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24 posts from August 2007

Hmmm... Plaxo's Pulse lets me see people's 'stream' without them agreeing to me being a connection!

In experimenting with Plaxo's Pulse in the past few days, I noticed one disturbing little thing.  In signing up, I let it import my Gmail address book and when it informed me of who among my contacts also were Pulse users, I agreed to send them requests to connect.  Two of those people were Chris Brogan and Alec Saunders, both of whom I know from various contexts.  So I wasn't terribly surprised when I started seeing their updates in my "Pulse Stream":


However, there's a wee little problem with this.  You see, when I click on their names, I get this:


and this:


Do you see the problem here?  I see all their stream items (presumably for their "Business Network" feed) - but THEY HAVEN'T APPROVED MY CONNECTION REQUEST YET!


There's a security/privacy issue here in that basically I can go and, it would seem, make a connection request to any other Pulse user.  I won't see the user's contact information yet, but I will see their stream items in my Pulse Stream. It would seem to me that you would not want the user's stream items to appear in my stream until the user has actually approved the connection between us.  Right?

I realize that the Plaxo Pulse service is still in beta and so presumably this will be fixed.  If not, I'd love to hear someone explain why this is desired behavior.

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BlogDay 2007 - My five blog recommendations

Blog Day 2007I must admit that I honestly forgot today was "BlogDay" or I might have saved my three new security blog recommendations that I posted on Wednesday for today!  Since I already blogged about them, I can't really use them, but that's okay because the reality is that pretty much every day I find myself stumbling upon new and interesting blogs.  I could easily list more than 5, but in the spirit of the "Blog Day" effort, I'll recommend these five blogs that readers of this blog may or may not have seen:

  • A View from the Isle by Tris Hussey
    Given that we turn out to move in similar circles, I was rather surprised that I had never run into Tris before meeting in Robert Sanzalone's Pacific IT (Bonus - Robert's blog is also a great one) Skype group chat.  Tris writes here on his blog about "Social Media, Blogging, Tech and Opinions", but these days he's spending more of his time writing over at his new gig:  Over time I've definitely come to value Tris' insights and commentary on a wide range of issues.
  • Future Visions by Jon Burg
    Started just back in July, this blog has the subtitle "Chasing the longtail of digital media as it increasingly empowers our everyday lives".  I don't know much about the author (there was no "About" page or sidebar comment I could find), but I've enjoyed many of the posts and commentary on social media issues.  A recent post on lifestreams was quite good.  I also like the fact that the author offers suggestions for improvements (see here for Second Life and for Twitter) rather than just complaining.
  • The Visual Lounge by Betsy Weber and others at TechSmith
    Although this blog has been around since August 2005 (happy 2-yr birthday, by the way!) by TechSmith, the makers of SnagIT, Camtasia Studio and now Jing, I only recently discovered it as a side effect of my post about screen capture tools when folks from TechSmith contacted me. (It turns out they discovered the Windows Live Writer plugin for SnagIt from my blog post.) While obviously a corporate blog, I've enjoyed reading the entries as the whole area of graphics, screen captures, screencasts, etc. is of great interest to me.  My background includes a long stint in corporate IT training, so I have a passion for tools that help make things like courseware production easy.
  • The Inspired Protagonist, The Official Blog of Seventh Generation
    I can't live in Vermont and NOT include at least one environmental blog! (I'll be ejected from the state if I don't!) I've enjoyed The Inspired Protagonist because it aims to provide positive news.  I mean, what's not to like about a blog that includes this in their "About" section: "In an age when despairing doom and global gloom rule the wires and extinguish those inspired fires that could ignite the needed change, the Inspired Protagonist seeks to cut the cords of negativity that bind us and replace them with hopeful strands of thought and deed that weave new worlds of possibility."  Yes, it is the "corporate blog" of Seventh Generation, but it's not really about the corporation as much as it is about environmental changes happening in the larger world and also about what people are doing to address those changes.  (Bonus blog - it's great to see that ZDNet has started up their "GreenTech Pastures" blog.)
  • the flatlander, by "joey"
    Speaking of Vermont, I'll end my list of five with this local blog subtitled "A New York City ex-expatriate's life in Vermont: It's not half bad."  The writer, "Joey", says in her "About" section "I live in Burlington, VT. I used to live in New York City. Now I'm confused."  I've never met her, although obviously she lives in the same "city" that I do, but she provides a fun and entertaining view of "Big City Girl Moves to Dramatically Smaller City" throughout her various posts.  It's nice to see the area you live in through the eyes of a newcomer.  (Although we, ourselves, made a similar although not quite so dramatic move when when moved from Ottawa to Burlington in 2005.)  I also like how she illustrates each of her blog entries with her own drawn illustrations.  Nice touch to spicing up the text.

So there you are... five blogs to check out (plus a few more)... hopefully at least one of those will be "new" for you!

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Somewhat reluctantly joining Plaxo's Pulse.... (and some initial thoughts about feeds, grouping contacts and lifestreaming)

image Somewhat reluctantly, I have now joined Plaxo's "Pulse beta".  If you are a Pulse user and I know you, please do add me as a connection.  It's precisely this last sentence that is why I have been reluctant to join Pulse, despite the many raves in the blogosphere of late - I have to rebuild my entire network in yet-another-social-network.

Now, granted, Plaxo makes it easy to find other people through importing various different lists of contacts: GMail, AOL, Yahoo... take your pick.  You can even buy the Premium version (or do the 30-day free trial) and import your LinkedIn contacts.

But I don't really want to go through the aggravation.  I've been a LinkedIn user for now about 5 years and have a nice network there of contacts.  In my daily life these days, it seems that Facebook, Twitter, and my various blogs are the communication tools/sites I use.  Do I really need another one?

Not really... but over time I admit to have become curious enough based on comments from people I know (such as Robert Sanzalone) to break down and open an account.  There's a couple of reasons.  First, with my interest in identity, I'm admittedly a sucker for a major site that allows OpenID use:


but that alone is of course no reason to try out the site.  More, I was intrigued by Plaxo's "PulseStream", which seems to be a much more open and useful version of Facebook's "Newsfeed".  With just a single glance at a page, I can see the information from the people I find interesting... what their latest blog posts are, what their tweets are if they use Twitter, new contacts they have made.  All aggregated on one page.  Simple and easy. 

I also do like that Plaxo allows a more granular segregation of "friends" than the other sites.  Right now, with Facebook, for example, people are either "friends" with full access to the site or you can make them a "friend" but give them only access to your "limited profile".  That process though is a bit klunky, in my opinion.  And you have basically one "limited profile" for all your "friends" (if I understand the process clearly).  However, in Plaxo, contacts are divided into three categories: Business, Family and Friends:


image Note that you can put a contact into multiple groups, which is nice.  As you work with the site, this segregation has a couple of benefits. On your "Pulse" page, for instance, as shown at right you can choose to only see updates from the appropriate groups (or everyone, or just yourself).  It is also extremely easy to only expose certain information to one of those three categories but not the others. image For instance, in the picture on the left, I am choosing to include my Flickr stream into my "Pulse Stream" and specifying that it is available to the public, but note the various choices that I have.  (I am assuming that if I choose "Nobody" it will only be available to me when I view my Pulse Stream.)

I am sure there will be folks who want more than three groupings.  And there will be undoubtedly some who say "I never use this site with family members, so why can't I remove that group?"    Allowing grouping like this will surely just invite people to say that they want more groups or want to create their own arbitrary groups.  (Which, to a degree, are we then getting back into groups like Facebook has?)

Regardless, it is nice to be able to group contacts accordingly rather than just labeling them all with the overloaded term "friend".

Now, it's intriguing to think that Plaxo's Pulse might be a tool for "lifestreaming". It certainly allows the aggregation of feeds (like Tumblr does)... but it's still a walled garden like Facebook.  In order to see the "Pulse Stream", one has to login to Plaxo Pulse.  Does this make it any better than Facebook's NewsFeed?  Not really.  Now I've heard rumblings that there may be an RSS feed in the works for your PulseStream, which would then let you pull it outside the Pulse Walls and do something useful with it like put it on your blog or in a widget.  We'll see.

In the meantime, I'm there on Pulse, at least for some period of time.  If I do know you, please do feel free to add me as a connection.

Garrett Smith launches "Facebook Observer" web site...

image After stumbling upon the "Facebook Observer" site the other day, I was pleased to learn (from the About page) that the author was none other than Garrett Smith, who I have known in other contexts from his blog, "Smith on VoIP".  He seems to have launched the site in early August, but I just noticed it recently.  So far he seems to have some good articles up there and indicates that he has the goal of  "becoming the destination for marketers and businesses in general to learn about how they can use Facebook for their own gain.

Facebook - Why can't I schedule an event more than 2 months out? (Earth to Facebook: We're not all students who only think a few days or weeks ahead!)

Here I was at the end of the work day just tying up a few loose ends.  One of the things I had on my list was to set up a Facebook event for O'Reilly's Emerging Telephony conference, upon whose program committee I sit.  Given that we're seeking speaking proposals, I thought that experimenting with Facebook might be an interesting way to get the word out within the tech crowd using Facebook.  However, I couldn't create an event for the ETel conference.  Why not?

Because Facebook won't let me create an event past October 2007!


The conference is on March 3-4, 2008, and so I wondered if I was in trouble when I went to create an event and saw only this:


What's missing?  (click for a larger image)  Yes, indeed... there's no year in the start or end time.  Clue #1 that something was wrong.  My immediate reaction was that I was annoyingly going to have to click through the calendar "next" buttons to get to the right month.  So I started doing this and found, as you can see in the picture below, that Facebook events can't be set later than October 2007!


At least, I could find no way to do so.  If someone else can, please do let me know.

Now, even though it was most of 20 years ago, I do remember life as a college student and I do recall that my "event horizon" for planning was really only the next few days or weeks.  If it was farther out, it simply never entered my brain.  I'd worry about that sometime later... after the next round of projects or papers were due.  So perhaps Facebook is based on that mindset... if it's not within the next 2 or 3 months, you don't care!  (And I realize that certainly not all students fit into this stereotype and that there are some students who plan farther ahead.)

However, if Facebook does seriously want to get into the business space, they definitely do need to open up this window a bit more.  I've got conferences and events I know I'm going to 6months... 12 months out.  Wouldn't it be great to be able to network with other people planning to go to those conferences farther in advance?  Or if you are an organizer, wouldn't it be great to be able to promote the event within Facebook?

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Congrats to Stuart Henshall and Dina Mehta on their new company, Mosoci...

image Now that Ken Camp has let the cat out of the proverbial bag - and Stuart Henshall is pleased - I'll join in on wishing Stuart and Dina Mehta all the best in their new venture: Mosoci.  I've never had the privilege of meeting Dina (although I've certainly known of her as a result of the tsunami and disaster relief efforts and also the Worldchanging site), but I've known Stuart now for several years through the VoIP blogging world.  I first learned of him back when he started writing about Skype on his Unbound Spiral blog and then went on to create the Skype Journal.  I've subsequently met him face-to-face at a couple of different VoIP-related conferences.   I'll definitely agree with Ken that Stuart is one of the folks out there who really has a good sense of a larger vision/view of the world.

After my recent post on lifestreams, Stuart dropped me an IM to discuss that post a bit, and along the way mentioned his new venture.  (My immediate comment - if he really wanted to be in the "Web 2.0", he was already violating the cardinal rule that all Web 2.0 startups must end in an "r" and omit the final vowel (as in Flickr, Tumblr, Tanglr, etc.)!)   As Stuart said in his blog post today, Mosoci is part collaboration, part research:

Mosoci is the platform of our collaboratory around the interests we love, are passionate about and to reinforce the direction and learning we need to go in.

As to exactly what they will be doing, they state this on their "About" page:

Mosoci provides the research, tools and connections that lead to more innovative communities. We help you think upstream, accelerate learning and gain unique insights that create new products, services and markets.

We help companies big and small, global and local hold effective conversations about change. We love consumer products; new media, communications (VoIP, mobile) and technology. We are deeply engaged in Web 2.0 initiatives which are creating revolutionary new best practices for relating to you and me as users, customers and brand communities.

They list a bit more about what they will offer on their Services page.

I wish them all the best - and look forward to whatever will evolve out of their collaboration!

So you want to be a blogger? Do you LOVE to write? Do you wake up each morning with your head exploding with stories to be told?

An occupational hazard of being a blogger, it seems, that when you are in certain situations and let it be known that you blog, the inevitable question comes up: "So I've been thinking about starting a blog, where do you suggest I begin?"  It's kind of the 2007 equivalent of several years back when, as soon as someone found out that you knew something about computers, the question was "So, I'm thinking about buying a computer, what kind should I consider?" (Or it is presumably like doctors who are asked things like "I've had this pain in my side...")

When next I am asked this question, I'd like to imagine the dialog might play out like this:

Them: So I'm thinking about starting a blog, where should I begin?
Me: For starters, do you LOVE to write?
Them: (a bit hesitant) Sure, I like to write.
Me: No, do you LOVE to write?
Them: (a pause) I'm not entirely sure I follow...
Me: Do you LOVE to write?  Do you wake up each morning with your head exploding with stories that are just there waiting to be told?  If so, blogging may be extremely easy for you.  If not, you can still do it... but you just have to be aware that it will take some work.

Let's face it... starting a blog is trivial.  Keeping a blog going takes a good bit of work.  It helps tremendously if you have this compulsion to tell stories... if you are driven to communicate... if you love to write.

My brain first started going down this track back in July when I read Chris Brogan's "An Autobiography of Sorts".  Chris, one of the more prolific bloggers I follow, writes very well and his posts are generally a pleasure to read.  In his piece, he included this text (my emphasis added):

My first websites dealt with writing fiction. I wrote voraciously through childhood and was really proud and passionate about my writing. I got lots of early readership through my site, and built a little online community of writers.

A commonality with Chris clicked.  Like Chris, I've been writing (at times you could even say "voraciously") since I was very young.  Before I moved into blogging in May 2000 (over on Advogato), I had filled countless notebooks and journals with writing.  I have boxes of them floating around.  All shapes and sizes... carried with me wherever I was.  Traveling around the US.  Living in New England.  On the ice sheet in Greenland. Going to the Univ of New Hampshire in the mid-1980s.  Backpacking.  Canoeing. Wherever. Whenever. I was writing.  Stories. Fiction. Poetry. Commentary on politics.  Comments on life around me.  Sometimes in German (in my more fluent days). Usually late at night or early in the morning.  Much of it, if I were to go back and re-read it, would undoubtedly be pretty mundane and banal.  I'm sure some of my scribblings at UNH would rival the drivel posted in Facebook by some of today's students (except that my drivel isn't posted out there for everyone to see and for search engines to cache).  I have written multiple technical books , numerous pieces of courseware, and far, far, far too many articles for me to even begin counting (I used to try to keep up).  The reality is that I simply love to write.  I always have.  I expect I always will.

So the transition for me to blogging back in 2000 was trivial.  It was simple and easy.  I just wrote with a keyboard instead of a pen.  Only now I was writing for a potentially global audience so I had to apply a bit of a filter (i.e. "Never put online anything you wouldn't feel comfortable seeing on the front page of the NY Times."), but across Advogato, then LiveJournal (and also my American-in-Canada site) and now this network of blogs (plus now Twitter, Facebook, etc.) , I've continued to post.  Not as prolifically as Chris, nor even remotely on the same scale as Jeremiah Owyang:

I enjoy writing, and have published 1,327 posts in the last 15 months (about 3 a day, including weekends).

but I've kept at it all these years.  In large part because I really can't NOT post!   I do indeed wake up most mornings with my head exploding with stories to be told.  For years I've carried around with me a Moleskine notebook[1] whose main purpose continues to be a place for me to jot down notes about things I want to blog about!  I still do. And you know what... I don't even blog about probably 90% of the ideas I write down!  I just don't have the time in the day.  Now if blogging were all I did, perhaps I could - but it's not what I get paid for and is something I just fit into the small random interstices of the day.  Similarly, I tag many web pages I see in, with the idea that I'll go back and blog about them... and again probably 90% I don't.  I keep all sorts of drafts of articles floating around in Windows Live Writer.  Some eventually become blog posts. Some never do and eventually I delete them.

The key is that I love to write.  I have a compulsion to communicate... to explain... to teach... to demystify things... to tell stories about things and people and technologies.  It is just part and parcel of who I am and what I do.

If you have that compulsion, odds are that you'll do just fine keeping up with blogging.  If not, you still can certainly maintain a blog... you just may have to work at it a bit more to keep those entries flowing...

[1] Since before Moleskines were popular with the GTD set and they were quite difficult to find - in fact, there was only one store in all of Ottawa where I could get them. Today, they are of course everywhere.

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Congrats to Jeremiah Owyang for joining Forrester

image I have never met Jeremiah Owyang, but I've been a regular reader of his "Web Strategy" blog for ages. He writes extremely well and many (but not all) of the topics he covers intersect with many of the topics I cover here.   Since reading his blog, I've also connected with him via Twitter and Facebook as well, adding yet more dimensions to our connection.  I've come to know a bit more about him and appreciate/respect his knowledge and interest.

So I was thrilled to read that he will be joining Forrester Research as an analyst in October.  As he indicates, a lot of the writing and information gathering he's been doing on his web site are really akin to what goes on within the analyst world... so it's a natural step for him.  Personally, I think it's great for Forrester to gain someone with the amount of experience and connections that Jeremiah has.  I would have to think he'll definitely be an asset to Forrester's clients.

Congrats, Jeremiah!

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Marketing Pilgrim: 26 Free Tools for Buzz Monitoring

image Over on the Marketing Pilgrim site, Andy Beal put up a good post yesterday "26 Free Tools for Buzz Monitoring". Definitely well worth a read if you are in the need to be monitoring what's happening online related to your company, brand, name, whatever.... I knew of most of the sites, but there were a few new ones.  Nice job on Andy's part to put together this list.

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Entering into video podcasting with Blue Box Video Edition #1

Well, I finally did it. After toying with the idea of doing a video podcast for quite some time, I took my trusty Canon PowerShot point-and-shoot camera out onto the show floor of VoiceCon San Francisco 2007 and recorded a quick little 5-minute video with Sachin Joglekar of Sipera Systems. The result is now visible on the Blue Box site and also later in this message.

Like I said, it was shot with my Canon PowerShot SD1000 camera. Imported into the free Windows Movie Maker application, where I added the titles, credits, overlay title with Sachin's name/title and mixed in the audio of the intro/outro we use for Blue Box audio podcasts. The result was saved to a WMV file. After a quick message to the CAPOW mailing list and a (as always) detailed response from Christopher Penn, I was off and running with the iPod conversion. Christopher pointed me to the free Videora iPod Converter, which will take WMV and AVI files and convert them to the MP4 needed by the video iPod. (Thanks, Christopher!) I synced it to my iPod, verified that I could play it, and was ready to go.

It turned out to be a bit of a trick to host it somewhere. It was easy to just upload it to my LibSyn account where I host all my Blue Box podcasts... that worked great and is how it now wound up in the Blue Box RSS feed. However, I wanted to host it on a site so that I could embed it in pages like this one. My first thought was naturally YouTube, but I found that there is something funky with my firewall that wouldn't let me use their http upload to upload files. I'm not surprised since I run my own firewall and have some paranoid settings, but it was rather annoying!

Since a number of people had recommended after I had posted a request for recommendations, I thought I'd give it a try. I had the same issue with http uploads... but then I was delighted to find that supported good old ftp. Ta da... the upload worked fine and the result can be seen here:

Now this was my first experiment and already I can see several things I would do differently, namely:

  • Record at 640x480 versus 320x240. It would be good just to have a larger picture. (Christopher Penn did highly recommend this in his message, but unfortunately I got that after I had already done the recording.)
  • Use a separate recording device to record the audio. I had my Marantz PMD-660 with me and I have a nice cardoid mike that probably would have gone far in reducing some of the background noise. On the other hand, recording with the Canon was dead easy.
  • Several people I trust recommended dropping ~$50 for Pinnacle Studio for video editing and I'll probably consider that.  Windows Movie Maker was surprisingly functional and easy-to-use, but I pretty rapidly ran into some limitations such as the placement of titles, formatting of credits, etc. You have options, but not a whole lot.

Anyway, this was a fun little experiment and I think now I'll look to give it a try at future shows as well.

Comments about the video are definitely welcome.  Feel free to be harsh (but civil, please!).