SEPTEMBER 25, 2015
This story originally appeared on PR Newswire’s Small Business PR Toolkit
In general, two types of successful content exist: Topical content that is relevant now and will lose its influence over time, and evergreen content that is pertinent now and will continue to be in the future. While both are important components of a content strategy, evergreen allows a brand to re-use, reshare and repurpose the same information, saving both time and resources while increasing the amount of traffic the website and business receive.
Create evergreen content with:
According to Internet Live Stats, Google processes over 3.5 billion searches per day. A significant number of those are inquiring how to accomplish a task. “How-to” guides and tutorials can perpetually provide valuable answers. Tackle challenges that will continue to be relevant in the future, with solutions that will remain the same. A guide on how to change a lightbulb, for example, is and will continue to be accurate and important to residents new to DIY chores. And if the content is tailored to a certain skill level, it’s recommended to clarify that information in the title. For instance, specify if your tutorial on a software program is for beginners or for experts.
Interview industry experts and influencers. Interviews are a great form of evergreen content because they’re not only timeless but also simple to repurpose. Take the podcast or video and convert its content into a blog, white paper, ebook or PowerPoint presentation.
Because answers to questions regarding the practices and standards of a company as well as industry terms rarely change, FAQ and glossary pages are ideal for evergreen website content. According to PlainLanguage.gov, readers complain about jargon more than any other writing fault. So when creating term definitions, be as clear and straightforward as possible so every reader can understand the information and won’t reference another source instead.
When providing historical content either about the industry or the brand, avoid using adverbs of time. For example, using words like “last year” or “recently” will quickly cause the content to be inaccurate and outdated. Instead, use the actual date that the historical event took place.
“Top 10” lists of topics that aren’t time-sensitive are not only perennial but also very easy for readers to digest since the information is concisely broken down and organized. Lists can vary from a compilation of industry resources or tools to the best and worst practices of a particular subject or technique.
Because evergreen material will remain pertinent, new users will continue to find and reference the already established content, which will increase traffic and visibility over time. In fact, according to a case study conducted by Moz.com, creating perpetually relevant content improves a brand’s website traffic, overall growth and reputation as an authority.
SEPTEMBER 25, 2015This story originally appeared on PR Daily
On a recent trip to New York, I took the opportunity to attend a digital publishing summit that brought together key digital players including The Huffington Post, The Onion, Buzzfeed and others to discuss trends in publishing. I was interested to learn more about how the media landscape is changing as a result of digital.
Changing reader habits, geared towards a preference for consuming media online and through devices, have led to the decline of print and a subsequent decline in revenue for media outlets. Unsurprisingly, the number one issue up for discussion at the conference was revenue models, most predominately native advertising.
Is the wall between editorial and advertising coming down?
Many critics suggest that native advertising has led to one of the most significant shifts of our times, the gradual breakdown of the wall that used to exist between editorial and advertising. Editorial has never stood completely independent (after all we have a whole industry, public relations, which has given interest groups a platform through editorial), the line has certainly begun to blur.
On the other hand, one could also argue that native advertising leads to more transparency about corporate interests, unlike public relations where corporate interests are buried in editorial. Critics could argue that indeed the wall remains intact.
What does this mean for public relations practitioners?
In any event, native advertising is already sending earned media opportunities into decline. We’re already seeing fewer opportunities to secure media coverage for clients through traditional means—pitching for interviews, guest blogging, op eds, media releases etc.—without paying for it.
What does this mean for today’s public relations practitioner? Practitioners must be well versed in digital, social, content and paid media. Borrowing the tactics of other disciplines is now the norm. This doesn’t mean, however, that public relations doesn’t have its place.
Ultimately, public relations brings to the table a crucial focus on understanding target audience and crafting messages and content which cuts through with that audience. This is also paramount for a sound content, digital or social strategy. Public relations also understands the unique role of a brand’s reputation and credibility, which goes beyond simply building brand awareness.
Native advertising won’t mean the end of public relations, but it will mean that public relations will start to look very different.
Google is upgrading its quantum computer. Known as the D-Wave, Google’s machine is making the leap from 512 qubits—the fundamental building block of a quantum computer—to more than a 1000 qubits. And according to the company that built the system, this leap doesn’t require a significant increase in power, something that could augur well for the progress of quantum machines.
Together with NASA and the Universities Space Research Association, or USRA, Google operates its quantum machine at the NASA Ames Research center not far from its Mountain View, California headquarters. Today, D-Wave Systems, the Canadian company that built the machine, said it has agreed to provide regular upgrades to the system—keeping it “state-of-the-art”—for the next seven years. Colin Williams, director of business development and strategic partnerships for D-Wave, calls this “the biggest deal in the company’s history.” The system is also used by defense giant Lockheed Martin, among others.
Though the D-Wave machine is less powerful than many scientists hope quantum computers will one day be, the leap to 1000 qubits represents an exponential improvement in what the machine is capable of. What is it capable of? Google and its partners are still trying to figure that out. But Google has said it’s confident there are situations where the D-Wave can outperform today’s non-quantum machines, and scientists at the University of Southern California have published research suggesting that the D-Wave exhibits behavior beyond classical physics.
Over the life of Google’s contract, if all goes according to plan, the performance of the system will continue to improve. But there’s another characteristic to consider. Williams says that as D-Wave expands the number of qubits, the amount of power needed to operate the system stays roughly the same. “We can increase performance with constant power consumption,” he says. At a time when today’s computer chip makers are struggling to get more performance out of the same power envelope, the D-Wave goes against the trend.
A quantum computer operates according to the principles of quantum mechanics, the physics of very small things, such as electrons and photons. In a classical computer, a transistor stores a single “bit” of information. If the transistor is “on,” it holds a 1, and if it’s “off,” it holds a 0. But in quantum computer, thanks to what’s called the superposition principle, information is held in a quantum system that can exist in two states at the same time. This “qubit” can store a 0 and 1 simultaneously.
Two qubits, then, can hold four values at any given time (00, 01, 10, and 11). And as you keep increasing the number of qubits, you exponentially increase the power of the system. The problem is that building a qubit is a extreme difficult thing. If you read information from a quantum system, it “decoheres.” Basically, it turns into a classical bit that houses only a single value.
D-Wave believes it has found a way around this problem. It released its first machine, spanning 16 qubits, in 2007. Together with NASA, Google started testing the machine when it reached 512 qubits a few years back. Each qubit, D-Wave says, is a superconducting circuit—a tiny loop of flowing current—and these circuits are dropped to extremely low temperatures so that the current flows in both directions at once. The machine then performs calculations using algorithms that, in essence, determine the probability that a collection of circuits will emerge in a particular pattern when the temperature is raised.
Reversing the Trend
Some have questioned whether the system truly exhibits quantum properties. But researchers at USC say that the system appears to display a phenomenon called “quantum annealing” that suggests it’s truly operating in the quantum realm. Regardless, the D-Wave is not a general quantum computer—that is, it’s not a computer for just any task. But D-Wave says the machine is well-suited to “optimization” problems, where you’re facing many, many different ways forward and must pick the best option, and to machine learning, where computers teach themselves tasks by analyzing large amount of data.
D-Wave says that most of the power needed to run the system is related to the extreme cooling. The entire system consumes about 15 kilowatts of power, while the quantum chip itself uses a fraction of a microwatt. “Most of the power,” Williams says, “is being used to run the refrigerator.” This means that the company can continue to improve its performance without significantly expanding the power it has to use. At the moment, that’s not hugely important. But in a world where classical computers are approaching their limits, it at least provides some hope that the trend can be reversed.
Most people in today’s business world value their time off. Whether it is weekends, days off or vacations, they want to get away. Numerous studies have shown the value of time off as it relates to both health and productivity. Why would I want to buy and run an existing business that denies me this?
If you are an owner/operator and lose income every time you take time off, your business is your job. It pays you well (or well enough). As long as you are working, you make money but when you take off, you don’t. This makes it very hard for you to step away and relax, even for a day, much less a week. To a buyer, your business is a very demanding job. If there is no apparent way for them to improve your situation, why should they proceed? While it may provide solid income to…
“With all the crazy stuff that you do, how do you find your focus?” A dear friend ask me this questions recently and I never really thought about it because I just always had too many irons in the fire and learned to juggle.
Over the past 20 years or so the buzz word in employment has been ‘multi tasking’. If you look at job postings, you will invariably notice that each includes a phrase similar to ‘must be able to effectively handle multiple projects and objectives’. The problem is that science has proven we are not effective at multi-tasking and it actually reduces productivity.
While we are always going to be inundated with tasks at work or home, we can learn to become more productive by learning to FOCUS.
FOCUS: Follow One Course Until Success
FOCUS is the new trend towards single-tasking and it is showing good results. It…
I have resigned from a 20 year career in tech. For many reasons, I decided to flip some tables in 2015. I have some not yet coherent observations on this that I will share in case they help others. I benefitted greatly from others’ posts on their decisions to leave tech and how they did so, and would like to pay it forward.
“This is my last tech job.”
A few months ago, a thought struck me out of nowhere. It was not a particularly bad day at work and there was nothing obviously awful going on. I simply thought “This is my last tech job” with absolute certainty. If I were a person of faith this might make more sense, in that it may have seemed like “a message,” but I simply observed it and thought “Huh! Ain’t that something.”
The thing about print adverts was that they stayed where they were. Photo by Bethan on Flickr.
TL:DR: when Apple’s iOS 9 comes out in September, there’s going to be a dramatic uptake of ad blockers on iOS – and it’s going to have far-reaching effects not just on websites and advertisers, but potentially also on the balance in mobile platforms and even on Google’s revenues.
Now, the longer version.
In the old days, adverts appeared in print, on the radio and on the TV. Most ad-supported news organisations that have shifted to the internet began in print.
Ads in print were straightforward. Advertisers bought space, and editors could turn them down, or sometimes decide not to run them if a story broke that would bring about an awkward juxtaposition of, say, the advert for a shoe store on page 3 and the big breaking story now…
But one theme in advertising that has been bothering me lately is this: That to be ordinary – to be anything remotely like anyone else – is unacceptable.
Advertising is something I try not to pay too much attention to, mainly because when I look at most ads the standards they imply through photos such as those above strike me as unfair and unrealistic. Like a strange pseudo-reality, or a fictional narrative in which one has to suspend one’s disbelief to get very far, ads frustrate me from how removed they often are from everyday life.
1. BETA READERS for my fictional writings and novels and (if you wish) the poetry and songs that I intend to publish. I want only brutally honest opinions, and I want a wide range of readers/reader-types. (There will be no pay but I will exchange favors and see to it that you are provided with free copies of the finished works). Confidentiality regarding my writings will be expected of course, and I will restrict my beta readers to maybe 6 to 8 people, but I will treat you right. If you are interested in reading my literary writings, my popular fiction, my poetry, my song lyrics and my other Work then please visit my Literary Blog Wyrdwend at this link: https://wyrdwend.wordpress.com/category/my-writings-and-work/
2.A good, decent, hard-working, and ambitious LITERARY AGENT (to match myself). If you are interested in…
You may be familiar with our traditional reports, testimonies, and legal decisions, but do you know about our technology assessments? Today’s WatchBlog explains them before highlighting our recent look at 3D printing.
An April 13th, 2015 outlaw.com article entitled, “Industry 4.0 and the technological revolution in manufacturing – developments in Germany” http://www.out-law.com/en/articles/2015/april/industry-40-and-the-technological-revolution-in-manufacturing–developments-in-germany/ discussed the increasing efficacy at which smart technology is assisting manufacturers in their complex processes. This new internet of things weaves all aspects of business and process together, from machine to machine to communication, real time process implementation, and artificial technology. This allows companies and employees to view their operations from a more holistic stance and cut through the slog of everyday processes. Industry 4.0 allows the product being manufactured to talk to the machines to provide a better result with quicker results. The article delves into technology ranging from smart gloves to drones to robotics to customized manufacturing.
According to an article posted on September 10th, 2015 in The Street, (http://www.thestreet.com/story/13281861/1/5-robotics-stocks-to-watch-the-droids-you%E2%80%99re-looking-for.html) robots could soon be doing much more than just assembling your car or cleaning house, they could also be included in your investment portfolio. The Boston Consulting Group believes that the rapid growth in the robotics industry will be due to several factors. Currently robots perform roughly 10% of all manufacturing tasks, but they believe that number will jump to 25% by 2025. By the same year, they estimate that automation will cut manufacturing costs by 18-33% and increase productivity by 30% in countries such as South Korea, China, Japan, Germany, and the US. They also state that it’s not only the reduction in labor costs that’s increasing the trend in automation, it’s that the actual price of robots is decreasing over time. For example, the cost of an advanced robotic spot welder…
There are signs all around us indicating that the field of robotics is going through a major transformation. Robots are getting significant coverage in the media. A number of big companies that had little to do with robotics are suddenly on a buying spree to acquire robot companies. Countries that were not on anyone’s radar screen just few years ago are now emerging as major players in the robotics arena. Many design and operational constraints associated with robots are being obliterated by, among other things, the use of cloud computing and social media. Costs are falling rapidly, enabling new applications. Even the notion of what was considered a robot is changing fast. All these signs seem to point that robotics is on the verge of something big that can hopefully impact our lives in a positive way.
This post lists six main trends and discusses their implications.
Article written by Angela Hydes, Marketing and Content Contributor. Follow us at@TALGroup.
According to the U.S. Census, the average commute time in the US is 25.4 minutes – and that’s only one way. Similarly, the average commute in Canada is 25 minutes even. Factoring in this being a two way trip (unless you sleep at the office?), this would mean North Americans are spending approximately an hour in commute each day.
If you have the commute blues, the statistics below might brighten your day a bit. Business Insiderput together a list of the top 10 cities in America with the ultimate worst traffic jams. Is your city on this list? If so, you may want to consider relocating somewhere else.
Those living in Los Angeles… I seriously don’t know how you do it.
If you’re Canadian and wondering where your commute stacks up, check out the infographic…
As you know from previous blogs, Bernard Means, PhD., who heads up the Virtual Curation Laboratory and is an Instructor of Anthropology and Advisor for the Virtual Archaeology Scanning Team (VAST) at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia is working with AntiquityNOW on The Slavery Project. He and Shirley K. Gazsi, president of AntiquityNOW, will be presenting the project at the National Council for the Social Studies Conference in New Orleans, LA in November. The Slavery Project (TSP) is an ongoing, interactive series of modules that incorporates lesson plans along select historical plot lines detailing slavery in a particular society during a specific period. TSP is designed to provide students an immersive experience where a culture is explored according to the social, cultural, political and economic conditions of the time. Lessons will include the use of Minecraft and 3D printing.
Tech entrepreneur Trisha Prabhu is already changing the world. The 15-year-old innovator is the creator of a scientifically proven and award-winning app called ReThink, an app geared towards stopping cyber-bullying.
In 2013, after hearing about 12-year old Rebecca Sedwick’s suicide due to cyber-bullying, Prabhu set out to find a solution. On her website, Prabhu states that she has “always been fascinated by the inner workings of the brain and how it impacts our lives…[ReThink] stops cyber-bullying at the source before the damage is done.”
Once the software is installed on a computer or smart-phone, it “uses patented context sensitive filtering technology” to determine whether or not a post an adolescent is about to post is offensive. Prabhu told ABC News that the technology is able to “understand the difference between ‘I hate Chicago’s weather,’ and ‘I hate you,’ because those are two different scenarios.”
We live in an age of disruption — industries will be transformed. This post (part 2 of 3) is a quick look at three multibillion-dollar industries (consumer electronics, education, retail) that are ripe for disruption this decade as a result of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Read last week’s post (part 1) here. Consumer Electronics — Displays/Screens. Today, displays (or screens) are everywhere. Your phone, computer, tablet, 50-inch living room TV, watch, etc. all use electronic displays to present digital information and entertaining content to your eyes, all day long. Most of these displays are fragile, typically glass, and expensive. The display market is projected to top $155 billion in 2020, dominated by companies like Apple, Samsung, LG and Sony. But this is about to change, disruptively. …..[READ]
One fine Saturday evening I was having a nice get together with my friends on WHATSAPP ( read ‘digital get together’ 😀 ) when I received an update alert. I thought:
“What could be the next big makeover after the whole enigmatic environment touch to the look and feel ?”
I accepted the challenge and the update started.
Later, I saw my Dad’s message with a thumbs up emoji. There was something different about it. So, I took the pain of going through the emoji dictionary to find out if there is any problem with my screen resolution or it is just one of Whatsapp’s new shenanigans. I discovered the unexpected.
Where the rest of the smileys were perfectly fine, the human manifestation of the emojis had sub choices and to my bewilderment – the choices were of different skin colors. Don’t believe me ? Just update yours and see…
Don’t limit yourself, think big and continue to pursue your dreams and aspirations. Stay away from anyone who tells you it can’t be done, negative people will always try and keep you at their level. Rise above it all and find like minded individuals who will encourage and support your vision. Great things are are in store for those who never give up! It’s Thursday, get up, get out, and Go Get It! #TeamGoGetIt
It is now apparent that when the SpaceX rocket carrying two Microsoft HoloLens headsets exploded minutes after take off back in June, project manager Jeff Norris wasn’t having any of it. Orbital Sciences, the aerospace company tasked with supplying those aboard the space station with the next-gen headgear, have certified the items for another launch and aim to have them all wrapped up and ready for Christmas after their ascent on December 3rd.
Astronauts will use the HoloLens technology to work with experts on the ground in completing various unfamiliar tasks. Augmented reality instruction manuals as well as software that allows a real-time projection of scientists’ drawing over the visual field of the astronaut aim to reduce the time required to undertake new tasks. We’re on our way to realising the scenes dreamt up by 80’s sci-fi nerds, even if a lot of the tech will be used for having…
I have observed that engineers, accountants, architects and other professionals who put many long, hard hours not only into their profession, but into continuing educations to maintain their skills in the marketplace. Makes perfect sense: to succeed and advance in today’s workplace you must maintain and hone your skills and knowledge.
Why do these same professionals think that inventing, as a profession, would be any less demanding and challenging? But they do!
I frequently encounter new inventors who ask questions like:
Do I really need to file a patent? – You do if you are serious about your product.
Is one prototype enough? – No, why do you even ask?
How soon can I get paid if I submit my idea? – Never!
They always seem rather disappointed that they cannot simply sketch out an idea on a piece of paper, make one or two phone calls and have people knocking at…
I have recently become something of an expert in both 3-D Printing technology and Drone technology as I will soon have start-ups running in both fields/technologies. So I found this article interesting.
Successful people often exude confidence—it’s obvious that they believe in themselves and what they’re doing. It isn’t their success that makes them confident, however. The confidence was there first.
Think about it:
Doubt breeds doubt. Why would anyone believe in you, your ideas, or your abilities if you didn’t believe in them yourself?
It takes confidence to reach for new challenges. People who are fearful or insecure tend to stay within their comfort zones. But comfort zones rarely expand on their own. That’s why people who lack confidence get stuck in dead-end jobs and let valuable opportunities pass them by.
Unconfident people often feel at the mercy of external circumstances. Successful people aren’t deterred by obstacles, which is how they rise up in the first place.
No one is stopping you from what you want to accomplish but yourself. It’s time to remove that barrier of self-doubt.
Confidence is a crucial building block in a successful career, and embracing it fully will take you places you never thought possible. With proper guidance and hard work, anyone can become more confident. Once you pass a certain point, you’ll feel it from the inside.
Here are eight bulletproof strategies to get you there.
1. Take an honest look at yourself.
Johnny Unitas said, “There is a difference between conceit and confidence. Conceit is bragging about yourself. Confidence means you believe you can get the job done.” In other words, confidence is earnedthrough hard work, and confident people are self-aware. When your confidence exceeds your abilities, you’ve crossed the line into arrogance. You need to know the difference.
True confidence is firmly planted in reality. To grow your confidence, it’s important to do an honest and accurate self-assessment of your abilities. If there are weaknesses in your skill set, make plans for strengthening these skills and find ways to minimize their negative impact. Ignoring your weaknesses or pretending they’re strengths won’t make them go away. Likewise, having a clear understanding of your strengths enables you to shake off some of the more groundless feedback and criticism you can get in a busy, competitive work environment—and that builds confidence.
2. Say no.
Research conducted at the University of California in San Francisco showed that the more difficulty that you have saying no, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout, and even depression, all of which erode confidence. Confident people know that saying no is healthy, and they have the self-esteem to make their nos clear. When it’s time to say no, confident people avoid phrases such as “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” They say no with confidence because they know that saying no to a new commitment honors their existing commitments and gives them the opportunity to successfully fulfill them.
3. Get right with your boss.
A troubled relationship with the boss can destroy even the most talented person’s confidence. It’s hard to be confident when your boss is constantly criticizing you or undermining your contributions. Try to identify where the relationship went wrong and decide whether there’s anything you can do to get things back on track. If the relationship is truly unsalvageable, it may be time to move on to something else.
Confident people tend to challenge themselves and compete, even when their efforts yield small victories. Small victories build new androgen receptors in the areas of the brain responsible for reward and motivation. This increase in androgen receptors increases the influence of testosterone, which further increases your confidence and your eagerness to tackle future challenges. When you have a series of small victories, the boost in your confidence can last for months.
5. Find a mentor.
Nothing builds confidence like a talented, experienced person showing you the way and patting you on the back for a job well done. A good mentor can act as a mirror, giving you the perspective you need to believe in yourself. Knowledge breeds confidence—knowing where you stand helps you focus your energy more effectively. Beyond that, a mentor can help educate you on some of the cultural inner workings of your organization. Knowing the unwritten rules of how to get things done in your workplace is a great confidence booster.
6. Schedule exercise.
A study conducted at the Eastern Ontario Research Institute found that people who exercised twice a week for 10 weeks felt more competent socially, academically, and athletically. They also rated their body image and self-esteem higher. Best of all, rather than the physical changes in their bodies being responsible for the uptick in confidence, it was the immediate, endorphin-fueled positivity from exercise that made all the difference. Schedule your exercise to make certain it happens, and your confidence will stay up.
7. Dress for success.
Like it or not, how we dress has a huge effect on how people see us. Things like the color, cut, and style of the clothes we wear—and even our accessories—communicate loudly. But the way we dress also affects how we see ourselves. Studies have shown that people speak differently when they’re dressed up compared to when they’re dressed casually. To boost your confidence, dress well. Choose clothing that reflects who you are and the image you want to project, even if that means spending more time at the mall and more time getting ready in the morning.
8. Be assertive, not aggressive.
Aggressiveness isn’t confidence; it’s bullying. And when you’re insecure, it’s easy to slip into aggressiveness without intending to. Practice asserting yourself without getting aggressive (and trampling over someone else in the process). You won’t be able to achieve this until you learn how to keep your insecurities at bay, and this will increase your confidence.
Bringing it all together
Your confidence is your own to develop or undermine. Confidence is based on reality. It’s the steadfast knowledge that goes beyond simply “hoping for the best.” It ensures that you’ll get the job done—that’s the power of true confidence.
Value for money is a total, utter and complete myth. The fact that people use the phrase “value for money” means they have no idea what their product or service is worth.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you are in the desert, and you have a lunchbox with a single sandwich in it, and there is a man walking across the desert who is absolutely starving. He has been out in the desert for days, trying to find his way back to civilisation. Then, he spies you and moves in your direction and asks for help.
Now, what you are unaware of is that this man has a money clip with $10,000 in it. He obviously can’t eat the money, but once he meets you and sees your sandwich, he immediately offers you his entire money clip for your single sandwich. Imagine that: a $10,000 sandwich!
Income inequality refers to the extent to which income is distributed in an uneven manner among a population (inequality.org). In a report by Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), gross domestic product per person has grown in 19 core OECD countries by a total of 28 percent, but would have grown by 33 percent over the same period if inequality had not increased after 1985. As well as meaning that the lower income citizens in a country benefit less from growth, this also affects growth in countries as it undermines education for disadvantaged individuals as well as hampers skill development.
In the world today, Slovenia acts superior to the rest of the world when income inequality is called into question with a gini coefficient of 0.249 whilst South Africa has the highest income inequality with 0.65. United Kingdom (UK) is relatively income unequal and has a gini coefficient of…
One of the start-up world’s favorite words, in addition to disrupt, pivot, and on-demand, is community. Kickstarter identifies as “a community of people committed to bringing new things to life.” “The heart and soul of Etsy,” begins the About Etsy page, “is our global community.” Airbnb calls itself “the world’s leading community-driven hospitality company.” You’re not, in other words, just joining a platform where you can fund your screenplay, or hawk your hand-knit iPhone koozies, or rent your apartment — no, you’re belonging to something bigger than yourself.
But back in 2009, perhaps before the word had lost all meaning, a small-time-invention start-up called Quirky built a community that really acted like one. It told the first-world-problem solver in all of us — the one who thought up single-serve French-fry-makers and foldable coffee mugs and musical footballs while out walking the dog — that she no longer had to innovate in a vacuum. Anybody could join. On Quirky’s website, users would assess and workshop each other’s inventions. The most successful ideas, as determined by a vote, would be designed and built by the company. In some cases, the inventors made a lot of money. And it is for that tiny dreamer that the company’s recent death spiral feels like a true loss.
It all came to a head on what seemed like a typical Thursday evening this July, during the weekly Quirky ritual known as Eval. A studio audience of about 100 people gathered in the company’s former-rail-car-terminal headquarters in Chelsea. Lit by webcams from above and a bank of futuristic equipment behind, Quirky’s 28-year-old founder, Ben Kaufman, stood at a lectern in his usual black V-neck tee and announced a panel of product-evaluation experts by nickname: Anna “Make a Buck” Buchbauer, Justin “J-Bomb” Seidenfeld, Aaron Dignan, a.k.a. El Presidente. Ideas submitted and voted on by the Quirky community — watching the livestream from their living rooms — were presented via pitch videos and commentary from Kaufman: a voice-activated lightbulb, a paper-thin Bluetooth speaker that fits in your back pocket, an on-the-go beverage carbonator. The masterminds who won majority approval would hear the rallying mantra “Congratulations, you’re a Quirky inventor!” and have the chance to be like fellow Eval winner Garthen Leslie, a 63-year-old IT consultant from Columbia, Maryland. Leslie came up with the idea of a smart air conditioner during his morning commute, uploaded a rough diagram of the idea to the Quirky platform, and found the community waiting to help him refine it, suggesting additional features and weighing in on the sizing, specs, and the name, which would be Aros. And keeping with Quirky’s leave-the-rest-to-us business model, the company then patented, manufactured, marketed, and sold the unit into Walmart and Amazon, returning 10 percent of the profits to the inventor and those that played Watson to his Graham Bell (in this exceptional case, that’s amounted to more than $400,000 for Leslie and more than $200,000 for the community).
But this Thursday, July 16, it would turn out, was not an ordinary Eval. In fact, it would be the next to last one Kaufman ever did. Following the broadcast, he tacked on what he called an “after-party” — a.k.a. a crisis-management session aimed at addressing recent bad press that the company had gotten. In June, in a sweaty interview onstage at the Fortune Brainstorm conference, Kaufman admitted the company was all but “out of money,” which had once amounted to $185 million in funding from investors like Andreessen Horowitz and GE. In July came the news that nearly the entire New York City staff would be laid off. By August 1, Kaufman would officially step down from the company he started at age 22. It so happened that for every Aros-type success, the community had waved in many more duds like the Beat Booster, a wireless speaker with a built-in charging station that by one account cost the company $388,000 to develop but only sold about 30 units.
It’s not surprising that Kaufman used the word transparency no fewer than three times in the first five minutes of that after-party, the bottom line of which was that he frankly didn’t know if the company would survive — Quirky’s fate was in the investors’ hands. Because, for all the aspirational, rarefied Bushwick-bar vibes telegraphed by the Evals, Quirky was, of course, all about being real. Its cluster of a million members included folks like — to cite some of the most recent inventors featured on the website — Tony Lytle, a welder and proud grandfather from Larwill, Indiana, who’d dreamed up the Pawcett, a step-on drinking fountain for dogs; and Hadar Ferris, a licensed cosmetologist in Oceanside, California, responsible for decorative muffin-top molds called Bake Shapes; and Pennsylvania-based Navy veteran Jason Hunter, who gave birth to the Porkfolio app-enabled piggy bank. (In the age of artisanal everything, just as we want to know where our pickles were brined and our former-church-pew coffee tables were carved, here, too, was the meaningful personal backstory behind your magnetic bottle opener.)
A few weeks after he was ousted, Kaufman emailed with me from his first-ever personal email account: “It’s weird waking up one day and not even having an email address,” he later said on the phone. “This had been my whole life.” He was a small-time inventor himself at first, for a range of iPod accessories he started in high school that went on to become the company Mophie. At the 2007 Macworld Expo, he handed out pens and sketchpads and asked people to help design Mophie’s 2007 product line (sound familiar?) and then held a vote for the top three ideas. That same year, he sold Mophie, reappropriated the Macworld crowdsourcing schtick, and tried to launch a similar concept to Quirky. What helped Quirky finally get off the ground in 2009 was the recession-driven push for alternative incomes (no coincidence that Kickstarter as well as the entrepreneur-competition show Shark Tank, another bastion of scrappy innovation, also launched in 2009). Plus, there was more of a universal comfort with the practice of online sharing: We were now very used to telling our Facebook friends what we ate for breakfast, and by extension, we might as well tell the Quirky forum about our concept for a better egg-yolk extractor. Our notion of community, then, was evolving, and Kaufman — Mark Zuckerberg wrapped in a teddy-bear build, with the mischievous smile of your son or younger brother (depending on where you fell in Quirky’s wide-ranging age demographics) — was a relatable leader.
On the consumer end, seeing these ordinary tinkerers immortalized on the shelves of the Container Store (a big Quirky perk was that inventors’ names and faces appeared on their products’ packaging) was like watching the Spanx lady on QVC for the first time in the early aughts — a humble fax-machine salesperson from Clearwater, Florida, who just wanted to wear control-top pantyhose without the hose. Inventors were just like us! And now everybody could be the Spanx lady (albeit for only a tiny fraction of the profits), because unlike her, we didn’t have to side-hustle all alone. Next it could be my cousin in Westchester, who had four kids but no one to help her prototype her idea for a mother-baby bath towel. Next it could be my semi-retired father, who was in a private war with his never-shuts-properly pantry door and needed a constructive, supportive outlet for his aggression. Next it could be my friend Sarah, who was full of lightbulb moments — an Oreo-dunking robot claw, a universal key for all your locks — but was too stoned to sort through the mechanics by herself.
Quirky was catnip for the press: The Sundance Channel produced a short-lived reality show on the company in 2011. Kaufman appeared on Leno. This magazine featured it as a Boom Brand of 2013, noting, “It’s a pretty rare company that’s so hippieish — Let’s have everyone get a say! — yet so purely free-market.” The Times devoted several thousand words to a piece called “The Invention Mob, Brought to You by Quirky” just last February (by then its financially unsustainable business model had given way to a pivot — a smart-home subsidiary called Wink — that was too little too late).\
Another Timespiece, from this past April, cited Quirky as a springboard for the realest of all Real People: older people. “There’s a boom in inventing by people over 50,” John Calvert, the executive director of the United Inventors Association, told the paper. And indeed, Quirky had plenty of them in its hive — like 59-year-old Lorin Ryle, a full-time caretaker for her dementia-stricken mother. When her clip-on baby monitor for the elderly won at Eval, she says she cried, watching from her Hutto, Texas, home. It never actually made it to development (in fact, only about half of the Eval winners ever do), but for Ryle that didn’t take away from the experience of “working with people to make something work,” she says. “I’ve made lifelong friends on there.” (Another Quirky boomer, Marc Rumaner, who came up with a nifty little wine-bottle anchor called Vine Stop, has even gone so far as to host barbecues for fellow community members in his Chicago area.)
Of course, the inmates didn’t always like running the asylum. There was much talk in the forums that the Eval system seemed too democratic. “I failed to see how any of us could know what a product scout from a company like GE or Mattel could know,” says one community member. And indeed, when you look at misfires like the Drift, a $200 wooden balance board that simulates snowboarding and surfing, or the $80 Egg Minder, an app-enabled egg tray that signals to your smartphone when you’re running low on eggs, it would appear that the company’s raison d’être was also the reason for its downfall, a colony of amateurs green-lighting unscalable solutions to nonexistent issues. Quirky brought more than 400 products to market in just six years.
Yet Kaufman points out that the community had much less say than all the high-pressure voting would suggest; the real decisions were made when the cameras stopped rolling and he and the actual experts did the math on a product’s marketability. (So, maybe not so much power to the people, after all.) But, he adds of Eval, “There had to be a thing to look forward to on a regular basis — otherwise how are you going to keep the community engaged?” Quirky steered the ship, you might say, but the community was still the North Star.
Steering the ship — handling all of the engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and retailing, even when you’re taking 90 percent of the subsequent profits — was ultimately too expensive of a proposition, especially in comparison to other, less-handholding-oriented start-ups. “The reason why Kickstarter makes a ton of money is they don’t have to do anything besides put up a website,” Kaufman notes. After that, the failure (and let’s face it, many Kickstarter-funded products go on to fail) is all on the individual. Which is not meant to be a dig, Kaufman clarifies. He won’t confirm his next venture but says, “I love Kickstarter.” And: “I will likely use it.”
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