Archive for 2nd April 2007

How NOT to Submit to Digg

While it’s true that the vast majority of stories on Digg come from an “elite” few, the truth is that they know how to submit a story in an eye-catching, informative, and interesting manner. I am going to teach you this skill. As an added bonus, this happens to be an important skill in crafting good emails, blog posts, and anything else that has a title or subject.

1) Submit titles that are clear, concise, informative, and yet, leave more to be desired. In short, spend 80% of your submission time thinking about the title because 95% of the time, it will be the only thing a person will use to judge if the rest of your submission is worth reading. This means:

  1. Don’t ask questions as a title. Make statements in question form (How to mow lawns, Why I rock, etc)
  2. Don’t be long winded with multiple sub-clauses. One clause.
  3. Don’t use passive voice. Use passive voice and present tense.
  4. Don’t leave out the critical information. The keywords you use are extremely crucial.
  5. Don’t use URLs as a submission title. Ever. :)
  6. Don’t just copy the title because sometimes the article title sucks.

Here’s the story title that made the front page on the DRM/EMI topic:

Press Release: EMI Music launches DRM-free downloads.

Here’s a list of stories that did not make the front page on the same topic:

  • Deal or no deal: EMI and Apple’s DRM-free premium music? (question format)
  • EMI Music Launches DRM-Free Superior Sound Quality Downloads (wordy)
  • Times Onlines take on EMI Dropping DRM (huh? Onlines? What?)
  • EMI unlocks their music! (didn’t mention “DRM”)

Focus your attention here. A bad title is pretty much a torpedo to your submission, no matter how great the content is.

2) The description usually doesn’t matter, but if you do include one, a bad one can actually hurt. The best and most recent example I know if this post (thanks for submitting though!!). Descriptions:

  • Should be short and sweet. But this is only the case when the title is very informative.
  • Don’t paste the first paragraph of the story. Paste the most interesting and juiciest piece.
  • Piece together the best parts if no one sentence stands out as exceptional.

In short, if you write a bad description, people may actually become deterred from reading the rest. If the article has nothing juicy, keep your description to a minimum to avoid making potential readers bored before they even click. Then again, if the article is that dry, it is probably not worth submitting at all. An example for this article would be to piece together the first two or three bolded points. Alternatives would be to paste just one item in the list that you found to be counter intuitive or exceptionally interesting. As I previously implied, most of the time, people won’t even look at the description before deciding if the article is good or not.

3) Use power words. Words that make your audience feel special or privileged are the most effective. Examples:

  • The secret to the stock market
  • How to avoid Internet scams (“avoid” and “how to”)
  • The easiest cheat to winning at everything
  • Why rainbows are circular
  • Five reasons you should know about Kung Fu
  • Top reasons to stay in school

4) Use lists. Your audience is often working people, and everybody loves to save time by reading bullet points and lists. Thus, titles that imply that type of content also fair well (as well as content with lots of lists). Any type of list with a quantifiable amount is already ahead of the game:

  1. Top 10 most expensive Google Ad keywords
  2. The 5 most popular brands of cookies
  3. 7 things to know about traveling to Vietnam

Note very similar lists without the numbers, and see how much less “presence” they have:

  1. The most lucrative Google keywords
  2. The most popular brands of soda
  3. Things to know about traveling to China

It’s a subtle but powerful difference.

4) Submitting without friends is suicide. If you really want to get stuff to the front page, you need at least one or two Digg friends, minimum. Well, I’d say the true minimum is 10 or 15, but the point is that without some other people to get the ball rolling, many times your submission will die with one or two Diggs. This is how the big fish get their stories on the front page over and over. If you have friends that read Digg, get them to register, and get them to befriend you. If you Digg solo, you have no chance. By the way, my user name is DiggMichi. I haven’t gotten anything Dugg on that account though. ;)

5) The time of day matters. Don’t submit it at 2AM. Submit it during regular hours to ensure regular readers see the article. But at the same time, don’t submit during the peak morning hours (9AM PST) because you will have intense competition. From my observation, the best time to submit is around noon, PST.

6) Submit technical stuff to Reddit at the same time. Reddit has a much more technical crowd. If you find yourself submitting articles from this site that are technical in nature, submit it to Reddit first. This is because the site is far less competitive and has many dual users with Digg. A user from Reddit that likes your story might vote it up on Reddit, thus getting more users to come, as well as Digg the story. But keep in mind that Reddit is a much more technical crowd, and submitting anything else might not go as far.

How I would Digg This

As a closing example, I thought I would present a few options in how I would name this story, if I were submitting it to Digg:

  1. 6 easy secrets to getting Your stories Dugg
  2. 6 must-know tips to avoid getting buried
  3. 6 Do’s and Don’ts of submitting to Digg
  4. The 6 obvious reasons why 99% of Digg submissions are junk

I only spent a minute thinking about this: you can do better. I try to keep my blog titles from being too cliche, which is why I don’t follow my own advice all the time (but look back, and you’ll see I do it on some articles). But this is another reason why I emphasize you not simply copy-and-paste titles of articles. Authors have different audiences in mind when writing their content. For example, I cater to technically versed readers, whereas Digg is a “general” news site. In summary, think about your audience when crafting your submissions.

Happy submitting! :D

P.S. Thanks to anybody that’s ever submitted my articles anywhere, even the guy that pasted the URL as the title. :)

iTunes Just Went DRM Free

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But as an avid anti-DRM guy, I can’t go without mentioning this big news:

iTunes is going to start selling DRM free music from the 4th largest record label.

Holy crap. While the Beatles still aren’t going to be sold in digital format, virtually every other group owned by EMI is going to be available on iTunes without DRM.

a price of $1.29/€1.29/£0.99. iTunes will continue to offer consumers the ability to pay $0.99/€0.99/£0.79 for standard sound quality tracks with DRM still applied.  Complete albums from EMI Music artists purchased on the iTunes Store will automatically be sold at the higher sound quality and DRM-free, with no change in the price.

The price thing sucks a little, but I must applaud the move in general. Also, I admire the quick thinking to make whole albums cost the same amount as before, but without DRM – that’s smart.

So on to the analysis.

The EU

In recent months, the European Union has been on Apple’s case. They’ve been pissed that iTunes music only plays on iPods while regular CDs can play in any CD player. To be more clear: they’re irritated that DRM is locking down Europe’s music market into the (American) iPod. So after approximately a year of very public criticism, this announcement should shift their attention.

You see, up to this point, it looked like the only option was to make Apple license out their DRM technology. But this changes everything. Now that a major label has jumped on board, it certainly spreads the blame around to include the labels. This is a paradigm shift.

In the coming months, we should see some pressure from the EU on the music labels. See, it’s much harder for law makers to do stuff that could destroy the iPod: it’s not going to be popular among voters when Apple pulls iPods from your country because of your dumb restrictions. But the “music label” concept is a little bit more abstract. Nobody really associates Korn to EMI, for example. The problem for labels is that if some new restriction tempts them to pull their artists, they have no easy way of doing it so that consumers understand why. It’s likely people would notice, but nobody would sympathize (“What? They pulled the band because they didn’t want to make it DRM-free??”) That, and there’s more than one major label, while there’s only one iPod.

So while the labels might have had deeper pockets, Apple now has some major PR on their side making a case for Steve’s anti-DRM world. If this test case goes smoothly, other labels will feel intense pressure to follow EMI. And we’ll be seeing the most intense pressure from our pals in Europe.

Yeah, American law makers just don’t get it.

Why Did They Do It?

Steve Jobs truly believes DRM is bad. Why do I know that? Let me illustrate with a real life conversation I had:

A: Why don’t you like DRM? Works with my iPod fine.
Me: It only works with your iPod. If Apple became evil one day, they could do a lot of harm.
A: How so??
Me: Say I wanted to make a competing music player. Imagine trying to sell it to you.
A: Wait, my music isn’t going to work on your music player?
Me: Nope. That’s Apple’s competitive edge.
A: I see. Why not license it?
Me: If they did, Apple could, if they became evil, charge extortionist prices for that privilege.
A: How much?
Me: Cheap at first, but once Fair Play is the standard, Apple could say, “We’re doubling our fees now.”
A: Then why would Apple want to get rid of DRM?

See, that’s the weird part about all of this. Apple benefits the most by maintaining their Fair Play scheme. As more and more people buy iTunes music, their stranglehold gets tighter. Yet they’re trying to actively get rid of DRM. I have three explanations:

  1. Apple sees a DRM “nuclear war” coming. Things will spiral out of control until legislation steps in — at which point nothing is guaranteed.
  2. Apple sees the possibility of forced licensing coming. This would add huge costs to Apple as well as reduce the overall quality of the music experience. This in turn hurts Apple’s image every time a third party screws up. Jobs would fight that at all costs, and he has.
  3. Jobs believes that in a free market, the iPod would reign supreme. Right now, DRM forces certain segments of consumers away from the iPod due to incompatibility with their preferred music service (which may not be iTunes).

In short, nothing good would come out of DRM, and Jobs would rather take his chances in a DRM free market. Of course, iTunes leads the pack by offering DRM-free music first. The most important change to Apple is the reduced maintenance of DRM. Less consumer headaches and more straight-forward usage means higher consumer satisfaction, which ultimately leads to more sales.

And Finally, a Shot at the Zune and Friends

The single biggest reason to do this is to expand the digital music market. Right now it is 1% of all music sales. I’m sure we’re going to see record iTunes sales coming from EMI bands this year.

What will happen to competition as a result? Well, that’s the most interesting part. In all of this, it doesn’t really change anything for most of Apple’s smaller competitors. They are getting a small gain, but iTunes hasn’t been what’s kept them from gaining significant market share. The big boys stand to gain a lot here. We should keep a close eye on Creative. But ultimately, because the market will eventually grow to represent 50 or 100 times what it does today, a shrinking market is not too much of a concern for Apple so long as they are selling iPods to a percentage of that expanded market.

I think the funniest “side effect” will be the one hitting the Zune. You see, Microsoft can’t copy Apple here. Because of their “cool” squirt feature, there’s no way in hell any label, even EMI, will agree to give Microsoft this same privilege. So while other smaller competitors may finally see some breathing room, Microsoft will get left in the dust because of their sharing feature. How ironic is that!

Edit: On a related note, I want to point out how much Microsoft blew it. As one of the only “big” companies that had the resources to challenge the iTunes+iPod bundle, Microsoft’s thinking was small. They could have bribed the music labels and done whatever it took to get them to take out DRM from the picture. Sharing is great, but all they could come up with was a DRM infested piece of garbage. Now, not even six months after the Zune’s tepid entrance, Apple has negotiated for one of the most lucrative music distribution deals made since, well, iTunes. Microsoft could have had the hype, the nerd-love, and profits to follow. All they had to do was think on behalf of the consumer’s best interest. What good is DRM sharing? What’s the real goal? The whole point of sharing was to drive sales of new artists. But then Microsoft turned around and decided the best way to share was by “Squirting” DRM files, most of which don’t have DRM to begin with.

I hope this serves as a lesson to those that put consumers second. If you do this enough times, it will eventually burn you big time. This is exactly why Apple is fighting so hard to get rid of DRM — they put you and I first. Microsoft could have had Apple’s lunch. They could have been the first and greatest music player that came with a media store that isn’t limited to just the Zune. They could have made Apple look cheap and less functional. Zune could have been great, Microsoft. What now? Squirting doesn’t seem so useful now, does it?

Let’s see how your draconian thinking effects Vista sales too. I hear that monster has even more DRM in it. Just wait until the day iTunes starts selling DRM free movies too.