April 30, 2009

It's Not Too Late to Spring Into Reading 5 New Blogs

Fourteenth Edition Of a Monthly Series

The new tradition to our monthly highlighting of five less visible blogs appears to be delivering it at the very end of the month, rather than the beginning. Just because it's posted at the end of April doesn't make these selections any less relevant or important than any other month. This is a feature I look forward to every month, and it's always fun to make the selections.

If you are new to louisgray.com, we have been trying to extend the blogging ecosystem, finding what Tac Anderson calls "the good long tail blogs". We know many of you get tired of the the echochamber, so we are more than happy to bring you some new voices. To get on this list, bloggers need to post regularly, cover something resembling technology, and have less than 1,000 subscribers or so.

With that intro, here are this month's selections...

1) The AppsLab (theappslab.com)

Focus: Oracle, Web 2.0, Technology
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

2) Rick Klau's weblog (tins.rklau.com)

Focus: Blogger, Google, Twitter
Three Recent Posts:RSS Feed: Subscribe Now

3) The Programmer's Paradox (theprogrammersparadox.blogspot.com)

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

4) New Comm Biz (newcombizz.com)

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

5) Guruvan (guruvan.gurus.net)

Focus: Social Networking, Marketing
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.

10 People To Follow On FriendFeed For The Month Of April

FriendFeed made a big move yesterday, replacing their standard interface with a beta version which had been publicly incubating for a month. And while that announcement made headlines, what makes the site a must-visit for many active players in social media is the people who use the site, and the content they provide. For the past several months, my tag team partner, Mike Fruchter and I have been highlighting ten well-deserving FriendFeed users who bring consistently interesting items and discussion to the community.

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, February and March.

As always, the list is not 100% inclusive, which is why we do these regularly, so if you believe we are missing some key people, please do bring them to our attention!

1) Meryn Stol

Short Bio: A Netherlands-based software developer, currently coding on the Ushahidi platform, aimed to crowdsource crisis information, Meryn helped build the foundation for the Dutch Open Directory Project, and is a strong proponent of leveraging open source and open standards to promote positive environmental and social change.

What they find interesting: Software, social media, global causes

FriendFeed: Subscribe

2) Anna Billstrom

Short Bio: Anna Billstrom is a technical database marketing consultant, who has worked with top brands including Kodak EasyShare Gallery, American Express and the Walt Disney Internet Group, implementing enterprise customer relationship management systems. A graduate of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, Anna is an e-mail marketing guru, and a locally-renowned champion of the Scramble game on Facebok, where she is on her way to defeating me for the second straight time handily.

What they find interesting: Marketing, Technology

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

3) Rob Nelson

Short Bio: Rob Nelson is a network engineer and systems architecture guru located in New York. He is an active participant in the Linux and Open Source communities, and proclaims to have built several dialup providers and worked for Flycast Communications, an ad-serving network. In addition to his geek side, Rob is an expert dog trainer, helping to teach dog owners how to better communicate with their pets. He also is a devout musician

What they find interesting: Software, social networking

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

4) AJ Kohn

Short Bio: AJ is the vice president of online marketing at Caring.com, with a long career of managing direct marketing programs for both consumer and enterprise products. In parallel, he is a consultant at a self-owned company called Blind Five Year Old, where teaches clients about search engine marketing, search engine optimization and social media.

What they find interesting: Web analytics, SEO, marketing

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

5) Laura Norvig

Short Bio: Laura is a coordinator at the National Service Resource Center, managing content and metadata for the library's Web site. She is an expert on organizing information, mother to a three year old, and as she says, dabbles in social media.

What they find interesting: Information, Libraries, Non-Profits

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

6) Brian Daniel Eisenberg

Short Bio: Brian Eisenberg is a senior systems engineer at Software AG, helping to support sales reps and systems engineers with customized VMware demonstrations, business process management and human workflow applications. Formerly a senior product manager at webMethods and a program manager at Microsoft, you probably didn't know that Brian has a 250 gallon marine fish tank which requires him to step on his tiptoes just to feed the little creatures. (video here)

What they find interesting: Technology, Microsoft, Landscaping

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

7) Joni Moilanen

Short Bio: Joni, known as "Jemm" on FriendFeed, is an IT consultant at CodeBakers Oy in Finland, working as a software architect, specializing in .NET and SQL server. On his blog, he covers Web, Windows and distributed applications, including coding and architecture. He and his wife Nina live in Espoo, and have two cats.

What they find interesting: Software, Development, Humor

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

8) Johnny Worthington

Short Bio: Johnny Worthington, who lends his Australian accent to the popular "FFundercats" podcast, is the International Trade and Marketing Manager for Australian Agricultural Chemicals, a liquid fertiliser company specialising in turf, agricultural and horticultural nutrition. He has a young daughter and lives in Brisbane.

What they find interesting: Humor, Family, Technology

FriendFeed: Subscribe

9) Jesse Newhart

Short Bio: Jesse Newhart is a multimedia artist and freelance journalist, based in Port St. Lucie, Florida. He has two sons, and is one of the more influential people on Twitter, in terms of gaining attention from his followers. His blog frequently discusses the latest in social networking, discussing reTweets to a potential mass exodus of users from the microblogging service to FriendFeed.

What they find interesting: Social networking, Technology, Media

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

10) Jason Toney

Short Bio: Jason Toney is the senior producer of online creative services at Walt Disney's Internet Group. An Emmy-award winning Web site producer, project manager and content producer, Jason has worked with networks including MTV, NBC and Fox, and has a deep knowledge for Web media development. He is based in Los Angeles.

What they find interesting: Pop culture, Media, Music

FriendFeed: Subscribe | Blog: Subscribe

Twitter Admin Screenshot Leaks Reveal Internal Data

Zee of TheNextWeb relayed a hacker's posting of screenshots ostensibly taken from Twitter's administration interface, available only to select employees within the company. The handful of screenshots display some interesting details in terms of Twitter's internally set limits, the controversial "featured users" lists, and yes, details from some celebrity accounts, including who is blocking who.

The screenshots, which can all be found in the article, Screenshots of Twitter’s Admin. Take a look a look behind the scenes, reveal what user accounts look like from an administration perspective, including a log of dates passwords were changed, when accounts were opened, last used IP, and yes, details on updates, API limits, followers, and direct messages.

Looking at the data shows limits beyond the much-reported 1,000 new users to follow per day, including:
  • A 126 update per day limit
  • A 250 direct messages per day limit
  • A 1,000 favorites per day limit
I question the update per day limit, as I would guess some people do run into that number, but it was consistently labeled across accounts, including those from @britneyspears and @aplusk.

The leaked screenshots also reveal there are, as of the time of publishing, 187 featured users of Twitter, that not only includes celebrities like Shaquille O'Neal and MC Hammer, bloggers Pete Cashmore and Michael Arrington, but Twitter employees, and "Jason Scott's Cat", who can be found at @sockington, with 424,000 subscribers.

Really. A cat has 424,000 subscribers, but you can't follow more than 2,000 if fewer than 1,800 or so are following you. Got it.

On the individual level, the leak shows that the @BarackObama account is blocking nearly 100 users, while Lily Allen and Ashton Kutcher both block Perez Hilton. In contrast, Britney Spears doesn't block anyone, but is blocked by 3,855 Twitter users. Amusing.

Go check out the article at The NextWeb to see all the screen captures.

April 29, 2009

Inbound Marketing Summit Preso: There Is No Information Overload

At 4:25 today in San Francisco, I will be presenting at the Inbound Marketing Summit on tackling the perception of information overload. How can those of us in Marketing, tasked at discovering and participating in microcommunities where our prospects, partners and customers, reside, get a handle on all the data, and find the most relevant bits?

With only 20 minutes, we'll see what we can do. There's no time limit for you to flip through these slides, of course. Go to it.

Nombray Aims to Be Your Personal Brand's Central Web Presence

Many aggregation services take your personal content from the wide variety of social services where you are active, and put them all on their Web site - such as Socialmedian, FriendFeed and most recently, Facebook. Nombray, taking a different approach, looks to take all your data from those sites, and aggregate them on yours, essentially combining your blog, your resume, your LinkedIn, Twitter and other services in one location. And if you don't already have a Web site, they let you buy a new domain and get started. The result is a one-stop destination that features your content in tabs.

Upon signing up for Nombray, you are asked to import data from the major social Web sites. The service comes pre-loaded with Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter, for starters. And should you want to highlight a different site, just enter the URL, such as that to your blog, your Delicious bookmarks, your FriendFeed profile, etc. and it too can be added.

Adding different services through Nombray

The service is very flexible. Though I am not sure I want to replace my louisgray.com brand with something "Powered by Nombray", I liked the fact I could point these new tabs to the RSS feed from the service, or to the public page itself, offering visitors a clean look. And yes, you can of course select one of the many themes that are provided, to give your Nombray page a personal spin.

My Nombray Page - In the Blog Tab

My Nombray Page - In the FriendFeed Tab

My Nombray Page - In the Flickr Tab

Upon visiting the new Nombray site, you can navigate the different profile pages by clicking each tab, and Nombray promises the new site is extremely tailored for strong search engine optimization (SEO), helping you raise your presence in Google and other engines with the details you would like to show.

You can find my personal Nombray here: http://www.nombray.com/users/305

April 27, 2009

Lunch.com Opens Up, Connecting Similar People Through Reviews

Outside of Facebook and MySpace, a growing number of Web fanatics are getting social and sharing their likes and dislikes in a number of new networks - including Likaholix, which launched earlier this year, and the new Lunch.com, which emerged from beta this evening. Based on information you provide the network, Lunch.com connects users with similar interests, hoping you can find good content through peers - focusing primarily on rich reviews and a collection of facts, essentially taking the best of Yelp.com and Wikipedia.

When you open an account on Lunch.com, the site asks you for your spheres of interest (like Technology, TV and Music), and then prompts you to suggest favorites in each category, including TV shows, bands, albums and the like. Based on these entries, you then further refine your profile by rating suggested items on a -5 to +5 scale (higher being better). The more data you select, the more likely it is that you will find other Lunch.com users like you and therefore possibly discover content and helpful reviews.

Entering My Profile Data to Lunch.com

Saying What I Like More or Like Less

The site takes some elements of Delicious or MyBlogLog, letting you browse popular tags, and drill down into the rich content pushed into the service. Click through to Books and you will find popularly rated and reviewed items, as wella s related tags, like Nonfiction, Politics and Biography. Choose Electronics instead and you get the option to review popular items such as the iPhone 3G, MacBook Pro or Bose(R) Headphones.

Top Tags on Lunch.com

As you rack up activity on Lunch.com, you accumulate an ever-higher number of reviews and other users can rate your review as "Helpful", "Thought Provoking", "Fun to read" or "Well Organized". (See this iPhone review for one popular article.)

Lunch.com Updates Activity In Real Time

And like with most sites, you can connect and "follow" other users, which will become relevant as you determine how high your similarity score is. A higher similarity score, like on Toluu and other comparative products, is determined by the level of overlap you have. Interestingly, Lunch.com also not only shows top contributors by total activity, but also a "Recent Activity" feed that in real-time is updated as reviews flow in. One of the fastest-flowing items in the site is a feature called "ExhilaRATE", which lets you further refine your profile by rating items up or down, like the "Top Movies of 2008" or "Favorite Sportscasters.

One of My Reviews on Lunch.com

As usual, you can find my profile at the "louisgray" ID, here: http://www.lunch.com/louisgray. Maybe you'll even like my review of the BabyBjorn Infant Carrier." I said it was a must if you want to be mobile and carry your baby.

Creating Social Media Outposts

By Mike Fruchter of MichaelFruchter.com (Twitter/FriendFeed)

Roll-Your-Own Social Media Campaign: Outposts

I recently started a new job at a software company. One of my responsiblites is creating and launching an effective organic SEO & social media strategy for our customers. Our customer base deals primarily with the auto industry, not the keenest when it comes to marketing on the Internet, much less social web. The majority of our customers spend their advertising dollars on print, TV and radio ads. This strategy for the most part works well, as it's locally targeted to a geographical region.

My main objective with this task is primarily for search engine purposes only. Creating back links and outposts. Brand monitoring is also another objective. This is a roll-your-own strategy tailored for the three objectives I mentioned only. Educational training on social media comes later. These type of clients are salesmen who are on the sales floor all day long trying to move product, and often these clients will have an employee assigned to the Internet division, but that employee usually does not know the first thing about Internet marketing. Their sole task is updating online inventory and responding to Internet requests. These are the employees who will require ongoing training about Internet marketing and more specifically social media marketing, engagement and interaction. More on that on a future post, but lets get started.

Think of outposts as a sort of toll booth. This is the analogy I'm making here. It's pretty much the same in real life. On the Internet there are many toll booths for many destinations. You need to own and operate that toll booth, instead of your competitors.

1. Reserving and creating the brands name online, aka vanity urls.

The first step is creating accounts on the major social networking sites. All I'm concerned with at this point is Twitter , Facebook , MySpace , YouTube and blogging. Blogging for this objective will be using Blogger.com, eventually leading to in house blogs as well as hosted on the brands website using WordPress. I need to reserve the brand's name on these networks for search engine traffic, but equally important is to keep them out of the hands of name squatters and potential competitors. I'm not concerned about the smaller social networks, they can come at a later point if needed.

Why choose Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Blogger and YouTube?

  • The ability to create dozens of blogs utilizing targeted keywords.
  • Easy to use with no learning curve.
  • Vanity URLs
  • Google juice
  • Marketing
  • Branded outpost
Self hosted WordPress blogs will eventually be the main informational hub for consumers

  • Real time search capabilities.
  • An API we can hook into to pull and post data.
  • Consumer interaction, engagement & lead generation.
  • Broadcasting inventory, specials, etc.
  • Vanity URL & tweets are indexable by search engines, Google being the prime target.
  • Branded outpost
  • The ability to create a public branded fan page & vanity URL
  • Public pages are indexed by search engines. Google being the prime target.
  • Consumer interaction, engagement & lead generation.
  • Rich multimedia environment.
  • Branded outpost
  • Vanity URL
  • Public pages are indexed by search engines, Google being the prime target.
  • Multimedia environment, primarily will be used for video/photo purposes only.
  • Branded outpost
  • Vanity URL
  • Distribution hub for videos created in house.
  • Ability to create a custom channel.
  • Embeddable share options for videos and soc nets.
  • Indexable by search engines, great for Google juice.
  • Branded outpost
2. Creating consistent brandable outposts.
Now that all these accounts are created, it's time to turn them into outposts. Remember an outpost is used for driving traffic back to your central hub. The hub in this case is the brands website.
  • Outposts need to be streamlined and most importantly consistent across the board.
  • Corporate contact information, banners, logos and URL name should all be the same.
  • Outposts always link back to the central hub.
  • Always use targeted keywords in profile information.
  • Goal is to achieve uniform omnipresence on all outposts.
  • When information is changed on the central hub, it needs to be reflected on the outpost.
  • Link back to all your outposts. Always remember main emphasis is on the central hub.
  • Encourage following and fans on your outposts and always follow back.
  • Keep the outpost fresh with content as often as possible, this is key for search engines.
That's part 1 of this roll-your-own strategy. Outposts are relatively easy to set up and maintain, and are key for organic search traffic. Part 2 will cover maintenance of the outposts and will also dive into brand monitoring.
Image by thetruthabout under Flickr CC

Read more by Mike Fruchter at MichaelFruchter.com.

EatWillGrow iPhone App Lets You Tweet Your High Score

One Proud EatWillGrow User Tells Us His Achievement

For better or for worse, Twitter is seemingly being integrated into everything. That's both the pleasure and pain of making a service which does one thing well, and pretty much only that one thing. A new iPhone game called EatWillGrow has taken an interesting step of not only displaying global high scores, but letting you broadcast your score to Twitter, and see how other players are doing. The high scores list even features their Twitter nicknames and avatars, making the microblogging service the central database for the game!

The game itself is fairly simple. On your iPhone or iPod Touch, you guide "Blob" through a perilous space, plagued with deadly mines. You gain points by eating food, which makes you larger, and therefore, a bigger target for said mines. There are power ups that make you go faster or slower, making food eating harder or easier, as you flick your finger left or right on the iPhone's surface, navigating the gauntlet.

Playing EatWilGrow Shows Your Rank vs. Other Twitter Users

As you rack up points, a system at the bottom of the screen tells you your overall position in the scoreboard, or alternatively how many points you need to get to position #100. When you lose, and you will no doubt lose, you are informed of your position, and given the option to tweet your score via Twitter, after you have entered your user name and password.

(You can see score reports from Twitter users here.)

To prevent users from cheating and claiming ridiculous scores, EatWillGrow only counts reports from the game itself, which registers as a unique Twitter client, and even posts a screenshot of your score to TwitPic on your behalf. You can learn more about EatWillGrow on the official Web site. The author, @kode80, can of course be found on Twitter when he's not playing the game. Just don't expect to see me tweeting my score. I'm not that good.

EatWillGrow is on the iTunes Store for $.99.

April 24, 2009

Pet Shop Boys Trump Depeche Mode in New Music Nostalgia Week

After two months of anticipation, thanks in part to an iTunes Pass to the band's 'Sounds of the Universe' album, Depeche Mode opened up the vault, issuing the remaining tracks this week, helping fill my iTunes library. But surprisingly, only a few days later, it's not this album from this 1980s megaband that's getting all the playing time on my iPhone. Instead, it's the much quieter release from The Pet Shop Boys called 'Yes' which has me hitting Shuffle and then Repeat.

Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys occupy a special place in my permanent nostalgia file, reckoning back to high school and the years just before and after, joining Information Society, New Order and others. That they continue to put out great music is something of a miracle, but being a loyal listener, I buy every new song and album they release.

Given the hype and wait for 'Sounds of the Universe', I expected something amazing. And yes, while it's good, there was no hype for the Pet Shop Boys' 'Yes', and I simply can't stop playing it over and over. It was my airplane companion as I flew from Las Vegas to San Jose this evening, and the background when we arrived home and entertained the twins, who hadn't seen me in five days.

While Depeche Mode made headlines for their iTunes creativity, gaining me access to remixes and videos weeks in advance, the biggest surprise has been a special bonus track on the 'Yes' album, which contains audio commentary from the Pet Shop Boys, explaining how they arrived at lyrics, music, and how songs stayed off the cutting room floor. It's highly entertaining, just like the producer commentary on many of today's DVDs. And the album is classic Pet Shop Boys. From "Love Etc." to "Vulnerable" and "Pandemonium", many of the tracks exceed even the best from Depeche Mode's 'Sounds of the Universe'.

Depeche Mode may have far and away the most artist plays in my Last.fm library in all-time rankings, but at least for this week, in what should have been their return to glory, they're going to take a back seat. You can find both albums on iTunes, of course.

You Have Entered a No Retweeting Zone, Please Proceed

As we've said many times over the last few years, there is no one right way to use social media and blogging tools. Different people use Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, LinkedIn, and every Web service in their own way in a style the benefits them - be it for conversation, information discovery, news consumption, or broadcasting.

Within each of these sites there lies a certain amount of peer pressure... sign up for this... link to that... forward this... comment there. One of the more visible trends/fads I've tried to avoid is the phenomenon of retweeting. Even though retweeting has become so much a practice that widgets exist to show how often a blog post has been redistributed and people are begging to "Please RT", we're saying no. We don't expect you to retweet our articles, and we won't be retweeting yours.

Given much of my own activity on Twitter is to distribute links to this site, or to highlight others' work, with the occasional comments replying to other Twitter users, we have a high level of linking over conversation. It's enough that some services, like Twanalyst, even call us "spammy", given our high link to retweet ratio.

Twanalyst says I am spammy and don't retweet

But in my opinion, begging for retweets, and retweeting is simply lazy, just like live tweeting a conference panel is lazy blogging. It's the equivalent of forwarding e-mail, or copying and pasting someone else's blog post to your site and adding a short link. If Twitter is truly conversational, as many argue, then repeating what someone else has said doesn't do much to add to the conversation. Want to highlight their work? Write up a blog post and add your comments. Share their items in Google Reader. But do it in your words, not somebody else's.

Twitter is a land where 140 characters is all you've got to express yourself. If you think you don't have enough interesting data to share 140 characters of your own, but instead need to piggyback on someone else's tweet, then maybe you should rethink why you're using the service.

Conquer Information Overload at the Inbound Marketing Summit

Earlier this week, I mentioned I am scheduled to speak at the Inbound Marketing Summit, featuring Chris Brogan, Tim O'Reilly, Tim Ferris, John Battelle, Loic Le Meur, Brian Solis, Charlene Li, and others. But it turned out that O'Reilly and I actually were on so close a wavelength that we practically submitted the same speaking topics. Aiming to be flexible, and let O'Reilly close strong, I thought we would revisit one of our favorite topics - how to avoid proverbial information overload, and find the right data at the right time, no matter where it is.

On Wednesday at 4:25 p.m. in San Francisco, just before O'Reilly finishes up, I'll be speaking on the topic, "There Is No Information Overload. Finding a Signal in the Noise".

The topic description leaves you with a little tip on what's coming:
"With a nearly constant stream of information related to you, your product and company from all corners, it can at times seem overwhelming. How can you break through the noise and find out all you need to, without being overwhelmed with a data tsunami? Don't just look to a chief information officer. Look to be a chief signal officer, by selectively finding where to listen, when to listen, how to listen, and if you should engage."
I've talked before about tackling information overload, and I'm looking forward to participating at the conference.

I do have a pair of VIP tickets available if you want to go, so send me an e-mail if you're interested.

April 22, 2009

Google Reader Limits Your RSS Article Spam Potential

As Google Reader is my main jumping off point to gather all the news of the day, it's no secret the RSS reader also plays a major role in how I help distribute the news, be it through hitting share to add items to my link blog, or by e-mailing articles out to others. In October I mentioned how e-mailing RSS pieces can help to evangelize the service, and I've continued to make it something I do, for friends or for colleagues. But of late, I've found more restrictions being added that make it seem people have maliciously mass distributed articles out of Reader, so more safeguards have been added to slow me down.

Captcha me if you can

The first and most noticeable addition is that of a captcha, which requires you to fill it out each time you e-mail an article out of Google Reader. The minor annoyance didn't use to be there until recently, and presents the opportunity to test how well you read words that are slanted and blurred every which way.

Thou shalt not e-mail your entire address book this article

The second addition, which I just ran into today, is a cap to the number of people you can send an article to. While at the office it's no rarity to forward news to a dozen or more people, Google Reader now stops you once you pass ten recipients. This means that I will have to be more selective for whom I choose to send updates, and just maybe those left off will feel left out.

Having said limits in Google Reader won't dramatically change the way I use the service, with the exception of being more picky about my recipient lists, but I have to wonder who was violating protocol so much that this became a necessity. What robots do you think were mass e-mailing articles to all of their cyber buddies?

Facebook Getting Ready to Charge for Vanity Nicknames?

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

My friend, Jason McGowan, sent me a screenshot that, if it is what it appears to be, suggests Facebook may be getting ready to add a new strategy to its business plan. It appears that select users are seeing polls in Facebook, asking if they would pay to be able to have their own vanity nickname on the network.

The vanity id is currently in beta for a select group of users such as TechCrunch, Loic Lemuer, AllFacebook, and others, and allows you to have http://facebook.com/yournick point to your Facebook Page. In addition, from their mobile phones, users can send "fan nickname" to Facebook and become
fans of your Page from wherever they are. This would be useful, for instance, in a Baseball or Football stadium during a game to enter people into a contest or become fans of the team. It would appear with these polls that Facebook also intends to allow this to point to individual user profiles as well.

Currently services like my own SocialToo and others provide short, easy-to-remember URLs that redirect to your Facebook profile. Having such a vanity URL would enable users to have an even easier to rememb
er URL, based on the Facebook.com domain that you could pass out to your friends. I personally would pay for this - it's worth both the brand recognition, and SEO it would give any brand.

The vanity URLs also come with even more pressure from Google, who just recently launched their own short URL and user profile system. Google's user profiles are 100% free, and rely on your Google account username by default. (See mine here)

Having asked Facebook for entrance into the vanity URL program for both myself and SocialToo and received no response (hint, hint), I would assume Facebook is just waiting for the right time to launch this to all. I'm excited to see this program come forth and hope Facebook can soon allow many more into the program.

You can add yourself as a Fan to my Page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jesse-Stay/12327140265

Read more by Jesse Stay at Stay N' Alive.

April 21, 2009

Teens In Tech Takes On 32-Year-Old Advisor

Yesterday, I said I was going to try and say yes to everything, in an effort to get more involved with entrepreneurs, startups and other smart folks around the Web. One of the most direct ways I have been able to work with aggressive players is in an advisory role, helping to push the founders of BuzzGain, ReadBurner and SocialToo to roll out new features, raise awareness and deliver high quality products.

Today, I am happy to announce that I will also be working with Daniel Brusilovsky and the Teens In Tech team, joining their highly qualified advisory board, which also includes Daniel Ha of Disqus, Sam Lessin of Drop.io and others.

Daniel announced my addition to the board of advisors in a blog post yesterday, and I am looking forward to seeing how a 30-something married guy with kids and a resume with more than 10 years experience can try and give guidance to a bunch of teenagers without my coming off sounding like a fuddy-duddy. In my e-mail, phone and in person conversations with Daniel over the last few months, I have been very impressed with his intensity for tech, business, and a wisdom that is without a doubt beyond his years and look forward to helping him develop a successful platform for the next generation of Web addicts.

Founded in 2008, Teens In Tech is a media platform and community for teens. The company acquired the Youth Bloggers Network in March, and in January held the first Teens In Tech Conference. Expect to hear more about Daniel's plans soon.

Are LinkedIn Groups Tuckered Out?

By Ken Stewart of ChangeForge (Twitter/FriendFeed)

Is LinkedIn making the leap beyond an online resume service into a socially-rich, community-driven platform? Last year LinkedIn announced its new application platform in an effort to stimulate the interactivity of its members, and also announced enhanced groups as part of this bold initiative to seed itself as the proverbial Facebook for professionals.

Many of you enjoy LinkedIn as an online holster for your professional accolades as well for keeping in touch with your professional network. One often used mechanism is that of groups. Perhaps you participate in some groups based upon your geography, your personal and professional interests, or maybe you simply want to network.

I began experimenting with a group to share more industry specific content with my network in the hopes of generating some interesting conversations. I took my time to pipe in several industry specific news feeds to keep content fresh, sent personal notes to each group member as they joined, and even posted regular discussion topics hoping to elicit opinions.

I watched the daily e-mail updates roll through, and was disappointed in the results of my social experiment; Discussion topics and news items alike consistently showed "0 comments", denoting the simple fact the discussions simply weren't happening. I quickly realized it was time to take a step back and taken inventory of the situation.

I started paying attention more closely to how I interacted with the default, daily e-mail digests I would receive from other industry-groups I had joined. Below are some samples of what I began to consistently see:

While the first group has over 5,100 members and the second has almost 900 members (after forming just a few months ago), amazingly, day after day I would see little to no activity outside of the posted discussions or news items themselves.

While my little social experiment is hardly comprehensive, discussions with other professionals in my network have offered much of the same qualitative analysis: Only a small percentage of groups see any significant conversation threads. So it would seem that in the minds of many I network with, LinkedIn groups are on the outs.

What are your experiences with LinkedIn groups? Are they helping you extend the conversation and do they yield benefits you would care to express?

Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. He is always interested in connecting; To discover the many ways you may connect with him, visit him at DandyID.

April 20, 2009

Twitter Caps Following Limits, Denting Auto-Follow Services

Another day, another Twitter limit that impacts its developers. Following on to Twitter's statement last month about auto-following practices being "disingenuous", the company is back at it again, telling users that "it is unlikely that anyone can actually read tweets from thousands of accounts", and limiting the number of accounts that a single person can follow in a day to 1,000. While that may sound reasoned in practice, it's going to impact the way highly visible accounts can use the service, and again, throw a monkey wrench into entrepreneurs who are looking to fill gaps in Twitter's service.

In the last few weeks, Web and print media have been awash in discussion of some of the largest accounts on Twitter reaching the 1 million follower mark. Assuming Ashton Kutcher and others were to follow Twitter's rule to only follow 1,000 new accounts a day, it would take Ashton 3 years to follow all that follow him, assuming no more new users found his account interesting. It seems Twitter would prefer that these celebrity accounts only follow, say... 93 as Ashton does, rather than the nearly 400,000 Britney Spears follows, which I would guess would be even higher if it weren't for Twitter's API troubles.

I speak to this point not so much as a standard Twitter user, but also as an advisor to SocialToo, which Jesse Stay has worked on to help Twitter users like Guy Kawasaki, myself and many much more visible accounts to stay even on their following and followers, as well as many other features. One of the premium options SocialToo has offered has been a "catch up" option, where users could catch up and follow all those who they were not previously following. Now, SocialToo could only add a maximum of 1,000 a day, making the service good for smaller users, but not for the rapidly-expanding numbers we see on many accounts.

Lest you think I'm just trying to cover for SocialToo here, take a look at how other Twitter developers in the last week by slowness and caps that Twitter is placing on their ability to get data to feed their services. Mr. Tweet has been reporting service disruptions and apologizing to users and Tweet Later reports problems getting data from Twitter. TweetLater even notes from earlier this evening, "At the time of writing there were 1.7 million unprocessed API calls on the processing queue, and the queue is still growing every second."

It's likely Twitter is issuing this newest limit to try and stop spammers and go after the worms that have recently impacted the system. But the ecosystem that has helped the service grow to such high visibility is getting impacted. Hopefully there can soon be a resolution that lets Twitter be secure the right people with the right tools are doing the right things, and that the bad guys are being appropriately stopped in their tracks.

IT Trade Show Attendance Down Sharply. Is Quality Improved?

During the last recession, especially in 2002 and 2003, our experience showed that attendance at technology trade shows was very poor, to say the least. If vendors weren't canceling their sponsorships outright, or dramatically reducing booth space, the scarcity of end-users saw marketers desperate to hit target lead counts, even if it meant randomly scanning those who just wanted the give-away of the day. But in this go around, having attended a fair number of events so far this year, while I see attendance is once again down significantly, the quality of those end users who remain might actually be better overall.

As mentioned yesterday, I am spending the week at the NAB conference here in Las Vegas. This show, expected to draw tens of thousands of attendees, if not a hundred thousand, as once estimated, clearly doesn't have as many exhibitors as in previous years. The hallways are less jam-packed, and wait times for services like taxis, shuttles and the monorail are greatly lessened, compared to other times I've attended.

Any trade show veteran knows that the first and second days of a show typically drive the lion's share of activity. Often, a 3-5 day show can be like molasses as all the exhibitors pace upon their well-carpeted square booths, and watch the clock by the end of the week. So getting a big number on day one can be critical. While today's activity was very busy through the first portion of the day, by the second half of the eight-plus hour shift, I could have sworn it was Wednesday already - and I know we were not the only ones with serious gaps in visitors.

But interestingly, despite the relative quiet, as I also experienced at Storage Networking World in Orlando at the beginning of the month during parts of that show, those attendees who are making the visit and the inquiries are those who we should be talking to. It could be that companies who lived through the last recession have learned to save money by not sending more than the critically necessary attendees to said events, effectively aiding them and the vendors who see them by improving the signal while lessening the noise.

If you are a technology marketer deciding whether or not to spend your money on trade shows this year, I wouldn't recommend outright pulling the plug. If you reduce your presence, end users will understand your desire to save money. But if your competitors go and you don't, they've got a beeline to deals that should be yours. And if you're a technology purchaser wondering if you should go to a show, ask around the office, and see if somebody with better focus can go on your behalf. It will make sense for your budget and for the vendor ecosystem as well. I hope that what I'm seeing so far this year displays this is already happening.

Please Stretch Me Thinner: I'm Saying Yes to Everything

Yes we can. That may have been the rallying cry for 2008's victorious presidential candidate, but sometimes, I swear it's mine too, because every time I hear somebody say I can't do something, I want to make sure I do it, and do so well. Any time I hear somebody say I can't possibly keep up a certain pace, have to drop something, or that something is going to slow me down, I want to prove them wrong. Here's the truth - despite having a full-time job, a pair of active twins under a year old, and a fairly active online lifestyle that includes this blog, some social media activity, and three advisory board positions with early-stage start-ups, we're not done, and I want you to stretch me further. Do it.

So, as best as I can, I am saying yes to everything I can - and want to keep it up.

When at the SXSW conference last month, I participated in one panel, as was the rule of the show, but I wish I could have done one each day. I blogged every session I was in, and the videos you've seen thus far from Kipp Bodnar, from Wayne Sutton and Morgan Brown are only half the story, as was the coverage from the Times of London and The Guardian.

Last week, as I mentioned, I participated in the FFundercats podcast, and Josh and Johnny know they have an open invitation should they want me again.

Looking forward, on April 29th, I am signed up to speak at the Inbound Marketing Summit, put on by Chris Brogan and CrossTech Media, in San Francisco. I'll be speaking just ahead of Tim O'Reilly, who closes the show, and discussing how the promotion of others, including customers and competition, can help your brand (see the agenda). Hopefully you can attend.

And yes, I'm acting as an advisor for BuzzGain, ReadBurner and SocialToo, talking strategy with the entrepreneurs of each service, providing feedback on features and roadmaps and introducing them to new contacts. You should hear about a fourth advisory role in the next few days, and I haven't yet hit the saturation point. I also managed to sneak out to Boulder to see Lijit earlier this year, even if it wasn't in an official role, and that was a great experience.

I've also got a big trip planned this September to see Thomas Power and Ecademy in London - which I have to embarrassingly admit will be my first time out of North America, ever. Hopefully, it's just a start, and I look forward to offering more details on that soon.

So why mention all this? Because I want more. Feed me more. At recent business events, there is a dramatic need for those I run into to get an extra push to get and grasp blogging, to understand what's happening in social media, who's winning and losing, and best practices. And right now, I don't think my 5 minute answers are enough. I am starting to get inquiries from people to help them more formally, and yes, I will. I will also be signing up for more speaking opportunities, more panels, more podcasts, and more advisory roles if they think I can help. This is going to be fun, so abuse me. You know where to find me.

We Were So Wrong About Twitter

By Rob Diana of Regular Geek (Twitter/FriendFeed)

It feels like ages ago, but it was only four months ago when the extended louisgray.com team debated whether Twitter would go mainstream. Did we underestimate Twitter and its team? No. We did not foresee who would be using it. What did we think was needed for Twitter to hit the mainstream? Here are some examples of what we were thinking:
  • It needs a lot of filtering and searching.
  • There is too much noise for most people.
  • It is too public, and it only fits a small niche of the population.
  • Some people may just not 'get it'.
  • Twitter will not go mainstream until another service appears that makes Twitter a cellphone SMS gateway.
  • It still lacks the features needed to go mainstream, video, images etc.
  • The combination of other services (Facebook, FriendFeed, Yammer, etc.) will steal Twitter's thunder and leave it behind.
Why were we so wrong? Basically, we are a bunch of early adopters who were thinking that people would be using it in the same manner as we were. We thought people would be searching for information, or would want to be more mobile or share pictures.

We totally missed the power of celebrity. At the time that the debate post was written, only a few celebrities were using Twitter and they were using it for conversations and finding information. Ashton Kutcher recently joined Twitter and exploded. Britney Spears joined Twitter a little while ago and is growing quickly as well. Why are they growing, taking over Twitter and introducing it to the mainstream with the help of Oprah?

People are fascinated by celebrities. I am not one of those people, but the amount of traffic that celebrity gossip sites like Perez Hilton received proves that point well enough. With Twitter, the celebrities are able to interact directly with their fans, and those fans can send notes to their favorite stars. This is the same reason that people like Robert Scoble and various Web celebrities are popular on Twitter. That direct interaction and the continuous updates make people feel closer to these stars. I am not sure how we missed it, but I think most of the early adopters missed the call on Twitter. Hopefully we are wrong about their ability to make money as well.

Read more by Rob Diana at RegularGeek.com.

April 19, 2009

FFundercats Podcast Episode 25: Dropping Science

With ReadBurner Weekly Live still on hiatus and the Elite Tech News series on a quasi-permanent hold, it's been too long of a break between getting the opportunity to participate in a regular podcast. On Friday, I was lucky enough to be invited to partake in FFundercats, a project undertaken by Josh Haley and Johnny Worthington, who have teamed up to create a fun weekly show centered around all things FriendFeed. After 24 episodes were in the bag, I finally got to join, and as you can tell, should you take the time to listen, we really had a good time.

Over the last several months, Josh and Johnny have helped bridge the geeky tech Web Silicon Valley world I tend to live in with a more entertaining and social part of the site. And while I have to admit they give me way too much credit throughout the podcast and are far too gracious, I always enjoy a good challenge in terms of them firing questions and my trying to come up with reasonable answers that aren't too cheeky.

Friday's podcast, which covered our introduction to FriendFeed, speculation around monetization, and new features, including filters and direct messages, was held in parallel with what turned out to be the most active comment thread - ever - on the site, launching more than 1,600 entries. (See the amazing thread here)

Clearly there is a very active community on this site who knows how to have a good time and not take themselves too seriously. You can check out the podcast on the FFundercats site, or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. And when you're done, click this crazy link.

The Destination Is In The Conversation

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

Rob Diana, a friend, Grand Effect Network member, and fellow author on louisgray.com, recently discussed: With All This Openness Where Is The Destination?

Rob picks up where Alexander Van Elsas left off a few weeks ago with Questions. To summarize both articles, they both push out key questions that pertain to the evolution of not only social media, but the Web as a community.

One of the questions that Alexander posed was: "If everything becomes open and connected, what will happen to the big destinations?"

Rob's Response:
For the Web 2.0 and social media crowd, the current destinations are not really destinations. Destination may also be an old term for what is currently happening. Destinations were the keys to the castle in the old Web, but the new Web is more about communication and conversations that are happening now.

Most Web sites are still thinking in terms of the destination.
The Destination Exists In Your Connections
I have to say that in this case, the Web sites aren't the only ones thinking in terms of the destination. Mainstream users do too and they only want their destination to be one stop away. Now, what's one stop away from your real destination? A connection maybe? Let's say so for arguments sake.

First, let me state that I think early adopters may be the only people pondering this question. The big destination sites will always exist, because they're the biggest, the most popular, and most of people's connections already exist there. All they need to do is find them. That process is simplified by the following theory: find one, find them all! If I find one person I know on Facebook or MySpace, I'm bound to find a few more mutual friends too.

Whatever, So Where's The Real Destination?

So what will happen to the big destinations later on down the line? I'm betting that they'll adapt to the landscape and integrate what needs to be integrated. Facebook is already doing this with Digg and StumbleUpon integration.

They aren't alone.

I'd bet you $100 that just about every site you've signed up for in the past month had some type of integration with another site that is connected to your connections and conversations.

Not to argue with Rob's opinion, but I think that the Web has always been about communication, conversations, and where they're happening. Those are reasons why I signed up for AOL IM and not Yahoo IM during my middle school years. Those are reasons why Yahoo was my first search engine and not Google (or even AOL for that matter). I stuck with where the conversations were happening and that's where my friends were too. The real destination is in the conversation.

People aren't just trying to get to these sites, they're trying to get to the conversations as easily as possible. If they could eliminate the site, they probably would. Why do you think instant messaging is so popular? The conversation is where all the good stuff is.

As The Web Evolves
Improved? Yes. New? Hell no. The Web has become more interesting, more glamorous, and more entertaining (personally), with all these new ways to connect with people. However, the destination has always been somewhere in the conversation. You know what that means? There isn't just one destination and never will be in all of this open and well connected space!

Read more by Corvida Raven at SheGeeks.net.

This Week's Destination: Las Vegas, Nevada

Another week, another trip. The Spring event season has us racking up frequent flier miles again, as following recent trips to Austin, Texas, Phoenix, Arizona and Orlando, Florida, we're away from home once more - this time for a full five days in Las Vegas, Nevada. As I told folks following the Orlando trip, "it sounds more fun than it really is". We're going to be attending and participating in the National Association of Broadcasters' Conference for the full week, with my work hat on.

The trip marks my third jaunt to Vegas in the last 7 months, following BlogWorld Expo last Fall, and company sales kickoff in February.

If you're a Las Vegas native, or your schedule and location just so happen to match mine, you know how to reach me. I'm powering up the iPhone now.

April 18, 2009

How to Send Direct Messages to Multiple People, With Photos

For as much hype and press Twitter got all this week with the games celebrities play, you would think the service had single-handedly solved the economic recession and cured malaria besides. But even as the microblogging service managed to not fail under what had to have been a heavy load, it's remarkable how Twitter continues to be defined by its limitations, and how the core aspects of the service have changed very little over the last two years.

If you use the product, you know the limits I'm talking about. 140 characters only. No pictures. No video. Direct messages can only be sent to a single person. No grouping. No lists. I could go on.

Sending a Direct Message In Twitter

Previously Sent Direct Messages In Twitter

But after taking a look at a ton of different third-party applications out there, I finally found a solution that lets you send direct messages to multiple people at once, attach photos, and even collect all the comments from the recipients in one place.

It's called FriendFeed.

The new FriendFeed beta lets you send direct messages to as many people you like who are friends with you, and you can add up to four photos per message. Like with Twitter, if they respond to your DM, you can get notified within the service, and just recently, you also gained the ability to get notifications by e-mail.

Sending a Direct Message In FriendFeed With a Photo

A Conversation On a DM With Multiple People In FriendFeed

While Twitter may have all the daytime television viewers reaching for their mobile phones and Windows XP Home powered PCs (just after they log on using AOL), FriendFeed keeps its head down and is innovating. So while they're still figuring out how to send a limited number of characters to a single person using only text, I'll be sending photos and links and long messages to as many people as I like on FriendFeed.

You can join us here: http://beta.friendfeed.com/louisgray.

Tweetie Desktop for Mac Is Clean, Simple and Robust

Sending messages to and monitoring Twitter on your Mac usually requires running a RAM-intensive Adobe AIR application or dropping into Twitter's standard Web interface. And with Twitter continuing its skyrocketing usage trajectory, more and more utilities are being developed to handle the load - from TweetDeck to Seesmic Desktop, PeopleBrowsr and Tweetie, which on Monday, will debut to the masses its desktop application for the Mac, following on the success of its popular iPhone application, which I've used as my default for the last month or so.

Written in Cocoa for Mac OS X rather than Adobe's AIR platform, Tweetie looks and feels like a Mac OS X application. And like its iPhone cousin, it lets you use all of Twitter's main features, from sending updates to monitoring replies (now mentions) and direct messages. Tweetie, unlike other desktop apps, even lets you log in with multiple accounts concurrently, enabling you to toggle back and forth should you choose to.

Logging in to Tweetie Desktop

Unlike TweetDeck, arguably the most popular Twitter desktop application out there, Tweetie doesn't look like it wants to take over your entire screen. Instead, activity occurs in a single column. To gain access to replies, direct messages, and integrated search, just click on the corresponding icons in the application's left margin.

Checking Twitter Mentions In Tweetie

Seeing Who I DM Using Tweetie

Leveraging Twitter Search In Tweetie

Like any good Mac app, Tweetie even follows Apple's typical keyboard shortcuts. Command-N makes a new Tweet. Command-R refreshes your window and gets you the latest updates. And like with Safari, you can hit Command 1, 2, 3 or 4 to toggle through the available windows. (In this case, the Twitter timeline, mentions, messages and search)

Sending a New Tweet From Tweetie

I switched from TwitterFon to Tweetie on my iPhone thanks to multiple account support, and it's great to see Tweetie hasn't neglected that when looking at working on my desktop as well.

Atebits, the company behind Tweetie Desktop for Mac, has provided a video to show more about the new product, which should hold you over the weekend. Of course, they can be found on Twitter at @atebits and @tweetie.