Today I became a lensmaster.
No, that’s Lens Crafters. And no, it’s not some D&D thing. It’s another funky Web 2.0 deal (I hate the ‘Web 2.0’ lingo, but it’s practical. What are you gonna do?) like Flickr or MySpace. It’s part of Squidoo, a site that lets you create lenses for things you’re an expert on. Essentially, you create single web page that acts as a lens on a specific topic. You fill the page with info and links about said topic to educate the random web surfer.
Where it gets interesting is that each lens can make some cash. Each lens has Google ads on the side and you can link to Amazon or other retailers and earn referral fees. The cash generated goes to Squidoo, charity and lensmasters like me (and potentially you).
So you essentially get paid to be an expert. Not a bad deal.
Oh, and did I mention the site was started by marketing guru Seth Godin. Yeah, that’s an interesting little tidbit.
So let’s say you know a lot about model cars. You could set up a lens about model cars. You could link to all the major manufacturers of model kits, all the cool hobby sites, all the really good books on Amazon. You coud also give a short tutorial on how to build a model. You would effictively be creating a sort of clearinghouse for all things models. If people want to know about model cars they’d start with your page.
Still confused? Read the FAQ.
So today I created lenses for Five Iron Frenzy, Billy Graham and myself (yes, I realize being an expert about myself is kind of lame, but it’s a sort of portal to all the stuff I do). None of them are really perfected yet, but they’re started. I’ve staked my digital claim on a few other lenses, so we’ll see what I do with those.
While I do find the concept interesting, I have two complaints/questions:
1) Why is this better than Wikipedia? I guess the biggest reason is that you can make money on this, but that seems kind of greedy (yeah, the charity donations help, but still). I don’t know if Squidoo is just shorter than Wikipedia or has more flexibility or more funk–I don’t know. The big advantage to Wikipedia is that you have lots of people contributing. Squidoo is just one person per lens. No group dynamic to help make things better. On the potential upside, there can be multiple lenses per topic, so if you don’t like my take on Five Iron you can do your own.
2) Where’s the user interaction? The only way (that I’ve noticed) that a random web surfer can comment on a Squidoo lens is by ranking it on a 1- to 5-star scale. There’s no way to contact the lensmaster and tell them what they forgot or even post a comment and tell them right on. That seems like a very Web 2.0 functionality to leave off. And it’s just frustrating because you miss out on the public wisdom that comes from letting other people share their expertise. I consider myself an expert on Five Iron Frenzy, but I can guarantee you there are some folks out there who would scoff at me. If the nicer ones could post comments or contact me with updates or extra details I missed, that’d be a big help. And frankly, some lensmasters are going to suck it up and do a bad job. Giving them one star (or none) doesn’t seem like a good enough way to register disgust. (Update: OK, so as a lensmaster you can decide to allow people to contact you through e-mail, but not everybody allows that. It’s a start, but I still want comments!)