The Fallacy of Forgetting your Mobile Users

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Smartphones are everywhere these days, and are becoming progressively more and more integral to every aspect of our lives. We spend more than two hours a day engaged with our mobile devices, more time than we spend on desktop and laptop computers combined. But what’s even more important is how people are using them, and what it means for brands and businesses.

For starters, it isn’t just taking over e-commerce, although m-commerce has grown to nearly 20% of all online sales; it’s also making its way into brick-and-mortar stores. The percentage of shoppers using a smartphone to look for information about potential in-store purchases is at a whopping 61%, or more than half of all shoppers. These mobile-influenced shoppers also spent significantly more on average, and mobile commerce has grown by 45-to-50% from 2012 alone! The biggest value-add that the mobile experience gives customers are product information, price comparison, and (of course) customer reviews.

But don’t think for a minute that this means smartphones aren’t indispensable targets for businesses. Virtually all smartphone users are using their devices to get information about local businesses and for purchases while they’re there. In fact:

  • 95% of smartphone owners use their device to look for local information,
  • 77% will contact a local business as a result of what they find,
  • 74% of smartphone shoppers wind up making a purchase either online, in-store, or on their phones,
  • 71% of smartphone users wind up searching on their phone due to ad exposure, and, most importantly,
  • 24% wind up recommending a brand or product to others as a result of smartphone searches.

So, what’s your strategy? No matter how big or small you are, you don’t want to leave it up to organic searches alone.

Are you going to let Google or Bing determine what your customers find? Are you going to let the Walmarts and Amazons and Neiman Marcuses of the world corner the market on a quality mobile experience for their customers? The point is, if you’re ignoring smartphones, you’re ignoring the needs of the majority of customers, and your competition isn’t. If you’re not reaching out to them, someone else will be, even in your own store.

Over the next three years, m-commerce and mobile influenced store sales are projected to more than double, accounting for as much as 15% of all sales. So forget about phones at your own peril, because the companies that wind up growing the fastest won’t.

-Ethan

The Evolution of an Unpredictable Trap: NCAA Probe

I was in the middle of my first week here at Trapit when I came up with the idea of an NCAA Probe Trap. At the time, whispers about a University of Oregon investigation were undoubtedly brewing and the Ohio State scandal had already been rapidly developing. The tightly woven spiral in college football began unraveling, wobbling out of control right before my eyes. It was the perfect opportunity to give the tools of Trapit a test drive to see where this story may go. Nobody could’ve predicted it would get this ugly.

I woke up that eerie morning via text message.

Next thing you know, I am upright in bed, blind as a bat, and opening my laptop without bothering to jump up to put in my contact lenses. Eyebrows inches from the screen, I read the headlines that the head coach of my beloved Oregon Ducks–Chip Kelly–was bound to be the next coach to walk the plank in college athletics. Moment of silence please. Yahoo Sports had just released a second investigative piece detailing the relationship the Ducks football program had with an unofficial street agent Will Lyles. The cold hard facts were startling, and as a diehard Duck grad, the realization that there was no logical explanation for our program’s actions created a fiery concoction of emotions I can’t bare to describe. It stung even worse to see that my NCAA Probe Trap had picked up the Oregon story right away. As a sports fan, as a sports editor, there was no hiding from it.

From the get-go, the NCAA has had a serious case against Oregon. Although there are many gray areas, there is still no doubt about some sort of a case existing there. When the facts emerged about the dated player profiles given, the documented phone records, and Kelly’s suspicious behavior, I decided I could no longer search for a reason to defend our program’s innocence. Instead, I hung my head and harnessed any energy I could muster from this situation into finding hope that the NCAA would have mercy on us when coming to an agreement on our reprimand. I couldn’t stop thinking about how hard the NCAA hammered our fellow conference nemesis USC. Could we really be the next victim to face a post-season ban, just one year removed from the national championship game?

And then it happened. Out of nowhere, we truly became lucky ducks. And who would’ve thought that Yahoo Sports of all institutions would be the ones to come to our rescue after what they had written about us just a month prior. After an eleven-month investigation, Yahoo struck gold for the second time this summer, releasing another groundbreaking article about a university tied to serious NCAA allegations.

This time, the negative light was beaming down on the Miami Hurricanes, and the Ducks were free to fly away from the headlines and start prepping for what truly mattered: LSU.

Seeing this picture posted above was just another day waking up to an absolutely eye-popping story in college sports. Details on the freshly surfaced Miami scandal began to flood my NCAA Probe Trap right off the bat. The Ducks were under fire for a paper trail amounting to a measly $25,000. With the seriousness of Miami’s situation, it was much different. We are talking millions of dollars in off-the-field exchanges. The types of infractions committed were through the roof, above and beyond what any university has done in recent memory. It made sneaky Oregon money look like toilet paper in contrast. There was a bigger picture in college football beginning to come into focus and Yahoo’s story revealed that the problems in college sports were well beyond players interacting with agents and boosters.

According to Yahoo’s little bird–Nevin Shapiro–the rule breaking on South Beach began in 2002, when athletic director Paul Dee was high in the chain of command at the university. Dee stuck around the Miami campus for the next seven years as the acting AD, but continued to turn a blind-eye away from serious infractions being committed by student-athletes year-after-year at Miami. Whether he knew about the dirt being swept under his very own rug or not, it doesn’t take a genius to decipher that Dee highly lacked institutional control over his position at the University of Miami. Dee even had the nerve to boast that all schools should, “have to put in place the kind of institutional control we have at Miami.” A little over a year later, Dee has found himself caught up in one of the biggest scandals in NCAA history, involving over 70 different student-athletes that all played under his watch.

So as Duck fans, why should we care about Dee in the first place? USC has their reasons, and so should we.

Dee’s eventual career move is where the rubber finally meets the road. After Dee stepped down as Miami’s AD in 2008, he graciously accepted a career move as the new chair of the NCAA Committee on Infractions. His first task was to evaluate how the NCAA should handle the investigation of the USC football program after it became public knowledge that the family of ex-Heisman champ Reggie Bush accepted a significant chunk of cash while he was still enrolled in school. As a result, USC was docked thirty scholarships and received a two-year post-season ban, both of which were heavily influenced by Dee’s role in the committee. It was the most harsh NCAA crackdown on a storied football program in decades.

It’s sickening to find out a year later that a complete hypocrite was the muscle man calling the shots on USC’s punishment. Dee’s doctrine was simple: “High profile players demand high profile compliance.” This was an actual quote he used to stand strong behind his decision to keep USC–a team vastly followed by a giant sports market–out of a bowl game for consecutive years. Even though Duck fans loved to watch the USC empire crumble, the baton passed over to us always felt like it was done in uncomfortable way.

It’s time for the NCAA to call off the dogs and take a hard look in the mirror at the monster that they have created. As fans, we are supposed to be able to expect that there is nothing but a trustworthy, unbiased governing body making the tough decisions that affect college sports. This is especially important when we are talking about decisions that could potentially break the hearts of millions of people that would be crushed to see to their team’s season lose its meaning. There is no hiding it now, the comittee made an awful mistake by allowing Dee to punish USC in such a brutal fashion. The NCAA absolutely cannot afford to make a mistake like that again…at least not while the heat is on them.

As a Duck fan, the realization that the NCAA took a step backward with Dee’s leadership debaucle is a beautiful thing. It bought us time. The credibility of the NCAA has been crippled, and they are getting hammered about this very truth in the media. And rest assured, journalists will be keeping a critical eye on the methods of future NCAA investigations from here on out.

For now, Duck fans can breathe a heavy sigh of relief, because in the current state of affairs, there is a little stench in everyone’s corner at this point. How can anyone point a finger right now? Let’s just put this NCAA Probe to rest, and play some football already.

Quack!

-Geoff

The Dos and Don’ts of Sharing Content on LinkedIn

Gone are the days when buyers had to approach salespeople to research a company’s products and services. Now, buyers do most of their research online, and with more information at their fingertips than ever before, buyers are annoyed by pushy salespeople and their constant pitches.

To adapt, sales reps have had to change their approach. Instead of being cold pitchers, they’ve had to become teachers. As a result, the first chapter in the modern playbook involves educating through content. Not sure how to do that? No problem. Here’s a short list of dos and don’ts for sharing content on LinkedIn.

DO align your content to your audience

To be effective, you have to think about your audience. Your posts will have more impact – if and only if your posts matter to your prospects and customers. Before posting anything, ask yourself, Will my buyers and current customers find this post interesting?

DON’T turn your posts into press releases or advertisements

As a salesperson, you instinctively want to talk about your product and services. Fight that instinct with all your heart, soul, and mind.

An easy way to do that is by following best practices. Social selling experts recommend that 80% of your content should come from third parties, while only 20% of your content should come from your company.

Why’s that? If you share only your company’s content, you lose credibility with your buyers. You come across as biased. By sharing other people’s content, you project expertise, not just blind loyalty to your company.

DON’T link your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts

LinkedIn users have the option of linking their Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. Whenever they post to LinkedIn, they automatically post to Twitter. It sounds like a real time saver, but it can make for some disappointing tweets.

For example, when you just post a URL to LinkedIn without any commentary, this is what people see on Twitter:

No one wants to click on that link because no one knows what it’s about.

Or if your LinkedIn update contains more than 140 characters (the maximum length of a tweet), your thoughts are cut off on Twitter:

How you write for LinkedIn is different from how you write for Twitter. So, it’s best to write separate updates for each network.

DO read the article before you post it

It sounds like a “no duh” rule. But in the rush to update their social profiles, sales reps sometimes share things a little too quickly. A good headline doesn’t mean a good article. Heck, it doesn’t even mean a relevant article. That’s why it’s important to take the time to read the entire article before sharing it.

DO share content that most people have not seen before

For your content to have an impact, you need to stand out from the pablum. If you’re sharing only the most popular stories from Twitter or the most read articles from the New York Times, your updates won’t stand out. Your prospects and customers will just ignore your updates because they’ve already seen what you’re sharing.

To become a trusted advisor for your prospects and customers, you need to show your expertise, which means that you need to have a point of view. When writing a LinkedIn update, include your opinion, ask a question to your followers, highlight an important quote, or summarize key takeaways. Go beyond saying, “Great read!”

Bonus Tip: If you want to make sure someone sees a piece of content, tag them using the @ mention feature:

Sure, you want to add value to your prospects and customers. But you don’t to annoy them. Be warned: If you flood your connections’ feeds with post, they may unfollow. So, best practices say that you should post between one and three times per day.

LinkedIn is a professional network. Your buyers hold you to professional standards. Take the time to proofread what you write.

Sharing content is one of the key plays in a modern seller’s playbook. But for content to be effective, sales reps need to share it correctly. Use the dos and don’ts above to get started.

The Era of the Self-Directed Buyer Is the Era of Sales Enablement

We, marketers, have heard it a thousand times. “It’s the era of the self-directed buyer. In the digital age, buyers are educating themselves, and we must adapt!” But how?

The key lies in good sales enablement. To process the information that they’re consuming, modern buyers need to have conversations. They need to bounce ideas off other people, and your salespeople are best equipped to have those conversations.

Indeed, the era of the self-directed buyer is the era of sales enablement. Let’s take a look at why that is.

How Content Marketing Is Often Portrayed

Before we can dive into the question of sales enablement, we have to rethink our mental model of content marketing. This is how many people envision content’s impact:

In an ideal world, content would affect our buyers in a linear fashion. Marketing would create and curate content. Customers would read it. Boom! Customers would glean insight from our content, and they would suddenly be filled with the irresistible urge to buy our products.

Unfortunately, in a world of self-directed learning, reaching insights is a lot messier.

How Content Marketing Really Looks

Here’s a slightly more realistic vision of what happens. (Though, it’s still somewhat simplified.)

According to the Corporate Executive Board, the average B2B customer consults nearly a dozen sources of information, spread across all varieties of touch points on the path to purchase. Only half of that information comes from the suppliers, in total.

To add insult to injury, only 12% of that information comes from your organization.

With all that information at customers’ fingertips, it’s no wonder that the path to insight is so difficult. Buyers are hearing competing messages from numerous sources.

So, how do we ensure that our 12% makes an impact? We need to understand how self-directed learning happens.

How Self-Directed Learning Takes Place

Our future customers are diagnosing their own problems and driving their own learning. In essence, they are engaging in what educational researchers would call “self-directed learning.”

Researchers Liyan Song and Janette R. Hill created the following framework for understanding self-directed learning online.

Click here to enlarge the image.

Although the researchers are discussing formal classroom settings, we can note parallels between online self-directed courses and the modern buyer’s journey. Like self-directed learners, modern buyers need:

  1. Access to resources (read: content)
  2. Structure surrounding those resources
  3. Opportunities for conversations and feedback

Implicitly, we, marketers, understand this information. We know that we need to supply ample content to buyers so that they can learn. We know that we need to structure the dissemination of that content in a logical manner.

Where marketers often fall short is on the last part – giving future customers ample opportunities to talk through their problems. In part, that’s because lead nurturing, the modern marketer’s crutch, doesn’t facilitate conversations.

The Shortcomings of Lead Nurturing Tactics

It’s never fun to deal with this:

To stay top of mind and to bring order to the messy buyer’s journey, marketers have turned to lead nurturing tactics like email drip nurture campaigns or remarketing. Though both tactics certainly have their benefits, they’re missing one key component: the ability to facilitate conversations.

Sure, a potential customer may respond to a nurture e-mail here or there, but generally speaking, drip nurture campaigns and remarketing are one-way streets. They enable marketers to send content, but they don’t spark conversations with buyers.

And that’s a big problem. As the researchers Leatrice Turlis Phares and Lucy Madsen Guglielmino have noted, conversations are “a primary means of learning” in self-directed learning contexts. Talking through ideas helps learners assimilate new information and change their way of thinking.

So, how do you elicit conversations with modern buyers?

Enabling Sales to Be Conversationalists

To spark invaluable conversations with customers, forward-thinking companies are investing in sales enablement.

But note: Those companies aren’t investing in sales enablement in the traditional sense. That is, top companies are not simply teaching their sales teams how to position products and services. Rather, they are teaching their sales teams to start conversations and to be teachers throughout the entire buyer’s journey.

Sales enablement today means instructing salespeople on the best ways to…

  • Start conversations with buyers
  • Discuss content that customers are reading
  • Suggest further content for customers to consume
  • Challenge customers on their preconceived notions about the best ways to solve their problems
  • Coach customers when they get stuck at a stage in the buying process

To put it in the words of Jill Rowley, sales enablement means teaching salespeople to be “information concierges” and “content connoisseurs.”

What Does This Mean for Marketers?

Should marketers abandon marketing automation and lead nurturing strategies?

No way! That’s not the point of this article. Lead nurturing is a useful tactic. We just have to recognize its limitations. Marketing automation is not a stand-in for a strong sales team. Only your sales team can provide buyers with what they really need: good conversations that push customers to think differently.

Want to Modernize Your Sales Team?

Learn how to successfully launch a social selling program by downloading our workbook.

The Daily Trap

In my business experience, I recognize at least one basic truth: If a consumer or business identifies a need, trust that an entrepreneur will quickly recognize the opportunity, and just as quickly figure out how to fulfill that need with a specific product or service. The case for electric cars is not driven by a specific consumer need, but rather by a larger, well organized global initiative to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

As a replacement for actual consumer demand, federal and state governments have stepped up to offer would be buyers – and manufacturers – incentives to make sure electric cars are getting due consideration in the competitive market for automobiles.

Consider the 2012 Nissan Leaf, which has a sticker price of $37,250 but qualifies for a federal taxpayer-funded rebate of $7,500. Meanwhile BIG subsidies are saved for those who manufacture electric vehicles. The Tesla Roaster, for example, has received over $500,000 in federal grants and loans to produce their $120,000+ playthings for the Hollywood rich and frivolous. Meanwhile, GM has received hundreds-of-millions in federal grants to produce the controversial Chevy Volt, an electric-gas hybrid most famous for battery explosions.

According to GM’s CEO, the average family income of the Chevy Volt buyer is $170,000 – which is a mere pittance compared to the buyer of the taxpayer-subsidized Tesla Motos, whose average family income exceeds $250,000. One may wonder, if EVs are so desirable, why the average working family of four should be contributing hundreds of dollars per year to make sure that billionaire Elon Musk can build hot rods for those that certainly can afford to buy them without help.

James Holman, an economist for The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, claims that when all government subsidies paid to GM and its suppliers to produce the Chevy Volt are considered, each Volt sold in 2011 cost us – the American taxpayer – about $250,000. Now, critics of Holman point out, with merit, that this calculation considers only the Volt’s first year sales – which GM admits were disappointing and far below projections. So I guess we should be happy – if Volt sales take off, our relative tax burden may fall precipitously – perhaps even less than $100,000 per car sold!

But hey, let’s forget about the economics – it’s the Earth that matters, right? According to the 2011 Annual Greenhouse Gas Report, 14% of all emissions originate at the exhaust pipes of vehicles used for transportation. In contrast, 21% of these emissions are belched from power stations, which are still dependent on – you guessed it – fossil fuels. In the US today, there are about 300M cars registered. By 2020, JD Powers and Associates estimates 100,000 of these will be electric, requiring those same fossil-fueled power stations to charge their Lithium Ion batteries. A good trade off for the billions spent in taxpayer money? You do the math.

-Gary

The Daily Trap, User Profile: A.J. Ghergich

Location: Chicago, IL
Occupation: Content Marketer and SEO
Websites:Ghergich.com, @SEO on twitter
Favorite Cheese: Aged Gouda, the older the better

Q: You’re a professional in the field of content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). What problems are we trying to solve here?

Although these are related, they’re really two separate problems. For SEO, what you’re really trying to accomplish is to make your website and your content as search-engine-friendly as possible. You also want to optimize it for keywords you know your audience is already searching for.

Content marketing is a little more on the outreach side of things. Basically, users are your customers. They don’t respond very well to interruption-style advertising. If you’re listening to a radio in your car, you just tune out a radio ad. The same thing happens when you see a banner or pop-up ad on the webpage you visit. That’s Interruption marketing, and it’s a dead-end.

The goal of content marketing is to try and produce content that helps your user, gains their trust, and finds them the content that you think will be most helpful to them based on what they’ve been searching for. Rather than try to sell the user something they may or may not have any interest in, you’re engaging them based on what their expressed interests already are.

Q: This doesn’t sound like the same thing as an advertiser using my search terms to target me. What would be a good example of when content marketing could help me find what I want?

If ask a search engine, “what’s the difference between Plasma and LCD,” there’s really only one reason you’re looking at that: you’re looking to be educated about buying a television. You don’t want to jump right in there trying to sell them a television, you want to answer their question. Give them the information they’re asking for. Their questions will become more refined and sophisticated, and you can produce content that engages your audience at every stage of the buying cycle.

You don’t have to sell; you’re just being helpful. And that’s what people want: honesty and integrity. This is earned attention, and it earns you respect. That’s what you want. A company that has your attention and respect will be on your list of finalists, and — regardless of what your final buying decision is — you’ll walk away as a much happier consumer.

Q: Some people have a negative attitude towards search engine optimization, and think of it as a way of tricking search engines. What’s flawed with that line of thought?

Manipulation would be the word I would use. When I first got into SEO, I was like everyone else in it: I was young, fresh out of college, and it was a new community. Other than the young nerds (like me) doing this, no one knew what it was about. It was new and exciting, and I was attracted to it for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to impose my will on a search engine. How to word things optimally, when to bold or italicize something, etc. I was trying to reverse-engineer the search engine’s algorithm. It was very exciting, initially, and it was a completely wrongheaded approach.

Obviously, that was a long time ago. I’ve grown as a person and as a professional, and I no longer feel that way. If you’re thinking “how can I trick google into giving me something I haven’t really earned,” you’re using it wrong. But SEO still has its place. Let’s say you sell powerboats, and you’ve got an image of one, and you upload it. If it’s named kd5099fjaskewlew-07.jpg, no one will find it. But if you name it Powerboat.jpg (or Red-powerboat.jpg) you’re really just helping the search engine find what it wants to find in the first place. There’s a technical side to SEO that people really struggle with, and using it properly can help clean up the web. Knowing that as a background and using that for good, instead of evil, is still extremely valid.

Q: There are some people who think that content marketing isn’t necessary. Won’t the top content simply rise-to-the-top organically?

Amazing content is really competition-proof. If you’re producing good content, you’re really never going to be at a disadvantage with your competitors. What’s happening right now is there’s a content marketing arms race. People are trying to out-content one another. But a mediocre piece of content isn’t going to cut it; you need to earn the consumer’s trust.

If people are searching for reviews, is that really what they’re looking for? Make sure you’re returning what the consumer actually wants. You can have consumer reviews, but how do you know they’re trustworthy? Are these reviews real, and how can you verify that there’s a real person behind it? Images of a consumer with the product, video reviews can really be honest and can earn your trust. Your product can’t be for everyone, and you need to be honest about who it is and isn’t for. Have expert reviews, and talk about the drawbacks as well. Think about what you would want, as a user, for almost any product, and give them the content to help them make an informed decision.

I’d rather see you make one stellar piece of content rather than twenty average ones. Consumers are going to become immune to average content pretty quickly, just like we’re already immune to low-quality content. Get off the content marketing merry-go-round right now, and focus on creating the highest-quality content.

Q: At your new site, you focus not just on content marketing and SEO, but also on infographics. What makes a good infographic so powerful?

The reason why I think a good infographic is successful is the same reason I think people like twitter: when it comes to information, we’ve become headline-scanners. We rarely read the whole article anymore. With only 140 characters, Twitter forces you to get right to the point, and it forces you to be concise. A good infographic is filled with the best data, and people can see it really clearly and concisely, but also because you’re only giving me the good stuff, and all the fluff is cut out. Here’s an example of one we’ve just put together.

An infographic done right will just get right to the facts. Say it in one line, one chart, not in a whole paragraph. And also stay on point: don’t tell six stories, tell one. You can’t put everything in one infographic; the best ones typically have only a few sources, and stay on-message by using a small set of data from a reliable source. The consumer is really going to appreciate it, because you’re just telling one story, and you’re doing it very well, without any extraneous information clouding your message.

Q: And you’re also passionate about keeping your followers up-to-date on the latest information about content marketing. How do you make that happen?

I have to be very plugged into what my audience wants, and that involves reading so much to stay on top of the latest trends. Things change and develop very quickly, and when I talk to clients, I need to know what’s going on. And that means being both comprehensive and selective in what I’m reading every day: the things that are useful or informative.

And the ones that meet that — the stories that are useful, informative and original — are the ones I share. I use Bottlenose, I use Trapit, and a couple of other services to take an in-depth look at a particular industry. But people have likely already read the content from the biggest websites in that industry; what people really like is something they wouldn’t have come across otherwise. Even if you have 50 blogs RSS’ed to you, you’re still only getting the same message over and over. So that’s what I try to bring them: a hidden gem that allows me to provide a service to my folks. People want to discover, they want to find a new blogger, a new perspective, and be forced to take their blinders off. Trapit really breaks you out of that, and opens you up to content and new voices that you wouldn’t have heard otherwise.

Q: So do you also use Trapit for content curation?

Not everyone wants to curate the way I do. It’s a lot of effort. But Trapit is such a useful tool that I’ve only recently discovered. I just type in a new term for any industry I’m taking a look at, and it allows me to stay on top of it. I also believe it’s incredibly useful for staying educated, and that’s something that’s vital in every industry. You might be able to list four or five solid bloggers, and they may be very good, but if that’s all you read, you’re going to miss some very good and fresh voices. Trapit exposes you to some small, lesser-known but still quality sources that wouldn’t have surfaced traditionally, and if Trapit can continue to do that, you guys will have an incredible service to offer.

Q: Can you tell us how you discovered us?

I actually discovered it from another blogger, and I had seen another blogger mention it as a content marketing tool. So it was word-of-mouth in the course of my doing what I do. And I’m always on a lookout for a new, powerful tool to add to my arsenal.

Once I gave it a shot, I was using it right away; it was a very intuitive, simple process. I found an article I liked and hadn’t seen before within just a couple of minutes, and I realized I was dealing with a really powerful tool. I don’t know that it could be any simpler, actually.

Q: You also have a slew of other tools that you use, but there’s something unique about Trapit that keeps you coming back. Can you tell us what Trapit does that none of its competitors can?

First off, Trapit is visual, and that makes it really stand apart from any other information-scouring application.

I think that you have an easier way of channeling my interests. It’s nice and clean, whereas other competitors are search-intensive. I set something up once with Trapit, and I can keep going back to it, and constantly get new information as it comes in. If I want to ban a source — even from just one particular trap — Trapit empowers me to do so, and the control I get with likes and dislikes is an incredible advantage. The ease-of-use, combined with the like, dislike and banning options means that Trapit will be a permanent addition to my arsenal!

The Daily Trap, When Will Information Find Me? The State of the Personalized Web

In time, we will learn whether or not Facebook’s Graph Search will revolutionize the way that we, as individuals, interact with social media and information. But Graph Search’s recent unveiling does provide an opportunity to reflect on the current state of personalization and discovery and an opportunity to consider our aspirations for this technology.

As interesting and as ambitious as Graph Search is, Facebook is still thinking too small. When it comes to true personalization, Graph Search is, in a sense, answering the wrong question by still forcing us to ask questions in the first place.

With the abilities of today’s computers (particularly for Facebook given their scale of operation) and with all of the information about ourselves that we’ve voluntarily put out there for everyone to see, what we should be working towards is enabling relevant information to find me rather than my having to search for it.

I want the computer to take what it knows about me from what I’ve already told it and to apply that knowledge to proactively discover content and information that I find interesting, engaging, and thought-provoking — even going as far as to introduce me to ideas that challenge my established views and that push me to consider new points of view from other’s experiences.

The launch of Graph Search suggests that even the tech giants like Facebook simply are not there yet.

For the Web to move forward effectively, in an age where information is exponentially expanding, we need to shift from a paradigm of search to discovery. Search, of course, will always have a valuable role, but its capabilities are necessarily limited amid so much information and content. We need the tools and functions that can dive deeper into relevancy rather than broader in scope.

A search only starts after we’ve typed in some keywords and told it to “go.” And for all of its utility, search lacks a sense of serendipity or “unexpected relevance,” as my co-founder Hank (and Jeff Jarvis) calls it.

To put it simply, search forces you to click through to discover. True personalization offers the opportunity for discovery to be delivered.

Also, Graph Search is built on social recommendation. Aside from the problems that naturally arise from this — do people actually like the things they “like?” — recommendations are a poor, first approximation of personalization.

Interests grow and evolve over time, and someone’s online persona is rarely a perfect match for their actual person. And as anyone with a Netflix account and children knows, we’re often a proxy for others with different interests. I, for instance, have a diverse group of friends each with their own equally diverse interests, and there’s a very real possibility that I do not actually like any given thing “liked” by one of my friends.

Today, by using recommendation systems, Target may be able to figure out that a teenage girl is pregnant, but Barnes & Noble and Amazon have yet to pitch me a product I actually care about enough to purchase.

So, if Graph Search isn’t the path to this idea of information finding me, what is?

We need to put the machines to work for us. We need technology and automation to bring content to my attention. Artificial intelligence should scan content that I like (and don’t like) and figure out the content’s characteristics so it understands why I like (or don’t like) that content. This is about understanding rather than simply graphing.

And finally, I want to automatically feed that knowledge back into discovery so it can find more interesting content to bring to me.

To get there, we first need to get over the “search and find” mentality. We have web search, social search, local search and enterprise search. Every few months Google, Bing, and now Facebook release an update that “revolutionizes” search, but it does very little to move us towards the bigger promise of the web… personalized discovery.

Innovation in search does not mean we’re making progress towards personalization. These are dramatically different concepts, and one doesn’t necessarily feed into the other.

We also need to move away from the concept of utilities that help us interact with the Web. Instead, the Web needs to mold to each of us as individuals. More importantly, we need to adopt a mentality and belief that the Web can, and should, be personalized down to the individual level.

We’re starting to see this happen in bits and pieces. Certain apps embed some level of customization or personalization, but it needs to be widespread and even ubiquitous to be truly effective.

In order to reach ubiquity, we can’t continue to pretend that social search or simple recommendations come anywhere close to the vision we hold for personalization. Most technologists agree that personalization is a big piece of the future of the Web, so let’s hold ourselves to high standards and get it right — and the first step is to finally move beyond the mentality of search.

-Gary Griffiths

The Daily Trap, Two Roads Diverge: Discovery vs. Search

Image via flickr.

A few decades ago, William Trogdon found himself at a crossroads – out of work and out of a marriage. Unsure of what the future held, he set out on what was to be his own personal discovery of America; a journey that would consume three months and some 13,000 miles. Trogden’s only criteria was to stick to two lane highways and small towns. Writing under the pseudonym William Least Half-Moon, he chronicles his travels in Blue Highways: A Journey Into America, a bit of a cult classic. Along the way, he encounters characters ranging from the born-again Christian teenager to a boat builder, a prostitute, a maple syrup farmer, a Hopi Native American medical student, and a host of others.

This past week, my wife and I were invited by friends to spend New Year’s weekend with them in Scottsdale, Arizona. We knew exactly where we were going, and when we wanted to be there, and had only to determine the airline with the best rates and schedule. In making the trek to Arizona, I focused on getting there as quickly and efficiently as possible: no detours, whether they be farmers, hitchhikers, or prostitutes.

My path was direct, like search, while the path of Blue Highways was meandering, like discovery – Charles “discovered” a lot of interesting places and people that he didn’t know he was looking for – but he sure was delighted when he found them. In my case, I knew exactly what I wanted, and was satisfied when I got my answer.

Said another way, Christopher Columbus was “searching” for a water route to India. Of course, he “discovered” America – perhaps not what he set out to do, but arguably a discovery that had far greater economic, social, and historical impact.

Putting this in Trapit’s perspective, when you need information, we like to think of it in two axes. The first is precision: I know what I want – a fact (when did Columbus “discover” America? What was the name of his flagship?) Or it may be driving directions to that new restaurant, or finding that replacement part for your vacuum cleaner.

The second axis is serendipity, the magic we experience when we find something that is really interesting, that didn’t know we were looking for—the Appalachian log cabin restorer that William Trogdon met, or the cocoa beans that Columbus brought back from the New World to the delight of European aristocrats. When it comes to information, a balance of these two axes is important: too much precision is simply boring, while unconstrained serendipity is chaos – a random collection of data without personal relevance.

The web has gotten too big not to be personalized; it is growing and changing much faster than your interests. Can search meet your needs? Sure, sometimes. Maybe for that vaccum cleaner part – if you can wade through the sites that have paid to make sure they have a chance to sell you a vacuum cleaner – or a toaster. But capturing the surprise and delight we remember from when the web was young. Exploring the unknown. That’s discovery.

Gary Griffiths
Trapit CEO and Co-founder

The Daily Trap, Trapit’s Top Picks of 2012

It’s nearing the end of 2012 (and the Mayan Calendar) and it’s been a great year at Trapit. How could it not have been? We launched an iPad app! And while that was certainly a highlight, Trapit’s given us more than that. For your reading pleasure, please enjoy Trapit staff’s top picks of 2012—the discoveries, Traps, and stories that distracted us from the toil of QA presented in no particular order.


NASA’s Perpetual Ocean animations visualize the flow of the ocean.

Laura’s Picks:

Feminism: This was the Trap I was most inclined to lose hours to (thank stars for our iPad app). The feminist blogosphere is full of witty, thoughtful, and feisty ladies and gents. And with politicians providing plenty of grist for the mill this year—there was rarely a dull moment.

Garlic Scapes: They’re curly, they’re tasty, they popped up in the grocery aisle this spring (and many a garden). Allegiances aside, Trapit’s my go-to source for finding recipes for new/strange/routine ingredients. My Garlic Scapes Trap did not disappoint.

Occupy Wallstreet/Rolling Jubilee: Call me a perennial optimist but I’ve been following the latest offshoot of Occupy Wallstreet, Rolling Jubilee, with glee (we’re gonna change the world y’all). While not the solution it’s a great start and conversation—with a wider backing of journalists than any project thus far.

Discovering the OUP blog: My Etymology and Translation Traps are two of my faves and have led me to one my now favorite blogs, from the Oxford University Press. This year Oxford Etymologist Anatoly Liberman took me down such literary paths as, the origin of Fart.

Butts: And now that you know where my interests sometimes skew, I’ll admit I’m a huge fan of throwing the random and the sometimes juvenile keywords into our machine. My Butt Trap has been an engaging read, mostly due to butt enhancement surgeries gone wrong (warning, not for the faint of heart).

Cartography and Data Visualization: Allow me to be cliche for a minute—we all know it, a picture is worth a thousand words and my cartography and data visualizations traps have been my place to hang out when I’m bored and need something interesting and pretty all year.

A brave athlete, Sam Gordon.

Geoff’s Picks:

Sports Sexism: It took 80 years for Augusta National to see things straight. In what was coined a ‘joyous occasion,’ the prestigious Georgia golf club admitted two female members for the first time.

Fighting homophobia: Bullying is a real issue in society. It pains me to hear the haunting tales of kids being targeted on a basis of sexual orientation and even more so for those too afraid to come out. The LGBT community needed another proud leader in sports to carry the pride flag and they found one in featherweight Orlando El Fenómeno Cruz.

Independent internet: When Seattle’s Macklemore x Ryan Lewis performed live on Ellen in late October, their youtube music video ‘Same Love’ had already eclipsed eight million views. The song advocated for gay marriage rights & Referendum 74, a measure that passed by a slim margin just days later in Washington state. Entirely independent from any record label, the group’s album rose to number one on iTunes, and shed stereotypes of today’s rap music along the way.

Recovered Innocence: After serving five years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Brian Banks was exonerated and given a second chance to pursue his dream of playing professional football.

Stepping stones: The weight on NCAA’s controversial BCS system finally caved in, as officials signed off on Division I college football’s first ever four-team playoff bracket. It felt like a historic step forward, yet the 2012 season showed how the new layout may still need some serious rethinking.

Birthday wishes: It was the 40th anniversary for Title IX, and two young budding female athletes chose 2012 for their coming out party. Sam Gordon, a 9-year old peewee football running back was so talented, she ended up on a Wheaties box. Little League knuckleballer Chelsea Baker was the only girl in a boys baseball league, yet no batter in the nation was a match for her.

Olympic classic: The South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius left a mark on the London games with one of the most memorable sports stories of 2012. Competing in both the Olympic and Paralympic games, the double-amputee track star was a grand inspiration and a fan favorite.


The Many Colors of Denim. Image via.

Kelly’s Picks:

Pickling Trap: I got excited about this idea in the Spring but had to wait until the Fall pickling season to get a good trap. But once I got it going, it yielded some great and interesting results from bloggers all over. It definitely inspired me to give some pickling a try next year.

Discovering the Recipe Boy blog: During a sourcing project I happened upon this great food blog by a young boy named Brooks. I’m used to seeing food blogs by mostly moms and 20-something women, so seeing a young boy so excited about food and blogging was really refreshing.

Feminism and Anne Marie Slaughter: After The Atlantic published an article written by Anne Marie Slaughter titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” the Feminism Trap exploded with fascinating articles and blog posts addressing the issue of whether the modern woman can really have it all or if that’s just foolish thinking. I was shocked at how many weeks later the response articles kept popping up. That article definitely struck a chord with women all over the country.

Colored Denim: Colored denim was one of the better fashion trends of 2012, in my opinion. It was, and still is, a trend that most people can pull off and is affordable to achieve. The Colored Denim Trap first appeared in the Spring and offered all kinds of great inspiration for styling the punchy trend. It’s now folded into the general Denim Trap, which is equally as inspiring for the Trapit fashionistas out there.

The Election: I am admittedly a bit of a political junkie sometimes, so I had great fun exploring all the election-related traps this year. Even though I have my own opinions, it’s really nice to see such diverse content from the whole political spectrum in one place, instead of big media sites, which are generally either right or left-leaning.

Thanksgiving: I love working with our food traps and I love the holidays, so one of my favorite traps of the year has to be the Harvest Recipes trap, which had so many awesome Thanksgiving recipes as well as great ways to cook fun seasonal ingredients like pumpkin, kale, and beets. Quite a few of us here in the office actually tried recipes we found in this trap, and I think they were all great hits!

Discovering the Camille Styles blog: I found this blog in one of my food traps and have been addicted ever since. There’s all kinds of foodie goodness on the blog as well as great hostessing tips and beauty and style inspiration. I love the variety this blog brings and now want to try so many new things for entertaining.


Nanomedicine. Image credit: IEEE.

Ethan’s Picks:

Nanomedicine: Cancer and Heart Disease are always the two biggest causes of death in the United States, but advances in nanomedicine — where nanoscale robots are being developed to fight cancer — could someday make cancer of all types a disease of the past. In the meantime, those who are presently surviving cancer should seriously consider going for rehabilitation; only about a third of survivors do, while an estimated 90% would have a vastly improved quality of life if they did.

Personal Freedom: Personal freedom won a big victory here in the United States this past year, as abortion rights were successfully protected, marijuana became legal for the first time in two states, and same-sex marriage is legal now in more places than ever before. It looks like it won’t be long before the U.S. and the rest of the first world makes end-of-life care laws a legitimate and dignified service to patients worldwide.

Scientific Discoveries: And in the world of science, dinosaurs ranging from four-winged fliers to two-ton armored tanks were discovered, our most advanced rover — Mars Curiosity — successfully landed on and is presently exploring the red planet, while the planet Mercury was discovered to harbor water-ice at its poles and the Large Hadron Collider discovered the Higgs Boson, making it possibly the last new fundamental particle we’ll ever discover!

Anticipating 2013: What will 2013 hold for issues like climate science and outer space? What breakthrough will come in stem cell research or neuroscience? How will America do at improving nutrition, staying in shape and fighting our deadliest diseases? Whatever the new year has in store for us, Trapit’s got you covered, and so do I!

The Daily Trap, Trapit In Your Pocket At Thirty Thousand Feet

It’s the crack of dawn, my tired eyes follow the leader through the airport security assembly line. As I slither my way to my cramped middle seat, I can already hear the far-too-early birds chirping, infants wailing, drooling passengers mouth-snoring. I just want to crawl into my quiet space bubble and drift away, stress-free like a vacation is supposed to be. Suddenly, the pilot says those magical words. Ah, electronic devices! Now my trip can officially begin.

At 30,000 feet, I prepare for whatever it takes to help make time fly, and this past weekend when traveling to a family reunion in Denver, I found the perfect solution to peacefully kill time and have fun while doing so. For nearly two straight hours, I dipped into my very own personalized digital magazine, piloted by Trapit’s iPad App, integrated with Pocket (an awesome free read-later App), perfect for reading when wifi is either inaccessible, or of poor quality. Here’s why…

Rather than rolling the dice with onboard wifi to aimlessly surf the web, saving Trapit articles to a read-later App like Pocket is the efficient and convenient way to go (you can also use Instapaper or Evernote). When you share an article to Pocket, the text and photos are remembered, downloaded and conveniently sorted, making a wifi connection unnecessary after liftoff. Hence, the digital magazine concept. This wifi-less route is also far friendlier when it comes to battery life conservation.

The ultimate goal is accumulating a nice mixed bag of stuff to read. For me, there’s no telling what type of story will be mind-gripping, so having an overflow of choices to match your mood is key. Avoid expensive magazine kiosks and certainly don’t force yourself to skim SkyMall for a second flip through.

Getting started: If your trip date is set on the calendar, stay on the lookout for intriguing long-reads on Trapit in the weeks prior, zeroing in on time friendly content that won’t end up feeling dated. Once you’ve registered a free account on Pocket, you’ll be ready for the next step.

Discover: When you’ve narrowed in on an interesting read, it’s time to share it with Pocket. Click the Trapit share button, and then tap the Pocket icon.

Note how Pocket has added the article for future viewing. Don’t forget to open the Pocket App after sharing (when wifi is still accessible) to ensure your content has been saved.

Now that you know how to share to Pocket, use Trapit to broaden your horizons: This is a great time to check out what Trapit’s editors have been working on in our featured sections, on top of sharing from your own personalized Traps.

Ever heard of cloud-seeding, the term locavore, or augmented reality? Breakthroughs in HIV treatment and prevention? What health gurus are saying. Planning to cook a group meal for the family? Trapit’s Lifestyle section is filled with inspiration.

Point of destination: It’s also a great strategy to build Traps focusing in on where you’re headed. Trapit assists brainstorming local touristy events coming up, trailheads to climb, and fine-dining hot spots to hit.

Ready to roll: Here is a glimpse of what I selected to satisfy my reading fix enroute to Denver. Note how Pocket allows you to view your reading queue as a list as well (tap icon in the top left corner to change).

My reading intake has never been healthier, and it has never been this easy to enlighten myself with such a broad array of intriguing subjects. The more you discover, the more you learn and the more you will smile up there in your space bubble. With Trapit—integrated with a read-later App—prepare yourself with great wifi-free reads, and squash the chance of boredom plaguing your travel aura.

-Geoff

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