Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hubpages' Attempt to Clone Squidoo is a Bust

TechCrunch's Michael Arrington delivers a glowing—but in my view unwarranted—paean to Hubpages, the beta version of a topical Web page publishing site—and erstwhile Squidoo competitor—that's funded by $2 million from Hummer-Winblad Venture Partners. Hubpages calls its version of a Squidoo Lens a Hub. According to Hubpages' FAQ, "A Hub is your personal webpage, written and designed by you, with lots of help from us. It's your Hub. Use it to share your passions with the world, whatever they might be." Sure sounds like Squidoo to me. Update 9/16/2006: Canadian venture capitalist Rick Segal takes on Arrington's continuing denigration of Squidoo. Details and links follow in the "Subsequent Events" section at the end of this updated post. Both Hubpages and Squidoo target the same niche: folks who desire to opine or expert on a particular topic. Unlike blogs, which usually resemble online personal diaries, Hubpages and Squidoo forego blogs' temporal aspect and encourage contributors to update their Hub or Lens page(s) frequently. Hubpages and Squidoo entice prospective contributors with prospects of income from shared advertising revenue. Hubpages pays 60% of ad impression revenue and creates an AdSense account for users who don't have one. Hubpages also links to Amazon Associate and eBay Affiliate accounts. Squidoo pays contributors 50% of profits but doesn't provide information about operating costs. Note: According to this February 16, 2006 post by Squidoo Lensmaster Darren Rowse, the "most profitable lens on Squidoo" earned $10.21 over two months. Squidoo now claims some Lensmasters make $50 per month. My four Squidoo Lenses have returned $0.39 (donated to charity) in the few months since Squidoo exited the beta stage. My The Black Scholar lens is #2 of 29,900 for a Google search on "The Black Scholar". It's unlikely that anyone will get rich by authoring Lenses or Hubs. Arrington's May 9, 2006 post, Squidoo: Seth Godin’s Purple Albatross?, includes a "Why Squidoo Won’t Work" headline that foretells the demise of Squidoo because:

The best lenses are generating $30 or so a month for the lensmaster. A true expert on a topic could generate many, many times that number by creating a blog, along with some static content, and putting up simple Google adsense ads. So top content producers are not going to be heading to Squidoo for the money, ever (Squidoo’s model is set up in such a way that they could never make as much money from a lens as they could on their own). And besides, the blog format just works better for experts - fresh content generates lots of links, which equals traffic and search engine juice.

The only unanswered question is whether or not experts will go to Squidoo even without the financial incentive. Maybe, but Squidoo’s tools are not particularly advanced - self publishing is easy these days.

If Squidoo and Hubpages share the same target audience, why does Arrington wax enthusiastic for the future success of Hubpages? Better tools?

Comparing Hubpages and Squidoo's Creation Tools Arrington proclaims, "The creation tools are far beyond what [W]ikia or [S]quidoo has currently (I’d appreciate any comments on this from Squidoo authors), using ajax for previews, moving modules around on the page, etc. They’ve done a really nice job." I haven't worked with Wikia's creation tools, but Hubpages' limited Capsule set doesn't even come close to the number and usefulness of Squidoo's Modules collection.

Here's a list of Hubpages' eight current Capsules with brief descriptions:

  • Text opens a client-side HTML graphic editor that doesn't include the abilty to edit the HTML source code or include images. You must copy and paste HTML with tags that you can't add with the editor.
  • Link enables adding multiple hyperlinks to a Capsule. The description block doesn't support HTML formatting and truncates—without advance notice—text longer than about 250 characters.
  • Photo lets you add an image from your file system or the Web. However, my attempt to add a photo resulted in the image being zoomed to the width of the hub and displace with black and white reversed.
  • News does a search of Yahoo news with the Hub name as the search term and displays three links to "related" items. You can't customize the News capsule.
  • RSS displays an RSS feed from a specified URL but doesn't support Atom 0.3 or format HTML contained in full-text description elements.
  • Comment displays a comments field that you can elect to be moderated, sent an e-mail when a comment is received, or both.
  • eBay is a revenue capsule that lets you specify a keyword to display links to related auctions or specific eBay items.
  • Amazon is a revenue capsule that lets you specify keywords or an ASIN code to display related items for sale.

My The Black Scholar sample Hub includes an example of each of the preceding Capsules.

Here's a capture of Hubpages' HTML editor for Text Capsules:

The following list describes the most widely used of the current Squidoo Modules:

  • Introduction—is the default Module for a site and offers a WYSIWYG HTML editor with HTML source editing capability. This module accepts a site image anchored at top left.
  • Text—renamed Write! (and add a Photo)—lets you add your own HTML formatting tags and display an image. The editor has a limit of 2,500 characters, but tells you how many you've used. There's no WYSIWYG HTML editor for this Module.
  • Link—renamed The Link List—doesn't include a WYSIWYG HTML editor either, but you can add your own tags for hyperlinks and formatting of the description text. There's no limit to the length of the description field that I've been able to find.
  • List—renamed Make a List—lets you add ordered or unordered lists and manually format the text. Hubpages' Text Capsule can format text as lists, but appear to remove the bullet prefixes exiting edit mode and number prefixes greater than 9 overwrite the text.
  • Flickr Pictures lets you add images to lenses, with or without a Flickr account.
  • YouTube adds an embedded flash video player Module.
  • RSS—AKA Add Your Own Feed—works with RSS and ATOM 0.3/1.0 feeds and lets you include and excerpt of 100 characters or the full text of the feed with optional HTML formatting. You also can specify the update frequency.
  • Guestbook lets readers enter comments (blurbs) about your Lens. The module is similar to Hubpages' Comment module but doesn't offer moderation and notification options.
  • Quick Poll supports multiple-choice reader polls on a specific question.
  • Google Maps enables adding a map with the centerpoint at the location you specify.
  • Amazon displays in a single module multiple entries for books, CDs, DVDs or other items you specify by ASIN.
  • eBay lets you display a randomly updated display of items based on your Lens' tags, specific items, or items offered by a seller you specify.
  • Technorati returns links to and optional content from posts tagged with the keyword(s) you specify.
  • BoingBoing, Word of the Day, JamBase Music News, BBC, Indeed Jobs, Engadget, and similar Modules appear to be aimed at entertaining readers rather than delivering expert comment on the Lens topic.

It's clear from the preceding lists that Squidoo offers more (20) modules than Hubpages (8) and that Squidoo has more versatile display capabilities for at least the two most important Module/Capsule types—Text and Link. Hubpages doesn't offer a corresponding List Capsule. Squidoo's Amazon and eBay Modules are more usable in my opinion than corresponding Hubpages Capsules. My original The Black Scholar Lens that I started early in Squidoo's beta cycle, contains multiple Text, Link, List, Amazon, and YouTube Modules.

Here's a capture of Squidoo's text editor for Introduction modules: To be fair, Hubpages' Comment Capsule, is better suited for reader feedback than Squidoo's Guestbook Module because the former has comment moderation and notification options. Hopefully, Squidoo will soon offer a full-featured Comments module and a WYSIWYG editor for the Text and Link modules.

Compare my original Squidoo Lens with what I consider to be a lame Hubpages clone. Notice especially the truncated missing text in the Links Capsule description field.

Divvying up the Pot

According to Arrington's February 7, 2006 post, "Hubpages a Better Squidoo?," it woul be Hubpages' bigger split of the pot for contributors that will be the secret of the start-up's success. But if "top content producers are not going to be heading to Squidoo for the money, ever," because "they could never make as much money from a lens as they could on their own," will they author Hubs instead of starting their own blog and keeping all the ad revenue to themselves? After all, it's not likely that Hub authors will receive "many, many times" the revenue of current Squidoo contributors on a popular topic.

It seems to me that Seth Godin and the Hubpages/HumWin folks are rearranging the deckchairs on the same vessel. Here are the one-year Alexa stats for reach:

and for pageviews: Notice the similarity between the data for the first couple of months after the two fims went into the public beta phase. It will take consistent traffic growth for Hubpages to deliver the pageviews that result in significant "Hubmaster" income, even with a more generous split. Is there reason to believe that Hubpages will do as well or better than Squidoo during the months following the initial traffic spikes? I don't think so. Here's hoping that Arrington will provide the details that might resolve what appears to me to be his contradictory stance on the viability of topical page hosting as a business.

Subsequent Events [9/14-15/2006]

Michael Arrington delivered a presentation to The Future of Web Apps conference held in San Francisco on September 13-14, 2006. According to Dan Farber, who covered the the conference for ZD Net, Arrington included Squidoo in a "What were they thinking" list of companies that he was "not proud that they exist." The startups subject to Arrington's stigmata are Inform, Gather, PubSub, Browzor, Jigsaw, and Squidoo.

Of that group, I'm only familiar with Gather, which appears to me as an innocuous social sitebuilding startup that claims to be "a place to connect over common interests and passions, to engage in dialog or share different viewpoints." BusinessWeek's Liz Ryan named Gather one of the Top Ten Desktop Diversions of 2006 on March 27, 2006. I'm inclined to give a BusinessWeek columnist far more credence than a blog entrepreneur.

On June 18, 2006, Arrington favorably reviewed Wetpaint, an ad-supported Wiki hosting site, which received $5 million funding from Trinity Ventures and Frazier Technology Ventures. Arrington said that Wetpaint "is the best hosted wiki I’ve seen so far," comparing it to competitiors pbwiki, Wikia, and JotSpot.

My impression of these wiki sites is that they are simply free (ad-supported) or paid Web site hosts with multi-person editing, comments, or both enabled. For example, pbwiki offers free, $9.95, $24.95, and $34.95 per month options. JotSpot (requires free registration to read) has $9.95, $24.95, $69.95, and $199.95 per month plans. Wikia requires a wiki to "have a large potential audience and be likely to attract enough editors to maintain the wiki." The preceding links open simple test wikis; here's a link to a more complete Wetpaint wiki. Unless you enable multiple editors, most of these sites offer fewer editing widgets than Squidoo. I've seen nothing so far to convince me that any of these startups have much—if anything—more to offer than Squidoo, Google Pages, or Blogger.

Canadian venture capitalist Rick Segal takes on Arrington's castigation of Squidoo in a trilogy of posts—Mike Arrington - Sit Down, Michael Arrington Responds, and The Good of Web 2.0. Squidoo donates a portion of advertising revenue after expenses to charity, and Squidoo Lensmasters have the option of donating their Ad Sense earnings to charity. Segal's issue is Arrington's insistence on an accounting of Squidoo's donations before considering a retraction of his miscategorization of Squidoo.

Arrington's Squidoo-related posts and comments demonstrate to me that he harbors personal enmity for Squidoo and/or Seth Godin. The question for TechCrunch readers is the extent to which personal animus biases Arrington's "Web 2.0" reviews.

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Anonymous said...

turns out you were wrong.

Anonymous said...

The concept is similar to that of oondi ( except that oondi will pay out 100% of the advertisement profits to the authors. Their hosting costs are covered by clicks which occur on non-author owned pages like the index but I suppose it's basically a non-profit organization similar to Wikipedia rather than a commercial one like HubPages or Squidoo.

Big Giver said...

Great Article! I've been Squidooing for about 3 months. I currently have 25 lenses there. 21 active and 4 in progress. On one hand I really like and enjoy it because I haven't figured out how to build a website yet. Squidoo gives me a place to create content and save it in a "Site" where I can send others to. Right now I am doing articles to try and get traffic and I have plans to do videos later.

On the down side, I hardly get anyone from within the squidoo community coming to any of my sites. Maybe 3-4 a week. Don't understand what that's about. Also I have had extremely frustrating experiences with some of the modules. I gave up on the links module and learned to create hyperlinks to lead users to my affiliate and information sites.

I wish I could do more with pictures, but I'm learning some HTML so maybe that will change soon. The rank thing is a mystery too. I learned I could submit my lenses to Bookmarking sites like Technorati and the others and my rank would shoot up quite a bit. But then I watched it sink again slowly over the next few weeks.

I spent months studying SEO and keywords yet there's a limit to what I can do here. In Squidoo, I can pull up the page source and see the html but I don't have access to it to insert keywords etc. I try to put keywords in my content and I use a site that lets me enter the lens url and it will give me a list of keywords but I have no way of knowing if this is helping.

I will continue to use Squidoo, mainly to write reviews of my affiliate programs. I put together a guitar series a while back (yes I am a musician and songwriter) and am in the process of building lenses for it. So it is nice to have a place to post them. I love writing content and I love sharing my musical experience with others. I spent 12 years living and playing in Nashville and learned a lot I think some would be interested in. I have plans on building a site or lens later dedicated to those dreaming of "making it" in Music City, to help prepare them for the reality of the music business. They really have no idea. I've quit kidding myself about making any money with Squidoo.

I started a blog once but I don't really have time to monitor it everyday so I gave it up. But after reading this article I may start it back up.

I started with HubPages about a month ago. I have 4 there now but I haven't been able to get the hyperlink thing to work there like I do in squidoo so until I can figure that out I'll stick with Squidoo.

Thanks for listening. I'm going to go check out some of these other sites similar to these 2. I'll close by listing s few of my lenses if anyone cares to check them out. Again, great and much needed article. Maybe all the squids will wake up and smell the coffee, lol.


DNA Labs said...

I work on with Squidoo and not much familiar with hub pages. However, i got to know so much about the hub pages here. I think i can have my articles on hub pages too.