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19 posts from October 2011

The Debacle and the Need For the Open Internet And To Control Your Content


A ton of online communities of moms are dying this week. After three years, the "" websites are shutting down on Friday. From the FAQ:

All of the MomsLikeMe sites will permanently shut down on Friday, October 14, 2011. At that time, everything that currently appears on the site, locally or nationally, will no longer be accessible.

Why? The standard lame corporate-speak:

The market has evolved substantially since we launched three years ago and there are many new and different ways for people to connect and engage. We feel we can better serve this community through the many new and exciting digital initiatives we will be developing and rolling out in the future.

The reality is that the site is entirely owned by Gannett (publishers of USA Today and many other newspapers and sites) and for whatever reasons they have decided that it no longer makes sense to operate this site. Perhaps they weren't seeing enough ad revenue. Perhaps it wasn't hitting whatever "metrics" they wanted to hit.

Regardless, it is shutting down - permanently - in 2 days. Finished. Over. Done. Gone.

And you can see in the comments to the blog post announcing the shutdown the collective "WTF?" of all the moms who had participated in the site. (Note, of course, that you can only see these comments until Friday, at which point they will be gone, too.)

We've seen this movie before. Remember back in April 2010 when Ning shuttered all its free communities? Or in September 2010 when the Vox blogging service shut its doors?

This is not a new story...

People invest hours and hours of time in a service operated by a company.
Company decides to shut down service... or goes bankrupt... or gets acquired.
People lose the community and/or the content they created.

At least Vox provided a way to export your content and Ning provided an upgrade path (for a fee).

Gannett says the site is dead... and THEY OWN ALL YOUR CONTENT. Again from the FAQ:

Can I take posts or other data posted on MomsLikeMe and use if for other purposes (e.g., post it on a blog, elsewhere on the web or publish it in a book)?

As outlined in the Terms of Service, the information that has been posted on MomsLikeMe is the property of Gannett.

Translation: You lose. We own it all.

Of course, just to rub salt in the wounds, the FAQ answer right below that is:

Can Gannett take posts or other data posted on MomsLikeMe and use it for other purposes (e.g., post it on a blog, elsewhere on the web or publish it in a book)?

Yes, as outlined in the Terms of Service, Gannett has the legal rights to re-use public information posted on the site for other purposes.

Translation: You lose. We own it all.

Unfortunately, the good folks who invested their time in the communities of the sites are learning a harsh lesson in the realities of the NOT-Open Internet. When companies control the platforms and services - and don't provide a way to export or move your content/data - you are entirely in their control. And if they decide to shut the service down...

... you lose.

The same issue can be said of Facebook (which itself has an insanely onerous Terms of Service), Twitter and so many other services. Google+ is also that way... but right from the start they have provided ways for you to get your data out of the service should you want to do so.

This is why we need to be concerned about issues around the "openness" of the Internet and about "data portability". If we choose to host our content - or a "community" - on a particular service:

  • Who owns the content?
  • Can you move the content if necessary?

We need to be looking at ways to ensure that we are in control of our own content and our own destiny... and not the companies and organizations that may run the services we use.

It's too bad Gannett couldn't have done more to help all these folks who have invested so much time to move their content elsewhere... that would have been the charitable and "right" thing to do.

Alas, they did not... and the moms who invested all their time lose...

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Facebook's iPad App Now Available With Gestures, Cool Places Display and More

Today, the long-awaited and long-delayed official "Facebook for iPad" application became available in the Apple AppStore. Having been an early iPad user and an avid Facebook user, this is one app I've been wanting for a long time.

NOTE: I already had the iPhone app installed on my iPad and after "upgrading", the app repeatedly crashed and wouldn't open. Following advice online, I deleted the Facebook app from my iPad and then installed it again from the AppStore. It then worked perfectly fine. It would seem Facebook missed something in the upgrade process.

Once launched, the Facebook app gives you a nice view of your NewsFeed and your list of friends available online for a chat:


Touching the "menu" button in the upper left corner - or simply swiping your hand to the right - displays a left-side navigation menu with easy access to different parts of Facebook:


I found the app very easy to use and very "iPad-like" in that it used many of the common gestures and motions of many other iPad apps. (Such as, for instance, pulling down the NewsFeed to refresh it.)

One piece that was particularly cool was the visual representation of what used to be called "Places". If you click on "Nearby" in the left menu you got a map showing you your location and who has checked-in nearby. You can of course pinch and expand to zoom in and out of the map. In this image below I zoomed out to see all of the US and I could see who has checked in around the country:


Of course, this only works if people actually do check-in and, as you can see from this map, only a small number of my friends in the US actually do use this feature of Facebook. Still, it's very cool to see how it looks in the iPad app.

I've only started using the app today, but so far I've been quite impressed. Very nice use of the iPad display space, user interface, gestures and more.

If you have an iPad and are a Facebook user, you can get the app through the AppStore (note my comment at the beginning about "upgrading"). If you have already tried it out, what do you think?

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Humorous Sign Campaign: Don't Facebook While Walking

Mea facebook

Courtesy of a post by Jeff Pulver on Facebook, hopefully while he wasn't walking, I learned of this "etiquette project" by artist Jay Shells to post various street signs throughout Manhatten with various etiquette messages on them. The one most relevant to social media is, of course:



Having been almost walked into on several occasions by people intent on typing something into their phone, I can thoroughly agree with the sentiment!

The article on about Jay Shells also includes a brief video interview with him about the campaign.

Fun to see.

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1997 Video of Steve Jobs: "Focusing is about saying no"

In all the ongoing commemoration of Steve Jobs, a friend posted to Facebook this short video clip of Steve Jobs from the 1997 WWDC event that so perfectly captures his design philosophy ... and that "focusing is about saying no":

Good summary of his design views... and also a fun trip into seeing a much younger Steve Jobs.

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The Internet Cries Out Its Collective Wail of Anguish At The Passing Of Steve Jobs

There are no words... although many are being written.

On an intellectual level, perhaps, we knew it was coming. When he stepped down as CEO back in August, we knew Steve Jobs was in trouble. No one who is as much of a control freak as he was would step down unless things were really not going well.

But still...

... emotionally we hoped against hopes that His Jobsness would somehow cheat death and stand up on stage yet again to give us...

"one more thing"

... one more time.

But... icon, visionary, leader, maker that he was... he was of course only human.

With all the mortality that implies.

And so ever since the word of his death started spreading last night, the Internet has been awash with the collective cries of anguish.

Techmeme, at this precise moment, is a wall of tributes to the man.

Many are incredibly moving... incredibly poignant... incredibly powerful...

"#ThankYouSteve" has been at the top of the Twitter trends. Google has changed its home page to have a link over to Apple's page. Wired has turned its home page into a wall of quotes about Jobs.

Everywhere a thousand other tributes are being posted.

A powerful day of tributes to a man who did so much to change our industry and indeed our world.

I don't know that I can personally add more than what I wrote back in August...

Thank you, Steve Jobs.

He leaves us with a legacy of design...

... of remembering that we need to focus on form as much as function (if not indeed more)...

... of thinking not of what features we need to add to a product or service, but rather what features we need to remove to make the service even simpler and easier to use...

... of remembering to focus on the user experience...

... on the need to embrace the "magic" of what we are doing and to create products and services that truly amaze and delight us...

... and to not settle and to live each day as if it were our last.

If you have never watched his powerful address at Stanford in 2005, take 15 minutes and watch this video:

One of Apple's best known advertising campaigns was the "Think different" series - and they had videos with a narration about "Here's to the Crazy Ones". The folks at 9to5 Mac found a version that Steve Jobs himself narrated:

Naturally, there have been several remixes of this commercial text (although not Jobs' narration) with images from Jobs' history. Two I found moving were this one:

And this one from Gizmodo:

Gizmodo stevejobs tribute

And yes, I admit to shedding a tear or two as I watched these...

There were a zillion tweets about Jobs... and one that I'll close with is simply this:

Twitter stevejobs

R.I.P., Steve Jobs.

Thank you.

P.S. GigaOm ran a nice collection of quotes from Silicon Valley leaders.

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Watching Live Blogs FAIL During Apple's iOS 5 Event

Today was a fascinating day to watch live-blogging services fail in a rather dramatic way.

Engadget... Gizmodo... MacRumors... ArsTechnica... and more...


Unless you were under a rock or otherwise hiding offline, you know that today was the big, huge, ginormous "iPhone 5" announcement event from Apple. (It turned out, of course, that there was no iPhone 5, but that didn't stop the media frenzy.)

As you probably also know, Apple does NOT live-stream these events. I think Robert Scoble nails their reasons - it's all about control. The PR folks at Apple are also masters at "creating spectacle". These "events" become the huge media events they are precisely because there is scarcity... you can't get the info unless you are in the room.

And so, the "media" get to be gatekeepers to the knowledge again.

Lacking a live video or audio stream, all the interested techies, media and fanboys must turn to live blogs and to Twitter (and Facebook and Google+) to get their updates.

But boy did those live blogs fail today!

Now, don't get me wrong..

I DO understand that providing live updates to an unknown - but very HIGH - number of visitors is hard to do.

I get that... but still it was interesting to see who survived and who didn't (and I mention both below).

Live Blogs That Struggled

One of the first I saw go was MacRumors, who was originally using a service that embedded "live blogging" directly into their web page. That seemed to fail under the load and they dropped back to simply providing bullet updates on their live page.

I was watching Engadget's coverage for a while and it was great ... until it wasn't:


Even worse, the entire Engadget site seemed to be down at times:


The site went in and out during the course of the coverage but was mostly out for the latter half of the coverage.

Gizmodo's live blog didn't give the same kind of errors, but simply stopped updating for long periods ... and then had problems loading display elements (which I missed capturing):


Ars Technica did better with their coverage up until about 40 minutes into the event when they stopped updating the site and pointed people over to Twitter:


Their coverage came back... and then froze again several more times.

I would have loved to be watching the stats on the traffic these sites were getting as it had to have been a TON of traffic.

Live Blogs That Worked

Still, some sites seemed to work well through it all. And while I have no insight into how much traffic these sites had versus the ones above, it could also be the architecture they chose to use as well as their choice of content.

Ryan Block's gdgt live gave the best experience I found, integrating both text and pictures to provide a great way to know what was going on:


They had a couple of momentary hiccups, but overall they seemed to consistently be publishing more and more content.

Mashable's live coverage was also consistently available, although they went with a more Twitter-esque series of mostly text updates. They added in polls for some more interactivity and also had links to other posts and info. They had a few photos, but not all that many compared to others. However, the coverage was consistent and always there:


Finally, GigaOm's coverage was noteworthy in that they started out from the beginning to just provide simple text updates to a blog post that you had to manually refresh. No auto-updates... no embedded widgets... just a straight-up blog post with a mixture of text and pictures. Not as sexy as other sites, but every time I refreshed it the content was there with updates.

Sometimes, simplicity can win.

(Now, in fairness, because there was no auto-updating and because I wasn't sitting there hitting the refresh (this was all running in the background on my computer while I ate lunch and was doing some other work), the GigaOm site could have gone down several times between my refreshes.)

Again, I do realize that providing this kind of large-scale coverage is hard, but in the era of "web-scale" and with the availability of content delivery networks, caching services, etc., there are certainly options available to companies providing "live blogs" of events.

Now maybe some of the sites that "struggled" had all that kind of stuff in place and still succumbed to the overwhelming traffic.

Regardless, today was an interesting experiment in seeing what worked and what didn't work. Personally, I'd love it if some of the services that had technical difficulties would write up a bit about what happened and how they were hit.

It would help all of us learn how to scale our sites.

And help people get ready for the NEXT Apple event ;-)

P.S. And yes, there were undoubtedly other sites that were offering live blogs of the event... these were just the ones that I happened to know of or find.

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Social Media Club NH To Meet Oct 6th To Discuss Social Media on Campus, Google+ and more

I recently discovered that the Social Media Club of NH will be meeting this Thursday, October 6th, over at my old stomping grounds of UNH in Durham, NH. The Eventbrite invitation has the full agenda and it looks quite intriguing. The first section is about how the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP) is interacting with students via social media for outreach... and having known some of the founders of that program way back in 1988, it's cool to see that not only is the program thriving but it's reaching out into new ways of communicating.

Second up is a session on Google+, which of course most all of us in the social media space are at least monitoring if not using (I'm of course on Google+).

It sounds like a great event and if you can get to the seacoast region there is still time to register.

Alas, I will not personally be there as I will be traveling back from speaking in Chicago on the 6th but I look forward to making it to some future SMCNH event.

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Do You Hook Your Reader From Your Opening Sentence?

Question Mark
Do you reach out and grab your reader by the throat from the very first line of your text? Do you evoke some mystery or emotion in your first sentences that makes the reader NEED to learn more? Do you make them ask "WHY?" or "HUH?"

Three Examples of Powerful Openings

Recently in talking about this topic with someone I randomly grabbed three popular novels that I had nearby and to no surprise all three of them had powerful openings. Consider these examples:

Foreign Influence by Brad Thor[1]

Inner Mongolia

The strategic military outpost was such a closely guarded secret it didn't even have a name, only a number - site 243.

It sat in a rugged windswept valley far away from cities and centers of industry. Its architecture was minimalist; a cross between a high-end refugee camp and a low-rent university. Tents, trailers and a handful of cheap concrete buildings made up its "campus." The only outward signs of modernity were the Pizza Hut, Burger King and Subway mobile restaurant trailers which made up the outpost's "food court."

It was just after three a.m. when the attack began. Lightweight Predator...

Right away the use of "Inner Mongolia" means to most of us that it is somewhere very far away and remote. The first sentence immediately makes you wonder "what is so secret?" Who operates this base? What kind of "strategic military outpost" is it? The second paragraph is just a bit of description but then the third sentence drops you right into a conflict. Who is attacking it? Why?

Angels & Demons by Dan Brown[1]

Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own. He stared up in terror at the dark figure looming over him. "What do you want?"

"La chive," the raspy voice replied. "The password."

"But... I don't --"

The intruder pressed down again, grinding the white hot object deeper into Vetra's chew. There was the hiss of broiling flesh.

That very first sentence immediately causes you to want to know "WHY?" Why is his flesh burning? Who is doing this? Who is this physicist? What is the password for? Who is the intruder? Why is flesh burning? Plus you have the evocative emotion of flesh burning, something against which we can all recoil in horror.

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin[1]

The day was grey and bitter cold, and the dogs would not take the scent.

The black bitch had taken one sniff at the bear tracks, backed off, and skulked back to the pack with her tail between her legs. The dogs huddled together miserably on the riverbank as the wind snapped at them. Chett felt it, too, biting through his layers of black wool and boiled leather. It was too bloody cold for man or beast, but here they were. His mouth twisted...

The dogs would not take the scent... of what? Why are the dogs acting this way? What is causing this behavior? And for those who have been reading this series of books (this is book 3 of 5), who is this "Chett" character? And why are he and they out in this cold?

Does Your Text Do This?

All three of these openings pull the reader in. From the very first lines you NEED to know more. You want to continue. You are hooked from the start.

Does your text do this?

Whether you are writing a news article, a book, a blog post, a novel, a short story... or whatever... do you hook your audience from the start?

If not, how can you change your piece so that you do hook them? Can you write a more powerful opening? Can you set up some mystery? Can you evoke some emotion?

How can you leave them wanting... indeed NEEDING... to read more?

Image credit: Boris SV on Flickr

FTC Disclosure: These links to the books include my Amazon Associates ID and as a result if you actually were to purchase one of these books I might earn a few pennies. If you think this has anything whatsoever to do with me mentioning these books, I can assure you it doesn't.

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My FIR Report for October 3, 2011

Shel and Neville were recording Monday's "For Immediate Release" podcast episode over the weekend, so my report has already been sent in. This week I covered:

Of course, to hear all of that, you'll need to tune into Monday's edition of the FIR podcast after Shel or Neville posts it. Enjoy!