Site of the Week: Terapad

March 30, 2007


Terapad isn’t the most advanced free blogging tool out there, but its business-minded features and 2GB of free storage might make it attractive to entrepreneurial bloggers.


Easy-to-use tools. E-commerce features. 2GB free storage. Static page editing. Good features for editing posts. Image galleries.

Free accounts display ads. Limited customization options. Unintuitive site navigation.


SiteJourney, Ltd.
http://www.terapad.com

Price As Tested: $0.00 – $5.00 Direct

Terapad.com’s tagline, “Beyond Blogging,” is fairly apropos. Many other free online apps, such as Blogger, Vox, LiveJournal, and WordPress.com, put their focus strictly on the act of blogging—other features are added only to enhance that experience. With Terapad, blogging is just one of its tools, which are aimed at helping you quickly and easily create an online presence. Depending on what you’re looking for, Terapad’s broader, more business-minded focus will prove either a blessing or a curse.

After a visit to the home page, however, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Terapad was primarily a blogging service. Like a traditional blog site, it lists links to blogs that have been created using the service, a searchable list of post tags, and links to image galleries. On a whole, the layout indicates a service that’s attempting to build a community, something that’s becoming more and more popular among free blogging services. It’s nothing like the social-networking features offered by the Vox or LiveJournal sites, but it is a quick and easy way to discover how others use the platform. Under Terapad’s surface is a good selection of tools that might help your very small business boost its online presence. More on these later.

Getting Started

A small link on the home page prompts you to sign up for an account. Strangely, there’s no log-in on the home page for current users—a big oversight. I found myself repeatedly checking my Terapad confirmation e-mail and using the link whenever I wanted to log back in. The account-creation process will prove a familiar experience for all of those who have tried this kind of service: You pick a site address (for example, ziffdavisiswickedsweet.terapad.com), a site name, an optional tagline, and one of six templates (a pretty paltry selection, though a Terapad representative told me that the number will increase to a far more respectable 26 on April 15). The whole process is simple and takes only a few minutes.

The sign-up process also includes a couple of unique options, including the type of site (Both Blog and Pages, Blog Only, Web Pages Only), and a list of optional site features, including News/Blog, Image Gallery, Forums, Shop, Events, and Careers. It’s through these optional features that Terapad’s “Beyond Blogging” concept comes into play, making Terapad as much a user-friendly small-business tool as it is a blogging platform.

The Blogging
Once you’ve created an account, you’re greeted with an intro page, featuring the word “Welcome!” next to a big smiley face. Terapad doesn’t have the sort of step-by-step instruction offered by Blogger and Vox, but it does give a few handy tips for getting started.

The top of the Terapad editor is lined with 15 tabs (fewer if you’ve deactivated features), with options such as Editors, Pages, and Forums. Terapad makes it pretty clear that blogging is not the site’s main concern, by hiding the “Add Blog Post” feature halfway down the Blog page, which can be found by clicking on the Blog tab, located on the second row of tabs.

The WYSIWYG post editor is a pretty straightforward proposition, with a good number of options, including a spell-checker, a handful of font and style options, and a feature that lets you insert basic tables. With Content Templates you can position the post’s text in three basic formats: Image and Title; Two Columns (of text); and Text and Table. Clicking Source allows you to edit the post’s HTML. Above the text editor are fields for assigning a post category and setting a date for the post to be published later. Below is a field for Tags and an option to make the post Sticky, keeping it static at the top of your blog, even as newer content is posted. The posting process is simple, and should be familiar to anyone who has ever used a word processor.

The layout options are limited unless you know CSS (if you do, you can edit at will). The layout of all of the current templates is the same—the key difference in each are the colors and graphics. No matter what you do with those variations, however, it’s going to be pretty clear to anyone who knows the service that you’re using a default Terapad template. That’s not the best way to differentiate your blog or small business. Among the free blog services that I’ve looked at, Terapad’s templates rank well below those offered by Vox and WordPress.com. The links that appear in your sidebar depend on the options that you clicked when starting out, though they can be changed at any time.

You can also integrate your site with a handful of third-party widgets, from companies such as Flickr, Google, and Meebo. The selection is a bit lacking at the moment, but Terapad says it’s in the process of adding more.

The only other customization option on the Layout page is the Sidebar Container option, allowing users to create basic text fields, which, along with your blogroll and widgets, appear below the large Google AdSense field. This means that unless your readers scroll down (sometimes way down) they might never see these widgets. Though the Google AdSense field is unfortunate, at least Terapad doesn’t force a big banner across the top of the page, as Blogger and LiveJournal do. There are also no obligatory social-networking portals on the side of the page—if you’re looking to hook up with fellow bloggers, LiveJournal and Vox are your best options.

The Google AdSense field can be deactivated only if you sign up for a premium account at $5 a month. That fee also gives you a whopping 20GB of storage space, though the rather impressive free amount of 2GB per blog will likely prove more than sufficient for most casual users.

Terapad for Business

Terapad has far and away the most small-business–minded features of any of the free blogging services that I’ve looked at. Given what initially seems to be a focus on the site’s blogging feature, I was surprised to learn from the company’s managing director, Stephan Tual, that Terapad actually began life as a CMS tool. The focus on blogging is new. Users and the press expressed interest in Terapad’s blogging abilities, so the company has shifted focus accordingly.

Its newfound emphasis on blogging aside, the site still seems aimed at helping you quickly create a full-fledged online presence. As with WordPress.com, you can build static pages that look aesthetically similar to the main blog. These pages, which are accessible through your site’s sidebar, are good for creating About pages or other similar informational resources for your site. You can also make them the focus of your site, eliminating the blogging feature altogether.

The Online Shop option, which lets you sell products through a PayPal store, makes Terapad an intriguing option for those with small retail ambitions: artists, perhaps, or eBay sellers. Terapad can even help you staff up, via a Careers option that lets you post your company’s open positions. For the time being, both these options are available only via your site, though Terapad has plans to create a large searchable database of all of the For Sale and Help Wanted listings. The tools are still pretty basic. If you’re looking for serious e-commerce tools, you’ll want to buy a dedicated app, or, even more likely, hire a Web designer to set up a site for you.

If you want to keep your small business or community organized, you can use Terapad’s events calendar, and you can stay in touch via a simple forum in addition to the standard post comments. There’s also an image gallery, which should help you use up some of that free storage. A simple stats page will help you keep track of your site’s performance. Though not as detailed as those offered by WordPress.com, the feature is a worthwhile bonus.

These features, along with its straightforward blogging solution, make Terapad worth a look for anyone who wants a quick and easy app for building an online business presence. There are certainly far more advanced SMB solutions around, but they’ll probably cost you more time and money. As far as free blogging services go, Terapad is good, but it lacks many of the specialized solutions many users want, such as the social networking. Small-scale entrepreneurs will appreciate the site’s unique combination of semipro tools and its generous free storage. Those looking to blog for blogging’s sake should take a look at Vox or WordPress.com.

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The Rise of Niche Social Networks and That Money Question

March 15, 2007

By Heather Green

With the phenomenal growth of MySpace, it makes perfect sense that over the past year, a host of niche social networks including Nike’s Joga soccer site, Dogster, and the boomer site Eons would pop up. It’s impossible at this point to beat MySpace in the general market, so go niche.

This morning, I spoke with the Michael Sanchez, who kickstarted the fastgrowing CafeMom social network late last November. The site has around 100,000 registered users and is expected to do 20 million page views in March, up from 1.8 million in December. Definitely impressive growth.

So the questions become, how big can a niche site get and how much money can you make? Of course, that depends on the demographic and interest and how effective you can be in coming up with smart advertising that has an impact for marketets. That can help you get higher CPMs. But the ultimate problem is the very nichyness of a niche site. As Brian Balfour points out, you need scale to justify paying your own ad sales to sell your advertising. He has a great point that maybe most niche sites only make sense if they can team up with other niche sites and sell advertising across them. That also means you need to get smarter about a broader set of data, if you’re going to pull together sites about dog lovers and moms, for instance.

Either way, it seems like it makes sense to create a joint venture of other sites, or simply to sell the niche social network to a bigger company, such as a Viacom or an iVillage, that can integrate what you have into what they have. If Cafemom can keep growing, it will likely be a good buyout bet. But in the meantime, because the company also runs an older more mature site called ClubMom, it already has an advantage in terms of economies of scale (ad reps, bandwith, etc) than most standalone niche sites.

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Social Networking Goes Niche

March 14, 2007

Andrew Anker knew he had too many “friends” when business associates, looking to curry favor with his blogging company, began striking up conversations about his “cute” young daughter and his recent family outings. “It was a classic salesperson technique,” says Anker, “another way to create this creepy familiarity.”

So Anker, the general manager of consumer products at Six Apart, moved his blog to his California company’s latest product, Vox. It’s a social networking and blogging site with strict privacy controls, so users can limit who sees particular posts. Vox users can make some content available to the general public. Other posts and photos can only be seen by users designated as true friends, family members, or people in the user’s extended neighborhood (which includes friends of friends).

New Models

Since launching to the general public on Oct. 26, Vox has nearly tripled in size, says Anker. Its success indicates a trend among newer social networking sites, which are gaining traction not by focusing on the mass-popularity model that made News Corp.’s (NWS) MySpace famous, but by helping users connect with smaller, more specific, groups.

Take, for example, itLinkz. On Jan. 31, the social networking company launched the first of its 13 planned targeted networking sites. Its initial offering, NurseLinkup.com, already has more than 500 health professionals visiting the site. Michael Ragan, chief operating officer of itLinkz, says that the site launched, in part, to help users frustrated with the party atmosphere of MySpace, which has users with hundreds of thousands of friends and a reputation for having a 25-and-under audience. (Incidentally, comScore reports that more than half of MySpace users are over 35.) “MySpace is for everyone,” says Ragan. “Our focus is on communities.”

There are several reasons for the more targeted approach to social networking. One is the sheer popularity of sites such as MySpace and Friendster. As those sites have expanded and become among the Internet’s most trafficked, some users and potential users have grown wary about exposing themselves to so many people. Some users would rather connect with people with whom they share common interests, such as hobbies or professional associations, other than knowing somebody who knows somebody who is listed as a MySpace friend.

Some Successes

Debra Aho Williamson, a senior analyst at eMarketer, says a demand for more specific social networks, and the resulting targeted sites, is a natural outgrowth of MySpace and Friendster’s popularity. “The inevitable reaction to when something gets too big? Leave for a smaller, more personal experience,” Williamson wrote in an August report on social networking.

Dozens of such targeted sites have taken root in the past several years with varying degrees of success. Among the most popular is LinkedIn, a site with 9 million members focused on helping people further their career through professional networking (see BusinessWeek.com, 1/29/07, (see BusinessWeek.com, 1/29/07, “LinkedIn Reaches Out”).

Williamson cites Fuzzster, a social network for pet lovers; Yub.com, a site for shopaholics; Model Mayhem, a network for models and photographers; and Mog, a network for music lovers, as just some of the networks now catering to specific interests.

Other sites target demographics believed to be left out of the Friendsters of the world. Gather.com, for example, targets older users, more likely to listen to National Public Radio than hip hop. Chat rooms are focused on particular topics such as wine or politics (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/26/06, “Gather.com: Social Networking Grows Up”).

There are financial reasons fueling the targeting as well. Advertisers are expected to spend $1.9 billion on social networks by 2010, up from $280 million in 2006. The sites that commend the highest figures per ad impression are typically those that can tell the advertiser something about their audiences’ likely spending habits. Sites focused on shared interests allow advertisers to better target their messages.

Higher Costs

Ragan of itLinkz says advertisers are paying more each time their ads are viewed on his site than on more general social networks. Advertisers, he says, are paying double-digit figures for every 1,000 times their ad is viewed. MySpace’s average charge per 1,000 views is considerably less than $1, according to an August eMarketer study citing press reports. “There are only two questions that we get,” Ragan says. “How can I get more ad inventory and can I lock that rate in for a year?”

Ashton Peery, chief executive officer of Top10 Media, takes the target-marketing approach even further with StyleFeeder, a shopping-focused social network. Top10 Media creates Web entertainment platforms around which communities can interact, post comments, and discuss content. On StyleFeeder, users post products they like and find friends who like the same items or share a similar style. Products posted are linked to online merchants selling the items. StyleFeeder gets a cut of all purchases from recommendations. “When people want to get business done, they want a social site that is much more targeted,” says Peery.

The other aspect fueling targeted sites is privacy. Some users are wary of posting on the larger sites because they don’t want their boss, a college admissions officer, or relative finding pictures or posts they would rather keep for friends’ eyes only, says Six Apart’s Anker. Because they reach smaller audiences, targeted sites have less exposure than a major online destination such as MySpace, which had more than 64 million visitors in February.

Privacy Tools

Social networks are also satisfying this need by providing tools that allow users to select who sees content. The big networks, such as MySpace, have adopted limited privacy controls. (MySpace, for example, allows users to keep their entire profile private.) However, the newer social networking tools and platforms such as Vox have more targeted controls, allowing users to choose who in their vast network sees particular information.

Adesso Systems, which creates business and consumer Web applications, has built a “Tubes” networking and document sharing platform. The downloadable software allows users to segment their social network into as many groups as they want and then send information or files only to that group. For example, a user could have a Tubes toolbar on their computer with a folder for family, a folder for friends, a folder for a specific group of close co-workers, and then another folder for view by everyone in the office. When someone wants to share a photo, document, e-mail or other file with the group, he or she just drags it into the respective tube.

The company plans to add Web page capabilities, such as social networking user pages or blogs, later this year, says Steve Chazin, the company’s vice-president of marketing. Already, the Tubes’ site has seen 500,000 hits, says Chazin, making him confident there is sufficient user demand. Why? “There are a lot of people who don’t want to share pictures of last night’s party with their parents,” says Chazin.

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Space for everyone

March 7, 2007

Online social networking isn’t just for teenagers anymore.

The glitzy websites where young people bare their souls — and more — have gone mainstream over the past year, attracting users from grade school to retirement.

The past year has seen a proliferation of new online hangouts, with Imbee.com courting pre-MySpace tweens and Eons.com offering baby boomers a place to hang out and set up obituary alerts. Even the original teen-centric websites are getting a little grayer: 41 percent of the people over age 18 who visited MySpace.com during a recent four-week period were 35 or older, according to Internet tracking firm Hitwise USA Inc. Three years ago, 62 percent of Facebook.com visitors were ages 18 to 24; today, it’s less than half.

“The demographics are starting to spread out” as the total number of users skyrockets, said Bill Tancer , general manager of global research at Hitwise.

Visits to MySpace outpaced those to any other website in January, Tancer said. The top-20 social networking websites account for 6 percent of all Web visits, making them competitive in popularity with the Web’s other top pulls — adult sites, e-mail, entertainment, search engines, finance, and shopping.

It’s too soon to know whether today’s MySpace users will continue to use social networking websites as marriage, mortgages, and other real-life events begin to distract them from their virtual friends, but as users of all ages go online, MySpace has spawned dozens of clones targeting specific ages or interests.

Cheneka Hobbs , a 28-year-old mother, logs on to CafeMom.com just about every day to keep in touch with other moms, to post pictures of her 2-year-old daughter Chelia, and just to talk to adults.

“I work in a community center and work with teens all day; I go home and am with my daughter at night,” she said. “It’s a way to get some conversation and get some advice and see who I can meet in Massachusetts.”

Alexander Fryer is interested in more basic forms of play online. The 9-year-old from Edmond, Okla., began using social-networking websites two years ago, before he could even type, frequenting club.Lego.com to build his own virtual projects.

“It’s been exciting because you can see how many people have actually seen what I’ve done,” he said.

Today, the third grader uses ClubPenguin.com, where every child has his or her own penguin and igloo, and has tried out Imbee.com. His father, Wesley, said both sites offer a safe social-networking experience in contrast to the MySpace page, which has been criticized for allowing young people to post revealing personal details.

The social-networking platforms and options keep expanding:

Last week, Netscape co founder Marc Andreesen officially launched Ning.com , a tool that allows people to create custom social-networking communities.

In January, itLinkz Corp. started NurseLinkup.com, the first of 13 websites to be launched this year based on hobbies and professions.

Boston-based Adesso Systems Inc. recently unveiled Tubes , at tubesnow.com — a personal, private file-sharing network that allows people to drag video, audio, and other files into a shared ” tube” that shows up on their friends’ computers.

HeyLetsGo.com, a website where friends share events they’re interested in attending, expanded beyond Boston last month into San Francisco and New York.

On Monday, networking company Cisco Systems acquired assets of Utah Street Networks Inc., which powers the community website Tribe.net. Cisco also finished its acquisition of Five Across Inc., which builds social-networking platforms.

And yesterday Boston-based Eons.com revealed it closed on $22 million in additional financing.

“I think the Internet has always been about social sharing — it’s like the new water cooler. If there’s the new video clip on YouTube, you want to be part of a group” that knows about it, said Steve Chazin , vice president of marketing for Adesso Systems.

When Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought MySpace.com for $580 million in 2005, critics saw it as a gamble. But last summer, Google Inc. agreed to pay $900 million to offer Web search and advertising on Fox Interactive Media’s websites, including MySpace.com. Research firm eMarketer predicts companies will spend $1.9 billion on advertising on social network sites in 2010.

But the fertile social networking landscape also presents a fundamental challenge to site operators: how to attract a critical mass of members and capture the attention of advertisers.

Mothers looking for an online scene, for example, can try CafeMom.com, MommyBuzz.com, Parentography.com, MayasMom.com, or MothersClick.com, to name a few. How’s a mom to choose?

Each of the new companies is looking for a sweet spot, emphasizing a slightly different approach: better privacy controls, more media sharing, or a community of people with similar hobbies or ages.

“I think right now we have a bunch of very compartmentalized websites” outside of MySpace, Tancer said. “We don’t have a clear migration path. The time is ripe for that.”

One of the most successful spaces so far is LinkedIn.com, a website scrubbed of MySpace’s glitz , where professionals post bland résumé items and connect with others in the same profession.

The site has 9 million members, and has been adding more than 100,000 users a week, indicating that this might be one path social networkers take as they age out of their teens.

“When you’re below 30, you have a lot of disposable time — you’re looking for friends, looking to make social connections, and roughly after 30 you have enough friends; you don’t have a lot of time; your priorities in life may have started to change,” said Kay Luo , director of corporate communications for LinkedIn.

A website that yields professional connections or job opportunities may be more valuable than one for sharing photos with random strangers. For now, the appeal of online networking is spreading as people experiment with new ways of connecting.

Larry Vernaglia , a partner at Foley & Lardner LLP, said he uses Multiply.com to plan golf trips, ask for advice when buying a car, and share photos with family.

“Someone put me on Friendster one time and it was horrible,” he said, recalling his first foray into social networking. “At first I thought it was cool — but all these other people from other countries who had nothing to do with me” were online.

Brian Balfour , 23, a product manager at Zoom Information Inc. in Waltham who writes a blog about social networking, said he uses Facebook to keep in touch with college friends, HeyLetsGo to fuel his social life, and LinkedIn to make professional contacts.

“They all serve a different purpose, which is why I think there’s still room for all these niche players,” he said.

Jennifer Simpson , analyst at the Yankee Group, predicted that social networking membership would work out much the way people now maintain multiple e-mail accounts for different purposes.

That’s what Medford resident Catherine Miller, 59, has done — exploring the entire social-networking landscape, from dating websites to senior websites.

Miller visited MySpace recently, but didn’t find anything to hold her interest. Instead, she logs on to Eons.com, posting pictures of her roses and looking for people who share her dream of walking across the United States one day.

“It’s not that I’m an old fogy,” she said. “Our tastes are just different.”