The layman's guide to "what's happening and what's next" in new media and technology.

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Have I told you that I am in love with a website?

It’s not the sexiest website out there, it’s not the most widely used, in fact it’s not actually all that exciting.  But it’s incredibly useful.  And if you’re not using it now, you should be.

The site is called Mint.com, and it is a California-based personal finance site owned and operated by the same people who make Quicken and TuboTax (originally it was a startup founded by Aaron Patzer but was acquired by Intuit in 2009 for $170 million).

Mint.com has the power to connect to virtually any bank in the US and Canada that has online banking capabilities.  So if your bank has online banking, you too can benefit from the wonder that is Mint.com.

Mint.com will securely bring in all of your transactions from all of your credit cards, checking accounts, savings accounts, loans, you name it.  Then, behind the curtain, Mint.com will utilize its vast database of user-generated tags to take all of your transactions and tag them accurately and instantly.

Suddenly, without doing any work yourself, you have access to an incredible answer to the one question that drives you crazy at the end of every month, “Where in the world has all my money gone?!”

Mint.com will categorize, sort, tag, remind, and budget all of your money.  The more of your online banking accounts you put into Mint.com, the more you will get out of it.  And don’t worry about security, the Mint.com security is stronger than most banks in the US and is equal to that of Bank of America.  Long story short: nobody is getting in to see your account info, so forget about it!

So why should you use Mint.com?

I hesitate to say this, but give it a shot by loading in your bank accounts, and you’ll see.  You’ll be blown away by how much money you spend on things like coffee and iTunes purchases.  You’ll compare your spending to that of the average person in your city, and see that you are spending way too much on rent but you’re pretty average in utilities.  You thought that you eat out too much, but now you see that you actually spend most of that money on fast food.  It’s incredible to see what happens when you have a window into where your money is going.  It gives YOU the power, for once!

It will help you keep track of your bills and will remind you when they’re due.

It will help you set a budget based on your average spending, and will send you a text message when you’re getting close to exceeding that budget (i.e. “You are about to spend too much on Terrapin beer this month, Kiley!”).

It will also help you find out if you could save money by switching to a different type of credit card or savings account.

I’ve been using Mint.com since it was first created, so my Mint.com history goes back to October 2008.  Here you can see my spending levels since 2008 until today, and my net income for the same time period.  Have you ever heard the saying, “The more money you make, the more money you spend?”  Proof:

To give you a look at what kinds of things you will be able to learn about your own spending, click the image below to see where I spent my money since moving to Atlanta (January 2011 - August 2011).

Now that you have an idea of just how powerful MInt.com can be, try it for yourself!  You’ll be so glad you did!

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With H-P indicating that it will exit the PC business, prematurely kill off its tablet and webOS offerings, and acquire a little-known business analytics company for many billions of dollars, the hardware world as we know it is about to change dramatically.

Many have compared this recent move by H-P to the strategies of IBM a decade ago, selling its PC business to Lenovo and focusing on business services with high profit margins.  Others have argued that IBM’s transition was infinitely cleaner, smarter, and well orchestrated, citing the fact that IBM already had a buyer for its PC business where H-P has none in sight.

I’ve read that H-P should open up webOS to developers in the same way that Google opens its Android platform.  webOS is superior to Android and iOS in numerous ways, especially in various aspects of its user interface (e.g. notifications).  However, despite its superiority, it’s never really been executed efficiently.  Would opening it up allow some company (HTC?) to create hardware custom-built for webOS that would sing like never before?  Would opening up webOS create a viable competitor to Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS?  Probably not, but it’s a nice thought.

I myself have predicted that Microsoft, with its mountains of cash and dwindling importance, will swoop in and purchase the now-devalued H-P PC business at a discount.  Though this move would be…well…not exactly in line with Microsoft’s core competency, it would allow Microsoft to integrate its hardware and software vertically in the same manner that Apple has proven to be successful.  Microsoft is already halfway there with the Xbox 360, I guess.  But Microsoft would be essentially competing with itself, in that it currently enjoys a gigantic profit margin in licensing out its software to large vendors of hardware.  If Microsoft were to start producing branded, official Microsoft computers with its software and operating system already installed, it would be the only seller on the market who does not have to pay its own licensing fees.  That’s not very fair, and other hardware manufacturers like Dell would be very tempted to look elsewhere for operating system and software companies that play by the rules.

All of these ideas are fine, some may come to pass and others will not.

But I believe there is a larger trend surfacing here.  And it has to do with the future of hardware.

The leadership at H-P are not stupid, though they’ve been called that in the past and certainly will again in the near future.  They are, in fact, quite smart.  And as a major player in the industry, they have a wealth of information at their fingertips.  They decided to let it be known that they are considering exiting the PC business.  Regardless of whether that move is brilliant or idiotic, there is an underlying message: building hardware is not going to be a viable business for the likes of H-P in the near future.

But why?

I have a theory on that, as you might have guessed.  Allow me to set the stage.

Companies like Amazon, NewEgg, and eBay have made it dead simple to purchase computer parts.  If you want to build a computer on your own, it’s as easy as a Google search and a credit card number.  Granted, not many people do this, and the ones who do are either very particular, very hard core gamers, very frugal, or a little weird.  But the fact remains, it’s easy as pie to purchase the parts to build your own computer, and have them all delivered to your house next-day.

Now there is an emerging player in all of this, and it is the at-home 3D printer.  Organizations like Makerbot allow anyone with a few thousand dollars to build their own 3D printer at home.  If you want one built and shipped to you, that’s not too hard either.  Or if you want to hire someone who already has one at their house to print you something and send it to you, that’s out there as well.  In fact, if you want something to be made, you can have it custom made with absolute precision, with high-quality materials, for cheaper than ever before.  The concept may sound revolutionary and 10-years-away, but I assure you it is very real and very right now.

So now, let’s take a look at the playing field for generic PC production.  It’s simple-as-dirt to buy computer parts in bulk and have them delivered right to your house in no time flat.  It’s becoming more and more possible each day to have custom-designed plastic (and other materials) cases printed with absolute accuracy, at home and for very low cost.

Imagine if a couple groups of 3D printing enthusiasts got together with a couple groups of DIY computer builders, and they started buying generic computer parts in bulk and creating custom computer cases with their 3D printers.  They could make an extremely wide range of PCs, at the same quality as H-P or Dell, and with much greater unique appeal.  Perhaps the computers might be a bit more expensive, but the greater this group scales their production, the lower the price would become.

So imagine you’re in the market for a generic $599 PC.  Of course, you go to Google and search for it.  Now imagine that you could either buy a $599 Dell, or a computer with the exact same specs that is custom-built for you, with your kids’ names engraved in the side or a model of your dog standing on top of it.  Or you are a huge NASCAR fan and you see a $599 PC with your favorite driver and car literally as a part of the computer case.  Inside, the guts are exactly the same as inside the Dell.  Which computer do you choose, random Joe buyer?

I’m not trying to say that these do-it-yourself computer producers would put the likes of Dell or H-P out of business.  Not at all.  People love good brands and Dell would demolish those little players one by one.

What I am saying is that it is incredibly easy to make the exact same computers that Dell is currently making and H-P is currently trying not to make anymore.

It is not, however, very easy to make the kinds of computers that Apple is making.  The iPad and the iPhone are both design and engineering marvels.  At the present time, creating something like that at home or with parts ordered from Amazon is simply impossible.

Couple that fact with the dominating vertical integration of hardware and software at Apple, allowing them to custom-build perfectly fitting software for their equally perfectly fitting hardware, and you’ve got products that are lightyears beyond what any group of DIY enthusiasts could ever hope to replicate.

So what’s a company like Dell or H-P to do?  They don’t make software, they make computers.  The computers they make are becoming very simple to imitate and replicate at home, and having been losing market share to Apple for the past 21 quarters in a row.  That’s five years.  The trends are obviously screaming: exit, exit, exit.  People are (1) not buying your core products as much and (2) every day more capable of making your best sellers at home with no expertise required.

In the face of those trends, what would you do?  In the words of startup culture: pivot.  It looks a little different when it’s a giant like H-P, but mark my words it is the same concept.  They have to pivot to stay alive, and they’re attempting to do that, albeit in a very clumsy and fiscally irresponsible way.

There once was a time when people would drive to the store to buy stamps and envelopes so that they could mail letters.  A decade or two ago, a house or office without stamps and envelopes would have been considered reclusive.

I haven’t bought a stamp in years.  In fact, post offices are now closing all over the country.  And if it weren’t for the fact that the government kept them alive on life support as long as they did, they would have vanished a long time ago.

It’s not so much the fact that people could print off their own postage at home, or that they started using FedEx.  That was part of it, sure, in the same way that people being capable of building their own PCs with custom casings is part of the downfall of the generic PC production business.  But the larger reason that people stopped buying stamps is that they stopped mailing letters.

People aren’t buying generic PCs counting gigabytes and clocking speeds anymore, they’re buying portals into their digital worlds.  Portals come in various screen sizes: pocket-sized, paper-sized, desktop-sized, and television-sized.  What’s inside the guts behind those screens is becoming less and less important, what is being shown on and achieved by using those screens is the only thing that matters.  We are truly entering into a “Post-PC” era.

So what does the future of hardware look like?  Several major hardware producers will perfect the art of building hardware that perfectly enables the firmware and software that will run on it.  Beyond that basic requirement (that the hardware perfectly enables the software), design, brand, customer-loyalty, provider-contracts, availability, developer-support, and price will take over.  Gone are the days in which H-P and Dell can get by just producing generic PCs that only sell because they made the jump from the number 256 to 512, or from 1 to 2, or from MB to GB to TB, or whatever arbitrary tech spec you want to focus on.  Here to stay are the days in which hardware producers are the enablers of software, and it will be the richness of the developer-environment and activeness of the user-base that people compare before making purchases.

Think about it, it’s already here in many ways.  How often have you heard something to the effect of “Yeah, I like the idea of Android, but everybody I know has an iPhone so if I want to play games and stuff with my friends I need to get an iPhone, too.”

The ecosystem of software and users rules, it’s time to say goodbye to the generic PC business.  H-P was just the most recent one to realize that.

Disagree?  Mail me a letter.  Bet you’ll have to whip out your pocket-size screen to Google the closest place to buy a stamp, first.

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Chloe Rae Dorton, born April 2011.

A trailer I made about Chloe, my brand new daughter!  Coming to a crib near you…

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Have you been over to Klout.com yet?  If you use Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, or LinkedIn, click here to find out your Klout score.  Check it out and explore your score, and then come back to read the rest of this post (it will make a lot more sense to you if you know what Klout feels like).

What is a Klout score?  Klout does a much better job of explaining it than I would, so read this quote from their site (emphasis added by me):

The Klout Score is the measurement of your overall online influence. The scores range from 1 to 100 with higher scores representing a wider and stronger sphere of influence. Klout uses over 35 variables on Facebook and Twitter to measure True Reach, Amplification Probability, and Network Score.

True Reach
is the size of your engaged audience and is based on those of your followers and friends who actively listen and react to your messages. Amplification Score is the likelihood that your messages will generate actions (retweets, @messages, likes and comments) and is on a scale of 1 to 100. Network score indicates how influential your engaged audience is and is also on a scale from 1 to 100. The Klout score is highly correlated to clicks, comments and retweets.

We believe that influence is the ability to drive people to action — “action” might be defined as a reply, a retweet, a comment, or a click. We perform significant testing to ensure that the average click-through rate on links shared is highly correlated with a person’s Klout Score. The 25+ variables used to generate scores for each of these categories are normalized across the whole data set and run through our analytics engine. After the first pass of analytics, we apply a specific weight to each data point. We then run the factors through our machine-learning analysis and calculate the final Klout Score. The final Klout Score is a representation of how successful a person is at engaging their audience and how big of an impact their messages have on people.

So, that’s how Klout works.  Now this is what my Klout score looks like:

Now that you’ve got a feel for how Klout works and what it looks/feels like, let’s discuss it.

I. Love. Klout.

I’m sure that’s no surprise to you, if you know me.  I love statistics.  I love game mechanics.  I love social media.  I love connecting people to cool things.

Klout is the best thing to happen to digital communication since sliced spectrum…I mean sliced bread, that’s what I meant.

Anyway, I’d like to discuss the three factors on which Klout bases its scoring system: true reach, amplification score, and network score.

Which of those three scores do you feel is most important?  The number of people who listen to you (true reach)?  The likelihood that people will click, retweet, share, or like your posts (amplification score)?  Or how well the people you influence score on the previous two factors (network score)?

It’s easy to understand these scores if you compare them to a stereotypical, made-up high school, the social media metaphor we all love to hate and hate to love.

The dude in high school with the most true reach would probably be the student body president, or whoever reads the morning announcements over the PA or TV in this fictitious high school.  He could potentially get a message out to everyone in the school, and most people would probably be listening.  Whether or not they care or do anything about it doesn’t really matter for true reach, the point is he has the ability to put a message in the ears of a lot of people.

The girl with the highest amplification score in this school would probably be the prom queen, head cheerleader, etc.  She may not have a large network, in fact she probably intentionally limits her true reach to be a small, exclusive group of girls, but whenever she does something it spreads like wildfire.  For instance, the clothes she wears are “liked” by her elite group of friends and “shared” with their friends who “retweet” the designs or styles to their friends and start wearing those clothes themselves.  If this girl cuts her bangs and straightens her hair, it’s very likely that within a week numerous other girls in the school will follow her lead.  That means she has a very high amplification score.

Finally, the guy with the highest network score would probably be the all-american athlete who is also in band, debate team, and honors classes.  He was in student counsel early on, but had to quit to focus on sports.  He is also a leader at the biggest church in town, which isn’t hard considering his father is the Pastor.  Did I mention his mother is the head of the PTA?  This guy—though he doesn’t have time to have a lot of friends and no one really cares what kind of raggedy clothes he’s wearing—he knows people who know people.  His best friend is the captain of the football team, looked up to by most of the guys in school, and he dates the head cheerleader with the big amplification score I mentioned above.  His mom asks him what’s going right in the administration of the school, and his dad asks him what the kids might want to hear in the sermon on Sunday.  This guy is connected to people that other people listen to.  That’s why he has the highest network score in school.

So, which one of those scores is most important to you?

I’ll go ahead and say that my network score matters more to me than the other two scores combined.  I work hard to connect with people who influence others.  I don’t mind if I have a large number of followers or a tiny number, but I do care if the people that follow me are well-connected thought-leaders.  It is nice if people click, share, and like my content.  But it’s better if that content reaches someone that can make a difference after having seen it, even if that’s the only person who sees it.  Changing just one influential person’s mind about a topic trumps having 100 people “like” a post any day.  But that’s just me.

Do you agree with me?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

I believe Klout will continue to add game mechanics to their excellent and growing ecosystem to increase engagement and obsession with its users (read: Klout achievements/badges are coming soon).

I think Klout will monetize this concept by first building a very strong user base (strong by Klouts own measurements, naturally).  Klout will follow by incentivizing its more influential users to use their Klout-quantified power wisely, effectively, and for profit.  Klout will connect those users with businesses willing to pay, and will share in those profits.

That or Klout will be bought by Google to enhance its already growing social influence algorithms and will disappear into the abyss where all Google acquisitions go to rest.

That’s Klout!  Be sure to check it out at klout.com!  What do you think about it?

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Ok, I’ve just had a revelation in regards to personal finance. Read on if you’re interested in drastically improving your credit score while maintaining your lifestyle, or if you just want to debate, but please keep in mind the fact that I am not a professional financial advisor; I am merely sharing my observations in the hopes that you draw your own conclusions.

I’ve read numerous personal finance books. Probably not as many as some of you, but probably more than some of you, too. My two favorites are I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi andThe Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.

While those two books are truly great, they left me with a few unanswered questions.

(1) What is the ideal debt to credit ratio?

(2) What is the ideal ratio of available credit to annual income?

[Spoiler alert] Here’s my answer:

Revolving debt should be one month’s spending, available credit should be three month’s pay.

Now here’s why:

1. Debt To Credit Ratio (DCR)
The debt to credit ratio is widely written about, but no one really knows the true answer. The typical consensus is that you should try to keep your debt to credit ratio around 30% (thanks +jeff elrod for that guideline). That means that if you have a total of $12,000 spending limit on your credit cards, you should consistently have about $3,500 in charges at the end of each month. Not much more, and not much less.

Not much less? That’s right, evidently having a zero balance every month on your credit card can actually hurt your credit score and your ability to obtain more credit.

Look at it like this, imagine I’ve put an apple on top of your head and you’re standing with your back to a tree. Now, two men are standing about 30 feet away from us, and they each are holding a bow and a quiver that can hold 10 arrows. One man has all 10 arrows in his quiver. The other man has only 5 arrows even though his quiver can hold up to 10.

I ask you, “Which man would you choose to try and shoot the apple off of your head?”

Naturally, you then ask the men, “Which one of you is the most accurate archer?”

The man with 10 arrows in his quiver says, “I promise you, I’m highly accurate.”

The man with only 5 out of 10 arrows in his quiver says, “Just look at that target over there, you can see that my other 5 arrows have all hit the bullseye every single time.”

Now, which man do you choose to shoot the arrow off of your head?

The man with proof that he is an accurate archer, duh!

The same is true with your credit usage history. Paying off your balance in full before the bill posts means that you’re keeping all of your arrows in the quiver. But allowing the balance to post to your bill and then paying it off in full is just like shooting that arrow at the target and hitting the bullseye again and again and again. Lenders will be able to see that you are an extremely accurate archer, and not some guy with a ton of available credit and no spending history.

So, the answer to the debt to credit ratio question is not just 30%. It’s that you should spend 30% of your available credit each month and let the credit card company bill you for that spending. Pay off the full amount after it posts as a bill, but always maintain a 30% balance at the end of each month, not much more, not much less, and you will have used the revolving debt to credit ratio to improve your credit score.

2. Ratio of Available Credit to Annual Income
Now, the question that all of these personal finance books seem to ignore is, “How much available credit should I have?” I guess they don’t write about it because they have to keep their books applicable to all kinds of readers, but it left me missing a key piece of knowledge. I need to knowhow much available credit I should spread out over a variety of no-annual-fee, reward-earning credit cards so that I don’t look like a risk to lenders and yet maintain the ideal debt to credit ratio discussed above.

I think I’ve got it figured out. See what you think about this idea.

The ideal ratio of available credit to annual income is 25%. How did I come up with that number? It’s simple really.

Tell me if this is true for you: on average, your spending every month is usually just about the same as your monthly salary. Maybe you’re responsible and you put some of your earnings into savings, but even so, every month you still spend just about what you made that month. Don’t lie, we’re all doing it.

Well, check this out. If your monthly spending is about what you make in a month, and the ideal monthly debt to credit ratio is 30%, then that means all of your available credit should add up to about 3 months pay.

That’s it, simple as that.

Let’s look at a simple example. Say your annual salary is $40,000 a year. That means you make about $3,000 a month. So that means you probably spend just a little less than $3,000 a month. Well, that’s fine! You don’t have to change your lifestyle to maintain perfect credit! All you have to do is optimize. So since you spend $3,000 a month, that means you should have a few credit cards that add up to $9,000 worth of available credit. Charge everything to your card during the month (no more than your average monthly spending, though!) and wait for the bill to come in. As soon as you get the bill, pay it off in full with your monthly paycheck. Your debt to credit ratio would be about 30%, and you would also be building a very, very strong credit history with perfect monthly on-time payments. In other words, every month you would be shooting an arrow and hitting the bullseye dead on target, again and again and again.

You’ll be an archery master, and you will have mastered your credit in the process.

Conclusion
Based on the facts above, here is my simple formula, my answer to the credit questions, my credit mantra:

Revolving debt should be one month’s spending, available credit should be three month’s pay.

Revolving debt should be one month’s spending, available credit should be three month’s pay.

Revolving debt should be one month’s spending, available credit should be three month’s pay.

Simple, understandable, doable!

Please comment with your thoughts, arguments, or opinions! I hope this helps you!

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I hear it again and again lately.  On one side, I hear:

"This is a mini-bubble."

"These valuations are ridiculous and inflated."

"These ‘companies’ haven’t made a dime yet, until they do they’re worthless."

On the other side I hear:

"Our valuation is based on time spent on the site, not just user numbers, and it’s a new metric that is worth the money."

"Clean energy is the bubble, we are building a real business that isn’t based on science fiction.”

"We could monetize at any time if we wanted to, we’re waiting until the moment we have to.”

So who’s right?

Someone afraid to make a prediction might say: well, both are right in their own way.  Sure the valuations are inflated, but while the new metrics have yet to be proven, they’ve also yet to be disproven.  So only time will tell which side will win.

But that just ain’t me.

There are certain companies that will prevail, and they’ll do so because they follow basic principles of commerce.  There are a lot more companies that will shrivel up and disappear, despite the millions of user accounts or even the millions of hours its users spend staring at its dynamically updating news feed.  More on that in a moment.

First, let’s talk about this “bubble” nonsense.  These valuations hardly indicate a bubble.  It’s a period of heightened interest with unclear outcomes, which means people with money are betting larger bets.  That is not a bubble.  Do you remember when those little Beanie Babies were so ridiculously popular?  Around 1995 people started buying up the Ty beanie babies, thinking that as Ty retired the different characters they would rise in value.  People would spend hundreds of dollars on a single little stuffed animal, thinking it would be worth thousands in a few years.  By 1999, Ty decided they were finished making Beanie Babies and the whole thing came to a puttering stop.  Some people made a few thousand dollars.  I guess they were right all along.  But most people forgot about the whole thing within a couple of very unimportant seconds.  Their daughters’ cherished Beanie Baby collections remain in a cardboard box in the attic, supposedly as heirlooms for grandchildren down the road.

Dust collectors, remnants of a fad that was more marketing and advertising than anything else.

The same thing is currently happening in Silicon Valley, except replace the moms who bought countless Beanie Babies with very, very wealthy investors.  They are betting that if they invest what the average person would consider a very large amount in a diverse portfolio of similarly popular startups, that at least one of them will turn out to be the Beanie Baby that everybody wants when it has an IPO event. Those investors will cash out just like the moms that bought the most popular Beanie Baby for their daughters did.  Those moms made a couple thousand dollars on their hundred dollar investments, and the investors will make similar amounts (what they call “multiples”) on their winning investment.  If they invested $50 million, and a startup like Groupon has an IPO that pays them $500 million, they’ll have made the same multiple that the mom who spend $100 on a Beanie Baby and sold it for $1000 made.  But, just as the moms then put the remaining Beanie Babies in a box in the attic to be forgotten, so will the investors drop the remaining investments that didn’t work out.

And since the Beanie Babies really didn’t have any intrinsic value, the person who bought them for $1,000 thinking they’d eventually be worth $10,000 is left there thinking, “WTF did I just spend my money on?”

The same will be true for some of these startups that everyone is talking about.  Some of them will be worth next-to-nothing in a matter of years, despite having tens of millions of dollars invested in them and gigantic media-heavy IPOs.

However, the difference between the turn-of-the-century .com bubble and the current situation is that many of these companies are actually building sustainable businesses based on sound principles.

Over the next few months I’ll be posting a list of the companies that I think will make it past this Beanie Baby craze phase.  They’ll make it because if you looked inside their colorful, soft outer fabric you’d find a lot more than worthless beads; you’d find diamonds.

I’m going to tag these companies as “Beanie Baby Proof.”  If you’re reading this, that means you’re cool and you’ll know what I’m talking about.  The first one, Squarespace, is below.

Series: Beanie Baby Proof

Squarespace
Founded in April, 2003
Employees: 43+
Founder & CEO: Anthony Casalena
Funding: Series A, July 2010, $38.5 million 

Squarespace HQ in New York City is a collection of hard-working, capable designers, coders, marketers, and customer service experts.  Over the years, Squarespace has steadily gained traction as one of the leading competitors to the behemoth Wordpress.  Squarespace is the simplest, most user-friendly way to create an impressive personal, professional, or even corporate website without having to write a single line of code.

Why will Squarespace make it past the Beanie Baby phase?  It’s not what you might think.

Yes, they have a somewhat large paying user base.  And yes, I did say paying user base.  Every month, Squarespace users pay $10 or more to keep their sites up and running.  The free two-week trial gets a lot in, but they have no free model past two weeks.  So most of the Squarespace sites that you see (many of the web’s most prominent personalities host their sites on Squarespace) are paying customers.

But that’s not why Squarespace will make it out of the BB phase.  It’s because Squarespace has accomplished the one-two punch: (1) they’ve built a product that surpasses the competition by an order of magnitude and (2) they’ve built a great deal of trust with a capable, influential base of evangelistic users.

Product
No company’s product compares to Squarespace.  Others may have components of it, like the Tumblr share-anything-anywhere app for mobile phones, the simple-as-dirt Wordpress content management system, or the Weebly drag-and-drop website builder interface.  But from top to bottom, the Squarespace product wins in nearly every category.

Users
Squarespace advertised through channels that reached a very well-chosen type of consumer.  It was no mistake that I heard about Squarespace while watching a niche design podcast.  Squarespace spent their first few years of advertising dollars reaching out to people who were already capable of coding websites, which is quite counter-intuitive considering the fact that Squarespace does not require you to know a lick of code.  And yet, the users that Squarespace won during its early years were people who understood how to make good websites.  Really good websites.  And they were leaders in the website building community.  Fast forward to Squarespace 8 years later: they’ve built a community of savvy web developers and designers who use the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) tools on Squarespace to cut corners and save time.  They create killer websites.  But most importantly, they create the content that teaches newbies how to create websites.  They fill the support forums with excellent (and I really do mean excellent) threads on how to do just about anything you can think of within Squarespace.  They preach Squarespace to their friends and family when they don’t want to hand code a website.  The users are, like I said, capable, influential and evangelical.  It’s a #winning combination, and it’s a sustainable combination.

Final Word
Squarespace may be bought, or they may continue to raise funding until they go public, but either way the company has a product that is an order of magnitude above its competition and an influential, loyal user base.  With the one-two punch of killer product and dedicated users, Squarespace is very much Beanie Baby Proof.

Source: squarespace.com
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Google Plus LogoTalk about press coverage, the release of Google+ seems to have reached every single media outlet on the planet.  If you’ve just signed up but don’t know how to get started, skip the rest of this post and just read this simple 16-step guide.

During the earnings call yesterday (July 14, 2011) Google’s CEO Larry Page shared a few G+ numbers:  10 million users, 1 billion items shared.  That’s right, in just two weeks the new social network has garnered 10 million users by invite only. (as a b.a.m.f. side note, Page also posted to G+ while he was on the earnings call, but that’s another story)

Now compare that to Facebook, which boasts 750 million active users.  In a couple of weeks, Google+ has achieved 13% of what took Facebook 7 years and 5 months to achieve.  But does that really mean anything?

Not really.

Google had millions of existing users who logged on to their Gmail service every single morning, and kept the Gmail tab open all day long.  Those same people used Google Talk to chat with their friends (commonly called “gchat”) and they keep their calendars in Google Calendar.  The massive and rapid adoption of users just means that Google was able to successfully capitalize on its current user base.  Consider this: when Facebook released Facebook Chat, they probably had tens of millions of users using it within a day.  Google releasing Google+ may be a bit more extensive than Facebook releasing Facebook chat, but the concept is the same.  Once you’ve built a trusting user base of millions of people, getting a large number of them to try one of your new features isn’t that difficult.

So what’s the future look like for Google+?  Will it be a huge success like Gmail, or a failure like Google Wave?

As Alexia Tsotsis of TechCrunch puts it, the answer lies in a moment.  A massive, wide-spread moment.  When Ashton Kutcher raced CNN for the first to one million followers, Twitter had its moment.  Chatroulette had its moment when Ben Folds played live to random viewers.  Quora had its moment when JJ Abrams started answering questions on it.  Turntable.fm had its moment when Sir Mix-a-Lot DJ’d live.  When John Mayer abandoned Twitter saying “Tumblr is better.”  When Alyssa Milano started donating her birthday to charity on charity: water.  When Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, John McCain, and Joe Biden all created LinkedIn profiles. Moments. (source: a Quora thread)

The moment doesn’t necessarily mean a celebrity joins or uses the network, though it certainly has been the rule so far.  Tsotsis writes:

…as anyone who’s built a startup knows, the narrative of how web services get and retain users is serious business, and is punctuated and proliferated by “celebrity moments” …There are countless examples.

A different sort of moment, though, would be a real-time moment.  For instance, the news that Bin Laden had been captured/killed hit Twitter via a reliable source an hour before Obama announced it to the public.

So will Google+ have a moment, and if so, what will it look like?

Well, you have to take a look at the structure of the network to make a prediction like that.  Google+ is built on social groups, which it calls “circles.”  Circles work by allowing a user to follow someone with whom they might not be personally acquainted, while still allowing that user to identify precisely with whom he shares particular content.

You can think of it in two options: limited or public.  If a post is limited, then you choose as many of your circles you want share it with.  If a post is public, it’s going to show up in the news feed of every G+ user that follows you.

It can be confusing to explain, but it’s pretty simple.  It works just like real life.  When you get engaged, first you tell your close family.  Then you tell your close friends.  Then they tell some randoms, and you tell some randoms.  Then you change your Facebook relationship status to ‘engaged’ and the whole world knows.  That order of sharing would be like a limited post on G+.

Conversely, if you wrote a letter to the editor for your local newspaper, then everyone who reads that paper would see your words.  Similarly, if you tweet out a link to your letter to the editor, all of your Twitter followers will see your tweet.  That would be the equivalent of a public post on G+.

So Google+ circles work like that.  You can segment who sees what you share.  And because of that segmentation, the “moment” that Google+ has, if it has one, will be a bit different.

I imagine that the moment will not have to do with one particular G+ member, news event, or other isolated item.  I think the G+ moment will happen as soon as Android (you know, Google’s operating system that it runs on millions of cell phones—over 550,000 phones activated per day, in fact) deeply integrates G+ into every facet of it’s functionality.

The fact is, mobile is the future.  Or more specifically: device independence is the future.  Whether you’re on your desktop, laptop, mobile phone, game console, television, tablet, airplane touchscreen, or some futuristic in-store advertisement screen—no matter where you are, you will have access.

And I predict that Google, when it reaches a certain level of ubiquity with Android and a critical twice-a-day user base with Google+, will marry the two most important developments of the past decade: social and mobile.

The day that marriage happens, that will be the Google+ moment, the Android moment, and the second major step towards a new era of human-computer interaction that Steve Jobs has coined as the “Post-PC era.”  In the Post-PC era, the device we use to connect is irrelevant; the only things that will matter will be what we’re doing, where we’re doing it, when we’re doing it, who we’re doing it with, and why we’re doing it.  The how, how fast, and how much are so Web 1 & 2.0.

So, let’s talk money.

I hope Google monetizes (for lack of a better word) Google+ by doing two things, one is obvious and one is a bit more forward-thinking. First, by applying the social layer to enhance instant, semantic search and structuring it’s costs for Google Advertising according to the social impact that ad will have, Google could build upon the advertising model Facebook has already pioneered and proven. But I think Google could go one step further and add a new product, Google Integrations, into it’s offerings for corporate entities looking to connect with consumers. Google Integrations should utilize Google’s search prowess to correctly categorize social interactions on Google+ such that a company can integrate itself (its brand, its product, etc.) into the online and real-world lives of Google products users. Google Integrations as a new product would be the best possible monetization of Google+, in my humble opinion, and would be the next logical evolution of Google’s most profitable and interesting revenue stream.

For example, one outcome of a Google Integrations effect might be that Home Depot is able to purchase G+ Integrations for 100,000 people in the Atlanta area. Google would then watch for keywords (sound familiar?) in the Google+ interactions between users that signify Home Depot’s likely consumers. Google would push content promoting Home Depot in multiple formats (i.e. daily deals, local deals on mobile when that user drives near a Home Depot, advertisements on the sidebar, etc.). Whereas Facebook has the ability to target an advertisement to a very specific demographic or to a user who has literally written a specific word in a post or comment, Google’s algorithms for connecting semantic input in the form of text are lightyears beyond anything Facebook has created. So to put it simply, Facebook can only read the words on the page, but Google can “read between the lines” of what people are saying and doing on Google+. This allows Google to connect Home Depot with users who truly have a need for a Home Depot product or service, rather than users who simply fit the demo and/or have mentioned Home Depot verbatim.

As a company, I’d rather purchase 100,000 Google Integrations than a targeted Facebook ad any day. How about you?

As for what’s coming next, look out for Apple’s .me offering that will compete with Google+, Facebook, Spotify, and Netflix.  More on that later!

Have your own thoughts about this post?  Leave comments below!  Thanks!

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thenextweb:

In addition to being a hub for existing infographics, and allowing their creators to connect with potential publishers for them, Visual.ly’s Labs feature will be offering tools to create completely new visualizations. While the main features here are still to launch, the Twitterize Yourself tool is a great demo of what’s to come, letting you create an infographic comparing yourself to any other Twitter user. The result is a gorgeous, custom visualisation based on the data in your Twitter account. (via Visual.ly launches as the home of data visualisation and infographics)

thenextweb:

In addition to being a hub for existing infographics, and allowing their creators to connect with potential publishers for them, Visual.ly’s Labs feature will be offering tools to create completely new visualizations. While the main features here are still to launch, the Twitterize Yourself tool is a great demo of what’s to come, letting you create an infographic comparing yourself to any other Twitter user. The result is a gorgeous, custom visualisation based on the data in your Twitter account. (via Visual.ly launches as the home of data visualisation and infographics)

Source: thenextweb.com
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Are you interested in the future of education?  Me too.  And the Khan Academy is on to something here.

With a library of over 2,400 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and 125 practice exerciseswe’re on a mission to help you learn whatever you want, whenever you want, at your own pace.

Source: khanacademy.org
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I spent hours upon hours trying to decide exactly what the market was for the blog I knew I wanted to write.  I was so torn asking questions like: “Should I write for hard core techies?” or “Should I gather a group of writers to cover a wide range of content?” and “How can I differentiate my writing such that a visit to kiley.co is worthwhile to readers who could easily read similar content elsewhere?”

It kept me up at night, because I’ve got so much to say and I just couldn’t decide on the best way to layout the platform to say it.  So many times I found myself just wanting to forget the whole thing, deciding that there were so many tech blogs out there already that mine would just add to the noise and disappear into the ether.

Then I had a revelation: I don’t care if my content gets lost in the sea of other sources.  I have stuff I want to say.  So this is where I’m going to say it.

There are no rules.  I have no big marketing scheme.  I don’t want this to turn into the next TechCrunch, Mashable, or TheNextWeb.  I don’t have expectations to have posts make it on to the front pages of Digg or Reddit.  I don’t even have a target audience.  I know having a plan is typically a best practice for any endeavor, but I quite purposefully do not have any such thing.

This space is for me to share my thoughts and ideas related to digital media, technology, entrepreneurship, and occasionally to share my personal experience raising a child while building my career.

That’s my quote.  That’s my ‘purpose’ here.  No strategy.  No grandiose plans.  Just me and my thoughts.

I often find myself explaining new tech to people who want to understand but don’t have the technical background to read the hard core tech blogs.  I also like to share new, useful companies with my network to keep them ahead of the curve.  I like to think of myself as a liaison between the obsessive tech news blogs (my guilty pleasure) and the normal people of the world who aren’t necessarily early adopters but who like to be in the loop of what’s coming down the pipeline.

If that describes you, you’ll probably enjoy what I write here.  If you already read 10 tech blogs a day and you know everything there ever was to know about everything technology, you’ll be bored and probably feel like I’m constantly telling you things that were obvious to you months ago.  Go read TechCrunch!  This is for the rest of you who just want to be in the loop!

Thanks, hope you enjoy the writing.  :)

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