A Lens of Lenses

I’m really starting to get into this whole idea of lenses. I like the theory behind it – that, like a blog, you’ll turn to the folks you trust and whom you enjoy hearing from for information about the topics on which you consider them an expert. This whole idea smacks of the “web of trust” concept that rose to popularity in the dotcom era by sites like Epinions and systems like Netflix’s recommendation program. Lenses – and, again, I’m speculating based on what I’ve read as this has not been put into practice in a public way yet – make this more persona, less automated and rely on individuals who passionately care about the topics they are purported experts on, as timeliness of links and relevance are what will matter most.

Over at BuzzMachine, several folks have asked in the comments about what happens when there are several lenses built around the same topic. For instance, there will no doubt be dozens of viral marketing lenses, many of them containing links redundant within one another. How will the best ones rise to the top, so to speak.

My guess – there really will be no “top”. As I said, the folks who update their lenses frequently with links highly relevant to their topic of interest will more than likely attract the most viewers. If you have a dozen such people all focusing on the same topic (not likely, but possible) the folks interested in those topics will no doubt pick and choose the ones they like best and read them all. Some may even go a bit meta and do a lens of lenses, listing the lenses of those they trust most. This form of self-organization will probably keep happening in a myriad of different ways, each leading someone closer to their area of focus. This, of course, shatters the list of topic writers at the “top” into smaller groups. So, while you may like one person’s links, I may choose another. The two camps won’t necessarily compete, but each side will be appropriately served by whom they consider more expert or relevant.

Of course, you’ll also have the folks who read both. There’s nothing saying that you must choose one lens per topic. In the blog world, I read both Engadget and Gizmodo. Both sites cover gear news – everything from the latest cellphones and entertainment gadgetry to weird stuff coming out of Japan. I’ve witnessed several mini-flamewars regarding which site is better. The truth is, though, if you showed me five posts from Engadget and five posts from Gizmodo, I wouldn;t be able to tell you which one came from which. They have a similar voice and cover similar topics. Frequently, though, one either scoops the other or one chooses to cover something the other deems unworthy. By reading both, I benefit from one catching things the other dropped. More importantly, I get two different points of view on the same topic. One site may rave about a new cellphone’s features, the other may point out all of its flaws. Regardless, I win by getting both sides and, therefore, becoming a bit more educated about the topic at hand.

So what if there are a dozen lenses on Online Marketing? One lens may be heavy on the e-mail side of things, another on the RSS side. Yet another may be absolutely fascinated by the opportunities provided by Google’s Adsense. If I read them all, I get a fuller picture of the topic. As with the blogs in my RSS feed, I may read the lens at first, get an idea of their viewpoint and, ocassionally, go through and weed out the weak ones. In my RSS feed, I’ve already weeded out several sites that others have absolutely raved about and continue to enjoy that I just don’t find useful. That’s my opinion, and the beauty of the personalized web is, if I don;t find it useful, entertaining or enjoyable, I don’t need to be a part of it.

I think this is a fundamental concept in what everyone is calling Web 2.0: You don’t have to have the “world’s best blog” or the “world’s best lens” or even the “world’s best company”. There is a ton of choice out there now, and the only way to stand out is to be the best at what you for the audience you want to serve. You don’t have to be an Amazon to be successful, you just have to target your audience and do your best to serve them. Do that and they’ll do much of the marketing for you by telling their friends, mentioning you on their blog and, eventually, building a lens around you. Be remarkable, do something worth talking about and people will talk. Your customers will be the filter that attracts more customers.

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