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5 posts from April 2010

Note to blog comment spammers: Try spacing out your messages! :-)

Had to laugh when I looked at my email this morning... a number of spam comments made it through Akismet running on and showed up in my inbox:

All of them linking to the same website with the same pithy message about how great the site is and that they would be subscribing to the RSS feed, etc.

And all sent in the short period of time...

Do blog spammers just think we blog administrators are dumb? Or desperate enough to want comments so we'll let them through?

I mean... one message might sneak through if I didn't check the author and the URL (these were giveaways) ... but post a whole bunch of identical comments and of course it will throw up a red flag!

Sadly, there are probably a lot of blog sites out there where these might work because people aren't running comment spam protection or aren't as diligent (or don't care)....

If you found this post interesting or useful, please consider either subscribing to the RSS feed or following me on Twitter or subscribing to my email newsletter. passes 15,000 photo milestone (and 931 photographers)

dailyshoot.jpgThose of you following my Twitter stream (or subscribing to my newsletter) will know that ever since entering the DSLR world I've become a big fan of the "DailyShoot" site set up by photographer Duncan Davidson and programmer Mike Clark. I've been a fan of Duncan's work ever since I first met him at, I think, eComm 2008 and then again at eComm 2009 where I wrote about some of the images he took there (and yes, some were of me). I started following Duncan's blog and learned more of his photography (like these shots or this iconic shot). He's shared some great info - like his advice for a $2K camera budget and his view into what it takes to shoot a TED conference. Lately I was following his journeys to the Galapagos Islands and shooting underwater on his Tumblr journal. I greatly appreciate both his sharing of knowledge and his passion for photography.

So when he started up the DailyShoot at the end of last year, I paid attention... and joined in the fun, first with simply my iPhone camera and then with my Nikon D90 once I bought it in early December. The idea behind the dailyshoot is simply this:

Photography is an art and a craft. Getting better at both requires practice—lots of practice. The Daily Shoot is a simple daily routine to motivate and inspire you to practice your photography, and share your results! It’s not a contest and there are no prizes. It's simply about encouraging you to pick up your camera and make photographs.

It's a simple process:

  1. Each day a new "assignment" is posted to and tweeted out via @dailyshoot.

  2. You take a photo and upload it to your favorite online photo sharing site. (I post mine to my Flickr account.)

  3. You send a tweet reply to @dailyshoot with the URL of your photo and the hashtag for the assignment (something like "#ds163").

That's it. The Dailyshoot site then takes all the replies and adds them to the stream of photos on the site. There is also a page for each photographer showing the photos they've taken - here's mine.

It's been a fun way to practice photography. I try to do it when I can... as you can see I've only shot 33 of the 164 assignments to date. I find that often I'll take some shots... but then I don't get around to uploading them and tweeting them until sometime later. And while I don't always take the shots, I do enjoy stopping by and looking at the photos that other photographers take... some are truly amazing - and inspiring.

The point of this post, though, is to congratulate Duncan and Mike on crossing over the milestone of having 15,000 photos taken as part of the Dailyshoot site. I saw this on the main page last night:


Cool to see that many people engaging in this fun little exercise. Thanks to Duncan and Mike for keeping it going... and I look forward to continuing to try to get in the practice... (not sure about today's assignment, though... it's a bit more cryptic than some of the other ones)

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Ning's Phase-Out of Free Services - Smart Business Move? Or Utter Betrayal?

ning.jpgMuch has been made in the social media part of the blogosphere about Ning's recent decision to end their free services. In a post to their Ning Creators Forum titled "NING UPDATE: PHASING OUT FREE SERVICES", the company posted an email from their CEO that said most importantly this:
So, we are going to change our strategy to devote 100% of our resources to building the winning product to capture this big opportunity. We will phase out our free service. Existing free networks will have the opportunity to either convert to paying for premium services, or transition off of Ning.

The post outlined why they need to make the move - and disclosed the fact that they were laying off 69 people.

Some 700 comments later, they closed off comments to the post. The comments seemed to be a great number of very upset users of the free Ning service mixed in with a few folks defending Ning along with Ning employees who seemed to be trying to be genuinely helpful.

The comments across the blogosphere and Twittersphere raged quite strongly. ReadWriteWeb had a post listing alternatives, as did Mashable. TechCrunch reported on sites "welcoming Ning refugees".

While the news sites may have reported it matter-of-factly, many other sites were full of passion. Many nonprofits and educational institutions wrote about how the were going to have to find some other home because they couldn't afford fees. My friend Shel Holtz wrote a blistering post called "Ning reneges on its core promise, shatters customer trust", which included this line:

But the word that keeps repeating in my mind is “betrayal.”

Strong stuff.

Betrayal? Or sound business decision? I understand the arguments on both sides.


If you go back in time, Ning was launched with great fanfare in October 2005, a new startup by Marc Andresson of Netscape fame. Per the RWW article I just linked to, Ning's FAQ (now gone) was:

"Our goal with Ning is to see what happens when you open things up and make it easy to create, share, and discover new social apps."

I remember the launch... many of us tried it out. I think I even created a Ning network... although I can't find any email or evidence that I really did. I know I joined a couple. The idea was cool... now anyone can create their own social network!

Over the years Ning raised over $120 million from investors and at one point was valued at over a half billion dollars. Mashable reported one year ago that there were over 1,000,000 networks created on Ning. Ning was one of the early supporters of OpenSocial and rolled out "Ning Apps" to Ning's 1.5 million networks at that time. I know of many folks in the social media/marketing space who recommended Ning as a platform for people to build communities. I did to several groups. I was even considering using Ning as a platform for a community around my upcoming book like Steve Garfield did for his Get Seen book. (I opted for a blog and a Facebook page instead.)


It now seems rather clear that something was broken with the business model. $120 million dollars and 1.5 million networks later... they chopped 40% of the staff and dropped the free service that brought them so much attention and undoubtedly investment.

It sounds like from a company perspective they had little choice. As a recent Mashable post said (my emphasis added):

We’re not sure how pricing will change over the next few weeks, but what we do know is that the dotcom-era free-for-all of apps, services and content for end users is not-so-gradually coming to a halt. In the light of economic reality, nothing is free. Someone — be it an advertiser, an administrator, an investor or an entrepreneur — is footing the bill for every one and zero that’s electronically transmitted across this great Internet of ours. And at some point, most of those folks expect to see a return on their investment.

"And at some point, most of those folks expect to see a return on their investment."... indeed. And $120 million of investment is a lot to seek a return on. I can understand that they didn't have many great choices... and were undoubtedly running out of time.


On the other hand, I completely understand the anger, sadness, frustration and passion of all of those who built communities on Ning. Ning offered a great service ... all you had to do was bear with seeing the ads that were displayed. In return you had powerful tools to build your own community.

You put your trust in Ning that they would provide this service for free - and now Ning has betrayed that trust.

I don't envy all the nonprofits, schools, churches and other groups that used Ning as their community and built their communication infrastructure around that site. Sure, there are alternatives, but switching is a pain... you ideally want to move some or all of your content... and you have to bring all your users over with you... It is a lot of work.

It's easy to say, as I've seen many commenters do, that "you get what you pay for"... and to chastise users of Ning's free service to be so naive to think that it would be around for the long term. But why not? That was the promise made by the company. Build your community here and we'll make it easy for you to maintain and grow - and so many networks did prosper there.


As Shel wrote in his post, I have this issue with "single points of failure" (SPOFs). I've written at great length about how Twitter and Facebook violate "The Internet Way" of distributed and decentralized services. I would add Ning to that list as well. It is a centralized service under the control of a single company... and a startup company at that.

The problem in relying on a single company/service/platform is that if you are locked in to that company/service/platform, you have a single point-of-failure.

They die... you die.

Compare the Ning situation to, say, garden-variety web hosting providers. You can get web hosting pretty much anywhere for an inexpensive amount of money. Upload your HTML files, point your domain there... ta da... your website is up and running.

Don't like the web hosting provider? Or have too many service problems? Or have the web hosting provider fail as a business? No problem... sign up with another web hosting provider... upload your HTML files (you do have a backup, right?)... point your domain there... and ta da... you're back in action. You have many, many, many choices for web hosting providers... it's all distributed and decentralized.


With a web hosting provider... or even an email provider... there is a fundamental feature:


If you don't like the provider, you can move. You aren't locked in. Sure, it may be a pile of work... and moving your domain may be a hassle if you didn't retain control of it... but it's relatively straightforward to move. Even if you use PHP or other scripting languages, odds are that you can move your web site to another provider, because...

Web sites are portable as they are based on open standards.

Usually... unless, of course, the web hosting provider found some way to make your administration "simpler" and subsequently lock you in to their services.

When using Ning, though, you sacrifice that control and portability in the name of simplicity. It's easy and simple (and free!) to set up a Ning community. It can be a lot harder to set up your own software on your own server - and it will probably cost you something. The same can be said of Facebook and using a Facebook Page or Group... or using any of the many other services out there that let you build communities.


Sadly, hundreds of thousands of actual users (perhaps millions) are learning about control and portability in a bitter and harsh lesson. They will soon learn about what pricing Ning will be offering... and they will have to make their choices. Pay some fee... move their community... or simply shut it down. I already know that one of the ones I am a member of will be moving. I expect many others will move as well.

I can only hope... and that is what it is - "hope"... that as Ning community administrators look at alternatives, they will ask those providers the tough questions, like:

  • How do I know you will be around in a while?
  • How can I trust you not to screw me like Ning just did?
  • What is your business model?
  • How easy is it for me to move my community OFF of your platform if I choose to do so?

And so on...

As for Ning, I wish them luck... I somehow think they're going to need it.

UPDATE: John Cass has an excellent post tracking many good posts involved in the conversation about Ning's changes.

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firshadow.jpgAs listeners to FIR #542 on Monday, April 12th, have already heard, there are a number of changes happening to the "For Immediate Release" podcast hosted by Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson and to which I have been a "weekly correspondent" for now most of 5 years.

The largest change is, of course, moving from "twice weekly" to simply "weekly" and dropping the Thursday show. For reasons Shel and Neville explain, they really had to do this because of their schedules. Personally, I've been absolutely amazed that they have been able to keep the twice-weekly format going for as long as they have - and so the change wasn't a big surprise.

So what does this change mean for me and the weekly reports I've been sending in since 2005 for the Thursday show?

On one level... not much. I'm still sending in reports... just now for the Monday show. There are, though, some tweaks you'll hear to tighten up the show a bit given that ALL correspondent reports will now be in the single show. These include:

  • The RadioDaddy intro to my segments has been dropped ("From the serene and picturesque hills...")

  • My reports will no longer have the intro/outro music. (MANY thanks to FIR listener and composer Joseph Fosco who gave me that music to use many years ago!)

  • My reports will not appear at the beginning as they have in recent times but will rather be simply mixed in with all the other news items and other correspondent reports.

  • I'll be sticking to a hard limit of 5 minutes for each report. (In the past they've ranged but typically have been 5-8 minutes.)

I don't have an issue with any of the changes. I actually really don't mind the RadioDaddy intro going away - I've gotten kind of tired of being labeled as "from the technologist's point-of-view" given that these days most of my time is spent much more in a pure communications/PR/marketing viewpoint (admittedly, though, I'll always be a "technologist" at heart). Like I said, I'm surprised Shel & Neville kept going with the twice-weekly format as long as they did.

The big challenge for me is just going to be to remember to send in my reports on Monday! That will take some getting used to...

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Long queue of blog posts... short amount of time to write...

DSC_0072Sigh... noticed this morning that I haven't written here since March 30th and, well, it's April 15th! I've been using "Things" lately on my Mac to track all my "to do" items and that includes ideas for blog posts that I want to write. Things has been working great... the app for the iPhone works really well, too. Unfortunately, all it really does is highlight how many things I want to do that are hard to fit into the 24 hours of a day... I've got a l-o-o-o-o-o-o-n-n-n-g-g queue of post ideas at this point... but much of my writing these days has been over on Voxeo's blog site or on my site for my new book. Hopefully soon I'll be able to turn some of those ideas into actual posts...

Meanwhile... enjoy the picture of clouds to the right (click on it for the larger version). I took that with my Nikon D90 out the window of one of the many planes I've been on lately.

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