What do you get when you cross About.com, Wikipedia, blogs and social networks? If you're author and online marketing guru Seth Godin, the answer is Squidoo -- a new company he launched to host Web pages written by experts in various topics
These pages, which he calls lenses, aim to highlight one person's view of a topic and hopefully distill the information into the perfect starting point for researching a given topic. An ideal lens will provide a searcher with the "big picture" on the subject, with annotated links to the most relevant sites on the topic -- similar to the guidance a trusted librarian would offer.
"We're beginning to see the backlash of one-size-fits-all search," Godin told ClickZ News. "There's a real desire to deliver something like what we're doing. Lenses as an idea will survive, whatever happens to Squidoo. This idea of boiling it down and giving people not everything, but just what they need, has a rightful place at the table when people search.
Squidoo will be set up as a co-op, meaning all the lens creators have the potential to share in the revenue generated by ads on their site. Lenses by default will include AdSense text ads, with proceeds going to charity. Lens creators who are in it for more than an ego boost can opt to keep the royalties for themselves, add affiliate links, or link to their own Web sites from the lens.
When Squidoo launches later this month, anyone will be able to create as many lenses as they like. Godin expects that Squidoo will lead enterprising users to take on the task of creating lenses as a full-time job. That's fine with Godin. He thinks it will result in the creation of more quality lenses.
"If a lens generates a couple bucks a day, and you build a hundred of them on a variety of topics, you could quit your day job. Hopefully, there will be a lot of people who'll do that, the way it happened on eBay," Godin said. "People can be in it for the fame, or in it for the money. Very few people will walk away from a growing audience."
A company can create its own lenses, or encourage its employees to do so. Again, Godin expects and encourages this, because it will lead to lenses created by knowledgeable and often passionate experts.
"If Ford asked the 50 people who are working on designing and building the Mustang to build a lens about it, there would be 50 people who love the Mustang writing about it," Godin said. "It's hard for me to think of a company that has a Web site that doesn't need a lens. A lens makes it easier for you to find the stuff that's on the Web site, buried six levels down. Most Web sites, and all blogs, need a lens to help people who have never been there before get started"
When a lens is created, the author chooses the "neighborhood" and "subdivision" where the page will reside. Godin said most people will find the lenses through outside links or in search results, rather than by going through the Squidoo front page.
"We'll expose the lenses in lots of interesting ways so you can see the related lenses right next door," he said. "That's where we differ from Wikipedia. They say there's only one profile for Abraham Lincoln. We're going to have 50 or 500 or 5,000 lenses on Abraham Lincoln, and the world will pick their favorite one."
Lenses will be ranked by Squidoo's LensRank algorithm, which will weigh factors like community ratings, clickthrough rates, recency, number of lenses by the author, and number of outside links. Unlike search engines, which keep their ranking algorithms closely held, LensRank will be transparent, to encourage lens creators to do everything possible to get a high rank.
To combat inevitable spamming of the system, Squidoo will have measures in place to prevent automated lens generation. The bulk of the policing will be done by the community, which will judge each lens by the quality of its content, Godin said.
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Kevin Newcomb joined ClickZ in August 2004, covering search marketing and other online marketing topics. He has been reporting on web-based businesses since 2000.
Before the bubble burst, Kevin was a marketing manager for an online computer reseller, handling copywriting, e-mail marketing, search marketing and running the affiliate program.
With a combination of real-world marketing experience and years of business journalism, Kevin brings to ClickZ a unique ability to deliver news and training materials that help online marketers do their jobs better.