Small Business

A Case Study in Online Promotion


Wikipedia users teach a Harvard B-school prof a lesson; a new, Digg-like venture deals with buzz; MySpace issues legal warnings to startups; and more

A Harvard Prof's Rude Introduction to Wikipedia Provides a Case Study in Online Promotion

You can't have a lofty ego in Web 2.0 land, a Harvard Business School professor discovered. Andrew McAfee, a professor of technology and operations management, thought it was pretty cool when his term, "Enterprise 2.0," summarizing the collective force of Web 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis, got picked up in Wikipedia in 2006, when someone unknown to McAfee wrote the stub of an article and others pitched in. "I was bizarrely proud when my work rose to the level of inclusion" in the user-generated online encyclopedia, he recalls.

Then, just as quickly as his online fame expanded, there was a glitch. The article was targeted by a user for deletion (see BusinessWeek.com, 3/22/07, "Wikipedia's Not the Net Police"). That led to days of intense debate, pro and con, by Wikipedia users. McAfee says he learned about the opposing philosophies of "inclusionism" and "deletionism."

He says he's also become convinced that young companies will rely ever less on "channel" technologies like e-mail and more on "platform technologies" like Facebook and MySpace (NWS) to communicate externally and internally. "Platform technologies are universally visible and transparent and open to everybody. I think the communication bias of young people today has migrated from channel to platform."

Oh, and about that Wikipedia article marked for deletion: A Wikipedia administrator reviewed all the arguments, and finally decided in favor of McAfee. But his victory was short-lived. "One of the people on the other side of the debate took it upon himself to truncate the article greatly and change the title of it…which left me a little unsatisfied, I have to say."

For more, read the Harvard Business School account of McAfee's experience, and the full case.

"Killing Digg Is Not Our Goal" Says Hot Startup

Credit Streamy.com, a planned news and networking site, was creating so much buzz that its co-founder, Donald Mosites, felt compelled on his blog to say Digg, the well-established news-filtering site, isn't a competitive target.

Streamy.com bills itself as "a place to read, discuss, and share the best stories on the Web." It's apparently becoming so hard to get invited to participate in the private beta testing currently going on that some invitation recipients are auctioning them on eBay (EBAY). StartUp Squad reports that one invite was auctioned for $11 and another for $25.

Is MySpace Into Killing Startups?

TechCrunch reports that at least three startups have shut down services in the last 15 months after receiving legal warnings from MySpace. The latest, Tellthem.mobi, says on its site: "On Wednesday August 29th, 2007, we got a call from MySpace threatening to take legal action if we didn't take the Web site down. Apparently it violates their terms of service…" Tellthem.mobi enabled MySpace users to use their mobile phones to send messages and photos from their MySpace site. Tellthem.mobi may be down, but it's not out. "We will be developing many new tools for social networks such as Facebook and Bebo ," it says on its old site, and adds that it's looking for investors.

"Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal"

That's not just what many business owners come to conclude after a few years of running an enterprise, it's the title of a new book (Chelsea Green Publishing; August, 2007) by Virginia farmer Joel Salatin (see BusinessWeek.com, 8/10/07, "A New Push to Make Farming Profitable" ). He provides example after hair-splitting example of government and corporate bureaucrats seemingly going out of their way to make life difficult for business owners—in this case one who makes his living from the land.

There are the meat inspectors who object to his slaughtering beef on his farm for sale to consumers, and who end up suggesting a scheme whereby he charges mostly for the shipping rather than for the beef itself, as a way to get around regulations. There is the insurance agent who pulls Salatin's homeowners' insurance because he's selling food from the farmhouse directly to consumers. There are the state agriculture dept. veterinarians who arrive unannounced on his farm at 6 p.m. one Friday. "The veterinarians said they wanted to take blood samples [from chickens] to test for avian flu. I responded emphatically, 'You are not welcome here. You may not exit the car. You are trespassing and I demand that you leave immediately.' " The men left, never to return, according to Salatin. It turned out to be an approach to dealing with government meddling that he used more than once.

This is an entertaining, and potentially instructive, read for anyone who feels the government spends too much effort interfering in business owners' lives.

David Gumpert is a journalist who blogs reports regularly about the business of health and has written a number of books about small business and entrepreneurship, including Burn Your Business Plan! He writes his What Entrepreneurs Need to Know columnevery other week.

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