Thought Starters: Content that has got me thinking 7

The following provides a roundup of some of the articles and thought pieces which have got me thinking recently.

Pratik Dholakiya profiles different scientific studies into social media, highlighting some important findings. Among the conclusions are the following: consumer to consumer interactions on Facebook assets that are particularly important in influencing sales; the development of viral content should be framed in terms of retaining as well as expanding your audience; and community activities (eg forums) have a crucial role in contributing to sales when compared to traditional media.

GlobalWebIndex have produced a short report looking at the global penetration of different social networks, which are growing fastest, with regional and age breakdowns.

GWI Social Summary January 2014, Global Web Index

Epidemiological methods are used to predict the future decline of Facebook (apparently significant between 2015 and 2017) by researchers from Princeton University. More information on the research over at AllFacebook although there are some dissenting views.

David Meyer points to over eager social marketers as handicapping the newly launched social network Jelly before its even had a chance to build up a decent audience.

asda-jelly-tiger-bread-250-201_250

Joy of Tech provides a wry take on Google’s recent acquisition of the Nest Labs home automation company.

Joy of Tech

Matt Cutts looks at the demise of guest blogging as it becomes more and more associated with spammy SEO.

Marc Andreessen wrote an essay in the New York Times which gives a welcome introduction into the wider potential of Bitcoins particularly in terms of payments. Glenn Fleishman who has already written an article on Bitcoins for the Economist, wrote a response in Medium to Andreessen’s essay calling out various inaccuracies and/0r inconsistencies. Both are well worth a read.

Whilst there’s been a lot of attention on the monetisation strategies of Line, WeChat and other mobile messaging platforms, WhatsApp continues to grow at a rapid rate according to the latest Mashable report.

WhatsApp Doubles Active Users in 10 Months

GigaOm looks at the case of a business person who was outed as transgender in a investigative report in Grantland which may have contributed to her committing suicide. Aside from the ethics of disclosing someone’s gender, it also points to the ability for stories published online to have a much greater reach and impact than the print equivalent. Christina Kahrl has written a follow on piece in Grantland looking at the mistakes made in the publication of the piece vis-a-vis which is similarly worth a read.

Chris McKinlay took an extraordinarily analytical approach to finding a match on OkCupid. The Wired story makes for an interesting analysis of how big data can be used in a more personal setting.

For those of you who have caught Spike Jonze’s new film Her (which I thoroughly recommend), New York magazine has had a look at how far off we are from having a Samantha like virtual assistant.

 

Medium vs Squarespace vs WordPress

I have been keen to have a blogging platform for publishing more substantial pieces than my Tumblr currently provides. Tumblr can support text based blogging, but its certainly not playing to its strengths (visual content) or its audience.

Initially the plan was to compare Medium and Squarespace but a bit of convincing saw me add WordPress to the list of contenders (there are obviously others but these are the more high profile contenders). All operate in the upper left quadrant of Ben Thompson’s Social/Communication Map, but have some fundamental differences. What you will find below are my first thoughts and observations on these platforms.

Medium

Medium provides a lot of obvious parallels with Tumblr with its ease of use making it extremely easy to jump in and start writing. The designers have put words at the heart of their platform although with support for embedded images and Youtube content. Just don’t expect to be able to present content in a format outside the standard Medium container, with personal branding limited to the left hand icon and the ability to collate your own writings onto one page.

The content is published via a web based WYSIWYG editor, allowing you to quickly get a feel for how the content will appear to viewers with articles published onto a responsive design web template.

Currently writing needs to be done via Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers and posting from mobile devices isn’t currently supported although this is likely to expand to other platforms over time.

Readers of Medium content are given the opportunity to Recommend content, with the most popular content publicised to the wider Medium community.

You will be reassured to find out that Medium doesn’t make any claims on copyright or intellectual property for material published on their platform.

Finally, Medium provides a dashboard which tracks viewership and readership for your content, but it’s nowhere near as detailed as you would get from Google Analytics.
Medium Dashboard

Squarespace

Squarespace aims to provide users with the autonomy of running your own website but without many of the hassles associated with other fully featured publishing platforms.

Squarespace is designed as a content management system solution rather than simply a blogging platform with a range of 24 templates to choose from with selections designed for businesses, portfolios, stores, restaurants and personal sites.

A lot of thought has been put into the layout of Squarespace’s templates, enabling site owners to make strong use of visuals and with responsive designs that adapt to different devices.

The greater flexibility that Squarespace provides in functionality is reflected in Squarespace’s content management system. Users add multiple ‘blocks’ to webpages, enabling a rich array of different content types.

Product Review: SquareSpace CMS, Website Experts
Product Review: SquareSpace CMS, Website Experts

Supporting the platform are a range of tools including image manager, SEO, social media and Dropbox integration, WYSIWYG editor, mobile apps (iOS with Android in development) and a developer platform allowing users to customise the platform.

What really sets Squarespace apart is the relatively closed nature of the platform and the support provided. By operating in a controlled environment (much like Apple’s iOS), Squarespace is able to provide a more user friendly environment where users are unlikely to experience problems with poorly integrated elements. Squarespace also backs up their services with tremendous support with tutorial videos, forums, email and chat support.

The platform provides support for Google Analytics as well as having an analytics package developed specifically for Squarespace .

This kind of service unfortunately doesn’t come for free, with monthly pricing running between $8 and $24 per month.
Squarespace Pricing
Squarespace enables you to export your site’s content in WordPress format, reassuring users concerned about being locked in to a subscription based tool.

Squarespace also gives you the chance to trial the service for a couple of weeks, enabling you to see what you can build before committing more fully to the platform.

WordPress

WordPress provides an open source blogging tool that has subsequently developed into the world’s most popular content management system, which is reflected in the broad range of sites using it.

You can select from a large selection of free and paid for themes (or skins) either via WordPress or a wide selection of independent providers with designs that will fulfill most needs.

Customisation of the website is done via the WordPress dashboard (see below) with the download of plugins enabling additional functionality (social media functionality, analytics etc).
WordPress Dashboard
The open source nature of WordPress has enabled a vibrant community of contributors but unlike Squarespace or Medium, there is no active manager of the platform. This leads to a situation where plugins are inconsistently implemented and supported which can be bewildering for first time users used to the managed landscapes of environments like Squarespace or Tumblr.

Here WordPress leans heavily on the wisdom of the crowd, using user ratings and reviews of different resources to give website developers a steer on what resources are best. You will also find support for the more popular WordPress plugins from an active community of bloggers, as long as you are prepared to spend a bit of time going through Google search results.

WordPress does not natively support WYSIWYG editing of site content although a paid for plugin has recently been launched supporting this functionality.

Site analytics are enabled through integrating Google Analytics.

For those of you looking at WordPress, one of the key questions that you will need to answer is what hosting model you go with.

WordPress.com provides a variety of free and paid for packages with different levels of functionality and support.
WordPress.com Sign up
You also have the option of self hosting using downloaded software from WordPress.org. This requires you to take on responsibility for site hosting and domain registration and will require more technical knowledge or at least the willingness to learn.

There’s also a range of self hosted options including shared hosting, virtual private server,cloud server and dedicated server offering different levels of performance and cost.

The range of options makes it harder to get a clear view on potential pricing. For my own self hosted solution, I am currently paying a US$2.96 monthly fee although costs will go up moderately when I have to pay for the web domain after the first year.

There are also plenty of other opportunities to spend more on a WordPress site with premium themes, security services, storage and backups and developer fees but these are by no means essential.

An Overview

I’ve found the processing of setting up blogs on Medium, Squarespace and WordPress a tremendous learning experience.

Medium has been great for quickly getting words on the screen but you lose the opportunity to do so in an environment you have created. Think of it as like a colouring in picture where you work within the more limited frameworks provided.

Squarespace provides a more user friendly mediated environment for those less comfortable with tinkering and needing more assurance about systems working as designed. Think of it as like Duplo, where you can be sure that the different bricks are always going to slot together in an easy manner.

WordPress provides a less structured environment where much more of the onus for development is typically with the user. It provides a broad range of opportunities with its rich ecosystem, but it will require patience, particularly on the part of first time users. Think of it as like Meccano with the opportunity to create a more tailored solutions, but where getting there isn’t always as easy as simply putting one brick on top of another.

As for me, I am going to continue using Medium and WordPress as blogging platform. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Squarespace for those looking to develop a website or blog, but I am enjoying the challenges (and rewards ) of getting WordPress running as I would like.