ReviewMe is a new site that is trying to setup a marketplace where bloggers can offer to write honest reviews in exchange for money. The money comes from companies or individuals who want to get reviews. I think it's an interesting idea. Getting reviews can be tough sometimes, so having a straight up chance to buy an honest one can be a good deal. I'm testing out the system with Lux Delux, having just put in a review request for a blog that looked interesting.
ReviewMe is also spicing things up with an initial pool of $25,000 that they are paying out to bloggers to review the service itself. That's what this post is: a sponsored post from ReviewMe. I will apparently get payed $30 in exchange for this review of their system. The pay-out is dependent on each individual blog's traffic standings (as best as ReviewMe can estimate them at least). The only imposition on the review is that it must be at least 200 words long, and it has to state that it is sponsored.
I had a bit of trouble signing up initially, but once inside their system is pretty good. They got some good early buzz, and there's a variety of interesting blogs that have signed up in their system. I'm awaiting the results of buying my review before making further judgement.
Here's a nasty screenshot of CafePress rejecting my coupon. My order total is $25.74, but the coupon is only good for $20. Is that a user-friendly promotion or what?
This was taken in the Sillysoft Store, while sending out Lux gear as prizes. The independent TorStar Store also has some funky Lux goods (including the Luxtoberfest hoodie that I am wearing right now).
Marketing guru Seth Godin wrote up The 8 Free Things Every Site Should Do. The top item that I hadn't done was to create a Squidoo lens. Now I know that Seth owns Squidoo, and putting it so high on the list is probably him pimping it. Still, he is a very successful guru. Squidoo works on a first-come first-served basis for keywords, which get used as the URL for the lens. I've been having fun in my goal to conquer "dustin" on the internet, so set up a lens on Dustin, which catalogs some famous Dustins. Plus I tossed up a Risk Game lens for business.
Feedback for Squidoo: - There was a flickr feature there, but what I really wanted to do was show a photostream of all photos tagged with 'dustin' from all of Flickr. That would be a cool feature to add. - Uploading a PNG with transparency didn't work properly in the intro (OSX 10.4, Firefox 2 beta). - I would like a preference to turn off ads on my lenses.
I just got back from a presentation on DIY Distribution put on by New Media BC. It was a good session. Very entertaining, and some good information. It ended up covering a pretty wide range of topics relating to distribution in various ways. The take-aways as I see them:
You MUST be willing to give stuff away for free. This is already accepted gospel in the shareware industry, with free demos abounding. Lots of devs also put up totally free web versions of their games, and that's something I'm going to be trying out with AHL. There's so much more that could be done here. Audio, making of information (concept art, original interface designs, design docs), desktop backgrounds, etc.
Play to people's narcissism. Basically pointing out how a core component of myspace and a lot of the new web stuff out there is giving people the ability to show themselves off. People love to show themselves off, and if you give them the ability to create content to do so it will be used intensively. I've done this a little bit in the user pages created for every online Luxer. It's not totally customizable, but it does show off all the awards that people have won, thus giving them an incentive to play more to beef up their page. And I have seen people linking to their user page from their blogs, which is probably the end result I should be really trying to push.
DIY means you've got to go out there, find the press people, and hammer them. I've seen this in action as well. A large portion of the Lux reviews that have been written were a direct result of me directly contacting the sites out there. In general the web is huge, there's a large chance that people are not going to find you amidst everything. It's up to you to go out and find the areas that would be interested in your stuff and give them all the information you can. Of course, spamming is a big no-no, and will get people to immediately shut you out. But if you're a real contributing member of the communities you're targeting then bring the useful info you have and it can help it spread.
I snapped some quick photos of the presenters. On the left you see Shane Neville, currently working for Nokia, but with a history selling DIY videos of BMX stunts. On the right is Brooke Burgess, the dude behind the long-form narrative comic book inspired Broken Saints. Brooke brought a frantic energy to the presentation that made it all entertaining. There's another take-away: you've got to be truly passionate to spread your ideas.
I sent out the Sillysoft Newsletter today to let all the interested Lux fans know about the current fun happenings. An email newsletter is a fantastic way to keep in touch with users. Giving your email address out to a company is a pretty big show of trust, and I do my absolute best to not betray that by only sending out announcements that I think subscribers will want to know about. People also have the opportunity to subscribe to the newsletter's RSS feed if they prefer. I'm using my homegrown RSSMailingList software to provide both the email newsletter and RSS feed from the same source.
Also, 10 Steps to a Hugely Successful Web 2.0 Company is a good short to-do list for running a business on the net. I would replace "8. Don't waste any money on marketing" with "8. Use Google Adwords to market directly to people looking for what you offer".
Yesterday version 5.1 of Lux was released, bringing with it some changes to the multiplayer ranking system and better unicode support. This marks the 55th time that Lux's version number has been increased! That gives an average of 1.7 updates a month in the last 2 and a half years since Lux 1.0 was released on November 25th 2002. (It should be noted that a number of times I have put out quick same-day releases to fix a bug in a just released update. And yeah, I realize that my quality assurance process could be better...) The full details of every release can be seen online in the Lux version history. Every release has been a free update to all registered users. I thought about charging an update fee for version 4.0 and 5.0 when they were being developed, but decided against it. I wanted to bring all my users forward to the fun new features with their full support, and charging more money would have prevented that. Also, new sales have continued to stay strong throughout, so there wasn't a need to charge.
This constant, on-going development is one key reason behind how I have been able to make a successful business out of it. Each release helps keeps Lux in the news and on the front of the download sites. It makes existing users feel happy that they are getting more then they bought. And it increases the appeal of the software to new users by adding more features, fixing bugs, and refining the GUI (and marketing screens). In short it's a win, win, win situation.
Of course, creating all these updates take up time and effort. There's no way in hell I would have ever done this much if I didn't really enjoy the work itself. I started making Lux for fun, and I have a passion for working on it. Even so, I have definitely gotten somewhat burned out after working on the same project for this long. The pace of releases has slowed down from it's heyday, and that will probably continue going forward.
Since the first version of Lux was released, my plan had always been to slowly add features until I had a kick-ass Risk strategy game with tons of features. This worked out nicely, and is really the only way for a very small team to build an application with real depth. I would recommend this approach to any beginning software authors. Release a first version quickly, and then constantly improve it for as long as you can. This iterative development style also allows your users to get involved shaping the direction of the product that they use (assuming you have a forum or other avenue for them to easily send feedback). This then helps build up a fanatical userbase of supporters to push you forward. Take it from me: fanatical users are fun =).
I have been thinking about doing some more advertising for Lux. My experiences so far have been good. I have been pleased with the performance of google adwords and have ramped up the amount I spend there to around $600 a month. I track where orders come from and adwords leads bring in more then that in direct sales. Plus it gets Lux into the hands of even more people beyond that.
Another common advertisement method that I haven't tried at all yet is banner ads. I thought that I should start testing the waters, so I had the creatives in the Lux forums whip up a variety of stunning Lux banner ads. I'm looking around for some places to try them out on. I want to get as targeted traffic as possible, so I'm going to start with some indie and strategy games sites.
In my opinion blogs are just in their beginnings. It seems obvious to me that most people will want a place on the web where they can publish whatever they want. Especially as blogging tools become better and better at handling different kinds of media.
Still, the act of telling people about the blog you have can be kind of an awkward social interaction. The easiest solution to this is to leave comments in the online space. Most comment areas have a little field where you can leave a URL. So leave some comments on the blogs that you read. If your blogging yourself presumably you can also share some opinions on the things that you find interesting enough to read. I am sure that most people like getting comments, and you get to let your online presence be known at the same time.
My experiences with Lux have taught me that having a popular and well-linked website is a valuable asset. As the online world continues to grow don't you want your address in it to known and for your influence to grow as well? Then tell people about your blog, share your opinions with the world. Get the URL out there.