Archive for the ‘Social Networking 101’ Category

It’s Happiness Week at LifeTwo.com

September 24, 2007

Greg and I have tried an experiment this week which has been to put a disproportionate amount of effort into one set of related posts and then to promote them. We certainly couldn’t do this on a regular basis but so far it looks like the effort is going to pay off.

This is common in television and they call them “stunts.” Not the kind where someone drives off a cliff, television stunts are when a network packages a group of shows into some kind of unified theme that can be promoted. For example, TNT having “Chuck Norris Week”. The theory is that one Chuck Norris movie won’t make much of an impact but one every night will. This is the same thinking that goes into “Leave it to Beaver” marathons and so forth.
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Tal Ben-Shahar 

We contacted his publisher who loved the idea, interviewed him and wrote out a week’s worth of posts that contain excerpts from his book and additional related resources. We kept up with the lessons/exercises theme. To avoid having it reflect our own biases, we approached a number of leading authors/columnists/bloggers in this and related fields and almost all of them said yes.

Please check out our “How To Be Happy” week both from the perspective of blog marketing but also because it might just help you be happier.

Blog Carnival Etiquette and Tips for Hosting Your Own Carnival

July 11, 2007

At my LifeTwo site, I decided to experiment with hosting a “blog carnival” (a collection of links pointing to different blogs on a related topic). There are basically two ways to host a carnival. One is two have the same group of contributors each carnival (a “closed” carnival) and the other is to open it up to any blog that wants to participate. The benefit of the latter approach is that it can be good for exposing your blog to new readers. But for an open carnival to work, bloggers need to know about it. Fortunately, where there is a need there is often an Internet company trying to build a business satisfying that need. In this case the company is BlogCarnival.com.

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BlogCarnival’s mission is to facilitate carnivals by bringing contributors and hosts together. For example, if you have a blog focused on personal finance, you can go to BlogCarnival and search for carnivals that are relevant to this topic and then submit your post to them. It is a pretty nifty idea. Unfortunately there are still a number of kinks to work out and the the most important question of whether blog carnivals are even useful for readers is still unanswered.

I decided to create a blog carnival based on middle age career issues. I did this because there wasn’t anyone doing a carnival on this topic. I thought by being so focused on a niche that I’d have a chance to discover some relevant blogs covering this area and with whom I could trade links, have a source for future posts, and so forth. After filling out the not-too-intuitive interface on BlogCarnival.com I looked forward to the relevant posts to start rolling in. I was in for a surprise. Yes, I did receive contributions, and a lot of them at that. However, I learned that my definition of “relevancy” and that of contributors was two wildly different things. Of the 20 or so contributions, only a few were really on topic, about 1/2 were only tangentially related to the topic, and the balance had pretty much nothing to do with it–something I’ll call “blog carnival submission spam.”

Because this was my first open carnival, I took the time to visit each blog that submitted a story to verify the relevancy. If the post wasn’t on target I would try and find something on their blog that was, and if I couldn’t find anything I emailed the submitter to ask them for something a little closer to the topic. The response? Almost nothing. I had just learned lesson #1 of blog carnivals: the majority of story submitters to blog carnival are “serial submitters” who submit stories to large numbers of carnivals and don’t particularly care about the relevancy to the topic. They aren’t interested in taking the time to actually craft a story to a specific topic nor do they give two hoots about the readers–they just want a link. It’s a classic shot-gun approach and BlogCarnival makes it possible.

As a carnival host experiencing submission spam, you have a choice. You can: 1) Give up; 2) Weed out everyone who isn’t relevant and have a smaller carnival post; or 3) Accept posts whether or not they are on target. Since the primary goal of hosting a carnival is to maximize links and traffic into your blog, #3 makes the most sense. But there is something unsettling about this choice because it feels like false advertising. A carnival post on a particular topic should only contain posts on that topic, if it doesn’t, you are essentially misleading your readers (a bad idea long-term) in order to get links/traffic (short-term gain). I decided to opt for #2 and tried to stay as close to the topic as possible but still have as many outside contributors as possible.

I then emailed everyone who had made the cut with the URL to my carnival post so that they could link to my blog. At this point I learned lesson #2 about blog carnivals. Hardly anyone (less than 10%) reciprocate with a link back to the carnival. I found this surprising and thought that linking was generally accepted quid pro quo of blog carnivals. I’ll include someone’s post in my carnival and they link back to the carnival. If everyone does this then many more people see the post and in the process everyone’s links. Everyone wins. Well, that’s a nice theory. In practice, serial blog carnival submitters don’t bother linking back to the post. They don’t have the time, interest or inclination for this step. In fact they won’t even respond to emails asking them why they didn’t link. (Note that there is a subset of bloggers who honestly forgot to link or weren’t sure how. I know about this small group because they did respond to my emails and then did subsequently put up a post.)

So why do an open carnival? To be honest, I ask myself this every time I do one since I end up weeding out the majority of submissions as either irrelevant or people who haven’t linked back in the past. But despite the work every time I do a carnival I discover at least one very good blog/blogger who is both on topic and a nice person. Because of the carnival, over the past several months I have developed some very good blog relationships with people doing the same thing as me–building an online business. This has been the primary benefit for me of the carnivals–much more than the tiny traffic boost and links in.

I’ve also developed a process to make hosting the blog carnival as efficient as possible and tipping the cost/benefit equation in my favor:

1. I make it very clear in the Blog Carnival listing that contributors will need to link back to the blog.

2. Before putting up the post, I email every submitter of a relevant story asking them to confirm that they will in fact be linking to the carnival post.

3. When I create the carnival post, I only link to those who’ve responded to my email that they will link.

4. I then email everyone with the link at which point most put up some sort of link.

5. By the way, I completely ignore the BlogCarnival feature that automatically builds the post. I find it buggy and more time consuming to use it than to do it from scratch.

Even with this there are a few scofflaws, but the vast majority who make it to this point are good, honest bloggers who are more than happy to do their part of the process. As I said before, every carnival I do ends up leading to the discovery of at least a few more good on-topic blogs and as long as this continues I’ll continue hosting the carnivals.

Off Topic: A Response to Whether I “Shelved” a Band 20 Years Ago and What Makes Bands Happy

May 28, 2007

Gardian 1980s

Blogs can be pretty amazing communication tools. Take in point a blog posting from someone I worked with over twenty years ago (and pictured above) surfacing an issue that was important enough to him that two decades later he is writing about it. Despite all of the other forms of communication, email, phones, faxes, IM, and Twitter to name a few, it is only blogging that has the delicate balance of introspective thought and public sharing.

The post in question is on a personal blog by a former rock and roll artist, David Bach. I signed David to my record label in the middle 80’s and we have remained friends ever since. Before I get into his post, I want to give a little aside about the music industry. Most people who consider themselves musical artists will never have the chance to record professionally. Of those that do, only a tiny percentage will get signed and of those it is only a minority that will have enough success on their first album to put out additional albums. Anyone that is able to have a career making music is an incredible success and the very use of the term “career artist” means that they beat the odds–probably by a combination of talent, luck and a lot of hard work. To use a basketball analogy, being a “journeyman” in the NBA might not seem like a compliment but it means that one is among the top .00001% of basketball players in the world.

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Blogging: The Importance of Doing Interviews

May 27, 2007

When building a blog, one of the important components is creating unique content and one of the best ways to do that is to interview leaders in your field. While they involve a little bit of work, the result is better SEO, links in, and brand awareness.

For LifeTwo good interviewees includes authors, scientists, radio hosts and many others and most of them are surprisingly easy to pitch and most will say yes to reasonable requests. This is because they often are looking to expose their brand, their book or their ideas. Even with this motivation it is important to be respectful of their time and to be as efficient as possible with it. We like to email questions that they can write responses at their convenience and then do a follow-up on any areas we want to delve a little deeper.

One other important note of caution is to make sure to do your homework before contacting someone for an interview and then even more research when crafting the questions. If they find your queries off the mark they’ll won’t put much time into the answers or will possibly just ignore them. On the other hand, if it is clear that you put time into drafting questions that get to the heart of their specific area, they might surprise you with how much detail you’ll get back.

An example of a good interview was a series of exchanges I had with Dan Mroczek —an Associate Professor of Developmental Studies at Purdue University. We came across Dan when researching a story about positive psychology and saw that he was a leader in this area and had produced several important studies on personality and happiness. Instead of just referencing these in a story, we tracked him down and asked if we could ask him a series of questions about these studies and how they might relate to the LifeTwo focus. He said yes, something I find most academics and authors agree to do.

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Dr. Daniel Mroczek
Thanks Dan! Here is a link to his interview.

More interviews:

Doreen Orion

On June 12th, 2008, I was fortunate enough to interview Doreen Orion.

 

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Gina Trapani

Interview update: On June 22, I published the interview I did with LifeHacker editor Gina Trapani for LifeTwo. (Photo Source: Will Pate). Here is a link to her interview.

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Peneloe Trunk
On June 21, I interviewed author/columnist Penelope Trunk about her new book “The Brazen Careerist”. Link to interview. Thanks Penelope.

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Marci Alboher

On October 18th, I published an interview with Marci Alboher about her book “One Person Multiple Careers”. Marci also blogs for the New York Times. Thanks Marci.

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Jennifer Niesslein

On July 25, I published an interview with Jennifer Niesslein about her new book “Practically Perfect”. Link to interview. Thanks Jennifer.

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Interview update: On June 4th, 2007, I interviewed author and advertising consulting Chuck Nyren. Thanks Chuck. Here is a link to his interview.

LifeTwo and the Future of Blogging

April 20, 2007

Darren Rowse’s Problogger has a post called Future of Blogging and contains observations on current blogging behavior, described generally as a “period of consolidation and extension”:

  • adding authors – group blogs are the new black
  • clustering blogs around verticals – bloggers extending their blogs by adding sibling blogs on related topics
  • networking – 2006 was really the year of the blog network but it continues to happen in both loose and formal ways. Many of the blog networks didn’t really survive but there are quite a few that continue to bubble away and sustain themselves
  • adding services and features - whether it be video, podcasts, forums, job boards, classifieds, chat features, voting tools… many bloggers are beginning to add interesting features to their blogs that attempt to add value to blogs. I think what we’re seeing is bloggers more willing to see the limitations of blogs and wanting to blur the edges of what is and isn’t a blog.

Problogger couldn’t be more right and using LifeTwo as an example we are doing every single one of those. For those of you who don’t know, LifeTwo is my online media company/blog that is focused on issues relating to midlife. Over the past year we have taken the traditional blog model and:

  • Added authors. We now have 5 contributors including David Houle (a noted futurist) is now a contributor and is providing advice to would-be career changers on what industries they might want to avoid. We also have the “Dating Goddess” (a best selling author who blogs anonymously on midlife dating).
  • Clustered blogs around verticals. We use an open source platform called Drupal that, among other things, allows us to create virtual blogs on the fly around any topic, keyword or person. We then present this in a manner that makes it appear to our readers that there is an individual blog (or cluster of blogs) on each vertical (which for us is a “topic” such as “Job and Career“). My partner Greg Yorke gets credit for this and he laid the groundwork for us to be able to reconfigure the site on the fly to reflect changes in interests of our readers.
  • Networking. In terms of becoming part of an official blog network we have no interest. But working closely with other like-minded independent networks focused on the same market is very interesting to us. Unfortunately, this has been a bit more of a challenge since the real opportunity of LifeTwo was the dearth of blogs or media companies addressing issues of middle age. If you are interested in learning about parenthood there is no shortage of quality sites with more launching all of the time. And there has always been sources for senior information (such as AARP), but looking for a comprehensive information source on middle age and it was a vast wasteland. That said, little by little we come across quality blogs tackling one aspect or another of middle age and we love to work with these sites since it gives our readers more resources to turn to as they look for answers to whatever is ailing them.
  • Adding services and features. Just last month we published our first podcast and we will become extremely active in that area. Video is coming and we’ve been working on a number of tools that will provide a richer, more useful experience for our visitors.

Another area we are starting to tackle though it is not on Darren’s post is syndication. We spend an inordinate amount of time sifting through RSS feeds looking for stories relevant to our audience. It turns out that these stories are relevant to the audiences of other blogs as well so we are starting to see bloggers capture these feeds and post the headlines (or better yet have them continually scrolling) on their blogs. Of course people don’t even need our permission to do this and can grab our feed and do with it as they like but we are finding that blogs are using this as the first step in a content/audience sharing partnership.
Of course there is much, much more for us to do but this gives an idea of what we (and by observation other bloggers) believe are the most important to do.

Embedding vs. Linking; Letting Your Users be Publishers and Why it Works

August 31, 2006

In the blog A VC, the writer talks about the growth of MySpace and YouTube and correctly attributes much of their success to the ease by which both allow their users to be publishers via easy click-to-add functionality. (Pete Cashmore calls it “Feeding the MySpace beast” illustrating you can either work to leverage MySpace’s immense reach or be slayed by it).

For MySpace, instead of having users link to music, they allowed them to broadcast it immediately from their own page. This simple embedding feature became an enormous differentiator. Similarly, anyone with a MySpace page or blog could play a YouTube video directly from their page without sending people away from their site. Outbound links to third-party sites became “old school,” something done only by sites who either didn’t care about empowering users or were too clueless to know how.

From A VC:

People don’t want to link to media like audio and video (and photos), they want to run it right there on their own pages. They want to be the TV station, the radio station, the newspaper.

But we can also learn that the easier it is to add something the better. My gold standard is the MySpace music player. If you have the MySpace music player on your page and you find some music you like, you simply click “add” and its on your page.

They are exactly right. If a blogger wants to talk about a song or video, they want you to experience it as they write about it. If, as in the case of MySpace, they want the music as an expression of who they are, then they certainly don’t want to send you off to a third-party site with the hope that you come back and if you do you remember what you were doing. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who isn’t even in the room. It’s also human nature that given the chance humans like to personalize their surroundings. Sending you to Yahoo Music to listen to a track isn’t personalization but having a song blasting while you poke around their space is. Making it so that one can do this and more with a few easy clicks is what enables the mass adoption that we’ve seen.

YouTube has grown because it lets people promote and experience their videos without ever having to go to the YouTube site. Of course, once one gets used to seeing YouTube videos around the net the natural step is to add one of their lists to to one’s RSS reader and thereby becoming a daily consumer of YouTube. They gain in every possible way. (I’m ignoring the ongoing discussion about their ability to monetize these experiences as this is a wholly separate discussion).

Embedding exemplifies an important tenet (or perhaps “best practice”) of Web 2.0. Namely, don’t force users to come to your location to consume whatever it is you are providing, let them consume it wherever they are and in the manner that they choose. Give people every possible way to consume your product–wherever they are. For example, let’s say you you are a dating site. It goes without saying that you are only too happy to have people actually come to your site. But After signing up, they should be able to accomplish whatever it is they want to do via RSS feeds. They should also be able to take whatever they want from your dating site that pertains to them and publish it onto their own blog or space. Think of Amazon and the benefits they get from the hundreds of thousands of “affiliates” that they have or the millions (?) of people who publish their wishlists or “top” lists on their sites. Quite a difference from the late 90’s when many web start-ups thought the way to reach consumers was via Superbowl ads or when AOL and others worked to create “walled gardens.” All very expensive and not surprisingly all ended up failing.

The lessons of YouTube and MySpace and many others are easy to see and relatively easy to implement so why don’t more people do them? I believe the biggest reason is the desire to hold on to dated business models and to keep trying to apply the marketing lessons of the past to a changed landscape. In traditional retail, the goal is to get prospective customers in the door. With the rise of the web, it is natural (though misguided) for people to apply their hard-learned lessons from the “real” world to this new medium. Look at search. Conventional wisdom was for the portals to use search functionality to bring people to their sites where they could be monetized. Non-traditional wisdom was to let every site in the world have their own little search box. Which model won out? (Hint: look at the upper right hand corner of this blog).

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Eons Deconstructed

August 3, 2006

Note to readers: this is a very long post because I find Eons to be an interesting site and worthy of a somewhat detailed deconstruction. Eons are part of a new wave of social networks targeting niche audiences. This one is targeting boomers and seniors.
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Eons (http://www.eons.com/) launched this week. Eons was founded by Monster.com entrepreneur Jeff Taylor with a reported $10m war chest. It’s easy to see where the money was spent and there is a lot there. So much so that TechCrunch, who reviewed the site yesterday, noted “Eons is trying to do way too much and I’m at a loss as to what it actually wants to be.” Eons was also reviewed in Mashable and has also received mainstream press. The site was having some trouble when I used it and I got a few “Rails” errors. These probably were the result of the significant traffic from all of their PR as well as being “Dugg”.

Not being on the receiving end of an Eons PR package promoting the site, I’m not sure how hard they were pitching the “MySpace for old people” concept but it is certainly the parallel everyone is drawing. As Mashable noted, the comparison to MySpace isn’t all that accurate given the immense amount of producer-provided content (as opposed to user-provided content) making them more of a “portal”. Think of it as a “Yahoo” for the 50+ crowd more than an age targeted MySpace. There is also a question of how much the 50+ crowd even wants social networking activities such as building profiles, blogging, etc. Since the founder is from another tech company not to mention below the target age, it’s possible that Eons has put too much stake in treating the over 50 crowd as if they were the under 35 crowd and thus providing tools that may be of no interest to them.

Eons has several nice touches showing that a lot thought went into even basic tasks. For example, when you register Eons asks you the basic questions one gets when registering including your zip code, age, etc. But as you key in the information it gives you immediate feedback on how your information compares with other Eons who have registered. For example, when I typed in my zip code I learned that 21% of Eon’s users are “nearby” (though this is left undefined) and 1% are my same age. This makes the normally dry process of registration a little bit more interesting. (By the way, I’m not so sure about the age data they report. I tried keying in several different ages from 30 to 90 and they all reported to be 1% of their users). When I put my real age (which is under 50) I was bounced because users have to be 50. This was easily rectified by keying in a new birthdate making me over 50 but the ease by which I did this (and their essentially forcing me to lie to use the site) raises questions about the accuracy of their demographic profiles.

Building a profile, uploading a picture and other minor housekeeping tasks were all easy to do.

Once registered I started to play with the site.

First off, in addressing the “chicken vs. egg” that all true social networks face, Eons has done something I like very much. Namely to add useful applications and utilities so that even prior to the network effect kicking in individuals will will find useful things to do.

The first such utility is the “longevity calculator“. This is similar to the Real Age calculator but instead of giving you your “real” age (as opposed to calendar age) the Eons test calculates your expected longevity (mine was 88 though I had hoped it would be in the 90s).

The next utility is their Obituary Alert. This was one of the most written about parts of their site in their launch press. With this utility you can create up to five alerts (think of them as Google News alerts) that let you know if someone’s name, school or other trigger comes across in the obituaries. Kind of creepy but cool. I once read that the obits are one of the most read sections of the newspaper so Eons may be on to something. The publicity Eons is getting from just this one utility has probably paid for the cost of making it.

Speaking of obituaries, they have an entire obits section with pictures and tributes to deceased famous people sorted in various ways (by name, year, and most popular). It was here that I found a tribute to Billy Barty. Other obits items included humor (I’m not kidding), a “loss and grieving” advice section, and a section for sending sympathy gifts, no doubt through affiliate “arrangements” (pun intended).

Another utility is the “LifeMap” which plays on the (probably true) stereotype that the 50+ crowd loves to sit around and reminiscence. The LifeMap uses a time-line and icons to represent major milestones in one’s life. Here is an example of one that Eons created for former President Bill Clinton. The LifeMap utility has a very nice series of prompts and it looks easy to build. However I was unable to tell what one did with their LifeMap when it was done. Presumably it can be accessed by friends and others that you allow to see it from your profile but I didn’t see this option in the profile builder. Also, it’d be nice if there was a way to export it. I can imagine someone putting a lot of time building their LifeMap (including uploading photos) and then wanting to print it out in some fashion or have it be able to be shared through a method other than just through Eons. What happens if Eons goes out of business or decides to start charging for LifeMaps? Similar to the debate over at Flickr, users should own their content and be able to easily take it with them where they want.

Yet another utility is a goal generator/tracker. I builds off of the belief that one should make a list of all of the things they want to do before they die–a popular topic with self-improvement authors and life coaches. Instead of saying “die” however Eons sets the deadline as before you are 100 years old. Like the applications above, Eons has made the process easy with simple instructions and interfaces. The basic process is that you key in whatever goal you want and Eons looks in a database to see if others have the same goal. If not it offers up goals that might be similar (for example “sail around the world” and “sail a boat around the globe”). You match up the ones that make sense or otherwise signify your goals as unique. If you are stumped and can’t think of very many goals you can see what others have put on their lists. The most popular is “lose weight”. By clicking on that I can see the names of some of the people who have this goal (which is a little odd). Presumably this is useful with a goal such as “run a marathon” since I can communicate and maybe even train with people with the same goal. Goals can be made private or public and are accessible from your profile (note this was either not working or not working well when I tested it). There is a lot more that they can do with this area and presumably ran out of time before launching.

One of the most interesting parts of the site is an age-relevant search engine, which they call “cranky.” If you type in a basic word like “book” or “triathlon”, the results are sorted by what has/has not been reviewed by users or editors (which presumably is what they use to determine relevance). “Triathlon” served up Triathlete Magazine, relevant yes but hardly age-relevant. I’ll have to spend more time on this but to me it appears that they are going to use the community to “teach” the engine what is and is not relevant. For example, when I typed in “senior” to cranky I got AARP (very relevant) and not “high school seniors” (not relevant).

In addition to the above mentioned applications/utilities, Eons has sections entitled “Fun,” “Love”, “Money” and “Body.” They contain some combination of articles, tips, blogs, pictures and affiliate deals–lot’s of affiliate deals. For example in “fun” they have a movie section that lists movies in theatres via online ticketing agent Movies.com. The entertainment section contains a nice mix of current and nostaligic offerings–something that is quite appropriate for their target market who is probably more interested in music and TV shows of 30 years ago than what is out today. The games are also demographic appropriate (Suduko, solitaire, etc.).

Eons also has a blogging capability. It is a very clean and easy process. However, like other sites that have targeted the older-than-the-MySpace crowd (such as ThirdAge), it is uncertain whether this age group really wants to blog and it will be interesting to see what adoption rate they experience.

Eons has “groups” functionality and already had several age-relevant groups started like antiques, knitting and golf. (No group for “puttering around in the basement” however). I tried setting up a group and it was a very easy process until the site locked up I got an error message. Not sure if my group made it or not. Presumably this bug is related to the server loads they are getting and will be rectified shortly.

Now that you see how much is there, it is easy to understand why Techcrunch had this to say in their review:

It’s too much to throw at people at once, and this age group is perfectly capable of using Yahoo for a portal, Vox for a blogging platform, etc. I would have started out with just the Myspace angle and added functionality from there as users grew, a model that has worked well for many other start-ups. Do one thing better than everyone else.

The Eons’ business model is focused on advertising with a lot of affiliate deals thrown for good measure (including Amazon books throughout the site and suggested sympathy gifts for the recently departed). Eons had one big banner ad centered on the home page and banners and smaller Google adSense ads on other pages. Certain sections are sponsored, for example the “Body” section is sponsored by a company called Humana.

In all it is a good site. But I there is too much there for most people and by spending as much as it appears they did they have set the bar very high for themselves to justify the expenses.

For the record, I’m a big believer that the over-40 crowd is under-served and believe there are a variety of opportunities to serve segments of this group in different ways. I am part of LifeTwo, a company that is focused on addressing the “life transition” years of 40-55 and particularly focused on midlife crises.

Update: The Rearview Mirror, a midlife-focused blog written by Micki Berthelot, had this to say.

We all agree that marketing to Boomers is a good and necessary thing. The Boomer demographic, particularly the female part, is generally ignored. Monster is making the attempt to attract the Boomer demographic with its new web presence – Eons. Eons is brand new and has a lot of evolving to do, but it is a shallow attempt at attracting advertising dollars. It is obvious that the only purpose of the site is to attract advertising dollars that the company isn’t attacting with other products. Boomers are too smart for that Monster – we see the obvious right away. The site is making an attempt to provide valuable content, but it is a substandard effort.

This tactic leaves the content weak and unattractive to me. … the “fun” page introduces a Brain Builder section designed to “stave off cognitive decline”. Oh yeah – just loads of fun. Thanks Eons – I really needed that. Sorry – but the whole concept is just boring and lame.

Follow this link for her entire review.

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