The New Focus Group

This article about how online networks are the new focus group written last January is one of the virtual clippings that helped validate a lot of what we’ve been working on in our analytics / BI tool: Harvest.

image There are lots of great analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, to help you understand where people are going in your site, but few to help you understand what they are doing. It’s analogous to having a party and at the end being able to say: 100 people came to the party because 100 people knocked on my door. Of those 100 people 60 went to the living room and then the kitchen, etc.

So what traditional BI tools don’t address is: who were those 100 people, what did they talk about, how many of them do you know, did they have a good time at the party, etc.

If we carry this example a little deeper and use a store as the analogy instead of a party all of a sudden you really start caring a lot of what they are saying and doing.

Harvest fills in those gaps for Community Server customers.

Version 1 provided the basics. In version 2 we’re adding some incredible new capabilities such as forecasting and sentiment.

Forecasting helps predict where things are headed. For example, based on data from a date range you could forecast whether you can expect an increase or decrease in support questions in your community. If you are a large Enterprise organization deploying Community Server, such as Dell, and you want to lower 1:1 call volume and send more traffic to your 1:many support community, then seeing a forecast that trends may be viewed positively. More importantly forecasting can help the organization better plan the resources required to support the community.

What I’m most excited about in Harvest 2.0 though is sentiment.

Companies spend billions of dollars a year to get a better understanding of how customers perceive their products or services. While surveys clearly have a lot of value, not all users participate. Communities, as described in the WSJ article referenced above, contain an invaluable trove of data about customers perceptions, actions, and more. Harvest’s new sentiment engine scans all Community Server content as well as external content through RSS against words or phrases and visually maps out perceptions.

This is incredibly powerful. By better understanding what customers think, you can make much better decisions.

I’ll post more details about Harvest 2.0 in the coming weeks, if you are interested in learning more now don’t hesitate to drop me a note: rhoward@telligent.com

Wiki Wiki

We’re putting the final touches on the Community Server 2008 Fall Release – officially this is Community Server 2008.5. 

One of the new additions I’m excited about is the inclusion of a Wiki. Wikis are available as both a stand-alone solution, similar to blogs, and are also fully integrated into Community Server groups.

I wanted to share some of the details about our Wiki solution:

1. Rich Editor – Instead of requiring you to know wiki-syntax, such as what is found in media wiki, we chose to make our wiki solution simple and approachable for the every day user. We included support for our rich editor so all of the styling, images, etc. can be done without needing to know wiki syntax.

2. Support for basic Wiki Syntax –  While using the rich editor does make our wiki simpler, we still wanted to support wiki syntax where it makes sense. For example, if you are authoring a document you can use [[my new page]] to create a link to a new page. We also support piping and category options as well. For example:

[[community server wiki|Wiki Overview]]

3. Tab based UI – wiki content is broken up into 4 tabs: Article – the published version; Edit – edit the current version; Comments – list of comments; History – content history with comparison ability:

 

4. Structure – our wiki does support unstructured content, but also fully supports structured content where articles are children of parent pages. There is an infinite amount of nesting which allows you to replicate whatever structure you want within your wiki:

 

5. Permissions and Moderation – permissions and moderation tools provide community owners with capability to control content when needed.

6. Email notifications and RSS –  wikis support subscriptions via email – so you can be notified when a wiki you are following is updated – and you can also subscribe through RSS.

7. Social Voting – we’ve also added some social voting tools to help rank or show the value of different pages. The idea of course is to help important content get bubbled up:

 

The new wiki is also fully integrated with Harvest Report so you can pull out meaningful business intelligence around your wiki. I’ll post some details about some of the updates we’ve made to Harvest in the coming weeks as well.

Community Server roadmap

Last night we published some details about the roadmap for Community Server.

We’re also beginning to trickle out some details about our Evolution line; Community Server with some great enhancements for the Intranet:

  • Native integration with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server
  • Native integration with Microsoft Active Directory for sign-on and profile
  • Integration with Microsoft Exchange Server for distribution list management and data retention

With the Evolution release we will also include a Wiki as a new Community Server capability.

Webinar with Ben McConnell

Ben McConnell, author of several books including Citizen Marketers, and I are putting together a webinar about online communities. Below are the details:

Date: Thursday, June 26, 2008
Topic: Learn How Online Communities Create Customer Evangelists and Citizen Marketer
Who: Ben McConnell, Author of Creating Customer Evangelists and Citizen Marketers and Rob Howard, CEO Telligent

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER for this free webinar.

Graffiti 1.1 now available

Graffiti 1.1 is now available

For version 1.1 we’ve added: 

  • Bulk comment management
  • Permissions functionality
  • Packages for easily sharing Graffiti plug-ins
  • Tools for easily importing from other blogging platforms, such as dasBlog
  • Fixed 30+ bugs
  • And more…

We also introduced a new 3-person license for $99. We heard from a number of small shops that they wanted to use Graffiti commercial-edition, but a 10 person license just didn’t make sense for them.

Questions, comments, or suggestions about the software? Join in the discussion. We love hearing from you!

CodeSmith 5.0 Beta now available

This release adds support for .NET 3.5; has some significant performance updates; along with a number of improvements to CodeSmith Projects. You view the entire list of additions/updates here.

We’ve also moved all the core CodeSmith templates into a project on Google Code: CodeSmith Samples

Below are some of the template updates that are in CodeSmith 5.0: 

  • .netTiers 2.3 Beta included
  • Updated NHibernate templates
  • PLINQO template improvements
  • NuSoft Framework templates included
  • More VB templates and samples than ever before!

That last bullet is significant for all the developers that have always asked for templates in VB. We’ve started converting a lot of the core templates to both VB & C#.

Read more and download the beta…

in.telligent 2008 – social computing conference

I’m happy to announce the 2008 in.telligent conference!

Our first conference, in 2007, was a bigger than expected success with attendees coming from all around the world to talk, network, and learn.

This year we’re planning bigger. Much bigger.

The conference will October 20th – 22nd (more details here). The biggest change is that this year Instead of a single technical track we’re creating 2 tracks along with a set of post-conference work-shops.

The technical track will focus on Community Server, SharePoint, Graffiti, and Harvest and is aimed at developers that want a deeper understanding of how these technologies can be used to built world-class solutions.

The non-technical track will focus on broader topics like: planning social computing solutions; measuring ROI; brand building; and other topics that will appeal to business owners, brand managers, and marketers.

We’ll also have some smaller hands-on post-conference work-shops with personal mentoring from our team.

It will be an exciting time to network and meet other like minded people interested in the social computing space.

While we’re not quite ready for registration, you can sign-up on the site now and we’ll email you when registration opens up!

SEO & ASP.NET: Put keywords in the URL

See the first post in this series | Previous Post

Tip #3 – Put keywords in the URL, the sooner the better.

There are 3 documented areas that Google looks for keywords: URL, Title, and finally the body of your content. So if you are not embedding keywords into your URL then you are missing an opportunity to help increase the odds of your content getting pushed higher in natural search results.

How does Google find keywords in the URL?

Take the following 4 URLs (I’m also assuming you read the previous article about how you construct your links too):

  • example.com/seoforaspnetdevelopers/
  • example.com/SeoForAspnetDevelopers/
  • example.com/seo_for_aspnet_developers/
  • example.com/seo-for-aspnet-developers/

There are 4 total keywords ‘seo’, ‘for’, ‘aspnet’, and ‘developers’.

Which format is better? Or does it really even matter? Hopefully it comes as no surprise that the first 2 examples are virtually identical and in neither case, from what my research has shown, does Google use any casing information to pull out keywords. So the first 2 examples are very bad choices for how to format your URL if you care about SEO. In the 3rd example underscores are used to breakup the keywords and in the 4th example dashes are used.

Google has stated that the preferred way to break-up keywords in the URL is to use dashes. Most modern content management systems and blog engines use this as the preferred method.

The ordering of keywords matters

Furthermore my research has also shown that the order of your keywords also matters and the domain name is considered for keywords too. In Community Server and Graffiti we automatically build the title and URL of posts based on the subject of the post entry. Community Server goes one step further and allows you to control the URL independent of the subject. We’ll add this functionality into Graffiti soon as well. The reason being that controlling the ordering of keywords in the URL matters too.

URL Rewriting

If you care about how your links are built and that you always ensure there is only one way to get to your content and you also care about the ordering of keywords then you likely care a great deal about URL rewriting: the ability to use a published URL that may not be the same URL that the application requires internally.

URL rewriting allows you to take a URL like:

  • example.com/posts/default.aspx?postid=34

and publish it as:

  • examples.com/seo/aspnet-seo-optimization-with-url-rewriting/

There are several different techniques for URL rewriting for ASP.NET and this blog post is certainly not going to attempt to address them all.

Simple URL Rewriting

The first technique for URL rewriting is very simple and simply tries to take advantage (game) the path parsing of a crawler. This technique uses a controller through which all requests are sent through and works best for cases where you are hosting the server and do not have the ability to run an ISAPI filter to rewrite URLs (or have access to IIS 7):

example.com/33.axd/seo/aspnet-seo-optimization-with-url-rewriting/

— or —

example.com/aspnet-seo-optimization-with-url-rewriting.aspx

The latter technique is how Community Server constructs URLs, as well as other .NET blogging engines. The first technique is something new that we’ve been experimenting with and tried first with the Telligent Wiki Prototype that runs docs.communityserver.com and wiki.asp.net (and a few other sites).

In the first example there is an HttpHandler that looks for all requests that use the .axd extension (note any extension type will work). The handler parses the path of the request but only cares about the identifier – in this example the key is 33 – that allows it to pull the content from the database.

The second case is again a virtual handler and loads up the content based on the name of the post.

The difference or benefit from either technique is unclear. However, I suspect that the first example where slashes are used for paths will likely work better for SEO purposes. But that is conjecture.

Advanced URL Rewriting

If you have control over the server or have a more progressive host there are some other options to consider for more advanced URL rewriting.

In Graffiti we actually create files and directories to give users full control over the path vs. virtual URLs as used in Community Server. This has both some benefits and some pitfalls. The benefit is you get very clean paths with no extensions in them. The pitfall is that it does require permissions to write to the disk.

For example, a post titled “ASP.NET SEO Optimization with URL Rewriting” in a category called “SEO” would create:

  • [path to Graffiti application]\seo\aspnet-seo-optimization-with-url-rewriting\default.aspx

The URL would then be published as:

  • example.com/seo/aspnet-seo-optimization-with-url-rewriting/

This obviously works very, very well. The default.aspx page internally can store all the details, such as the post id, to quickly look up the post in the database.

Another option is to use a URL rewriting library like ISAPI Rewrite, which happens to work very similar to Apache’s mod_rewrite. This is an ISAPI filter, $99 well spent, that allows to fully control all URLs for your application.

The future: IIS7

Unlike previous versions of Microsoft’s Internet Information Server, IIS7 will allow for ASP.NET HttpModules to perform exactly the same tasks as ISAPI Filters. This means that you could write an HttpModule for handling all your application’s URLs (similar to ISAPI Rewrite) all with .NET code!

Furthermore this also means you can do things like use ASP.NET Cookie Authentication to authenticate access to any resource (images, html page, etc.). Something that isn’t easily accomplished today. Taken one step further: this also means that you could have .NET code authenticate requests that were served from a PHP application running in IIS!

If you want to read more about URL rewriting for ASP.NET check-out Scott Guthrie’s article

Next Tip: Titles & MetaTags (not yet written)