Obviously this doesn't work for every kind of startup, but it's great to see it working where it can.
I think Instapaper gets a lot of word of mouth spreading because it's an iPhone App. That encompasses a lot more than it sounds. Being an iWhatever App means you get eyeballs from the store, but more importantly from its users - both online and in real life. iPhone/Pad/etc applications are highly sociable and shareable; revealing a useful App to somebody is a form of social value. It's a platform that is in vogue right now: How many times have you been recommended a certain App, or have seen somebody using an interesting one? Ok, now how many times have you been recommended a bookmarklet?
You were blogged a few times, that should have helped somewhat. It's possible that Historious isn't as useful as you think it is. I had written in this box a big long paragraph about why I think that is, but it's not pertinent to your question about promotion. If you'd like more of my thoughts on Historious, shoot me an e-mail, I'd be glad to give you my $.02.
There was also a post around here that detailed a template and methodology for 'pitching' an article about your product to bloggers. The gist of it was: You need to be actively seeking bloggers and promoters, you need to show them you're interested in their work, and you need to pitch them your product in a way that makes them feel their readers will click to read about it.
Ok, so why I won't probably switch to your service? ;-)
Currently, I use two bookmarking sites:
- Instapaper - this is for the stuff I want to read later, but not necessarily "bookmark" it, and
- Google bookmarks - for the stuff I might want later, so I want to bookmark it
Now, as I see it, the only advantage of historius over Google bookmarks is, that I can historify by one click (like Instapaper). But, this is not that important to me, since when I want to store something, my current habit already is that I always want to add a tag anyway. Because, despite Google bookmarks also having a search (in bookmarked sites), I almost never use it - I can recall an old bookmark by the tag more easily. Moreover, another advantage is, that I do not need another account to create, since I am also an Gmail user.
The third thing is, that I probably would not pay for bookmarking service monthly/yearly, when there is so much free offerings. Maybe you could convince me to one-time fee (like pinboard.in does), but probably not regularly.
So, to sum it up, your product combines good things from various other bookmarking services, but that alone doesn't make it better than others. You just need to find people, who like the workflow you are offering them with your service.
So to sum it up, my only advice I can give is - try to make your service available without need to register, so more people will try it.
As for registration, don't you need to specify a username when you use instapaper? The problem with using historious without an account is that some features won't work, plus you won't be able to access your account from a different machine/browser. Many users have requested it, though, so I'll try and make it happen!
Other services have the burden that I either have to fill out too much stuff when bookmarking (tags, categories etc), and/or that I have to categorise my bookmarks. This adds the pages you bookmark to the index right away, so bookmarking is single-click and then you have your personal search engine.
Try it, it's really great. My problem, however, is that I can't find a good way to tell people about it without spamming it, and I was wondering how people approached this problem for Instapaper, which is a not entirely different service...
First, there are things that already do this, and they work well enough. My browser address bar (FF3) finds 95% of stuff that I'm looking for. The other 5% I can open up my history and search. And, if that fails, I can retrace my steps somehow (re-searching Google, etc). I don't find it to be a big deal.
Second, Historious has a pretty large barrier-to-entry, and the pain-point may not be strong enough to overcome that. By barrier to entry, I'm referring to the effect of users finding it very difficult to switch the way they do things. I'm sure this is well documented, and there's a name for it, but if a user has their own way of doing things it will take additional value over just the new process being better, because there is a cost to the actual switching itself. By routinizing a process, it actually feels easier (even though it may be much more difficult than other methods). Since finding things you've previously browsed probably happens a lot, people probably have their own way of dealing with this. I'll just search again, or look through my browser history.
Third, it makes me think. I don't want to constantly evaluate whether or not I should historify a site; which is necessary since it'd be ridiculous to historify every site I come across.
It's hard to gain a fresh perspective on something you've worked so much on. Believe me, I know. I've been working on an the most incredible bookmarklet (guaranteed). I use it all the time, and I love it. But I've been routinized, and that's one of hugest problems. Even though it solves some pretty annoying problems and is awesome, I've found that people who try it out will not connect the fact that it solves problem XYZ, and they have problem XYZ, so they should use it. If they already have a solution to XYZ, that comes up to the top of their mind's list of how to solve the problem.
I agree that it's hard to get people to switch, even though your solution might be better. However, delicious (and various other services) did it, so I'm hopeful. My problem right now isn't low conversion rates (although that is a problem), it's that I can't even get visitors, to begin with. I just want to solve the problems in order :P
Prospective users, however, will weight the cost of learning/remembering a new thing, and changing the way they browse, versus the benefit of "now it's slightly easier to recall things that I've browsed before."
Imagine you saw some crazy weird looking mouse at the store. If you bought it, it'd feel weird at first, but it's pretty much guaranteed to be an awesomer mouse. However, your current mouse works fine. Would you buy this new mouse?
Probably not. It's easier to not switch, even if it would be beneficial to do so.
In terms of improving your conversation rate: If you are requiring people to create an account to try historious, you should immediately get rid of that. Let them try it with as low barrier to entry as possible, and hopefully get them hooked.
Regarding your switching point, I'd definitely switch (and, so would anyone who uses vi/emacs (maybe I should market to them)), but I realise I'm not my target market, and that your point applies to that very much indeed. This just means that I have to make every aspect of historious easy to get into, though (fully-functional demo, easy account creation, extensions for all browsers), as I'll never quit :P
On an unrelated note, I just took a look at moreofit, and I'm very surprised by how accurate it is, so props for that!
I don't see any reason to require a user to create an account to start using Historious. Just create a unique hash (user id) in the bookmarklet, and have that hash be sent along with any "historify" requests.
Perhaps once 30 days are nearing, or they are filling up their free account, you could remind them that they should upgrade to pro, or at at least create an account.
Hope that helps.
I guess making something that hits the sweet spot for a famous blogger is one way to promote. May not be the most efficient though.
His Internet fame originally came about because of his status as the (late) lead developer on Tumblr. Marco frequently writes insightful posts on Apple products that are linked by John Gruber of Daringfireball, who reads his blog attentively. This means his blog posts show up on HN and echo across the entire Apple-focused blogosphere. Apple bloggers are a great audience to have, because they are used to promoting paid products. So Marco has a huge blog readership, and his frequent mentions of his experience with Instapaper in his writing create a huge awareness of the product.
Also: the ability to grab an up to date mobi file remotely from my kindle is fantastic. For anyone with an ereader, instapaper is the easiest way I've found to get articles on the web well formatted for reading.
Really looking forward to seeing where this goes!
Hopefully with more time on his hands he'll be able to add more features like this.
EDIT: Looks like he already has this requested since it's listed on the FAQ page, so I look forward to seeing this functionality soon!
Though I am extremely excited to see what Marco has to offer the world now that he can devote more than 10 hours a week.
I'm curious why you don't consider that a startup. What's your criterion?
I'm sure they have no problems to know which blog is the most popular (page views, number of "reblogs"...)
That is if I can manage to wrestle it away from my girlfriend playing Plants vs Zombies!