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Much like front-runner political candidates, mainstream social media sites often get more attention than up-and-coming ones. There are, however, compelling reasons to look at newer beta and/or less well known sites. Some sites provide new services or features, or recombine old ones in unique ways. Others compliment or build on the functions of existing social media or other sites. The following four websites are ones that social media site users and bloggers alike should be aware of, and that already successful social sites should look to for new ideas.

(1) Romlet is a great way to build a reputation online as well as valuable PR and traffic via (free) backlinks. The Romlet widget combines and condenses some of the best aspects of a variety of useful and successful widgets. It also has the potential to develop into new kind of social network. The widget itself is part stats counter, part brag badge and part social bookmarking tool. Similar to the MyBlogLog recent visitors widget, the Romlet widget shows where visitors came from. These sources are displayed as favicon links to the referring source, which also work like AddThis bookmarks. Romlet users can also choose to display the number of visitors from each source, like a FeedBurner stats widget. Users can also visit their custom Romlet homepage to see more information and statistics about their own site or about other Romlet user sites and articles. Click here to see an example of Romlet in action.

Romlet

Romlet is still short on some potential community-building functions, a by-product of how new the site and widget are. Over time more functionality should certainly be added to encourage greater interaction between Romlet users. Social news and bookmarking options could potentially build on the already successful aspects of the widget. As with Peopleized, however, Romlet‘s creators continue to develop new functions based on user feedback.

(2) Peopleized is a relatively new social networking site where people interview one another in order to build up popularity and network with other people in an area of interest. Many of the site’s current users are bloggers, but not all. People can post or quote their interviews or others on their own website or social networking profile. These interviews serve multiple functions: building up PR on an established website, getting exposure to new audiences and developing press release information and skills for future use.

Peoplized

Probably the biggest limitation of Peopleized right now is that the functionality is not completely built out for hosting interviews and other information on remote sites. Most of the action takes place on the site itself, which is a good start (considering the site’s high levels of traffic) but could be expanded upon. Fortunately, the creators of Peopleized are already working on expanding its capabilities on major social networking sites such as Facebook.

(3) Plime is a social news site with a fairly complex and successful system for organizing and presenting content in various categories. First, there are more ‘offbeat’ categories than on most social news sites, including WTF and weird. Each story submitted can be easily tagged with an image, something Digg and Reddit would do well to take notice of. Plime voting also works in a fairly innovative way: votes are automatically given to new stories based on how many users have upmodded the user who submitted that story. Like StumbleUpon, users can also indicate categories of interest. In short, Plime integrates some of the best features from major social news sites.

Plime

The biggest downside right now is that, due to a lack of users, the site seems to recycle a lot of the material presented on said major social sites. The biggest upside for content creators is that the site doesn’t seem to put a lot of weight on where a story is submitted from – favoring content over existing URL popularity, making it a great place to submit stuff (yours or that of someone else) from lesser-known websites.

(4) Shoutwire is another social news site that has been around for some time but is relatively under-appreciated, particularly by people who want to get their content out into the world. The site works a lot like mainstream social media sites, but is perhaps less well organized. To compensate, however, it offers more options for user-submitted content – including forums for discussion and on-site editorials. Also, ShoutWire sends a significant amount of traffic to sites that successfully get voted to the front page. Admittedly, the traffic volume doesn’t compare to sites like Digg, but anywhere from a few thousand to over ten thousand hits from 20 votes is nothing to scoff at.

ShoutWire

Usability and ease of navigation seem to be the major drawbacks of ShoutWire. It is somewhat hard to find anything but the front page and almost-popular or newly-submitted upcoming articles. Something like Digg’s cloud view or more obvious category searches would greatly improve the existing site. That being said, for someone either casually looking for front-page news or hoping to get some traffic to a less-established site: ShoutWire is easy and user-friendly.

These are, of course, just a few examples. What underrepresented or under-appreciated social news, networking or bookmarking sites do you enjoy? Do you use some of these already? What is your take on them?

Recently a number of people have asked me how to get lots of visitors via StumbleUpon. To answer that question, I first need to make it very clear that I don’t see it as ‘getting’ Stumblers to ones sites per say. Instead, I share what I enjoy both what I find on other sites and (much more infrequently) what I write or create myself with others on StumbleUpon. I also send stuff to those I think will appreciate the material. StumbleUpon is a diverse site with millions of interesting, educational and entertaining pages and Stumblers of all ages and interests. Here are some steps for becoming an active Stumbler, contributing valuable pages to StumbleUpon and making sure that the people who see them are those who will appreciate them most.

(1) Familiarize yourself with StumbleUpon categories and tags. When you submit a new page to StumbleUpon (as shown below) some default popular categories appear right in front of you, though you can also look under the ‘Other’ menu to find more. The popular categories, if selected as the primary category, may lead the page to be seen by more people if it fits the category. However, if the page doesn’t fit into one of those categories and you submit under it anyway, you might find that no one appreciates it and votes it up – the submission is wasted. Your best bet is to submit to the most fitting category, then choose applicable tags. For example, I might submit a work of Graffiti by Banksy under ‘CounterCulture,’ but add the tags ‘Banksy’ and ‘graffiti’ (highly targetted) as well as ‘arts’ and ‘activism’ (more popular but also applicable).

StumbleUpon Tags

(2) Network effectively with like-minded Stumblers: One key to success StumbleUpon, just like any social networking, bookmarking or news site – is to find people who appreciate and will vote for your submissions. There are a few ways to do this.

(a) Start by looking at who votes for your submissions and add them as a Stumble ‘friend.’ If you feel up to it, you can even send them a message and see if they’ll add you back – though many will automatically. However, if that someone has hundreds of friends they may be over their limit and unable to add you back. At the opposite extreme, if they have just a few Stumble-friends they may be someone who never adds anyone back. If you want someone who will become a reciprical friend, look for people with around 50 to 150 friends. An extension of this: look for people with similar interests or who submitted pages you like.

StumbleUpon - People Who Liked

(b) Find Stumblers by Stumbling the keyword ‘Stumblers.’ Particularly if you’re relatively new to StumbleUpon, you may not have many Stumble-friends. A good way to start finding Stumblers (once you’ve input your own interests into the database) is to Stumble under the keyword ‘Stumblers.’ this will allow you to browse users’ pages and find people who are interested in similar subjects. You can add a lot of Stumblers with similar interests this way, and if you eventually have too many you can always remove people who don’t add you back.

StumbleUpon Stumblers by Keyword

(3) Send stuff to the right Stumblers: Use the ‘Send to’ button when you find or create something you think is suited to a particular Stumbler’s interests. Some things of general interest can be sent to many Stumble-friends, while special-interest topics might only be appropriate to certain people. Some Stumblers you will know well outside of StumbleUpon or interact with via Stumble-messages, and you’ll know what to send them as a result. Other Stumblers you might just remember what they have Stumbled or use their name to determine what to send them (e.g. FunnyFarts likes crass humor). In your ‘Send to’ message, give a brief description of the page, or write why you think they’ll like it.

StumbleUpon is a great way to both share what you like and what you create, but remember: it is a social setting like any other with etiquette. Don’t assume someone is going to like just anything you write – it has to be on-target with their interests. As a rule of thumb Stumblers like images and easy-to-read articles. After all, they are browsing the internet not reading a novel! Make your submissions to-the-point and add illustrations as appopriate, then submit them to StumbleUpon under the right tags and send them to Stumblers who will be interested in the material. StumbleUpon is a great way to find stuff and share stuff as long as you respect your fellow Stumbler and help them find things they will appreciate!

I, for one, am always happy to get great material from Stumble-friends. Join up, add me as a friend and send me your stuff – whether it’s yours or you just found it!

Here are some other bloggers to keep your eye on – a breath of fresh air from the types of things typically covered on this one. Start by checking out Disassociated and WallStreetFighter if you’re sick of reading blogs about search engines, ranking, blogging, and so on. Webomatica has content of all kinds, including posts about blogging but not an overwhelming number of these!

Also see Herebox and Hoodmonkey for all sorts of weird randomness – you really never know what to expect with them. For tips on life I’d recommend LifeLearningToday, and for interesting random stuff check out TheThinkingBlog.

You can’t miss WebUrbanist for amazing images of street art, graffiti and other such things. Also definitely have to check out the incredibly stupid blog: Allsux. If you host your own blog and want to widgetize it, be sure to get a Romlet! If I missed someone I should know about drop me a line and I’ll throw you a shout.

OK OK, so I can’t help myself … I have to send you to a few blogs about blogging too. You absolutely must read and subscribe to Alister Cameron’s blog – he is a great guy with excellent blogging tips, with a mix of post lengths much like Andy Beard (hint: check them both out!). You also have to check out Nate Whitehill – also a savvy blogger with well-organized tips, tricks and advice. Finally, though not just about blogging, check out TheArticleWriter for tips on writing and earning money at it as well. And one final meta-link: this is not a blog at all, but a way to get more exposure for your blog and well worth checking out for any blogger: Peopleized.

OK, I’ve added some pretty new bloggers (but with interesting blogs and blog concepts, so check them out!) to the blogroll here so I feel a little compelled to throw out some tips for getting started with blogging. Yes, you can find tips for blogging all over the web but most sites will try to sell you something – and if you haven’t noticed: there are exactly 0 ads on this site. So here goes:

1) Find blogs you like, subscribe to their feeds, fave them on Technorati, and leave comments on them. Make those comments relevant. Feeds and faves will help you easily keep track of new posts on these blogs you like, plus if you feed/fave a blog it helps their rank – so tell them when you’ve done it! Some blogs with ‘do-follow’ will give you a PageRank boost for your troubles, but in other cases it’s just a way to get a feel for the blogosphere and will help you get to know bloggers who you can ask questions of and get tips from.

2) Don’t overload your blog with ads and buttons too early. Put a few things up, the things you really want people to click, and add and subtract as you go. Too much stuff looks spammy and can make it so people won’t click anything. If you watch your Google or MyBlogLog analytics (both of which you should be signed up for by the way,  with an MBL widget on your site too!) you can watch what people click, where it is on your page, and adjust accordingly. Also, think about your goals: you probably aren’t going to make a ton from AdSense right away, so think longer-term and put up buttons like Technorati faves and FeedBurner buttons like you see on this site to build up the readership and popularity you’ll need to earn more in the future.

3) Carefully choose your blog tagline. This has two incredibly important functions: it both tells your readers right away what the page is about and helps Google and other search engines know as well. It is much easier to rank for things in your blog title – so choose those phrases carefully, and change them as the content of your blog changes. For more keyword/SEO tips see recent posts on this blog.

4) Link out to get links in. Linking to relevant blogs and websites will help get their attention. Most veteran bloggers have various ways to see who is linking to and talking about them, and they will perk up and pay attention if someone new comes into that mix. However, don’t expect linkbacks from big-time sites like TechCrunch, of course – look for successful bloggers who still interact with their readers.

5) Get the right bookmarking and stats tools on your site. I recommend checking out the beta test for the Romlet blog widget, which is a brag badge, bookmarking tool and stats counter all rolled into one. If you’re not getting many visitors you can opt out of the public stats portion, but the widget will help you track in real-time where your traffic is coming from. Ther’es nothing worse than getting a big hit from a social news site and finding out about it too late to vote for it or ask your friends and fellow bloggers to! The MyBlogLog Recent Visitors widget is also a must-have – it lets you see who is visiting, then trackback to them and thank them for showing up. Together these two widgets cover a lot of the basics, and are better than cluttering a blog with all sorts of stuff.

That’s it for now – feel free to ask questions or add to this list!

Recently a number of bloggers have been asking us about about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), including bloggers who are successfully using Social Media Optimization (SMO) techniques. This came as something of a surprise, but it seems clear that a lot of bloggers forget to target all audiences possible, which can reduce overall readership potential. We, for example, focus more on SEO than SMO – though a balance is ideal. Further, using SMO techniques targets a relatively limited range of people – with a somewhat limited range of interests. Alternatively, SEO can bring in search traffic from all over the world, and specifically helps bring in people who are interested in the content they searched for that is on your page!

With that in mind, I will be writing a few posts with SEO strategies for bloggers who want to target search traffic. Don’t forget: these don’t have to conflict with SMO, they can be an added bonus! This first set of steps is really easy to follow and a good introduction to SEO for blogs:

(1)  Use the free Overture Keyword Tool to find a search phrase. If your blog is, for example, about ‘race cars’ try putting the words ‘race’ and ‘cars’ in the search box. You’ll notice right away that tons of people search for race cars, of course. Now, getting your site to come up on searches for that phrase is going to be tough (just Google that same set of words to see how many sites you are competing against!).  Pick a few sets of keywords from the results that are a little less high traffic but still have significant search volume and are relevant to your site, like ‘modified race car’ or ‘street race car.’

(2) Use Google and do a search for the phrases you have selected. How relevant are the results? How many results are there? How high are the PageRanks of the top sites (if you have a Google Toolbar installed that shows you automatically? If you find that the top results are highly relevant and detailed, that there are a lot of results or that their PageRanks are all very high, you may want to target a different keyword phrase or string (by inputting your keywrod phrase into Overture and going ‘one level deeper’ to add another keyword to the phrase). If not and you have found something worth targetting, then write a post about 

(3) Your post should contain the keyword phrase or string in the headline (e.g. Cool Modified Race Cars) and should repeat key words or phrases in the body text as often as possible. Also, if possible, encourage people link to that post using the anchor/title text that matches your keywords of choice (e.g. modified race cars).

(4) Check your results for keyword density using a Keyword Density Calculator. Most people suggest shooting for a density of between three and five percent. That can be quite difficult (five percent in this case would mean that your phrase should be 1/20th of the text, which means integrating it into almost every sentence!). Try to mix things up – rearrange the order of the keywords and where they fall in the text. And above all: make sure the content isn’t comprimised while you are going for keyword density!

Once you get the hang of this system it is pretty easy to use. It is also a good way for bloggers who are having writer’s blog to figure out new topics related to their core issues of interest. Best of all, SEO brings in search traffic which can give new life to a blog that has a set readership. Finally, SEO also means that if your SMO strategies every fail you have something to fall back on!

WebUrbanist.com is a hot new blog that has really hit the ground running – covering everything from online ‘societies’ to real-life design. Straightforward and engaging text is blended expertly with eye-popping imagery and stellar links. In one short week the site has covered really cool and interesting guerilla marketing campaigns as well as creative and diverse urban street art. In contast but in parallel, the site’s authors have also written about the controversial Google Street View and posted scandalous images from it as well as documenting the incredible readership of the Wikimedia Foundation that runs Wikipedia. Perhaps most amazingly, the site has already gotten link love from a variety of blogs and news sites, including the popular PR7 CNet! The site is definitely worth checking out and well worth subscribing to – as each new post is carefully crafted by one or more experienced authors and really contains a vast amount of interesting images and content.