It’s easy to forget the point of the graphic and even easier to forget the reader.
I recently taught a class on ThingLink’s best practices. The next few blog posts will have those lessons (and it’s all based on understanding of graphic design and reader desires; there’s no hard data from ThingLink in here).
Lesson 1: The interactive layer has to add something. Interactivity for its own sake is something that consumers get tired of. If it doesn’t add something to the base image, don’t do it.
Here’s an example of freeway closures from Southern California Public Radio:[thinglink http://www.thinglink.com/scene/272798133568667648]
The base is a screen capture of a Google map. The interactive layer doesn’t add all that much. Click on a dot and you’ll get “Date to be closed: TBA” and then a dense text writeup quoting from a press release. The best we can say about the interactive layer is that it gives the reader something to play with and it keeps the text out of the way.
Here’s another lousy one from TimeOut London:[thinglink http://www.thinglink.com/scene/228909253019041794]
The interactive layer here adds nothing. No contact information, no multimedia, nothing that might serve the consumer. It’s interactivity for the sake of interactivity. Blah.
Here’s a better one from the Washington Post. It’s inconsistent in the experience it gives, but it provides explanations that add some value. It also provides some links so that the user can do something with the information — like order the product.
Update: Part II of this series is here.
The good folks at web-usage tracker Crazy Egg asked five conversion experts to critique a PPC ad and the Universal Orlando landing page it led to. It was a massacre. There were comments about bait-and-switch techniques, bad colors, questionable layout choices.
All of them were true. But what Brian Massey at the Custom Creation Equation wrote resonates far deeper than just this page when it comes to web design and frequently made mistakes:
Test showing, not saying. This is an “EXCLUSIVE!” offer, but it doesn’t say to whom it is exclusive. Is it exclusive to previous visitors? Is it exclusive to people who have computers?
Try, “For our previous guests ONLY: A chance to come back and get your 4th night free.” If you can fly on a broom, show me. Don’t tell me.
Let’s get a copywriter in here. Is JK Rowling available? For example, what is the best thing about “Breakfast at the Three Broomsticks™”? It’s “one per person.” That’s as persuasive as lawyers get.
Get Voldemort in to do the layout. He doesn’t beat around the bush. Drop the navigation, the side bar, the trip planning video, and at least one of the three logo treatments on the page.
Get your call to action right. Is it “Book Your Trip?” or “Search?”
How would Hermoine translate “Need Assistance?” She would read it as “Are you lame?” Try “Call one of our knowledgeable Guest Consultants.”
Overall, this page is like Professor Snape: You can’t prove he’s bad, but you just can’t trust him.”
Setting aside the Harry Potter theme (the landing page was for a Harry Potter special), there are some excellent points here:
“Test showing, not saying” is brilliant and is a natural extension of the old editor saying “Show, don’t tell.” Just saying something is “exclusive” or “low-fat” isn’t as effective a strategy as saying “for Harry Potter fans only” or “has 1/3 the calories of regular ranch dressing.”
Massey’s point about the graphic treatment on the page — it’s buried in a Voldemort reference — is dead-on. The page is busy and ugly and … overwhelming. It reeks of design-by-committee and a visit from the Good Idea Fairy.
The bottom line on this page is that there is too much there in there. And it makes it harder for the consumer to make a sales decision than it should be .
Full article is here.