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November 15, 2006

What's Missing from Squidoo?

Vertbanner01If I have a blog, why do I need a Squidoo lens?

It's a question I've been asking myself since my brother Gannon introduced me to Squidoo, Seth Godin's post-bust brainchild. It's a neat little idea. The lenses are easy to build, and if someone buys something off of your recommendation directly from your lens, you get a little kickback for it, or else the commission goes to charity. I now have two active lenses, I've spent several hours creating them, and I have raised a grand total of 30 cents for charity.

Woo hoo.

Lensmasters can recommend anything on Amazon.com or Overstock.com, which is to say they can recommend pretty much anything that is sold, they can add RSS feeds, links, lists, videos, and many other things that are available elsewhere on the web. It is a personal passion aggregation.

But I am having difficulty figuring out where Web 2.0 comes into all of this, and why Seth Godin is so high on it (other than an understandable emotional attachment to his own idea). Where is the community? Where's the social networking? And what is the benefit users get for participating? While it's possible that one day there could be a great payoff for aggregating content and recommendations like this, right now the buildup is so slow that this Fast Food Nation of ours probably doesn't have the patience or the wherewithal to see it through.

Absent any compensation, I don't mind collecting links and blog posts and book reviews for the sake of benefiting the public. That's one of the reasons I participate in several blogs. But since I can do that on the blogs, does that 30 cents I earned for charity provide enough of an incentive to build many lenses?

What's your opinion? How can Squidoo be improved? Please reserve your comments for constructive criticism. It's easy to lash out at one of the most influential marketing bloggers in existence; it's hard to make something that works.

If you need to lash out, though, you can lash out at my lens: Web Usability and Testing.

- Cam Beck

One Other Thing: If you've built a Squidoo lens, post the address. I'd love to see how other interactive marketers are using this medium, and I'm sure we could all profit from the discussion.

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Comments

Thanks, Cam, for giving it a try and for the thoughtful comments.

I completely agree that community is an essential element to many websites. But that doesn't have to be the primary objective of *every* 2.0 site. In my view, a site that establishes a platform and lets users run it qualifies.

The real answer is this: if you visit my lens (or yours) you quickly discover things that can't be done easily on a blog. Add to that the fact that my dozen or two lenses have raised hundreds of dollars for charity so far (and we just hit 30,000 people like me) and we seem to have something worth doing... we'll see!

What's missing on Squidoo?
As non-American 'Lensmaster' (UK based) I'm miss being able to 'promote' books etc that are only available on Amazon.co.uk.
The popularity of Lenses is growing in the UK also, but we're being 'left-out' in earning properly for charities.
Squidoo is still too U.S.A focused in a WorldWide era

What I like about Squidoo is that it's the best thing online that easily allows me to aggregate different Internet technologies. This is a benefit to me because I like to help people. While I'm not getting rich doing it, I'm enriching others who would like to benefit from my knowledge. I like art so I make lenses about art:

Illustration Lens
Digital Painting
Illustration Demonstration

Additionally, I've benefited from the knowledge of others. Take a look at Bryan Engram's lens on character animation which is pure gold.

Character Animation

As someone who has tested out of college art classes, I think I'm qualified to say that the information in Bryan’s lens is worth thousands of dollars. Squidoo is such a simple concept that I think many people are missing how profound it is to those who love learning from others.

Finally, I think what would make Squidoo more useful is better lenses, not better technology. This takes time, encouragement and maybe a little guidance but I believe Squidoo can change people's lives for the better because sharing knowledge has that power. If you would like to see what I think makes a good lens, check out the lens I created for it:

How to Mentor through Lenses

All I can recommend is that people try it. If you’re trying to get rich, go to Ebay or something. People make money there all the time. If you think your knowledge can make a difference to somebody, try making a lens. You just might have the knowledge someone is desperately looking for.

It's true that you might have knowledge people are looking for, and a lens might help you share that knowledge, but then it's a question of organizing it in a coherent fashion and convincing others to come back and view that
knowledge.

To convince others to go through the syllabus in this manner is to 1) require a level of trust and commitment that is usually reserved for folks like Seth Godin, 2) ask them to adopt an unnatural, linear browsing behavior they're not accustomed to, and then 3) give them no guaranteed return to go with their effort.

As a syllabus, it works. Problem is, as easily as you can demonstrate your artistic prowess, it's tough to sell that you are qualified to teach it to people who don't know you using a medium that does not allow meaningful interaction.

And given that, what's your incentive to return and continuously monitor and update it, once you make a lens? You have your RSS feeds, so presuming you have a blog, that part will get updated and allow you to interact with people, but then the lens becomes this forgotten accessory.

And that's too bad, because it's a neat tool.

Blaming the lack of good lenses for this shortcoming is like sitting around and cursing the darkness when all you need is to turn on the light. You can blame the market for not adopting an unnatural behavior that doesn't serve their needs, but it won't do you any good, in the end. Why not just turn on the light?

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