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19 posts from March 2007

Sun Microsystems advertising their CEO's weblog through Feedburner's Ad Network?? Huh?

 Because I am fascinated by this grand experiment called "social media", I like to play with various aspects just to see what might happen.  So for the last couple of months, I've been experimenting with ads in a couple of my RSS feeds through the Feedburner Ad Network.  I definitely do not expect to make any money off of it... for me it's more an experiment to see if anyone actually clicks through on ads in RSS feeds!

Due to the higher number of subscribers, most placements have been targeted toward my Blue Box podcast, and it's been both interesting and entertaining to see what ad campaigns are requested.  Because I feel a certain level of responsibility and respect for Blue Box listeners/subscribers, I'm very picky about what I let run.  There have been a few that were appropriate... and a few that weren't.

The newest campaign I was asked to approve, though, gave my head a bit of a spin. As you can see in the image to the right (click for a larger view), it's a campaign by Sun Microsystems to promote CEO Jonathan Schwartz's weblog!  As you'll note, I approved it since I figured it might actually be something of interest to our listeners (and you can see my nice spray paint job in Windows Paint to obscure the campaign details :-).  But think about this for a minute...  here is a very large company spending some of its advertising dollars to promote a weblog through ads in various RSS feeds!

Pretty interesting space we're in, eh?

Chris Brogan- How do you maintain "commmunity" when an "unconference" grows to over 800 participants? Some thoughts of my own...

Chris Brogan wrote a great piece today, "Maintaining Community Spirit In Larger Communities", that addresses the fact that the Podcamp movement has become so much bigger than the original organizers really imagined that it would be. He points to the fact that the upcoming Podcamp NYC will now have over 800 participants!  How do you maintain the "community" feel when an event starts to be so large.

His post is a good one and I'd encourage folks to read it and respond with their thoughts.

Having not (yet!) attended a Podcamp, but having attended far more conferences than I can list (including numerous VON events by Chris' employer) and being rather passionate about the whole "community" thing (comes from my many years in the free software/open source community as well as political organizing), I'll list a couple of my own thoughts (beyond what Chris has said, with which I agree) of what I've seen working best:

  • Make it easy for people to identify each other - it's a small thing, but nametags with prominent names are a great thing. Don't make me squint.  But the first name in big print, even.  Company name... URL... all is good stuff.  I've seen some events where people have put color-coded stickers or symbols on nametags that identify you as from a certain area or interested in a particular topic.  Great ways to identify others you might like to chat with.  (In the Podcamp world, perhaps stickers for being a podcast producer, a blogger, etc.)
  • Have a wide open central gathering place - make sure there's a place where people can gather and meet people.  Maybe near the registration desk.... preferably with comfy chairs, couches or tables.  Make it so that I can say "Great, I'll meet you at 2pm by the registration desk" and they'll: a) know what I'm talking about; and b) be able to opportunistically meet others.
  • Have a noticeboard or other place for postings - make it easy for people to post notices of events or meetings or just notes for people.
  • Provide communication backchannels - assuming there's decent WiFi access, plan for some kind of backchannel... IRC, Jabber, Skype groupchat... whatever (or all of the above).  Make it so that people can connect and meet.
  • Encourage spontaneous BOF sessions - in the geek world we have a tradition of "Birds of a Feather" (BOF) sessions which are usually just spontaneously organized gatherings for groups of people.  Set aside some blocks of time, maybe even late at night, when people can create these sessions.
  • Give plenty of time for breaks (and include food) - Chris mentioned this a bit, and it's definitely a great way to get people together... make sure there are breaks... preferably with food and drink... and provide enough time for people to mingle.
  • Provide organized social events - On at least one of the nights, provide an organized social event that is just that... a social event.  This may need a sponsor, but it can be a great focal point.  It could be as (relatively) cheap as a shared meal brought in or it could be a dinner cruise on a local river or renting a club or restaurant. 
  • Publicize a common "tag" for use in social media - encourage everyone posting about the event to use a common tag for blog posts, flickr, youtube,, etc. so that info about the event can be easily found.

I could probably go on at some length... but that's all I have time for right now.  What have you seen that has helped build "community" at a conference?  You can comment here... but I'd also encourage you to leave the comments over on Chris' post.

Hmmm... so how do I note the relationship with a fellow blogger in Facebook? We don't work together... we haven't "hooked up"? How are we related?

Dan York's Facebook profileSo I finally broke down and set up a Facebook account.  I'd been avoiding it for ages simply because I already have way too many accounts at different services.  I primarily use LinkedIn for maintaining connections, but I still have an orkut account from when I set it up back in 2004 and a Xing account from back when it was OpenBC.  There's probably a number of other systems where I set up a page to try it out and then never went back.  But I haven't set up a Facebook or MySpace page... I could say that it was because the demographic is much younger (true!), but the reality is that I just haven't had the time.  Lately, though, I've noticed a number of people seeming to use Facebook for business connections, and so it has slowly ratcheted its way up onto my list of things that maybe I should check out.  So late last night, I gave in and signed up.  If you are a Facebook user and I know you, feel free to go to my profile (click on the image above) and add me as a friend - I'll be glad to do so in return.  I don't expect I'll change my primary use of LinkedIn, but at least now I have something with which to experiment.

 Adding someone as a friend, though, did create the dilemma of trying to indicate the relationship.  As you can see in the picture to the left (click for larger image), I'm asked to indicate my relationship with fellow blogger Ken Camp.    We haven't lived or worked together... or been part of an organization... or taken a course or went to school.  I guess you could say we "Traveled together" in the sense that we've attended the same conferences... but that's not really the intent.  We didn't "meet randomly" and we certainly haven't "hooked up" (assuming my interpretation of that is correct! ;-) or dated.  He's not family and we didn't meet through a friend or through Facebook.

So how do I specify the relationship?  There isn't a category for "Met through blogging" or "Met through social media"... "listened to his podcasts"... etc.  There's a missing category there - or the need for an "other".  In the meantime, I've just left it blank.

To the others of you out there with Facebook accounts, what have you done in this situation?

Michael Seaton - "Presentations are Art" (and a story)

Nice piece by Michael Seaton over at the Client Side Blog: "Presentations are Art".  As I've written here in the past, there's definitely a need to move beyond presentations that are simply filled with bullets.  I liked this part of his post:

I don't know about you, but I have yet to recall anything from a presentation where words on slides were the prevailing feature. However, I fondly remember (in detail) great stories and storytellers. These are the folks that use images over words and engage with an honest and compelling approach to the subject at hand. The ones who manage to energize, motivate and educate in a way that is conducive to their cause and yours.

Well said... and I totally agree.  There's actually a much longer post on the subject rattling around inside my head, but for the moment, I'd direct you over to Michael's post where he provides some tips about how to make your presentations better.

Nicely done, Michael.

The evolving conversation about blogging behavior, civility and Kathy Sierra's situation

As I mentioned previously, the blogosphere is all abuzz about Kathy Sierra's situation.  Out of all the buzz, here are some posts I found among the more interesting or insightful:

Somewhere in all of that was also this Washington Post article:

which, while not talking about this specific case, was a good commentary on the amount of venom appearing in blog posts and comments.

All in all an interesting day in the blogosphere....

Future Now: What makes you comment? (on a blog)

Fascinating post over on the grokdotcom blog: What Makes You Comment? The comments, naturally, are the fascinating part.  Quite interesting to see the varied reaction from folks there.

As I said in my own comment there, I generally do leave comments on a blog when I find an article interesting, provided that:

  • I have the time to write a comment
  • I have something to say beyond simply "Great article"
  • I can just easily post the comment without any kind of complex registration process

Do you leave comments on blogs?  Why or why not?  The Future Now folks would like your opinions...   (of course, they are required in a comment, so if you are someone who just doesn't leave comments, well... :-)

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"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a ____" - spewing threats while hiding behind the mask of anonymity

There are no real words to say in response to the horrible saga confronting Kathy Sierra.  In the 20+ years that I have been using the Internet I've certainly been subjected to abuse in various forms and in various forums (USENET, anyone?), but I have to say that even the worst flame war I was involved with never quite reached the level of personal attacks that she has suffered.  I do wish her all the best in coping with the situation.

Obviously her view is just one side of the story and Chris Locke has written a response to the allegations against him which takes a different view. To his credit, he was one of the people who did identify themselves in their postings.  He speaks of the YOYOW ethos - "You Own Your Own Words" (from the Well days) - and says that he stands by his words... and while I may disagree with parts of his views, I do respect that he at least identifies himself as the author.

It's pretty obvious, though, that there were others who attacked Kathy Sierra from behind the mask of anonymity.  As the old 1993 New Yorker cartoon said "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." (click the image for a larger view)  Anonymity is a double-edged sword.  It allows people who might not say things (out of fear of reprisal, for instance) to relay their information.  It allows people to be someone that they would like to be.  But it also allows the idiots to spout off and say their horrid things.  In this case, some people seem to have definitely gone too far.

Anonymity makes it easy... you can say whatever hurtful things you want and, at least in theory, no one can trace them back to you.  (And there are technologies out there that help with that.)  Anonymity frees people from the responsiblity and accountability that comes with that YOYOW concept.  They can be whomever they wish to be at that time - and if that means they want to be a mean or rude person, they can do so.  I am sure there has been a time or two when I thought about seeking refuge behind an anonymous comment to speak my true mind... but that I can recall I never did.  While I was never part of the Well, the YOYOW ethos is certainly part of my way, along with a companion mantra:

Never post or send anything online you would not want to appear on the front page of the New York Times.

I try to live by that every day.  I try my absolute best never to put in email... or in any blog posting... or any web forum posting... or even in IM conversations... anything that I wouldn't want to appear on a newspaper/website front page or on something like CNN. Odds are that it will never be an issue, but just in case....  In my opinion, you're crazy if you don't live by that.  Google (and friends) sees all -- and caches all.  Anything committed online has the potential to live on forever in the digital archives, to be found wherever it is... and to haunt you forever. I think it's a better policy just to make sure you don't write or say anything that you might regret later. 

It does seem, though, that in this case a number of folks (the prominent ones Sierra mentions) may have wound up in that situation.  Caught up in some (warped?) view of "fun", they wrote some things on a couple of web sites that seem now rather hurtful and mean-spirited.  No, they probably didn't mean many of them... or in fact any of them... it was "all just in fun"...  but it would appear that they didn't think through the consequences of their actions - and the hurt that they could cause.  It's easy enough to do... caught up in the moment... but it's a strong reminder that words can hurt.

I hope for Kathy Sierra's case that the police can soon get to the bottom of whomever was issuing the death threats and that she can soon resume her normal life activities.

I would also like to hope that the massive blog pile-on currently going on (of which this post is admittedly a part) maybe, just maybe, might make people think a tiny bit more before they hit "Publish" or "Send".   Just because you can write things that are extremely negative or hurtful doesn't mean you should.  Write it if you need to... but then step away from the computer... go for a walk... have a drink... and then come back and look at it again.  Would you want to be on the receiving end of that blog post, comment or email?  Would you find it funny?  or hurtful?  If you wouldn't like to be the recipient, can you please hit delete now?

Will this episode remind us all that a bit of civility goes a long way?  And that we need more of it?   I'd like to hope so... but I guess I'm also jaded enough to question whether it really will...

Dratted timezones... unable to get to the Montreal Geek Dinner tonight

Oh, the challenges of living on a big round ball with too many of these things called timezones.  Tonight, literally as I am writing this, there are a bunch of great folks about 100 miles away partaking in the Montreal Geek Dinner hosted by Mitch Joel and including Shel Holtz.  I consider both Mitch and Shel as friends and was very much looking forward to joining them tonight.  Michael Seaton, whom I have corresponded with but never met, is going to be there as well... plus some 30 or so others.  All in all it should be a dang good time.  For me, it's about a 2-hour drive, assuming no major delays at either the Canadian border crossing (usually not) or in Montreal rush-hour traffic (almost always).

Timezones nailed me, though.

In two ways.  First, I'm still finding myself seriously jet-lagged from the week in Cairo and the 6-hour difference.  Even though I got home late Friday night (well, really early Saturday morning) and have had the weekend to recover, I'm still dragging in the evenings... kind of after 6pm Eastern which is midnight in Egypt and was about the time I was going to bed over there.  So I had concerns about travelling 2 hours up to Montreal and 2 hours back tonight.

But the kicker was an appointment mixup.  Last week while in Cairo I accepted an appointment for a conference call that I swear was at 2:30pm.  So my plan was to have the call and then drive up to Montreal.  It was the kind of thing that I really had to do from my office, so I couldn't really drive and participate.  Well, today, on my Blackberry it was showing up as at 2:30pm... but on my laptop it was at 3:30pm!  I confirmed with the coordinator that it was 3:30... and that basically shot down the Montreal trip.

Sorry folks in Montreal, but you know the rules... customers have to come first!

Rather a bummer, but in light of my continuing adjustment to being back in VT, it's probably not the worst thing to stay here.  Still, it would have been great to see Shel and Mitch again and to meet Michael and the others.  I'd say that "I hope they have fun", but I know that is pretty much a given with that crowd!  I look forward now to hearing about it on the next episodes of FIR (Shel) and SPOS (Mitch). 

Ah, well, hopefully another time...   (or we'll just have to have folks down to Burlington!)

P.S. It was also another reminder that I don't think I actually upgraded by Blackberry to deal with the changed DST issue. Sigh...

Excellent thoughts on the success/failure of a social media campaign (Bum Rush The Charts)... and my own 2 cents about what else could have been done differently...

As many readers may know, yesterday (Thursday, March 22) was the day that the "Bum Rush The Charts" campaign was trying to get an independent song up into the iTunes Top 10.

It didn't work... at least in North America according to the latest info in iTunes.

At least, the song didn't make it up into the Top 10.  Right now, iTunes shows me that the song is still at #67 on the US "Rock" list of top songs, which is where it was before I went to bed about 6 hours ago.  Which isn't to say the campaign was a failure, because it actually achieved a great amount.  But it didn't hit the stated goal of landing in the Top 10 in the US iTunes list.

Christopher Penn, one of the primary publicists of the campaign, has already written some excellent reflections about the relative success failure of the campaign and how it could have been done differently.  I think they are actually great thoughts in general about "campaigns" that involve social media.  I would, though, add two more points of my own:

1. Consider the name of the campaign

Maybe it's an age thing, but I found a lot of people (including myself, initially) were rather clueless about what the term "Bum Rush" meant... and that may have been a barrier.  To a degree it's along with Christopher's comment that "edginess" of the campaign may have put some people off... but it's more that I just don't think people initially had any understanding of what it was all about.  If you didn't understand "bum rush", the title meant nothing to you.

2. Ensure a common domain name/website in all publicity

When I was looking through the digg comments, I kept seeing (crude) comments about "the woman in the video".  Yet given that I was looking at this web page, I had no clue what the comments were talking about.  Well it turns out that there were really three URLs in use as part of the campaign:

  3.  (which redirected to #2 after a few seconds)

Based on Twitter msgs and, I think, some blog entries, I was going to #1, but the video in reference was at #2.  So I think another lesson is to ensure that all references are pointing to the same web site.

Anyway, that's just my 2 cents.  As I said, I would really suggest reading Christopher's reflections, as they have a much broader applicability than just this campaign.

Google's home page in Arabic helps me not at all... (but is amusing!)

Logging onto the Internet here at the hotel in Cairo (for the glorious sum of $26 USD/day) had a rather amusing consequence - the main page for Google is entirely in Arabic! (click image for larger image) The text you enter in appears on the right side of the search box, and the results, as shown on the right (click image for larger image) appear on the right side as well.  Google icon on the right... essentially everything the reverse of the way it appears on the English page (as is appropriate for the way it would be in the Arabic language).

Now, there's a link there that allows you to easily get to the English search page... but I did have to say that this was definitely an entertaining side note of connecting to the Internet from an IP address range obviously known to be Egyptian!   No, Toto, I'm very definitely not in Kansas anymore...  :-)

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