Site Meter

March 31, 2009

March to the Beat of Five New Blogs You're Probably Not Reading

Thirteenth Edition Of a Monthly Series

As the month of March fades with only a few hours remaining, there's still time to highlight five blogs that have recently entered my Google Reader and become regular visits for me. This feature, one I look forward to each month, almost escaped me, but don't think it's not a priority! For last month's collection, start here, and find links to all of the previous 12 months.

Having wrapped around a full year, I thought I would take a different approach this round, and I openly called for submissions, using FriendFeed (which mirrored my request to Twitter and Facebook). You can see that discussion here, and can find more than the five I've selected, should you choose to do so.

This month's entries...

1) #comments (comments.deasil.com)

Focus: Technology, Software, iPhone, Browsers
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

2) Joe Blogs (Joe Dawson's Blog (www.joedawsons.com)

Focus: Facebook, Family, Social Media
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

3) Creative Capital (creativecapital.wordpress.com)

Focus: Finance, Technology, Entrepreneurs
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

4) Black Web 2.0 (blackweb20.com)

Focus: Technology, Blogging, Startups
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

5) Lost In Technology (www.lostintechnology.com)

Focus: Technology, Software
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

Want to be on this list? You can catch my eye by posting great information in the field of technology, social media, blogging and the Web. I'll be more likely to highlight you if you blog almost every day, and bring new stories to the table that don't repeat discussions launched elsewhere. And if you have more than 1,000 subscribers, you're probably too big for this.

To see even more new blogs I'm adding to my reader, or get a sneak peek for next month's highlighted blogs, follow my activity on Toluu. If you don't have a login to Toluu, send me an e-mail to louisgray@mac.com and I'll get that set up right away.

Twitter Starts Rolling Out Popular Feature Requests

By Corvida Raven of SheGeeks.net (FriendFeed/Twitter)

Have you noticed the recent changes to Twitter's web UI? For those that live in Twitter clients like Tweetie and Twhirl, you'll be in for a surprise if you head to the Twitter site these days. Twitter has come a long way since its popular debut at SXSW 07 in terms of performance. However, recently Twitter has started to up the ante on it's website and implement some of the most popular feature demands from the Twitter community.

@Username A.K.A. Mentions

No @replies aren't a new feature. As of yesterday, Twitter is now doing something that should've been done last year: picking up on all @ replies. Previously, you would only see replies that featured @username towards the beginning of a tweet. Now, it doesn't matter where you put the @username. Twitter promises to still pick it up.

Search Bar & Trends

Sick of going to search.twitter.com yet? If so, you might be excited to see the following:


That's right, a Twitter Search bar in Twitter. It hooks in to the search.twitter.com to grab yoru results. Here's a view of recent tweets mentioning "corvida" (that would be me):


The trends button only returned me to the homepage, so I have no idea what it will actually do. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that it will be a drop-down menu listing the latest trends linking to their search results.

Connections

Looks like Twitter may finally start giving users a way to manage the mass onslaught of Twitter tools to use. We're constantly giving our password to so many Twitter apps and services that we forget that some of them still have access to our account. The connections tab seems like it will be designed to handle such problems.



More To Come From Twitter?


I'm sure there is, but for now these are some great recent changes to Twitter's website. It'll definitely enhance the Twitter experience, while potentially eliminating several addons and extensions in the process. Not everyone has these features available in their profiles. So one would assume that Twitter is testing some of these features on selected accounts. Don't be sad if you don't have some of them. They're probably right around the corner.

Read more by Corvida Raven at SheGeeks.net.

March 30, 2009

10 People To Follow On FriendFeed For The Month Of March

My tag team partner in crime, Mike Fruchter, who I hope will be returning to top speed once again soon, is still letting real life trump his online activities, so I'm pinch hitting in a vital role, with his permission, highlighting ten well-deserving FriendFeed users who bring consistently interesting items to the fore. This month's batch, as with others, highlights people you may already know, and some lesser-known but equally as deserving folks who have so far hidden from the limelight.

Previous FriendFeed members to follow lists, largely driven by Mike, can be found for the 2008 months of, July, September, November and December. The 2009 lists can be found for January and February.

Apologies for the lateness in the month... on with the list for March!

1) RAPatton

Short Bio: Robert Patton, an Ohio native, is a software architect and senior consultant at Optimum Technology, who can claim search engine design and e-commerce application development to his credit. He has a degree in computer science from Ohio State University, and is a father of two. A frequent sharer of items from UK-based publications, including the BBC, The Independent, the Daily Mail and The Telegraph, Robert, uncovers stories of interest to the community, well outside of the technology space, including updates on astronomy, health and Hollywood.

What they find interesting: Entertainment, News, Science

FriendFeed: Subscribe

2) Thomas Hawk

Short Bio: Thomas Hawk is the CEO of Zooomr, Inc., and is among the tech Web's most visible photographers. An East Bay resident, he is a popular blogger in his own right, and recently covered Oakland residents' violent response to a policeman's slaying of a youth at a BART station earlier this year - an incident predating this weekend's slayings of four police officers in the city. Thomas is widely considered an expert in photography in Silicon Valley and counts Robert Scoble as one of his proteges. (The two are pictured here with Chris Pirillo)

What they find interesting: Photography, Business

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

3) Akiva Moskovitz

Short Bio: A recent father to a two and a half month old daughter, Akiva is the male half of the popular FriendFeed couple, including his wife, Rochelle. In addition to the updates on Audrey, who just so happens to share many of the same characteristics we like about our daughter, Sarah, you can see Akiva's comments on religion, technology and entertainment.

What they find interesting: Family, Photography

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

4) Daniel Brusilovsky

Short Bio: Daniel Brusilovsky is the founder and CEO of Teens In Tech, a social media platform and community for teens, and a contributor to multiple Apple Macintosh projects, including the Apple Universe Podcast and MacMegasite. Daniel's young age shouldn't mask a deep interest and involvement in technology development and the startup culture - as he clearly displays excitement about meetings with entrepreneurs and seeing startups gain new rounds of capital.

What they find interesting: Technology, Social Media, Startups

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

5) Bindu Reddy

Short Bio: Bindu is the founder of Likaholix, which shares many aspects of content discovery as FriendFeed does. Previous to Likaholix, Bindu was the head of product management for Google Docs and Sites, and was the first product manager at JotSpot. A graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, Bindu also collected a Masters degree in Engineering from Dartmouth College.

What they find interesting: Music, Food, Technology

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

6) Kevin Fox

Short Bio: Kevin Fox runs the design at FriendFeed, and previously worked at Google, bringing to life many of the applications you frequently use, including Google Reader and GMail. He also spent some time at Yahoo!, and long ago, wrote for the since passed on MacWeek magazine.

What they find interesting: Google, Technology, Travel, Politics, Photography

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

7) Steve Rubel

Short Bio: Steve Rubel is a director at Edelman Digital, a worldwide public relations company. His Micro Persuasion blog, launched in 2004, is among the most cited in Marketing and PR departments when looking at social media trends. Prior to Edelman, Rubel worked at CooperKatz and company.

What they find interesting: Marketing, PR, Technology, Social Media

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

8) Josh Haley

Short Bio: Josh Haley describes himself as a computer geek and music freak. He and his wife, Trish, design branded items, including clothing, in Houston, Texas. Josh is a University of Hawaii graduate, and one of the three leaders of a popular podcast called "FFundercats".

What they find interesting: Humor, Food, Family

FriendFeed: Subscribe

9) Stephen Foskett

Short Bio: Stephen Foskett is a technolgy analyst and IT consultant based in Ohio, who focuses primarily on storage and networking. He is a Microsoft MVP and contributes to multiple technology blogs and magazines.

What they find interesting: Cloud computing, storage, Apple, Sports

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

10) Erin Kotecki Vest

Short Bio: Erin is the Producer of Special Projects for BlogHer.com, and is a contributor to the Huffington Post. She previously spent ten years as a broadcast journalist in Los Angeles, Orlando and Detroit, and was a staunch Obama supporter during his campaign. She has two children.

What they find interesting: Politics, Technology, Women's Issues, Humor

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

March 29, 2009

iPhones Can Protect Your Warcraft Account, and Someday Much More

By Daniel J. Pritchett of Sharing at Work (FriendFeed/Twitter)

Two recent iPhone stories highlight some interesting potential for Apple's iPhone and iPod family.  First up is WoW Insider's announcement of a free iPhone Authenticator available in the app store for securing World of Warcraft accounts.  A Battle.net user is typically a World of Warcraft player but the accounts can be tied to any Blizzard game you might own, including their future releases.

As shown in the screen shot on the left, the Authenticator program generates a new string of numbers once every minute or so.  Once a player links the authenticator to an account, these numbers must be supplied along with a user name and password at each login — a two-factor authentication challenge.  This iPhone app is an alternative to the existing solution where gamers can pay Blizzard $7 for a key fob that generates a similar passkey every time its button is pushed.

World of Warcraft characters and items are regularly hijacked via targeted trojans and keyloggers.  They can be stripped bare in a matter of minutes, their contents flipped quickly for tens or even hundreds of dollars on WoW's thriving grey market.  Given the time and effort involved in securing an account rollback from Blizzard customer service, many players will opt for the peace of mind granted them by this new application.

The next iPhone may read fingerprints and retinas

The second tidbit comes from Apple Insider (via Engadget): An Apple patent filling hints at fingerprint and retina scanning potential in future iPhones. Apple is researching the potential for embedding biometric scanning devices (cameras, etc.) behind the touch screen of an iPhone.  Such enhanced iPhones would allow for secure identification in order to unlock the phone itself.  These enhancements would also allow the iPhone to serve as an easily obtainable high-powered authenticator for other systems such as Blizzard's Battle.net.  While we might only imagine such tools as being necessary for sensitive operations like banking or remote logins to corporate intranets, the Blizzard app demonstrates that it can be cost effective to secure our less critical digital holdings.

The Blizzard authenticator is a great example of high-powered security applications that the iPhone family can provide right now, and the recent patent filing by Apple gives us insight into other uses for tomorrow's iPhone.  We'll certainly have the mobile available as an ever-more-secure authentication tool, but we'll also be able to use it as a remote sensor for home and office medical purposes such as the recently promised glucose monitor or a biometrically secured retail barcode scanner.  There are undoubtedly more possibilities than I can come up with on my own, and I look forward to seeing some of them becoming reality in the near future.  If you've got a great example of alternate uses for mobile phones, please share it in a comment!

Read more by Daniel J. Pritchett at Sharing at Work

March 28, 2009

Britney Spears Passes Obama for Most Followed Human on Twitter

This evening, around 8:25 p.m. Pacific Time, pop star Britney Spears passed President Barack Obama for the most popular Twitter account representing an individual (Both trail CNN Breaking News). While Spears joined Twitter relatively recently, only 6 months ago, to Obama's more than two years ago, the diva and those who help manage her online presence have shot to the top of the rankings, as Twitter has moved out of the geek sphere and into the mainstream. Not surprisingly, she and Obama are trailed by other "real world" celebrities like Ashton Kutcher (#4 overall), Jimmy Fallon (#6) and Shaquille O'Neal (#7).


As of 8:25 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday, @britneyspears topped @barackobama.

Both Spears and Obama have more than 620,000 followers as of tonight, following Britney's passing of Barack.

Note: Previous reports from sites like WeFollow, TwitterHolic and TwitterCounter were incorrect, as Obama's following statistics were undercounted by almost 50,000, stuck at 571,885 for some reason. (See some premature notes of Spears passing Obama on Twitter Search and a tweet by someecards to that effect.)


@someecards was premature, but on target.

Earlier this week, sparked by a New York Times story, Spears' account, as well as others, were highlighted as being operated by "ghost writers" - sparking outrage from some corners of the Web who thought they were authentic. Guy Kawasaki, who admitted to letting others tweet on his behalf, said he managed all direct messages and replies, while others were able to post links. But Spears' account was never really a secret - offering some transparency to the process. In December, you can recall an interview by Jesse Stay with Lauren Kozak, her social media director, that discussed how the account operated.

As she said then:
"Yes, we do get Twitters directly from Britney. We also get Twitters directly from Britney's Entourage. We provide announcement and tour information. We also have messages which are designed to drive traffic around Britney Spears' properties when we have something cool go on."
Ghost writers or not, the account has gained significant visibility and popularity - despite only adding a tweet about once a day. Of course, in contrast, Obama has only posted an update once since his swearing in on January 20th.

As Twitter grows, you can see the growth in the pair's audiences. Refreshing either's page will show a few dozen followers joining each minute, though Britney is increasing hers at a more dramatic rate.

The Spears and Obama teams operate differently when it comes to Twitter, not just in terms of frequency of their updates, but in how they follow back. Obama's account follows more than half a million, with 60,000 or so not being followed, for whatever reason. Spears' account, in comparison, follows fewer than 80,000. Of course, it doesn't exactly seem possible that either user, or their handlers, is really paying attention to the updates from fans - as the numbers are astronomical, and they probably have other priorities.

It's not clear if Britney can maintain the top spot for long. Kutcher joined Twitter in January, and his account is rapidly gaining, showing more than 583,000 followers as of 7:30 Pacific time this evening. At the current pace, it may be he, and not Britney, who tops the followers chart.


Ashton is Looking to Pass Britney Soon

Oh... and for the record, I don't follow any of these accounts, so my own data did not contribute.

10 Business Models to Monetize Web Applications

By Rob Diana of Regular Geek (Twitter/FriendFeed)

During my morning reading, The Long Tail had a link to a survey of Web app business models. If you take a look at the charts listing the revenue models, you will see there are twenty models listed. However, that is not an exhaustive list of ways to make money. Some of the models, such as Fixed and Variable Subscriptions, have several "implementations" that you can attempt.

Having said this, why is it that monetization is so hard for many Web 2.0 applications? Let's look at what needs to be done to support the various business models.

Subscriptions

1. Fixed subscriptions are a simple concept where people pay monthly fee for a product or service. Typically, you can charge for removing advertisements or some level of premium features. The problems with fixed subscriptions are that you need to create a subscription payment system and you need something to charge for. The first issue can be rectified by integrating with something like PayPal. The second issue is what most sites have difficulty with, what do you charge for? Premium content or features are much harder to find as you want to ensure you can build as large an audience as possible. Premium features need to be really interesting, and generally not available for free elsewhere.

2. Variable subscriptions are much more interesting. These are things like charging for use of an API or data feed. These are difficult as it requires a large amount of tracking application usage, and the pricing plans are more difficult to administer. Again, there are the questions of whether your services are generally available for free or even that useful.

Third Party Support

3. Advertising is the most common form of third party support. However, most Web applications are not launching with advertisements, which I think is a mistake. Google AdSense may not help you make millions, but maybe it offsets the costs a little bit and it opens up opportunities for real advertisements in the future.

4. Sponsor is a glorified word for really nice advertiser. A sponsor typically has a permanent advertisement on the site. These are nice, but it typically requires a decent amount of traffic in order to attract one.

5. Paid content is the black sheep of third party support and generally vilified by bloggers. The amount of negative publicity that you could receive from paid content may not be worth the money, especially if your site is still young. I would definitely recommend against this unless you are an established blogger and can easily defend your position.

Products And Pay-Per-Use

6. Products and Pay-Per-Use are probably the hardest monetization models to use. Do you have a physical product or virtual product that you can sell? Are people even willing to buy your product? Products typically require a significant amount of capital to develop or purchase, so your costs are generally high as well. Pay-per-use models are also difficult to develop. PayPal is an excellent example, where they charge transaction fees for each transaction. Just like the variable subscriptions, tracking of application usage can be difficult and for transaction fees, there is a large amount of financial work involved. Most technical people do not have significant financial background, so there is a large knowledge obstacle to overcome.

Services

7. Branding tends to be a side effect of what you have tried to do with your application. However, there is good money to be made from consulting and speaking engagements. This is an interesting option, but it tends to be more of a personal option as opposed to monetizing your application directly.

8. Create a platform. This is part of the model for the iPhone. You can charge developers for the development kit. This is immensely difficult to do because your platform must be hugely popular. Twitter is becoming a platform, but has been so open with their API that they would have difficulty charging people at this point. With this option, you should start charging immediately when it is released.

9. Affiliate sales are also an interesting option and do not require a huge amount of initial work. The difficulty with affiliate sales is that you still have to create something that is worth buying. I would also think that the amount of revenue possible from affiliate sales is smaller than most people creating Web applications would want. Granted, I do not have experience with this model, but you are sharing revenue with the people who are your affiliates. You could create a larger sales network in this way, but people would have to want to sell your product.

10. White label services do not appear very often for some reason. This is similar to the platform model, but the difference is that your software is not obviously at the forefront of the product. Ning is the most widely known option in the social network space, but there is a significant amount of competition. This model also requires some portion of other models as well. Ning has fixed monthly subscriptions as well as variable usage subscriptions. You could avoid mixing models by charging a larger fee for the initial creation of the white label service, but a larger initial payment will also scare potential buyers away.

Obviously, this list is not complete, but these basic models can be implemented or even integrated into most applications. I have avoided the "holy grail" of internet applications, selling the entire startup, as there is no direct way to implement this. It is also ridiculously difficult to survive without any monetization and be purchased for a decent amount of money. Most potential acquirers would like to see some semblance of revenue and potential revenue before buying something. It does help to be the hot application in the hot industry, i.e. YouTube or Twitter, but there are very few opportunities to do that and there will be tons of competition.

Read more by Rob Diana at RegularGeek.com.

March 27, 2009

False Alarm on Credit Fraud Solved by My E-mail Hoarding

This evening, my wife handed me the phone, saying "It's Chase bank. They say there is suspicious activity on your account and to call them." Having never run into issues with fraud or identity theft, I've been lucky so far, despite liberally spreading my credit card details all over the Web, in a myriad of e-commerce sites and online services. With our recent travels, and my wife's own activity on the card, I thought there was a good chance this would be a false positive, which it was, but I came extremely close to canceling my card, and would have, had it not been for my often-mentioned e-mail pack rate behavior.

When I called into the fraud center, after identifying myself, the automated voice asked about some "odd" activities - one from a "record store" and another from an online eMarketing firm. Both sounded odd, so I ended up with an operator. As she explained to me, the "record store" was actually Apple's iTunes, to the tune of $.99. No problem. But the other one? It turned out it was based in South Africa, and had charged me $1.07. That was an odd number, but small, and I didn't recognize the firm. It sounded like "Quirky Marketing" or "Quirk iMarketing". Something...

When I said I didn't recognize the name of the service, the operator strongly advised me to cancel the card immediately. But I wasn't so sure. There was still the possibility I had made a mistake, and $1.07 didn't seem like a big deal. She again pushed me to cancel the card, saying if somebody in South Africa had my data, the next purchase could be a big one.

I asked her not to cancel the card, but after asking people on Twitter what they thought I should do, and seeing a near-unanimous response that I should follow the bank's advice, I was feeling like my smug naivete was going to catch up to me.

Searching Google for the firm name I thought she had mentioned found nothing memorable. And the South African connection sounded very weird. But there was one last place I could look - in my e-mail. As mentioned many times, I've saved practically all my useful e-mail going back more than a decade - making it an extremely deep personal database. So I searched for the term the woman had mentioned on the phone: "Quirk".

It turned up an e-mail confirmation from Quirk eMarketing from September 2008, for a product I had checked out called "BrandsEye". BrandsEye I would have remembered, but the "Quirk eMarketing" I'd largely forgotten. Their site left much to be desired, but my e-mail showed I'd signed up to a service that would charge 7 South African Rands a month to monitor online mentions. Depending on the exchange rate, one month's bill would be $1.01, and another would be $1.07. And while that didn't trigger any fraud alerts in September through February, today, it did. (Likely due to some other activity my wife initiated)

When I had gotten the online confirmation of my purchase back on September 28th of 2008, I moved the e-mail to my "Commerce" folder and saved it. I didn't know if I would ever need it again, but today, it came in extremely handy, and I won't be canceling my credit card. Phew!

New FeedFlare Displays FriendFeed Likes and Comment Counts

Bloggers who are tied into social media sites have long used FeedBurner's FeedFlare functionality to help promote their blog posts, from pushing visitors to Digg or Stumble posts, add them to Delicious, or e-mail them to friends. But increasingly, information from external social networks is being fed back to the blog itself - from the number of retweets a post may have received to the number of Google Reader users who shared the item, for example. A new custom feedflare, designed by Kevin Fox, the lead designer of FriendFeed, and the artist behind popular sites such as GMail and Google Reader, is now available to display the likes and comments your post might have gotten on FriendFeed. It's already running on this site, and can be seen on his RSS feed as well.


FriendFeed Activity Displayed on My Site

The FeedFlare can be displayed on your site, on your RSS feed, or both - and clicking on the comments and likes statistics takes you to where your blog post is shared on FriendFeed, bridging visitors of your site to the conversation there.

Setting up the FeedFlare for FriendFeed likes and comments is not a one-click process, so if you are interested, here's how you do it:
  1. Download this compressed .zip file. It contains the three documents you need, and an "About" file. Unzip the file and you will see a folder titled "friendfeedflare".
  2. Open the file "flare.php". Next to where it says USERNAME, replace "notlouisgray" with your FriendFeed user name.
  3. Open the file "friendflare.xml" and replace the pathname of "http://www.yourdomain.com/directory/flare.php" with where you will host the flare.php file. For example, I host mine at http://www.louisgray.com/feed/flare.php.
  4. Upload the files "flare.php", "friendflare.xml" and "friendfeed.php" to a directory on your site which matches the path you provided in step 3.
  5. Log in to your FeedBurner account, and go to the "FeedFlare" section in the "Optimize" tab.
  6. At the bottom of the page, where you have the option to add a "Personal FeedFlare", paste in the URL of your XML file. (e.g. http://www.louisgray.com/feed/friendflare.xml)
  7. Hit "Add New Flare" and then "Save".

The FeedFlare Displayed In FeedBurner

At this point, the likes and comment counts on your items will be displayed on your blog or RSS feed. They will continue to accrue until you have 30 newer items in your blog feed.

A year or so ago, the blogosphere lit up around how social sites were stealing the conversation away from blogs, and operating in silos. With tools like this, and Disqus and BackType's integration of FriendFeed comments, the disparate conversations are becoming ever more unified.

If you like this FeedFlare, be sure to check out Kevin Fox's FriendFeed here, or his personal blog at fury.com. And if you get it up and running, it'd be great to see it on your site, so post your blog URL in the comments.

Rackspace Stock Undergoes the Scoble Effect Following Robert's Hire

In the two weeks following Robert Scoble's official announcement that he was to be joining Rackspace, Inc. and embarking on a new project called Building 43, the company's stock has jumped by more than 30 percent, rising at a pace three times that of the NASDAQ, as the broader market tries to recover from a horrific year. And while yes, the argument should be made the two are not connected, the rise in the company's stock has added approximately $300 million to Rackspace's market cap. If Robert were responsible for even 1% of the jump, he would already have delivered $3 million of net value to the company.


Rackspace's 2-week Rise Has Been Impressive

While Scoble hasn't been blogging as much as he used to, in his most-impactful years, simply getting linked to would deliver what smaller bloggers called "The Scoble Effect", as new visitors to the site could dramatically outnumber their regulars. And it's fun to think just maybe he can do the same for the Web hosting firm.

At the close of trading on Friday, March 13th, the last day before Scoble's news was unveiled, Rackspace stock closed at $5.98 a share. At the end of trading today, the shares closed at $7.81 apiece, a move up of 30.6% in two weeks. In fact, according to Google Finance, Rackspace stock has been up on 8 of the 10 trading days following his announcement.


Meanwhile, Microsoft Has Been Slowly Sinking

In contrast, Microsoft, the last public company where Scoble worked, having left their offices in June of 2006, has seen their stock decline more than 15 percent since he left. Of course, so has just about everyone else...

March 26, 2009

Facebook Adds More Filters to Home Feed

By Jesse Stay of Stay N' Alive (Twitter/FriendFeed)

It would appear that some time in the last hour, Facebook has added more filters to the Home Page feed. If you mouse over the upper-right of any feed entry, you'll notice the "X" is missing, and instead, there's a drop-down that says "Hide". Click on that, and you'll notice the option to hide all of a user's posts, or just particular feed item types.

For instance, if you just want to hide a person's Delicious bookmarks or Google Reader shares, that will appear next to the Feed item entry for that share. Right now the types of posts seem to be limited, and Facebook has not provided an explanation as to the extent of the filters.


In this example, I can hide the user, or the service.

This change is just one step in a line of improvements Facebook has mentioned they were moving towards, in light of users' near revolt over the social network's new interface. In addition to more filtering capabilities, Facebook is still looking to make the Feed more real-time and is improving the highlights on the right-hand side of the Home Page. The new filters seem to be quite limited at the moment, but my hope is that we'll begin to see many more options to enable you to have greater control over the data you see as you log into Facebook.

Read more by Jesse Stay at Stay N' Alive.

Location, Location... Mobile

By Corvida Raven of SheGeeks.net (FriendFeed/Twitter)

Two years ago the mobile web was not a huge deal to me. I hated the way Pocket Internet Explorer (PIE) displayed web pages. Add that to the fact that I was deeply committed to graphic design at the time, and you'll understand why I ignored this market. It was frustrating to look at, and even harder to interact with. At the time, no one could reach me there. It was...(gasp!) a dead zone! (Dun, dun, duuuuuun!)

Today in Mobile

Fast forward to today when I'm checking my e-mails and RSS feeds from my iPhone. I'm getting directions from the Google Maps app on both my iPhone and Nokia E-75. I prefer Live Search Mobile on Motorola Q9c running Windows Mobile. Now that the mobile landscape is changing I've been changing with it. You almost have to have a mobile app or optimized site in order to pitch me.

I have three cell phones utilizing two of the best mobile web browsers available: Skyfire (Nokia, Windows Mobile) and Mobile Safari (iPhone). I'm also a lot more mobile than I was two years ago. Mobile optimized sites are simply becoming a must in this day and age. I'm here to let you know that you'd better hop on the bandwagon. However, don't just hop on the iPhone's bandwagon, Instead, make your services available to every mobile platform.

Mainstream Web Compatibility

With three devices running three different Mobile OS' and browsers, it should come as no surprise as to why mobile web cross-platform support is important to me. However, this isn't just personal. Mainstream users are dying to catch on to the mobile web too. The problem: the junk doesn't work on their phones. You can blame it on the handset all you want, but your users shouldn't be forced into buying a specific phone just to play with your service. In the same breath, they shouldn't be tied to their computer either.

Of course this doesn't apply to everyone. Limited functionality is a given with the mobile web, but you can't expect it to improve if you don't at least attempt to improve it. My friends are really trying to get into accessing information on the go while we're out and about. They see me do it all the time on my iPhone and think the iPhone is some sort of gadget god. They should be thinking that your app or service is great, not just the iPhone. They can't do that because if you take the iPhone out of the picture, they still wouldn't be able to use quite a few of the services I use.

Mobile Me & You

My location is ever-changing. I'm deeply invested in accessing information on the go. It's making my work more flexible and allowing me to make my day more productive. Now I can still go outside and socialize, with everything I need only a tap away on my phones, and I hate when I encounter something that can't be done until I'm back home with my laptop.

These days I'm waiting for Skype's iPhone App to be released. Can we say unlimited calling for cheap? I'm loving all the location awareness and Geo-tagging features that are being rolled out into mobile apps. However, the sites need the same love people. Not everyone owns an iPhone, you know.

Read more by Corvida Raven at SheGeeks.net.

The Downward Spiral - As Companies Slow, So Do Their People

Yesterday, IBM said they were laying off 5,000 people. Today, Google said they were laying off another 200. Unemployment in Silicon Valley is easily above 10 percent, and for the remaining job owners, many have seen salary cuts, forced furloughs and mandatory vacation. Companies have cut estimates and forecasts, or reduced spending. And even as the stock market has had some up days of late, the feeling out there is still not good - a lot more AIG than IPO, for example. But in many offices and cubicles around the Valley and beyond, workers are exercising their own slowdowns, their spirits dulled, as they gradually get less and less productive, waiting for more bad news, and being numb to it when it finally arrives.

For many, while the dire times should drive a newfound sense of urgency, it never comes. Instead of putting in extra hours, these desk zombies float through their business days, murmuring in the hallways about how they heard rumors even more cuts might come, and refreshing the company sales dashboard to see if anything has changed since when they last looked at it twenty minutes ago. It hasn't. They might come in just a bit later than they used to. They might take longer lunches - spending less, but they'll be out of the office. And by three o'clock, they're either thinking about shutting down for the day, or in some cases, finally getting up the energy to clear their to-do list, having killed more than half their time filing e-mail and browsing the Web.

The office, once a bustling energy-filled environment interrupted by phone calls, fast-paced strategic discussions and the occasional peal of laughter, instead resembles an unpopular library, with the most activity being the frequent visits to the printer or copy machine, and the creaks of the restroom doors opening and closing. If there are ringing phones, they are either from vendors demanding to be paid, or employees' personal cell phones, as they take the call and then rush out to the back, or to a conference room.

These companies are dying. Not necessarily IBM or Google, of course - but there are companies strewn throughout the Valley and beyond that were set up to capitalize on momentum that disappeared and then reversed over the last 18 months. Dreams were blasted away as the public markets closed, acquisition offers never appeared, and customers started to say no in a big way. And inside, many employees gave up. They're still coming to work. They even might put on a game face when in meetings or talking with their boss. But their will and drive to be a success and make things happen is all but gone.

I speak to this because I've seen it and I've heard it - not just in this recession, but in those before as well. One friend of mine confided to me by phone a few weeks ago that he probably works a solid 2-3 hours a day in his software engineering job, frittering the rest of the day away. He doesn't believe his company has a chance, and he doesn't care - citing their move to cut staff and move other jobs to India. But he isn't doing anything to change it, and the putrid job market has him just barely treading water, let alone seeking other options.

Yet another friend of mine talked to me yesterday about how his company is winding down, trying to convince two potential acquirers to find something of value in the little that's left.

In a previous company where I worked during the dotcom bust, I distinctly remember seeing one of the business development management team members spending more time playing video games and updating his resume than trying to close deals - as I gnashed my teeth, wondering why I was working so hard at something that meant so little to others.

If you read many of the tomes that were written about the Silicon Valley's successes, from the earliest days of semiconductors and the Internet, to Sarah Lacy's "Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good", you can be regaled with stories of people who didn't give up, who didn't take no for an answer, and who put in twelve-plus hour shifts, putting the company ahead of themselves. But you're not hearing the stories of those who went the other way - as frequent as they no doubt are.

A recent satirical post blamed Twitter for the down economy, noting a correlation between Twitter's popularity and the Dow's plummet. And as silly as that is, many of these frustrated desk zombies are likely turning to social networking sites to kill time, to feel busy, and to chat with others around the world about their shared annoyances. Amidst calls for ways to deliver a social media ROI, the fatigued masses are sucking the ROI out of their companies, as their productivity drops down to almost nothing.

Now, don't get me wrong. Every company has its heroes, even those that aren't doing well. Even the biggest failures of companies that are roundly mocked starred impressive people with aggressive work ethics, and success amid despair. As I once asked a potential job candidate during an interview, "With your record showing a string of failed company after failed company, how can we be certain you won't bring that failure here as well?" Luckily for this gentleman, he had a good answer. But for some, the culture of failure around them becomes so internalized that they push it forward and it becomes self-fulfilling.

There's a reason that turn-around stories are so rare. Once momentum is going in a certain direction, a troubled company's best assets, the best employees, find a way out. And the ones that remain, those who couldn't attract another offer, are the ones who just might be plodding through and praying they get a severance package, or that the next round of cuts spares them as they muddle along. You know these people. They're the ones not making the headlines. But in reality, they are. They just don't know it - and maybe, their company doesn't know it either.

TwitPay.me - Twitter Payments in 140 Characters or Less

By Jesse Stay of Stay N' Alive (Twitter/FriendFeed)

I recently returned from a new event called "Launchup" here in Utah, where several startups were enabled to pitch their business in front of an audience, get critiqued, and share with the world an idea. After the presentations, the audience was given the opportunity to each pitch their own products, each with just 30 seconds to share their idea. I was amazed to find that with just 30 seconds one product in particular, TwitPay.me really stood out, with little to no explanation necessary.

TwitPay.me reads simplicity across the board. The product, which aims to allow you to easily send payments to your friends on Twitter, accomplishes that with no need to sign up, and doesn't even need your credit card to make that happen. The service uses Amazon Payment Services to send and receive payments, which means all you need is an Amazon account. So basically anyone who has ever purchased something on Amazon is already set up to use this.

I was reminded of the product when its co-founder, >Jeremy Raines (@jraines, from Park City, Utah), sent me $1.40 via a Tweet, "@jesse twitpay $1.40 to check out http://twitpay.me :-)". I do have to admit it's one of the coolest (and most simple) pitches I have ever received! I went to http://twitpay.me, gave them my Twitter username, they then sent me a pin number via DM which claimed my Twitter account - no login or authorization at all necessary! Inside my account, I just had to associate my Amazon Payments account (a total of 3 clicks) with TwitPay, and I had the money I was promised.

To send a payment to anyone, no account is necessary (until you want to actually pay the person). Simply send the words "@username twitpay $dollar_amount for reason", username being your Twitter screen name, $dollar_amount being the actual amount to send to the user, and reason being the reason for why you are sending the money. I tried this myself sending Louis Gray my 2 cents with "@louisgray twitpay $.02 for your love of bacon". He just needs to log into TwitPay and approve the payment through Amazon now to receive his $.02.

The Potential

About a year ago I worked with Phil Burns and several others to start a service such as this. The potential was screaming at us - with Social Networks and cell phones, we now had the potential to completely get rid of cash in peoples' pockets. The idea never really took off for us, but I'm glad to see others embracing it.

Up until now there has been nothing really to replace the cash, the small amounts of money, which we keep in our pockets for those moments we only need to pay small amounts of money. Imagine going to a vending machine and being able to Tweet a particular Twitter account listed on the vending machine with your payment. Imagine making a bet with a friend and being able to Tweet them their winnings. Or what if you could "Tweet" your waitress their Tip?

TwitPay may have just seriously challenged services such as Paypal's business models with this innovative new way to send payments. The service is plain, simple, 140 characters or less, Social, and requires no account to use. Social Payments have yet to be breached, but I believe TwitPay.me may have just breached it with the ideal Twitter payment environment. Are we at the beginning of the end for the need of actual cash in our pockets?

Read more by Jesse Stay at Stay N' Alive.

March 25, 2009

FeedBlitz Launches FeedBurner Alternative for RSS Automation

Since Google's acquisition of FeedBurner in mid-2007, the complaints have come hard and fast, as FeedBurner's integration saw frequent disconnects between the acquiring company and its new prize, slowness in updating feeds, and a complete lack of innovation, all amidst silence from Mountain View that had many wondering if the service would go the way of DodgeBall and other services into Google's black hole. At the end of 2008, I predicted an alternative would rise up to give bloggers an option to switch. Today, FeedBlitz, which has powered my e-mail distribution for nearly three years, has offered to do just that.

The new RSS management service, announced in a blog post, says it will offer publishers, marketers and bloggers improved branding, integrated search engine optimization, and some interesting additions, including social media marketing and metrics.

If you are already using the company's e-mail marketing services, the RSS addition is free. For all others, you can start using FeedBlitz to run your RSS feeds for as low as $1.49 a month.

Before moving my feed away from FeedBurner, which at times is tempting, I'll have to be sure existing subscribers wouldn't see any hiccups. FeedBlitz says they are eating their own dogfood, routing to the new self-hosted URL through FeedBurner itself. You can see how their "Blitzed" Feed looks here: http://feeds.feedblitz.com/feedblitz

With this long-awaited alternative, it will be interesting to see if the many complaintants are willing to make a move. It's often been said that the most-popular feature of FeedBurner has been the little chiclets that show up to date subscription counts, so FeedBlitz wil have to match this capability. Given they've displayed my e-mailed RSS count since 2006, I think they will be up to the task.

So Google, you've got some competition in town - and FeedBlitz says it's not done, promising it will "rapidly evolve". That's something FeedBurner is definitely not doing.

March 24, 2009

Three Twitter Tools That Enhance New Follower Notifications

By Corvida Raven of SheGeeks.net (FriendFeed/Twitter)

Twitter's growing pains may have started early, but a lot of "tweeples" that have been on Twitter for some time are starting to feel their own growing pains. As Twitter's presence and exposure to mainstream increases, new follower notification e-mails are beginning to drown our inbox.

Twitter has no native functionality to help simplify the process of deciding who to follow back. As of right now, a lot of Twitter users are following this process:
  1. Receive new follower e-mail
  2. Click link to follower's profile
  3. Review profile on Twitter
  4. Follow back / Ignore
  5. Go back and delete e-mail
This is a five step process that is being simplified by three new Twitter Tools: Topify, Twimailer, and Twittfilter.

Topify

Earlier this month, Louis reviewed the Topify service. So, I won't spend too much time on this. In fact, just head to the review: Topify Enhances Twitter Following Notifications (50 Invites).

To sum up the purpose of Topify:
"The result is a more complete picture of the individual, from within your e-mail, without forcing you to go to the Twitter Web site to learn more."
Twimailer

Twimailer is the enhanced follower notification service I prefer to use. Twimailer follows the same concept as Topify, but presents the information in a different way visually. Each e-mail provides you with the following information:
  • 10 latest tweets
  • Follower/Following count
  • Twitter bio
  • Follow back, Block, & Spam options
Unlike Topify, Twimailer doesn't require an invite to the service in order to use it right now.

Twittfilter

Twittfilter puts a spin on enhanced follower notifications. The approach taken with this service is to filter new followers along with enhancing the notifications. The service allows you pre-define which follower notifications you'd like to receive. Using a star rating of 1-5, Twittfilter will only pass along notifications of new followers that fit into the star rating of your choice. How is this done?
"Twittfilter will look at your friend/follow list, theirs, recent activity on both sites, friend follow ratio (and a few other things) and give you a score from 0 to 5. This can be automated but only by request."
The same algorithm is applied to your new followers. The downside to this (and most recommendation tools) is the possibility of missing out new followers that may have been of interest. Nothing's perfect, but Twittfilter does a decent job of picking accurate matches.

Better Manage Follower Overload

Now you have 3 of the best tools for managing new follower notifications. Each tools is great and gets the job done. The only real difference is the way the information is displayed within the e-mail sent by each service. After signing up for any of these tools your new follower process should be reduced from jumping back and forth between Twitter and your inbox to this:
  • Receive new follower notification
  • Read & Decide
  • Delete e-mail
For those that are already using these tools, tell us your experience with them in the comments section.

Read more by Corvida Raven at SheGeeks.net.

March 22, 2009

Doodle Jump iPhone Game is Simple, Yet Challenging

Some iPhone games try and recreate the traditional console experience, reminding us of older NES cartridges, or are simply ports from PC titles. Others, like Lima Sky's array of offerings, leverage the iPhone's accelerometer to the point it becomes the entire focus of the game. Such is the case with Doodle Jump, a platform jumping game that has you working ever higher, trying to jump to safety, all while avoiding falling to your demise, or running into monsters and other bad news.

Doodle Jump, unlike a myriad of other platform jumping games we've all seen, never has you standing still, and there's no running for better position. From the time you hit the start button, you are jumping and on your way. Tilt the iPhone right to jump right, and lean to the left to go left. Along the way, you can find platforms that crumble or disappear underneath your feet, ones that move side to side, or be faced with monsters, who will kill you immediately, should you be unlucky enough to cross their path.


Doodle Jumping From Platform to Platform

The sheer simplicity of the game (tilt left, tilt right and shoot by tapping the iPhone) makes the fact that I fail every single time, somehow, annoying, but always makes me feel like I will do better the next time. I found myself tilting and aiming for the springs on some platforms to vault ever higher, and jumping to wrap around the screen to find platforms on the other side that were within reach. But I always died. Something always got in my way.


Trying to Avoid Monsters and Pitfalls

While the game is easy to start, full of platforms and options, the higher you go, the more challenging it gets. You can see markers on the side of the screen, showing how far other players around the world have gone, and you can see the number of platforms disappear, or be replaced with ones that won't help you all that much, as they break away at the mere touch.


Not Always Quite Getting Away from Danger

If you get far enough, and manage to avoid the monsters, or shoot them out of your way, you run the danger of being abducted by UFOs or sucked in by black holes. Your long-nosed four-legged character might be cute, but he's in serious trouble, and you'll want to lead him to safety. You can find Doodle Jump on the iTunes store for only 99 cents.

How To Cleanly Separate Personal and Work Social Media Personalities

As social networking and social media sites increasingly become as much about companies and brands as they are about people, you are seeing names like Zappos and JetBlue tweeting alongside you, and Comcast answering complaints. Companies might be making comments on FriendFeed and asking you to join their fan page on Facebook. Many of you, possibly tasked with maintaining the social media presence for your company, might be maintaining multiple accounts on practically every network, and trying to keep your personalities in check, lest you make the mistake of getting the two mixed up. For the last four months, I've been doing the same thing. Here's how.

Put Your Work Life In One Browser, and You In Another

Everybody has multiple browsers these days. Whether you prefer Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, or something else, you probably have a second one which you use less. Rather than ask you to login and log out over and over, set up one of your browsers with bookmarks to all your work activity and the social media sites with that account, and keep your preferred browser all yours.

For my work account, I use Firefox, and for me, I use Safari.

When I open Firefox, the browser opens five distinct tabs:
  • Gmail
  • Google Reader
  • Twitter Search
  • Twitter
  • FriendFeed
The GMail account tracks new subscribers and DMs. Google Reader populates the link blog. Twitter search watches what is being said online, and Twitter and FriendFeed let the company participate.

Running the browsers in parallel lets me do the work I need to in both, without suffering from multiple personality disorder.

Make A Second Login, Preferences for TweetDeck

TweetDeck, in my opinion, is still the best way to track groups and saved searches in Twitter. I set up TweetDeck so if I am logged in as me, the application has the standard black look and feel. But when I am logged in with the company ID, TweetDeck is in the company colors of blue and orange. Yes, the combination is somewhat garish, but it serves as a reminder to me that I'm logged in for work, so I won't screw up.


Logged Into TweetDeck as the Company


Logged Into TweetDeck as Me

Beyond the colors, you should leverage TweetDeck's saved search functionality to track your company and product mentions, as well as that of competitors.

Create a Second Disqus Account for Commenting

When commenting on blogs around the Web, as yourself, or for the company, it makes sense to use best practices and identify who you are. But you don't necessarily want to track your work comments to your personal ID. I recommend getting a second Disqus account that ties back to your work e-mail address, and have that registered in the "work" browser. When I make comments on sites as work, it says my first and last name, and then, in parentheses, the company name.

Always Work Methodically When Acting on Behalf of the Company

Tweeting or commenting or blogging or bookmarking as a brand is more risky than when you do it on your own. As with all things on the Web, you should consider how they could be interpreted downstream. But when you are doing something on behalf of a corporate entity that represents products, people, history and finance, you should take an extra breath before acting, and pay extra attention to every word, character or nuance.

Be Replaceable

If you do your job well, it should be easy for you to pass off the reins of the social media strategy at your company to somebody else with very little impact. If you make the company's social media presence all about you, it will follow you where you go next, and could negatively damage the company you are leaving, and distract from the company where you are going. See that you can work on behalf of the company without it being all about you. Try to offer personality without it necessarily being your distinct personality.

You'll note I don't often talk about work here on the blog. It was a conscious decision I made when starting the site at the beginning of 2006. It's not a secret where I work (check my LinkedIn profile) but it's not about where I work. It's all part of keeping things separate. Are you running the social media activity for your company, or looking to get started? I would be interested in the tips you may have as well.

March 21, 2009

Did eTrade Blow It By Making Their Mobile App A BlackBerry Exclusive?

As Apple's iTunes application store continues to grow, it is becoming an increasing rarity to find needs unmet by the company or its wide array of third party developers. But one clear vacancy is in the real-time stock information and trading department. I've been waiting for eTrade, my broker of choice, to develop an application for the iPhone for quite some time, but the company hasn't publicly made any strides to meet my needs. In fact, after rolling out a specialized application for the BlackBerry platform in June of 2008, we've had nine months of silence, and I'm left to believe the company is sticking with Research In Motion as their partner for the long haul.

The stereotypical image one has of today's Wall Street movers and shakers has evolved beyond the neatly pressed suits and ties, and sharp shoes, to include a hyper-obsessed BlackBerry addict, who can't look up in fear of missing an e-mail. But beyond the trading floor, consumers far from New York and other bustling metropolises are making updates to their portfolios - even in times of recession. And what eTrade has done by partnering up exclusively with BlackBerry on the mobile side is shut out the very real growing population who have selected other platforms, be they the iPhone, Google's Android, or even the Palm Pre.


eTrade Highlights Its Exclusive BlackBerry Deal

Today, using eTrade on the iPhone is barely passable. One simply has to log in through the standard Safari browser and use the non-optimized interface. It's good enough to get a near real-time update for portfolio holdings and balances, but too limiting to do much else. I'm certainly not using the Web site on the iPhone for researching stocks, reading news, making trades or seeing real-time updates.

I'm not saying the iPhone will kill the BlackBerry and render eTrade's move an abject failure, but even with BlackBerry's latest models, they don't seem to have the inside track on growth and innovation. They seem to have lost the swagger that made them a market leader for the last five or so years, while Apple and Google (to a lesser extent) have taken their place.

The iPhone is growing up to the point it's not just a game platform or a music device. I use the Mint.com application to see my up to date financial numbers, aggregated from many accounts. And Apple helpfully offers a basic stock price app. But they're no substitute for real trading.

An eTrade application for the iPhone should include:
  • Real-time stock quotes
  • Porfolio updates including gains and losses or trends
  • Stock trading
  • Company news and information
  • Market overviews
For a company like eTrade, which is so broad in terms of its reach to consumers, to limit itself to a single mobile platform, especially one that seems to be on its way to being eclipsed by more nimble competitors, seems wrong. As an eTrade customer, I know I would use this application, and regardless the cost for it to be developed, eTrade would make up the amount in very little time, from the hordes of iPhone users who could start making trades on the go, from anywhere.

eTrade, your own stock is barely over a buck. I know you have other issues on your mind. But every day that goes by where I don't have an eTrade application on my iPhone means less revenue for you. Call BlackBerry up and tell them you want to see other people.

March 20, 2009

Being Transparent is Fine, But Please Use Smart Filtering

The current generation of Web users is sharing more than ever online - in ways my parent's generation would visibly flinch over. They are sharing their locations, their relationships, their personal photos, and their thoughts in real time. They are posting their updates to Facebook, to Twitter, and to MySpace, as they move toward being ever more transparent. On another level, personal brands are being built with transparency as the foundation, as they share personal photos, their music preferences, family news, and a constant stream of comments and observations on the world. And in parallel, companies are being pushed by an army of self-appointed social media experts to become more open and transparent themselves. But as with every new approach, there's a right way and a wrong way to do things.

Steven Hodson of WinExtra tonight questioned, "Just what is all this transparency getting us anyway?" Meanwhile, Silicon Valley gossip rag, Gawker, knocks transparency so often that it has its own tag. (See here)

At the SXSW conference last week, I sat down with Michael Sean Wright of Nice Fish Films for a 30-45 minute interview, streamed live on Ustream. During that interview, Michael commended me for being transparent. To paraphrase his comments, he said that not only was I blogging, but I was frequently sharing pictures of my kids, showing what music I was listening to on Last.fm, and making comments on blogs big and small across the Web.

But here's the thing. While I do intend to be transparent and share with you what I'm thinking, or what factors are in play when I say what I do, or where I might have bias, I am sharing only a subset of everything I do. I have intentionally filtered out information about my personal life and work life which I decided wouldn't add value to you, or wouldn't add value for me to share. For as much as I may be "putting everything out there", you're not seeing much from my hours at the office. You're not getting live tweets from me during church meetings, and you're not getting the minutiae of the day - from what television I'm watching, where I'm driving, or what my wife and I are discussing - even when it's tempting to quote her out of context and send it to Twitter.

The net result is that everything I share with you is intended to add value - either to you where you can learn something for yourself or about me, or to me, where it might further enhance this theoretical term so many people are calling "a personal brand". To say what I share with you is calculated might be overdoing it, but I am very cognizant of how what I am doing or saying is potentially interpreted downstream. I am hyperaware of how when I update something on FriendFeed, that it may also flow to Twitter or Facebook. I know that when I make a comment on Disqus, it is searchable by Google, and by BackType, and copied to FriendFeed. I know when I hit share on Google Reader, that it represents my endorsement of that content or find it interesting, and see the result shared to Socialmedian or other aggregation services.

If you want to be transparent, and build a personal brand you are proud of, you must always be thinking about filtering what gets into your stream, and how it could benefit you and your audience. Even for as much as I share photos of Matthew and Sarah, it's a subset of all those we have, and I try not to overabuse the privilege on the social networks where we participate. Even though I share songs I love listening to on Last.fm, I don't hit that button too frequently. Even though I have made nearly 2,000 updates to Twitter in just over a year's time, I am conscious of not overdoing it, impacting my followers, and confusing them in terms of what I stand for.

Earlier this week, Hutch Carpenter showed us how you can tweet your way out of a job by not thinking about how being transparent can negatively affect you. Similarly, ValleyWag uncovered photos that one tech employee chose to share with the world from his Honeymoon that would make you blush. In each case, the transgressor's transparency had not been filtered in such a way that benefitted them - but stepped well beyond the line of what's intelligent. But it shouldn't take a big mistake that costs you a job or your privacy to make you think about how transparency is possibly hurting you. Choose your filters, and you can mold the way you are interpreted into something you are proud of.

AllTop's Custom Pages Finally Tip Me to Using the Product

For some time now, Guy Kawasaki's AllTop service has been building out a wide array of pages dedicated to specific topics, highlighting bloggers (and their RSS feeds) who specialize in their market, be it in technology, business, news or sports. And I've largely ignored it, as I get all my news from Google Reader and social networks, like FriendFeed and Socialmedian. But this week's introduction of custom pages had me jumping on the opportunity to build out my own custom AllTop site, which, if I keep it maintained, could be a great "back page" to my site, highlighting the many blogs who bring me the best content each day.

If you're a longer-term reader of the site, then you know I try to highlight five new lesser-known blogs each month, and have done so for a year. The March 2009 edition is coming, I promise. I also have had the privilege of hosting some great co-authors who have strong blogs themselves. While the URL might read louisgray.com, the site is as much about these other sources for news as it is around me or the entrepreneurs and services we highlight.

The new custom AllTop lets me select from the many different AllTop pages throughout the service's network, and add them one by one to my own page, where I can move them higher or lower, left or right, in an attempt to deliver a one-stop page for the extended louisgray.com network.


My custom AllTop, which you can find at http://my.alltop.com/louisgray, shows not only the blogs from my co-authors, including Rob Diana, Jesse Stay, Mona Nomura and others, but also some interesting feeds from around the Web, including GrowMap, Conversation Agent, and Matt Cutts. I can also, thanks to AllTop's flexibility, pull in FriendFeed streams from active people on the site, including myself and Mona.


The end result is a page that mirrors Duncan Riley's work at Inquisitr IQ. I found myself cherry-picking the best of the Web from AllTop pages focused on Google, Twitter, Tech, Macintosh, FriendFeed, Egos and Social Media, for starters.

While AllTop calls them custom pages, there's still a lot of work to be done for them to truly be "custom". I can't customize the look and feel of the page, nor can I import feeds that don't already exist in AllTop. So if they haven't done the legwork to find a blog I would like to highlight, then they won't show up on my page. But it's absolutely a solid start, and one that I intend to build out more over time, and add to my sidebar somewhere, to keep you updated on the sites and people I find most intriguing.

CloudContacts Teleports Your Business Cards to the Virtual World

Like many of you no doubt, over the last several years, I've amassed a solid collection of business cards, from both work and social engagements. I have business cards in boxes, in piles on my desk, on my dresser and table at home, and in virtually every zipper pocket of my laptop bag. I have business cards from Web companies that haven't launched yet, and I have business cards from companies that have already gone out of business since we shook hands and traded paper. And while I always thought someday I would sit down and input each one by hand into my address book, it never happened. That's why when I heard about CenterNetworks' Allen Stern's new venture, CloudContacts, I was intrigued. When we met up at SXSW last week, I took the plunge, and have to say that not only did the service do exactly as I expected, but i tees up some interesting possibilities through advanced features I hadn't considered.

The first step of starting with CloudContacts is the one of getting your cards into the service. You could physically hand Allen a box, like I did at the event. You could mail CloudContacts your cards. You could scan the cards and e-mail him the results. Or you could even, with a feature announced last month, take a picture of the card(s) with your phone and e-mail it in.

Once CloudContacts has your cards, the real work takes place, and the cards are entered into the system. I gave Allen my cards on Saturday and gained a login by Monday, so turn-around time is very quick. Upon logging in, I was presented with a page that showed the contacts listed by first and last name, company, address, and phone, just like you would expect from online address book services, including the one Apple features in MobileMe.


But CloudContacts' true value comes from mainly two areas. The first is the one you would expect, where you can download all your contacts (in CSV file, VCards or as Yahoo! and GMail contacts), and the second is that when you click on "view" next to any card, you not only see a picture of the scanned business card, but you also get as much data out of the Web as CloudContacts could find, from a picture in Google Maps showing their address, to searches on LinkedIn and Facebook for their accounts, and even their last few tweets, if the card was lucky enough to have a Twitter account listed. You could even play super-geek and scan a code to have your phone call the person, if dialing proves too difficult.


For me, the major test was downloading the 200+ cards I gave to CloudContacts, and then importing them into my Apple Address Book, which syncs up with my iPhone, Mail and most programs. It happened perfectly, recognizing potential duplicates I'd actually entered myself, and adding the rest. Now, all those business cards I was lugging around or running into can be sent to the big recycling bin in the sky.


The question is, now that the hard part is done, can Allen Stern and CloudContacts flip the data on its head and start to make a LinkedIn-like social network out of it? Will I in the future be able to see who else uploaded the same business card? It looks like the foundation is being laid for the service to become more than just a next generation address book. But even if it never does, it's already been a great benefit to me. You can find CloudContacts at http://www.cloudcontacts.com.