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Make money with Squidoo
An online community of 'lenses' allows people to earn a buck while sharing their expertise.
By Grace Wong, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Internet marketing pioneer Seth Godin wants his new start-up firm Squidoo.com to make money. But unlike most business executives, he wants to give his money away -- to charity and to the people who power his site.

Squidoo is an online platform of hand-built directories that anyone can create for free using a tool on the Squidoo site. The directories, also called lenses, resemble blogs, except each lens is devoted to a single topic.

Seth Godin
Seth Godin
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Squidoo acts as an intermediary to search engines, giving people a "big picture" view on any given topic.

"Google is too good," Godin said, adding that a search engine might turn up millions of pages for a given search, potentially overwhelming people with information.

The Squidoo site allows so-called lensmasters to share their expertise on a given topic so others don't have to wade through piles of information.

The top 100 lenses visited on Squidoo include topics ranging from the power of raw food to ways for transforming your office cubicle into a gym. Martha Stewart even hosts a lens on making cookies.

Squid have large eyes, and each lens on Squidoo provides a view on the world, Godin said, explaining the origin of the company's name. It ends in "oo" since tech companies with two "o"s in their name -- Google, Yahoo!, Godin's own Yoyodyne -- have all been a success.

Money matters

Web sites featuring online guides and solutions aren't anything new, consider About.com. But Squidoo rewards its lensmasters with a cut of the earnings received from ads and other revenue-generating links on the site.

All revenue is first applied towards the company's overhead costs. Then, 5 percent of all revenue is donated to charity. Once that requirement has been met, lensmasters start to share in the profits.

Half of the revenue generated from Google ads posted on each lens goes to Squidoo's top lensmasters, based on rank and traffic numbers. Lensmasters also pocket half of all other revenue, such as that generated from sales made via links to sites like Amazon.com or eBay.

Lensmasters might make around $1 or $2 a day from each lens they build, Godin estimated. They can also choose to donate their earnings to charity. But there's no guarantee people will be able to make enough to quit their day jobs, since earnings will depend on how popular their lenses are and how many directories they maintain.

(All revenue is being donated to charity while the site is in its Beta phase. Lensmasters will start receiving royalty payments once that's over, probably sometime before late spring, Godin said.)

At first glance, Squidoo's business model may seem a little unusual. It does, after all, call for giving away half of the company's earnings.

But Godin is no novice when it comes to spearheading new ideas. He founded Yoyodyne, the leading direct-marketing company on the Internet, and sold it to Yahoo! during the late 1990s dotcom boom.

Godin said he wants to build Squidoo into a self-sustaining profitable company. He also wants to raise $100 million for charity and make it possible for 100,000 people to eventually quit their job. That might be manageable since the company -- which only employs four people -- has fairly low costs.

"All we built was the platform. People are coming to build the pages," Godin said.

In the two months since the Beta version of Squidoo has been in operation, nearly 14,000 lenses have been created --10 times more than Godin had expected at this point.

Web platforms like Squidoo represent the new way of thinking about Web sites, Godin said. They're also models of efficiency and growth, he said, referring to the popularity of sites such as Flickr, which allows users to share photos, and del.icio.us, which lets people share their bookmarks.

"All these sites are growing because they're nothing but platforms for normal people to say what they think."


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