Friday, December 16, 2011

"It's all about being direct" - Louis CK

It's being called a "milestone" event.  Last Saturday, comedian Louis CK released a special offer through his web site.  He posted 81 tweets that day, engaging everyone who said something about what he was up to, and another 23 tweets over the next week.  His Reddit thread created thousands of comments.

His offer:  for $5, anyone could download a live performance, could burn their own DVDs, watch it on any device, no app required.  Famously, he appealed to torrent freaks to not steal his work, and after four days he issued a statement about "the experiment".

He explained in later interviews that he wanted to make his performance more affordable. By selling direct he could rely on his own voice to reach his audience.  He even let people download DVD cover art so they could create their own DVDs (scrub to 2 minutes into this video to see him pitch the deal to Jay Leno).

What's at play here is an entirely new cost structure that puts unprecedented powers into the hands of media creators.  Louis CK's 788,000 twitter followers spread his message so effectively he sold 160,000 units within 5 days.  He declared a profit of $200,000 after only four days and others have analysed his costs.  At the same time his twitter following grew by over 10% to 828,000.

The purchase and delivery system used for this experiment holds some remarkable similarities to the Bitmenu design.  It does not require users to create an account or supply financial information.  Buyers can download their file immediately after their purchase goes through.

We expect this experiment to generate more tests and to ultimately alter how media creators bring their work to market.  Some are calling it the "Louis C.K. Window":

"The new twist here is the way his experiment changes video “windows” — which determine when shows and movies show up on different outlets. By going direct-to-fan first, C.K. doesn’t shut off his chance to end up working the Big Media Companies... he’s just making them wait. So the people who really love him can get it right away, and he can capture almost all of that value in the transaction."

In the words of Louis CK:

"Please bear in mind that I am not a company or a corporation. I'm just some guy. I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money. I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me. So, please help me keep this being a good idea. I can't stop you from torrenting; all I can do is politely ask you to pay your five little dollars, enjoy the video, and let other people find it in the same way."

UPDATE:

On December 21, Louis CK posted another statement along with a screen shot of his PayPal balance:  One million dollars.  He will donate as much to charity as he keeps for himself.

His twitter following has grown to over 890,000.

From his statement:

"hi. So it's been about 12 days since the thing started and yesterday we hit the crazy number. One million dollars. That's a lot of money. Really too much money. I've never had a million dollars all of a sudden. and since we're all sharing this experience and since it's really your money, I wanted to let you know what I'm doing with it. People are paying attention to what's going on with this thing. So I guess I want to set an example of what you can do if you all of a sudden have a million dollars that people just gave to you directly because you told jokes."

UPDATE 3/3/2012:

Advertising Age reviews the Louis CK experiment and suggests creators engage audiences on their platforms of choice, such as Reddit or Twitter:

"The strategy has already yielded one copycat that's had the unintended effect of showing how deft C.K.'s touch was. This month, comedian Jim Gaffigan announced his own $5-a-pop comedy special, with a dollar from each sale going to a charity for wounded veterans. You've gotta love the thought, but announcing it on 'a personal media-management platform' called Whosay? That's not cool."

Monday, December 5, 2011

An Observation on Monetizing through Social Media

In another group that I read and occasionally post to, the question came up about charging for a service or content vs. using ad revenue.

The site discusses financial information and has a lively conversation. It's been free for some time, but the operator is now asking for donations. This was my reply, aimed at the proprietor of the web site:

"My $0.02 on ads vs. pay. I've been in the digital media payment/social network business for the past 4 years. As you experienced, ads only pay significantly at very large scale, like >1M uniques per month. 

"For smaller scale, catering to very devoted 'fans' if you will, it is much better if you have a paid site. The critical caveat is that there must be continuous engagement by, in the words of Hollywood, the 'talent'. In this case, the talent is you. 

"IMHO, this is why business is slow to embrace social media in a conversational way: the one-to-one or one-to-few (less than a thousand) nature of the conversation. When you get above a thousand or so active participants, you hit a ceiling. As you have seen, even if only a small % of the 1,000 people ask questions or start a conversation and expect an answer, it's overwhelming. This, of course, quickly overloads the talent, as you are experiencing. Some sites hire ghost writers to pen the writings, like Oprah and many other large social graph celebrities. But I doubt that's your style or strategy.

"It's been shown that the predominant digital products/site access services men pay for (not necessarily in order), is financial info, entertainment, health info, a passion (music, guitar playing, sports, etc.) and of course, adult. But financial info is the #1 for men, above all else."

At Bitmenu, we've noticing more social media experiments being put in place by large corporations and see that only a few are scaling up. For our sellers, paid services offset the costs associated with managing social media engagement. In addition, a continual flow of new for-pay promotions establishes the seller's authoritative voice and trust with a discerning audience. Finally, social media conversations carry these offers to new markets.

The benefit of selling premium content to a core audience:  offset social media engagement costs, increase brand trust and authority, and grow your base.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Trends in Social Commerce

This past week, eBay hosted its second Developer's Conference. The message: "e-commerce" becomes mainstream commerce when retailers integrate online services into their current business practices. Selling digital content through social media was a major trend featured by Carey Kolaja, PayPal's Senior Director of Digital Goods. She hosted a vibrant panel that yielded insights into building successful campaigns. At Bitmenu, we are constantly asked to help sellers engage buyers through their networks of colleagues and friends. Our toolset was deigned for the methods recommended by panel members:


Don't think of your audience as "only" a few hundred people. Remember that each Facebook user has an average of 130 friends who will see their activity. If you think about what messages will inspire your audience to act, your messages can extend to tens of thousands of potential impressions. When USRowing announces the availability of recent races, we see purchases across networks of friends and family members.


Tweets and posts degrade quickly. Overall, 50% of activity will occur within an hour and a half after the post. All activity will be over within 24 hours. Sellers must respond to comments and shares to extend the conversation and increase discovery. We see longer life on Bitmenu promotions from Acoustic Guitar magazine, which typically yield 5x response levels when compared to "deal" sites. Our "white label" orientation sets up the seller as the authentic voice and increases sharing.





Target sub-groups. Typically, 2/3 of social sharing is to a sub-group of known friends rather than to a general post. Suggesting who you want to reach with your messages will help your audience re-direct appropriately. Baker Street has recently focused on authors promoting within private LinkedIn groups, and has seen their sales increase 300%.





Finally, engage through the stream. As much as 95% of all visitors to a Facebook "fan" page never return. Wall posts are where the action is. Racing Yesterday sees a regular uptick in activity whenever community members comment of the author's activities.


Bitmenu sellers simply paste our URLs into Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and twitter. These recommendations from this excellent panel are well worth following to increase awareness, engagement and sales.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bitmenu: Premium Content that Travels Well

"Social Reach" is an increasingly relevant term.  Users turn to their networks of friends and colleagues for advice and guidance.  On mobile devices, apps from Facebook, twitter, Google and LinkedIn have become the most popular way users consume their news and information.  

Bitmenu enables producers of premium content to reach through these networks to buyers that may be unknown to the publisher and who may be unaware of the value and significance of their contributions.  Now each Offer Page can feature share buttons to the major social networks.  Producers can start the ball rolling at the moment they generate a new offer.

When a new Offer is created, its "Details" page provides helpful tools to get it on its way.

First off, two kinds of simple links are displayed.  These can be inserted with any blog, web site or email to put the premium content purchase opportunity in front of regular prospects and visitors.  They also form nicely when posted to LinkedIn, twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Bitmenu's purchase and fulfillment methods make these simple links all a publisher needs to receive payment and automatically deliver premium content to buyers.  But, this is just the start.

The InShare button from LinkedIn packages up the offer to travel through LinkedIn and twitter networks, to targeted LinkedIn groups and also to any individual email address.  Specific bloggers, reviewers and channel partners can be alerted this way immediately upon publication from within the Bitmenu interface (see illustration).

Finally, every Offer Page can display InShare, twitter, Google +1 and Facebook "Send" widgets.  So, when an offer page is displayed, users have the option to not only purchase and download the item, but to notify their friends, followers and colleagues.

The Bitmenu system enables anyone to direct premium content to those they know might be interested.  For more information and some handy tips, see "5 Strategies for Maximizing Your Content's Social Reach".

Note to existing Bitmenu publishers:  To upgrade your existing links to offer pages, select Offer Management from the Publish menu and click on any offer from your list to pick up your socially-enhanced links.  While you are at it, use this interface to post notifications to your friends, fans and followers for free and see where they take you.




Thursday, July 21, 2011

Facebook app lists anything from Amazon

We use Facebook a lot, so we released a cool little app that might be useful to anyone with a Page.

We call it "Amazon Booklist" (click or search for it when you are in Facebook).

Here's the idea: Amazon.com's pages hold many items we would gladly recommend to friends on Facebook but there is no easy way to list them.

Here's all you have to do:  See the "Add to My Page" link at the bottom left corner of the picture?  Click that and install the app to any Facebook Page you have Admin privileges for.  You have to be signed into your Facebook account to see the link.

Then, you can populate a listing of products simply by pasting in their amazon.com URLs.  Oh, and Bitmenu URLs display offer information just as well.  So, this app doubles as an easy way for Bitmenu publishers to promote through the world's largest social network.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why Should You Pre-Order This Book?

We're a startup that helps people distribute digital media (yes, any format, size, etc.), but this post is not about that.

We are a LEAN startup.  We have been from the start, and it really means something to us.  It probably doesn't means much to you, and that's why I'm writing to say you need to pre-order a book.  And not an ebook, but an honest-to-God "dead trees" tome.  Here's why.

We have built an operational service very efficiently by making informed guesses about what our business will be, prototyping our theories quickly, responding to real operational issues, learning from our experience and building what he discover is actually needed.

You can think of what we have built as "policy-based access to content", as opposed to "open access" (think YouTube and Flickr) and "social access" (think Facebook, Dropbox and Google Docs).  In most cases, the policy that matters is that someone's payment has succeeded and our system automatically fulfills a file or subscription.  It's a pretty simple concept but getting the systems right is about our process, not our ideas.

Eric Ries is not the only one pushing Lean Startup ideas, but he's done the most comprehensive job of forming and proving the arguments for building a startup the way we are.  While we are built primarily on a Java technology stack, Eric gave a very nice presentation at the most recent RailsConf 2011 and most of all of it applies to us.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Production Push: Self-Service Publishing Now Live

Last night (for the first time), outside users could sign up at www.bitmenu.com and publish on their own.

Depending on file sizes and upload speeds, it took less than an hour for some users to get setup, supply their content, connect to their payments account and receive simple links to their files that require payment before download.

Each link we create ensures payment before a download is authorized, our plug-in manages most file transfers, and our reporting itemizes each sale and identifies each buyer to publishers.

For us, this has been a long process of inspiration, review and iteration.

We recognize that our publishing interfaces are not slick, but they work. We have already produced thousands of Bitmenu links on behalf of our publishers. As we watch users create their own links, we'll have the best possible data on which to refine our systems.

Please consider Bitmenu "open for business", get started, and let us know how it goes. We will be right there with you to answer questions and help anyway we can.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Enhanced eBook for iPad: The Universal Language

Author Wolf Price impressed us with his latest project: an album of recordings made during 11 months of travel through Asia with his wife, Ada. Wolf used studio-quality recording equipment to produce an album of the indigenous folk music they encountered. Richly illustrated with photos and text, the music in this album is put into the eye-opening context of their adventure.

When it came time to package his experience, as an artist, Wolf could not leave the music outside the book or feature the pictures apart from the music. He needed a way to present his experience in an integrated way. He chose to create a .zip archive containing 14 mp3 audios along with a 19 page PDF album book. Buyers of this format can conveniently move the audio files to their iPods for easy listening.

As we reviewed the material, we were struck by the engaging photography contained in the album book and how the images bring out the personality of the music. Wolf enthusiastically supported our idea of creating an enhanced ePub for iPad users. This 19 page album book, with its dramatic photos, has individual audio tracks embedded with the text such that the story of the adventure comes to life.

From our perspective, both versions successfully deliver the listener/reader into the sights as well as the sounds of rural life in the cultures of Mongolia, Thailand, Nepal, and India. However, the iPad epub version brings the printed text and music together in an effortless manner for a richer learning and entertainment experience than can be achieved by merely reproducing books or music alone.

Links:

The Universal Language: Indigenous Asia
The Universal Language: Indigenous Asia, iPad ebook edition
Youtube trailer

And our own video showing off the iPad version:

video

Monday, May 2, 2011

Share it, or perish

An interesting aspect of working with publishers is seeing what works well, not so well, or doesn't work at all. At the top of list of what works: active sharing, promoting, posting, tweeting, or otherwise getting the word out through all electronic means so others pick up on it. There is a certain relentless nature to the most successful Bitmenu publishers. They continually refresh their offerings and find ways to be newsworthy, re-tweetable, and like-able. After all, connecting comes before sharing.

Successful Bitmenu publishers commit to a production plan, regular announcements and new product. We see these publishers reap the benefits of executing ongoing production and promotion schedules to build an effective rhythm with their communities. Successful promotions see a sales curve that hits within a few minutes of the first announcement, with several mini-spikes of sales as buyers discover the offer through their regular news-reading, friends and searches. This chart of "Sales (Hourly) After Promo" is from one publisher's mid-December campaign.

This Bitmenu publisher noted that their community consumes media mostly on the weekends and evenings. Being mostly North American based, the publisher did some A/B testing and found that early Friday afternoon email broadcasts were their most effective promotion. An email blast that costs $100 per promotion now generates thousands of dollars in revenue each week. Items promoted on Friday see increased sales levels throughout the weekend and even into the week after the announcement. The members of their community, who have opted-in to receive emails, often look at every notice they is sent and make purchases after careful consideration.

The old saying "a high tide lifts all boats" also applies here. Propagation across the community takes a few hours, but once it gains momentum, it can go for a few days. In another example after a sports event, sales of race videos peaked a day after they were announced via Twitter and the publisher's web site. In this chart (left), sales peaked at over 100 in a day, then slowly tapered off.

We often see a flurry of purchases for a featured item, but just as often we also see other items purchased at the same time even if they were not directly promoted. Enabling several purchase points seems to make a difference. Publishers who mix links to their site with links to a featured item can measure the effects when they continue to promote on a regular schedule.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Facebook Bio For Sale

Since October, Facebook has enabled users to download the data they have put on the service.  Today, I took advantage of this capability to make my data available for sale.

The result is a very nicely contained archive that opens in any web browser.  The posts to my wall from August, 2007 until today are intact, as well as everything I have posted:  updates, photos and videos in the resolution in which I posted them.

My friends are named in the archive.  All links within posts are intact.  You can see who a photo has been shared with.  If anyone were ever interested in seeing what comments and links I've consumed and shared, this is a great place to start.

My Facebook account has become increasingly important to me as a point of connection with my family and colleagues.  By extracting my data and making it available through a bitmenu link, I am able to share it on a "need to know" basis.  At the same time, I have restricted access to my Facebook Page to friends only. 

How could this be useful to you? 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Buying Pattern: Friends and Followers

USRowing's activities this week illustrates how one nonprofit organization uses social media to share content using Bitmenu links. The revenue they generate covers their media production costs.

This week's event was a National Selection Regatta. The winners in the featured men's and women's categories will  go the the FISA World Championships in Bled, Slovenia to represent the US in the single sculls event.

USRowing issued a series of press releases, tweets and Facebook posts to keep the press, their friends and followers up to date. All races were streamed live from the race-course, and the four featured races were then made available for sale and download via Bitmenu at 7:30am the day following the racing.

USRowing issued its first press release  two days prior to the event and included a link to where the featured races would be made available for sale once the event had concluded. The fact that all events were streamed live from the race course doesn't seem to reduce demand for their post-event videos at all. With the release available on www.usrowing.org, the tweets and posts started with simple links to the notice.

As the racing progressed throughout the event, including delays and re-scheduling due to weather, @USRowing issued no less than 62 tweets to their 2,442 followers and 11 Facebook posts to their 12,500 friends. Just ten hours after the completion of racing was announced, USRowing's bitmenu links were posted to their web site and announced on both social media platforms at 7:30am (eastern) this morning.

On the Bitmenu service side, the first USRowing sale and download occurred at 7:34am (eastern) and was followed by a steady stream of purchases throughout the day. The event videos from USRowing are so well announced to the core audience that when someone goes to purchase, we note a very low level of attrition.

Production Push: Redundancy is Repetitive

We've performed a production push this morning, adding a better-flowing website and navigation. Small changes to content tend to have a big impact on interpretation. We hope it's now much easier to understand what we do.

At the same time, our fearless compute-cloud friends at Amazon AWS have been having some major bad-times over the past 48 hours. A production-push announcement wouldn't be complete without acknowledging their current pain. We host the bitmenu.com platform on Amazon's EC2, and related services. Starting late Wednesday night we saw the lights flickering but everything seemed to continue operating fine. Then as of 1am PST Thursday morning, and for the past 48 hours, they've been in the house of pain with a major east-coast USA outage.

The key to our dodging the outage is that we're not constantly bouncing EC2 instances with EBS mount/unmount events. To do so is not necessarily a bad design, but may be needed in systems that repeatedly get stuck for unknown reasons. Hey, we're not built on Ruby *cough*.

We run our system on a hand-rolled AWS stack, based on bash shell with it's own failover using haproxy, polling, and cron. As such, we can do progressive production pushes across multiple machines, without customers seeing the event. Now if you are still following me, and you know what that is, then you are an old school bad ass.

In a nutshell, we didn't go out, even though we're in us-east-1, which has been suffering through the outage event. Many thanks to Vincent Jorgensen, who's keen design is proving quite solid. UPDATE: O'Reilly Media's George Reese posted his perspective on the outage one day after.

All that, and today's my birthday.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bitmenu In the News

Thanks to Ellie Behling of eMediaVitals.com for her coverage of Bitmenu publishers and the Bitmenu story:

Single sales of digital content: one publisher's success story

eMediaVitals.com is a New York City based online publication serving print media executives who are transitioning their business to emedia.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Production Push, to Vista with Love

We just pushed to production and I'd like to highlight two notable changes (of many) that folks will see.

Vista users will have a bit friendlier experience when using our downloader. Previously files were automatically downloaded to the "Desktop", but due to Vista's different foldering-system, the "Desktop" was not easily navigable for many users. Windows XP and Windows 7 users don't have this problem. Windows Vista Open Dialog We're out to make all of our user's experience easy, so have changed the system for Vista users. When a file is downloaded, it is now saved to the "Documents" folder, and the file Explorer is automatically opened to the save-to location.

The second change is subtle, but should make every transaction smoother. We're now sending dual-formatted HTML/plaintext email receipts to users. They no longer have the scary-long URL links that we exposed in previous emails. They also provide a way to side-load content into all supported systems. So go ahead, save directly to iTunes, iBooks, or whatever supported destination there is.

Our goal is to produce the most open and reliable delivery system on the market. These new improvements create a smoother user experience when they come into play.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Discovery Patterns: Timing is everything

At Bitmenu, we've noticed some consistent ways that people discover and access digital media.

Time of Day
The right product at the right price is only part of the equation.  People check their email, Facebook and twitter accounts at various times during the day.  Knowing how a given community accesses these feeds makes them excellent vehicles for sharing offers.

When offers are announced regularly, at a given time of day, those publishers enjoy waves of purchases immediately after sharing a link as their promotion propagates across their community.

Regardless if done by email broadcast, Facebook post, or by Tweet, the first spike of downloads can occur within minutes after an announcement. As a campaign's day progresses, buying picks up towards the late afternoon and evening as people get off school or work and take care of personal business.

Global wake-up
For a US-based publisher, the sharing progresses across the globe as the evening arrives.  Pacific countries like New Zealand and Australia have healthy media appetites. Then Asia, Africa and finally Europe wake up and discover what opportunities have arrived in their feeds.

Weekends see no less action.  Not all users check their messages daily, and others put off acting on some items until they have time to consider their choices carefully.  Some publishers find the weekend provides an excellent time to make new offers available.

These traffic patterns are consistent with what is described in this formal study from Buddy Media.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Customer Love

At Bitmenu, our most direct communications with end users happen through our customer services.  We engage each customer purchase issue as an opportunity to learn and grow while supporting our publishers.  After all, publishers have enough to worry about producing content and sharing their Bitmenu links through posts and emails.

Users remind us to recognize that sharing links and files is still very new.  Different machines and browsers behave differently.  Most users have not knowingly downloaded large files.  And, many network connections are not reliable.

We have seen users downloading from race courses over mobile phone networks, from highly secure military and corporate networks, and from iPads while in the stables with their horses.  Immediate gratification means the purchase and delivery happens when the impulse strikes.

Some browsers encounter a network hiccup and report the download is complete (we call this a "false positive").  A quick look at the file's properties verifies the case.  Users can always retry a failed download until they succeed.  After paying, the links don't expire until the content is fulfilled, even months later.  

We are aggressive with refunds.  If a user has any post-download issue (I lost my file, my machine blew up, I bought it at work but want it on my home machine, it was really for my son in college, etc) we don't ask questions.  When we see the file was downloaded and no longer available, we refund and invite them to try their purchase again through the link we share with them in our email response. 

We want satisfaction and we love hearing from customers. The thanks we get, and the repeated additional purchases from users who interact with us, make us realize the value of customer services. Reducing customer support issues through technology is part of the job at Bitmenu.




Friday, April 8, 2011

Direct to iPad Delivery for e-Books

We are proud to announce direct delivery to iPad or iPhone for purchased PDF or ePUB products - with no app required.

Now a customer can buy and take delivery to their Apple device and start reading immediately on that device.  They can still download to their computer and then synch using iTunes, of course, but the new direct download capability enables buyers to respond to the momentary urge to buy and read e-books and presentations while they are on the go.

Bitmenu direct delivery to PCs, Macs, Android and iOS devices opens up non-bookstore distribution for a myriad of publications, such as travel guides on the road, speaker slides at conferences, workbooks in class, and novels at the beach.

Publishers producing standard ePUB and PDF products shorten production timelines, slash publication costs and remove the approval bottlenecks associated with custom apps for content.

Best of all, authors and publishers are in control of the entire process: they can create special offers for events and appearances, watch purchases as they happen and see their account balance growing in real time.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Selling with Simple Links

The shopping-cart buying process is a poor fit for smart phones.

Consider coming to this blog from your phone or tablet. Maybe you heard about a presentation given by Jason at a recent Plug and Play Tech Center event and you wanted to get the slides for $.99.

Or you might have received a tweet about the latest issue of Sidelines magazine (left).

The publishers of these items use Bitmenu to create links to their files.  By including these simple links in this blog post, this page becomes a point of sale.  Nothing was embedded, nor was a code snippet needed.   The publisher gets paid and the buyer gets the product.

You can use your mobile device to pay for and get these items as well.  Upon clicking the link, you go to the payment provider, and, upon successful purchase, download directly to your PC/Mac, Android or even to an iPhone or iPad, to be saved in iBooks.

Creating links with Bitmenu enables sales and delivery for immediate consumption and lasting impact.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Apache ZooKeeper in the Cloud

At Bitmenu, I find myself working with lots of systems tools that were developed with a few implicit design criteria: 1) Data centers with 2) physical machines that have their own 3) local permanent storage.

But Bitmenu is entirely Cloud-based, and thus we need to rethink how we use our tools (or if we should use them at all) in a world where 1) we don't control the IPs of 2) machines which evaporate unexpectedly losing all 3) local impermanent storage.

One such tool is we've been experimenting with is ZooKeeper. It seems that it was designed to best work in a static IP environment, very common in a data center topology. At startup, the configuration file identifies all the members of its quorum, i.e. the other ZooKeeper services. Since Bitmenu's platform runs exclusively in Amazon's Elastic Computing Cloud, we don't have the luxury of getting the same IP address from EC2 instance to EC2 instance. From the outset, a resilient ZooKeeper topography looked almost impossible; because if a member of the quorum changes--a ZooKeeper instance dies or becomes unresponsive, all very real events in the Cloud and usually require just replacing the failing instance--then all the other members must necessarily restart in order to get the address of the new member.

Fortunately, I figured out a little trick to keep all alive instances of ZooKeeper running and get new information about the change of a quorum member without resorting to a restart.

LinkOn Linux, there's a file called /etc/hosts, which is a list of static IP addresses and the names of hosts that they resolve to. They can be FQDN, but they don't have to be. So for example I can have a static entry that looks like:

192.168.1.12 printer1

And in normal Linux configurations, any host lookup will go to this file to resolve its name before using DNS, NIS, or other resolving protocols (the lookup order is controlled by /etc/nsswitch.conf, where usually "files" comes first).

In the zoo.cfg file, the configuration file for ZooKeeper that is parsed on startup, instead of putting in static IPs, I put in host names, like so:

...
server.1=zoov1:2888:3888
server.2=zoov2:2888:3888
server.3=zoov3:2888:3888
...


Then I created a script that checks to see if the IP address for any of the three machines of the quorum has changed by polling an S3 file. If true, then it modifies the IP address /etc/hosts entry. I put his script into cron and run it every minute.

When a machine drops out of the quorum, its replacement will update its IP address in S3, which can then be read by the script above, and update the /etc/hosts file accordingly. ZooKeeper therefore doesn't require restart, and keeps polling until it can communicate with all members of its quorum.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What is Social Commerce?

Yesterday, Matthew Mengerink of eBay announced they were working on a social commerce platform targeting developers like Bitmenu. The news came at Plug and Play Tech Center's International Expo, held in Sunnyvale, CA. This immediately drew our attention because of our experience providing a turnkey storefront for digital content publishers on Facebook. Having an allergic reaction to marketing terms like "social commerce", we had to step back and ask what it means.

What exactly is "social commerce"? Wikipedia would like to define social commerce as getting advise from trusted individuals prior to a transaction. It seems that there's a tremendous opportunity to expand that definition though, as so many companies are testing new ways to engage their audience.

We see the foundation of social commerce as "identity." If you don't know who a individual is, how can you call them trusted? There must be a way to identify who parties are before forming a trusted relationship.

Taken another way, if you see an individual's comments from a trusted network, even if you don't know (trust) the individual, you may place enough trust on the network to place more weight on their comments. In the early days, the internet placed a lot of weight on anonymity, but now with services like LinkedIn, and Facebook, we seem to be moving away from that. These services encourage real relationships and implicitly reject anonymous interactions.

We're taking action on this idea with some of our publishers. The book "Racing Yesterday" is being sold by it's author, Andy Baxter on his website.

Initially the book was available only as a link from the site, with a call to action to make the purchase on Amazon. When we added Facebook's social comment plugin to the the website, the uptick and analytics from sales were quite a surprise. Additionally, the uptick in physical sales of his book are on an upward path. As an author, why wouldn't you do this? We think that having real people comment, from the trusted Facebook network, helped make the difference.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Location, location, location

Events surface intentions to buy. The "location" of the event itself is the best sales venue for aftermarket digital sales. Rather than "shop" in a "store" (and confront up-sells, cross-sells, and superficial reviews of questionable authority), the web encourages communities to form around common interests where friends can recommend what to buy and how to use what is bought. Here's one example of events and social media working together to help buyers discover and act.

We see the power of social selling each time USRowing produces race videos and makes them available for sale through twitter announcements. Their target markets are the contestants themselves and their immediate friends and families. Over and over again, we saw video files going into our system, the offers being generated, the tweet go out, and then, BAM.

For several days following a given regatta (some which generated hundreds of races), sales consistently picked up around 3pm every day, with no further announcements from USRowing. Often, hand-held devices were used to make the purchase. Our analytics consistently revealed races downloaded in clumps of purchases around a given time. And now, even though the 7-minute race ended almost a year ago, we get sales going through the system long after all the excitement has died down. Viral networks at work!

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Publisher's Perspective on Piracy

Tim O'Reilly was interviewed about digital publishing in the most recent issue of Forbes magazine. Anyone considering selling their own ebooks or other digital content should read the article and consider what he says about building direct sales channels to buyers.

"I see publishers bemoaning their fate and saying that this is the end of publishing. No! Publishers will recreate themselves. My entire class, if you like, of computer book publishers were all self-published authors who then extended their services to other people. O’Reilly, Peachpit, Ventana Press, Waite Group Press—we all emerged about the same time in the mid-eighties and all of the others were eventually bought; we’re the only one that’s still around as an independent publisher. But all of them were self-published authors that turned into publishers. And I will guarantee you that the next crop of publishers will be successful self-published e-book authors who start offering services to other authors."

The full interview transcript suggests the value of building channels to buyers.

"If you look at our channels today in e-books, our direct sales are our largest channel. Our second-largest e-book channel is Safari, which we also control. So we’ve been building channels for some time."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Five C's

When we first started, we quickly figured out the profile of a publisher who's likely to succeed. In no particular order, a successful publisher has the Five C's:


Community
Who and where is the community that you'll market to? If you can say "Surfers on Facebook" or "Romance authors at books.com" then you're way ahead of the game. Or, if you have an email list, which is an audience, that's good too.


Content
You've got to have interesting and compelling content, no secret there. It can be great photography, a children's story, a video documentary, or a guitar lesson. Later I'll talk about good production when it comes to video & audio. Test the content by sharing with someone who is in the target community, preferably NOT a friend so you get honest feedback.

Control
Do you have (or control) the sales rights to what you are selling? Sounds obvious, but you need to confirm. The place where most people get into trouble is either by using music without the rights, or shooting video in a venue that is not a public area (like in a sports arena). If in doubt, check it out.

Credibility
Sales are tied to your credibility. If you're a known and trusted voice, people will be at least familiar with the name, so lowering the barrier to "yes". If not visible, start publishing free portions of your work to gauge your reception and so people get to know you.

Continuity
Once is not enough! To build your business, you must commit to continue publishing. Think of them as consumables, so that after each one, people are ready for another one. It may be daily, weekly or monthly, but the more you produce the more revenue you stand to make. After the first few products are out, it's common to feel like "this is alot of work". That's where most people drop off, never to be heard from again. Plan your production schedule and work your plan!

Technology Platform

We are publishers. The founding team at Bitmenu is made up of video podcasters, all publishing our own independent content. We found that there wasn't a viable way to sustain our publishing efforts through advertising, and set out to build a platform to solve that problem.

Bitmenu's technology stack stands on the shoulders of giants, including Amazon's AWS, PayPal's Adaptive Payments, Google's GWT, Apple's iTunes, and Facebook's Social Plugins. It is constantly evolving, as we add and iterate new features, but the fundamental building blocks are the same: servers in the cloud deliver content to buyers all over the world who download the files using any kind of device. In turn, sellers have the tools to engage their community and audience to make their content better, and buyers have a simple and clean purchase experience.

The platform has a lot going on behind the scenes to make your experience as a publisher, or as the audience, as simple and easy as possible. We'll be posting snapshots of aspects of the platform in the coming weeks, to give a glimpse behinds the scenes. Subscribe to our feed and follow the story.