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Interview: Heath Row and Gil Hildebrand of Squidoo

Squidoo (external link) is a new, Web 2.0, publishing platform. Squidoo uses some of the new technologies talked about in Web 2.0. Below is an interview with Heath Row and Gil Hildebrand, employees at Squidoo.

First, we interviewed Heath Row.

Lowter: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Squidoo?

As senior director of community development, my job is to ever better engage and involve lensmasters - the people making lenses in the Squidoo co-op - to help them learn collectively how to build better lenses - sharing best practices and new ideas as they emerge within the co-op - and to be the primary point of contact in terms of member and lensmaster services. This work is largely visible within SquidU (external link), Squidoo's learning community - where lensmasters can connect and collaborate to help each other learn how to build better lenses. More lensmasters, more lenses, more shared expertise ad enthusiasm.

Lowter: In a nutshell, what is Squidoo?

Squidoo is a new web platform that helps experts and enthusiasts share what they know - and appreciate - about a specific topic or theme... on a single web page. These pages are called lenses and offer readers the best place to start learning about a subject - a place where a stranger can go to get insight and meaning... and then leave that site and go somewhere else.

Lowter: Exactly how does Squidoo work? What is this whole lens thing?

Lenses are made up of modules - think of them like building blocks. And the modules do different things. Some are text only. Some offer lists of related links. Some pull in Flickr (external link) photos. Some tap into RSS feeds. And some draw on commerce sites like Amazon. Lensmasters - folks who make lenses - choose what to put in the modules and add their own commentary and context... why something is important or useful. Some modules will stay the same over time. And some will be different every time you visit.

Lowter: How does Squidoo differ from other information sources, such as Wikipedia?

While Wikipedia (external link) is composed of pages about specific topics, it is collaboratively written and edited - with many contributors. Lenses are maintained by a single person, an expert or enthusiast in a particular subject area.

Lowter: What advantages and disadvantages are there in comparison with them?

Comparisons are nice because they can help people understand what we're doing. Squidoo is kind of like About in that experts share what they [know] on specific topics. It's different because instead of one expert on a given subject, there could be - should be - thousands. Making lenses is kind of like blogging in that you're sharing links, insights, and context. It's different in that it's less long-form writing dependent - and there's no archive problem. Good lenses will always be the best and brightest information on a topic - right now. You won't have to dig beyond the single page to find what you're looking for.

Comparisons are also dangerous because they can limit someone's thinking to the known set of options. What we're building with Squidoo improves on many things: search (knowledge recommended by people, not robots), blogging (slightly lower barrier to entry, and limited to a single page), and social networking services (it's not necessarily about you, it's about what you know). It's also very different than those things in terms of its modular approach to lens making and flexible aggregation of content from other sources.

Lowter: How might the typical webmaster benefit from Squidoo?

Here are several scenarios:

  • If you have a blog, a lens is a great way to highlight your best posts, to feature a commented version of your blogroll, and to point to the products and services that you write about, read about, enjoy, or want to see succeed. A lens will allow you and your blog to have a bigger share of the commentary and influence on your topic of choice.
  • If you have a Web site and you're not happy with your PageRank, a lens will increase it. That's because a lens provides exactly what search engines are looking for: authoritative insight so people can find what they're looking for. (That's why Wikipedia ranks so highly on search engines - they provide a good experience and satisfied searchers are what search engines are seeking.)
  • If you have a hobby, creating a lens with tips and tools and examples and stuff is a faster and easier way to start than writing a blog about it. Once you've got a following, your blog will be a lot easier to dive into.

Lowter: What revenue methods will lensmasters be offered?

People will be able to earn royalties based on affiliate sales via Squidoo's partners, as well as based on the performance of Google ads. People will be able to determine whether their royalties go to driving traffic to their and other lenses, to a charity of their choice, or directly to them... or a combination of all three!

Lowter: With the lack of an exact definition of Web 2.0, what do you feel makes Squidoo a Web 2.0 platform?

For the most part, I turn to O'Reilly's outline (external link).

One, the web is now a platform on which we can do real work. It's now less about pages and information and now about applications and functionality - what can I do on the web? Two, the web is built on collective intelligence. How can we involve more people to vet more high-quality knowledge and make it easier to find and use? Three, aggregation is important. While core brands will survive and even thrive, people want to access more information in more ways through more sites and services. How much can we better hook into multiple data streams? Four, we've entered the era of the never-ending beta. That's half a joke, but I'm half serious. People are not very interested in releases or versions. They want something that works, that is always improving and ever more useful, and that they can help inspire and inform with their use.

Paul Graham's take (external link) is also informative - even if I'm not sure this is as simple as Ajax, democracy, and good customer/member service.

Were I to define it in three phrases, I might do so with web applications; data aggregation; and engaging members, readers, and users.

Lowter: What do you feel will make or break Squidoo?

We need to do three things. We need to provide a stable platform and high-quality web application. We need to provide excellent member and reader service. And we need to work with lensmasters and partners to increase the size and scope of the platform - and the lenses created by members of the co-op.

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