Web 2.0 Expo: Day Two

The highlight of my day was interviewing Eileen Gittins, the founder, president and CEO of Blurb, an online publishing service that provides print on demand tools for the general public. With Blurb's book layout software, BookSmart, users can create books using their own text and images and upload them to the Blurb server for purchasing, printing and delivery. Like Lulu.com (see Josh Futrell's recent blog post), Blurb empowers writers, photographers, graphic designers, and other artists to control the publishing of their work.

Gittins is a passionate entrepreneur who truly understands her client base. (She started Blurb based on her own frustrations with the publishing industry.) Blurb and the related project Photography.Book.Now exemplify what is truly phenomenal about the power of the Web.

No more spoilers. You can listen to my interview with Gittins (and a few other Web 2.0 Expo players) on Technology in the Arts Podcast #51 on Friday, September 26. (Go ahead and subscribe already, you slouch!)

I also digested this morning some tips on viral marketing during Jonah Peretti's Web 2.0 Expo session, Viral Marketing 2.0. Peretti, known throughout Web circles as a guerilla media guru, is the co-founder of HuffingtonPost.com and BuzzFeed.

Peretti explained that, contrary to popular opinion, a message doesn't become viral because of influential users. Rather, a message spreads because of the network that supports it. For instance, he explained, a fire spreads when the conditions are perfect and not because the spark that ignited it was special.

"Facebook created a network that would make the driest forest possible so the fires would spread," said Peretti.

The network Peretti highlighted today is what he calls the "Bored at Work" network, which is a huge people-powered network comprised of distracted corporate employees. However, he explained that a big problem with trying to spread a viral message is the "radical unpredictability" of the Web. There is no way to know who will make something popular or what will become popular.

So how can Peretti possibly offer any advice on delivering messages that will succeed in a viral way? He admitted that he didn't have a perfect answer. Still, considering his repeated success at gaining viral acclaim (see The Contagious Media Project for a list of his online exploits that have blown up), there is a great deal of cred behind the tips he offered.

For instance, may absolute favorite of Peretti's techniques is one he dubs "The Mullet Strategy." As most people know, a mullet is a hair style that features a short, professional front-end with a long, flowing rear. Peretti compared this "business in the front, party in the back" approach to marketing. Since the most contagious media is often silly, fun and even shocking, it isn't always appropriate for that content to live on the front page of a Web site. However, if there is a "party in the back" and people are enjoying and sharing that party, it will most definitely drive traffic to the other areas of your site.