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Beta testing: Flavors.me

This afternoon I’ve been playing with and testing Flavors.me, which was pointed out to me by designer Simon Ianson.

The service is currently in private beta but once launched aims to help you create “an elegant website using personal content from around the internet”, ie. help you bring a selection of your social media presences under one roof and for it to look nice. The latter I think is the point as much as the former. The company are citing possible uses as:

  • personal home pages
  • life streaming
  • splash and microsites
  • celebrity fan pages
  • commercial promotion
  • brand marketing

From what I understand the service is being built by Jack Zerby, designer director at Vimeo and his partner in crime Jonathan Marcus, but I should emphasise that the project is not affiliated with Vimeo.

Pages on the site aren’t yet public and unfortunately the demo video (also see it here) isn’t shareable, not sure if that’s purposeful, but I can share this video made by someone else who has tested things out:

And here’s a pic of my test, which took me about 30 minutes to put together – but only because I decided to play with the font colours and background design, and was enjoying things a bit too much. In reality you could get something functional up in about 2 minutes and something more to your tastes up in about 5-10 minutes.

My Flavor.me page

During my experimentation I came across a few minor bugs and the team were impressively quick to respond. From Simon’s experience as well, they seem very keen to get the service right, which is fantastic.

What I like is that it’s simple, brings things together, and does what-it-says-on-the-tin as the results generally look good (although some of the pre-selected colour schemes don’t work for all content). I can see how it could be popular as a personal webpage or the starting point for a celebrity fan site, gathering all the pieces of social media presence together.

However, at the moment there are only six social media services that can be added to your Flavor.me site – Twitter, Flickr, Vimeo, Tumblr, Facebook and Last.fm. Whilst these do cover a wide variety of possible intents and users, it will be interesting to see how the team balance the design of Flavor.me with the desire of users to have more services included.

Simon also pointed out, and I agree, that being able to add your own domain to the service would add great value to the proposition (although, noted, this does add technical complexity). So instead of the URL http://flavor.me/user/kcorrick it could resolve to kathryncorrick.co.uk (or whatever).

I’m not also not sure that as the service currently stands would be something that could withstand the rigours of brand management and marketing: the fonts – whilst funky – are still fairly limited, and only one image can be uploaded, which for a brand would introduce interesting questions regarding logos (it still always comes down to logos, unfortunately).

But I’m sure there is much to come, given that the service I tried is in beta and de-bug mode put together with the obvious keenness by the team to get things right.

UPDATE 19/10/2009: Jack from Flavors.me has been in touch and responded to some of my queries above. Watch this space.

What are markets? A timely reminder

When marketing seems a bit messy, virtual, or removed. When you’re wondering really what’s going on, what you’re doing, imagine this helpful scene:

The first markets were markets. Not bulls, bears, or invisible hands. Not battlefields, targets, or arenas. Not demographics, eyeballs, or seats. Most of all, not consumers.

The first markets were filled with people, not abstractions or statistical aggregates; they were the places where supply met demand with a firm handshake. Buyers and sellers looked each other in the eye, met, and connected. The first markets were places for exchange, where people came to buy what others had to sell — and to talk.

The first markets were filled with talk. Some of it was about goods and products. Some of it was news, opinion, and gossip. Little of it mattered to everyone; all of it engaged someone. There were often conversations about the work of hands: “Feel this knife. See how it fits your palm.” “The cotton in this shirt, where did it come from?” “Taste this apple. We won’t have them next week. If you like it you should take some today.” Some of these conversations ended in a sale, but don’t let that fool you. The sale was merely the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence.

Market leaders were men and women whose hands were worn by the work they did. Their work was their life, and their brands were the names they were known by: Miller, Weaver, Hunter, Skinner, Farmer, Brewer, Fisher, Shoemaker, Smith.

For thousands of years, we knew exactly what markets were: conversations between people who sought out others who shared the same interests. Buyers had as much to say as sellers. They spoke directly to each other without the filter of media, the artifice of positioning statements, the arrogance of advertising, or the shading of public relations.

These were the kinds of conversations people have been having since they started to talk. Social. Based on intersecting interests. Open to many resolutions. Essentially unpredictable. Spoken from the center of the self. “Markets were conversations” doesn’t mean “markets were noisy.” It means markets were places where people met to see and talk about each other’s work.

Conversation is a profound act of humanity. So once were markets.

Words by Doc Searles and David Weinberger
Markets are conversations, Cluetrain Manifesto, Page 74

Written in 1999, still valid today.

The social media influence myth?

If you begin to hang around social media types who are trying to understand the dynamics of social media, influencers and influence get mentioned a lot, as do nodes. This is particularly so discussions lean towards social media’s role within the marketing, advertising and PR mix. (On which note see the slide show by John V Wiltshire in last week’s recommended reads)

So I was interested to read this post by Anthony Mayfield entitled “How advertising distorts brand marketing” and his corresponding slide show (below).

My summary: influence can be a flighty thing.

Anthony also pointed me in the direction of friend Alan Patrick’s site (always nice when that happens), and his outlining of two reports that have recently come out about Twitter and influence, which is also worth your attention if you’re fed up of the LOTS OF FOLLOWERS = LOTS OF INFLUENCE mentality.

And, by, the by, when it comes to measuring influence on Twitter a combination of the tools Twitalyzer and Twitter Grader will probably give you a good a picture as any for free.

UPDATE 10/09/2009: See also Mark Earls post on this topic – Free gift: influence and how things really spread

Six email marketing software services compared

I’m currently planning to start a newsletter (more soon) and so a few weeks ago I put a shout-out on Twitter for service or software recommendations to help me manage the process.

A flurry of responses arrived, including one company who took the time to dig out my email address and email me personally (thank you Alex from delivra.com). I also received several tweets from companies directly, one of whom was rather too enthusiastic and kept pestering me, resulting in my ignoring them. FYI @madmimihelp – can I suggest that one helpful tweet is enough.

Campaign Monitor got a good number of recommendations, which shows it’s still a force to be reckoned with and that it is still the brand leader in the field. It was also one of the companies who tweeted directly (but note, not several times madmimi.com), an indication of good customer service and awareness.

So, the list of possible things to try came to six – a good number to compare – as follows:

For my own purposes I was looking for a service that could handle a small list at a reasonable price, that was easy to use without tech support, that had the option of text only or HTML with a good editor and possibly some customisable templates, that had good list management tools for importing/subscribing/unsubscribing/de-duping, some tracking tools, and that handled data securely.

For fair comparison purposes I only examined what each company claimed about their product on their website, and gathered my list of criteria through reading each site carefully. Many features were standard, such as sending as text-only or HTML, but other features varied more dramatically.

How did each fair?
Here’s the Excel spreadsheet I put together. For reading purposes view full screen. Please contact me if you would like an original copy.

SUMMARY

Mail Chimp 7/10
Great for small to medium sized lists. Nice free option for micro to small lists (0-100 email addresses up to 6 times a month). Good set of plugins for wide number of platforms (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and more). Reporting seems slightly less comprehensive to other SAAS offerings but certainly adequate.

Php List 6/10
Completely free and opensource, the only downloadable product reviewed. Great for people who know what they’re doing and have a friendly techie to hand. Support is via the community and forums. Think of it as the WordPress for email newsletters.

Vertical Response 5/10
Good for professional operations, TypePad users and qualifying non-profits. The lack of widgets/plugins for non-TypePad platforms makes this offering less appealing. Reporting seems very comprehensive. It was not clear how lists were imported into the system from the information available.

Campaign Monitor 8/10
Great for huge lists, agencies, clients. Easy to see why this is the queen of professional email list management. Security and data protection information needs more detail as whilst it seems comprehensive the descriptions are also opaque. No specific mention of compliance standards. Pricing structure off putting for micro-small lists.

Delivra 9/10
Great for developers and large list management as well as those without tech support. This service has some great features such as Lyris integration, real-time tracking, auto trigger management and what looks like a comprehensive API. Security seems to take a high priority. All heavy duty stuff. This is an enterprise level product and possibly over the top for a small list or your average blogger!

Thru Sites 0/10
Thoroughly disappointing. Not enough information given on the site to warrant inquiry. Company would prefer clients to view and understand the product via a demo. No features list available on the site.

And what shall I be testing?
I think I will give Mail Chimp a go as it seems the right fit for what I am trying to do and it’s pricing model is very appealing. It allows me to experiment with how the newsletter will work at a low cost, but has much of the functionality of the bigger players.

Will keep you posted.

With thanks to: @andjdavies, @fractious, @anonymoustom, @WineOfTheWeek, @sparcd, @Paul0Evans1, @gavinwray for all their suggestions.

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UPDATE 18/08/2009: It was looking so promising… Mail Chimp sign-up is optimised for IE.

TIP: do not attempt to use non-domain owned email (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail etc) when signing up, particularly using either FireFox or Opera as the fail messages do not fully display and the page does not seem to function as a result, claiming that it requires cookies to be turned on. To save yourself some time and anxiety (if you can face it), use IE and/or ensure you are using a domain email address eg @kathryncorrick.co.uk.