Friends and Family Happy Hour Tuesday January 27, 2009

Ever wonder what my company, Flat World Media,  does?  You’re not alone.  Most of my friends and family don’t understand it, either.  So Kathy and I will be hosting a happy hour on 1/27 at The Rack in South Tampa to mingle and evangelize.

Very casual.  No sales.

You don’t even need to talk to us if you don’t want to.  But if you’re interested in learning more about online marketing, search engine optimization, email marketing, web analytics and everything else, then come on down.  We’d love to have you.

Tuesday January 27, 2009
The Rack
1809 W. Platt St.
Tampa, FL 33606

Why Free Really Is Free

If you’ve ever wondered how companies can offer free services (Gmail, YouTube, MySpace, etc) or wondered if it really is free, then you need to read Chris Anderson’s (WIRED’s editor in chief) wonderful piece on the new economics of free.

Don’t think this doesn’t matter to you or your business. It does or soon will.

‘Tis the Season of Giving…

As I’ve often said, the Internet is an amazing place. Not only has it created so many more efficiencies for us as a society, but it’s helping to build bridges to less fortunate individuals and places. It’s especially nice to see evidence of this during the holiday season, of course, but it’s astounding to see the way it’s growing in leaps and bounds, no matter the time of year.

A recent article in Forbes profiled the portals that are making it easier for businesses big and small to donate to the cause of their choice. Traditionally, causes have been so fragmented, and sometimes there are so many, it can feel overwhelming and a little time-intensive to figure out what you want to give to whom. Sites nowadays are acting as an easy to use portal, while still giving the option for people to donate to a specific cause they’re interested in.

Take DonorsChoose.org as an example. It’s specifically a site built around the concept that teachers need specific things to help enrich and lives and minds of their students. They can list what it is they need, and donors will specifically pick the case they’re interested in helping. It’s these kind of connections that can help make the donation more personal rather than just writing a check.

Of course, if writing a check is your thing there are always options in that regard. NetworkForGood.org provides numerous options to either donate or volunteer. If you’re a conscious consumer wondering what companies have done for the environment lately, check out OnePercentforthePlanet.org. This handy site is comprised of businesses from mom-and-pops to Sony that have pledged to donate 1% of their yearly profits to eco-conscious charities. (They have a pretty nifty auction system going too…if you’d like a one-on-one surf lesson with the founder of Patagonia clothing, you’d do well to check out some of their other items!)

In the spirit of holiday giving, it’s nice to know that as the technology times keep evolving, so can the good of mankind the world over.

Happy holidays!

Sometimes Easy Gets Complicated

There is a blessing and a curse with all of the great tools that we can find online to help us be more productive. Great because we have access to some really neat and generally cheap/free things to keep us organized….but bad because it seems like each program just does one thing. Harvest is really great for time tracking. Basecamp is really great for project management. Something like Highrise can help you organize your contacts and clients.

I’m sure you’re seeing the issue with this: multiple websites, multiple logins, and sometimes a lot of repetitive information-entering.

So imagine how nice it was to come across a program like Creative Pro Office. Truly, it’s one of the few products I’ve seen that integrates all those things you need a laundry list of apps for into what seems to be an easy interface. You have a main office dashboard, which feels a little like an iGoogle module set up, complete with feeds of your choosing, snapshot of project progress, tasks, invoices and more.

You can drill into the Client Manager section, which lets you see not only their contact information, but also past projects, invoices and job quotes. What’s even better is they can have their own secure login to view the same information. There’s a time tracking tool to help you bill accordingly, as well as invoicing and expense tracking to go with it.

And, of course, there is a calendar and project management feature to help keep your machine humming along.

With technology and web applications exploding thanks to programmers and designers that focus greatly on user interface, there’s no shortage of tools out there. The biggest problem is that they put so much time into making each one great, it doesn’t leave time to put them all together into one deserving product. Finding something that takes programs designed to make life easier and goes on to make it, well, even easier still is something worth praising and encouraging.

Google Growing into Online Storage?

It’s probably sad to admit, but most of us have been there…tapping away on our PC, and suddenly there’s a blue screen. Or a frozen picture in front of you. Frantically, you bang on the keyboard, jiggle the mouse, and the next thing you know, you’re restarting and saying, “Please, please, please let my work still be there.”

There is always that nagging thought in the back of your head when this happens, too: What if the computer didn’t stay away from the light and it’s passed away for good? It’s scary to think about, but the thought races through your mind while you hold your breath, waiting to see if your desktop boots up to see the light of day once again.

There are companies out there which have been offering online back-up services for your files, safely stored away where they are untouched if your computer dies. Web Worker Daily posted a very comprehensive list some time ago on this very subject, which you can read here. Things have changed since then, however, and now the rumor mill is churning that Google is eyeing this as its next opportunity to offer another service to its clients. Thanks to its success with online storage programs like Google Docs, combined with their friendly and easy-to-use reputation in online applications, it would certainly make them a formidable competitor.

The biggest hurdles in that kind of endeavor are privacy issues, of course. The idea would be for people to ultimately have the option to rely solely on their online repository of files, without having to rely on their personal computer to store it. It’s a little strange to think of the things we rely on daily floating on a separate server. I know that I, for one, would want to make sure I was the only person who accesses it.

When a College Becomes a Client

Once upon a time, being young meant being irresponsible. It was a given that you’d screw up sometimes, or do something you shouldn’t…your parents would find out, you’d be grounded, and only a select group of people might know about it.

With the advent of sites like MySpace and Facebook, it’s making it easier for bad taste or questionable public information to make the rounds. That’s definitely no secret. But what does it mean for the legions of high school kids that might not have a sense for the long-term impact of posting last Saturday’s festivities on their MySpace page? And what does it mean if they do that with college admissions offices that can Google the name on every application that comes their way?

It means there’s a whole new industry flowering for getting into the best colleges: student branding.

A recent article in the New York Times described this burgeoning phenomenon among college applicants, who are seeking professionals to help them market themselves to the university of their choice. It’s almost like a public relations campaign when you read some of the recommendations kids have followed in order to spice up activities they can list on their college applications. It’s creating a very interesting debate about kids doing things like volunteer work for the wrong reasons, or jumping through hoops because it’s what a college would like, and it’s not necessarily something they’re interested in or are good at.

While part of this seems like a natural evolution given the increasing mindset and ability among the younger population to strike out on their own and understand how the world works, it also serves to show how integral technology has become. Self-branding would have little impact, say, 10 years ago…but with so much information accessible about every person of any age, it almost feels like you have to be proactive about your external image so you’re not fighting fires later. Apparently, this isn’t one of those rites of passage that won’t start until someone turns 18.

Keeping things straight in the 21st century

One of the great parts of the Internet is the ability to find all kinds of useful tools. What’s even better is when these tools are cheap (sometimes free) and web-based, because then you have the ability to access them no matter where you are. Whether you’re running a small team, working on a project in an online or virtual capacity, or simply cannot keep lists in your mind long enough, there are hundreds of tools out there to keep you organized and accomplishing your tasks. Here are some favorites:

RememberTheMilk.com

Hailed by PC World magazine as a reinvention of the classic to-do list, RememberTheMilk is quite a robust little application. Beyond the basic ability to create task lists with due dates, you can share your lists with others (to the horror of husbands that have a honey-do list), set up reminders via all major chatting platforms and calendar applications, and even plot your to-do locations on a map to help you plan your route better.

This is a very timely tool with the holidays coming up as well. Schedule out your dinner parties, create holiday card lists, and…remember the milk.

JoesGoals.com

For those tasks that are longer-term goals and tend to be repetitive, JoesGoals can be a nifty resource. You set up your goals and monitor your progress, with the added benefit of putting in vices or things that thwart you from you task. It helps you to visualize those small things that never seem to get done or often fall through the cracks so you can kick the bad habits.

WorldofInspiration.com

Sometimes what you need is a literary kick in the rear. WorldofInspiration is a good place to pick the brains of the famous (and not so famous) for some words of wisdom. The beautifully clean design will instill a zen-like sense of focus, and provide words worth chewing on all day. You can even subscribe to receive emails with quotes for when you’re too busy to even take personal inspiration time!

BaseCamp

If it feels like projects and to-dos are circling your team like a tornado, give BaseCamp a try. It easily helps you create projects, keep related file stored, have team chats, assign to-dos, and set milestones with email reminders. It’s your one-stop for effective collaboration and project communication, and you don’t need a PhD in software to figure it out, as seems to be the case with other applications. You can check out the company that develops it, 37signals, for additional easy-to-use tools that can seriously help out a team that’s hurtin’ for help.

The Hubbub with Hulu

It’s probably no secret that YouTube is the 800lb. gorilla that no one can seem to come close to topping. When Google finally decides to purchase you rather than compete, you know you’ve made it. Since Google acquired YouTube, the brand has remained largely unchanged and as popular as ever. It seemed like that was pretty much the state of things, and it was accepted that competition was fairly futile.

Unless you’re NBC and Fox and you think you might have the money between the two of you to raise the stakes. In that case, you join forces and start creating Hulu.com.

Copyright issues have plagued YouTube, which is a pretty open atmosphere and so many submissions policing them for restricted content can be a challenge. With Hulu, it’s consisting of studios granting access to the TV properties they already own, from famous titles to really obscure ones plus some shorter snippets from things like famous Saturday Night Live skits.

The beta version of the site was launched in October, and you can (and still) only access it by applying for an invitation. A writer over at Adweek has gotten in, and has a nice run-down (update: link is now obsolete)  of what it’s like behind the Hulu.com curtain.

The online video revolution is still being pioneered in many ways. While some major players have been set up, it’s anyone’s guess as to the staying power of YouTube as #1, because there’s a serious challenge in finding ways to make money from things that are, well, free. The addition of something like Hulu.com shows another way that traditional media is venturing out into what is likely very scary territory for them in order to stay relevant in a rapidly changing landscape.

Get LinkedIn, Squidoo’d, Facebooked and MySpace’d!

It’s hard to read anything about online marketing these days and not hear about “social marketing.” It takes the form of various other names, like “social networking” and “viral marketing.” As if that doesn’t sound ambiguous enough, there are so many sites that are used to do this, it can be mind-boggling. They have names like MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Squidoo. There are many others, but these are the hottest ones at the moment.

All of them do things just a little differently, and they most certainly serve different purposes for different demographics. If your head is spinning, let’s break them down into bite-sized pieces.

LinkedIn

This is my personal favorite, because it’s geared towards business professionals networking with one another. It builds on the “six degrees of separation” kind of thinking, in that as large as the world is, odds are good that you know someone who knows someone who….you get the idea. It’s a robust community with tons of expertise to be shared, and is a great way to find services you might need, or ask advice about an a business arena that may be unfamiliar to you. Another great feature is the ability to get recommended by people or recommend others, which provides a testimonial blurb that that will be displayed on your LinkedIn profile.

Squidoo

Squidoo is definitely different than the other sites I’ll cover shortly. Squidoo basically lets you build a one page “expert opinion” on something (called a “lens”) and others have the ability to comment. It allows you to link to external sources (so a lot of companies might build one to help get some external links back to their site) and position yourself as a resident expert. You can get rated via a star system, and it’s fun to spend some time on, as it highlights that old adage that “no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” (Seth Godin, a favorite author of mine, is behind this one.)

Facebook and MySpace

There are differences between these two sites, but they’re more alike than not for the purposes of this discussion. As a user, you get a page that you can pretty much do whatever you want with in order to express yourself. You can upload videos, design it, keep a blog, and all of those things, but it capitalizes heavily on the social networking aspect with the Friends list. On MySpace you invite people to connect with you, and on Facebook they call it “poking.” Unlike the idea of connecting to others such as you do with LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace are mainly used for socialization purposes. While companies have certainly created their own pages on these sites, the jury’s still out on how effective it really is for them to do so. Facebook is known to be targeting LinkedIn’s model and customers moving forward.

Hopefully this gives a good foundation for understanding the social networking buzz. If you’re afraid you’ve missed the boat on this phenomenon, you haven’t. The best advice is to pick one of these sites and spend some time on it. Learn how it works, build up a small following, and then maybe start on another one. You’ll be surprised at how many familiar faces you’ll see from site to site!

And don’t forget to poke me when you do!

RIP: Business 2.0

Business 2.0 sent its final issue out this week. I’m bummed. This was a great magazine for peeking into the crystal ball of technology and innovations. Just not enough readership (no: rumor has it they have more than ever), maybe not enough advertisers. Or at least the sales guy was not pushing it as much as their sister mag, Time.

Either way, it’s a bummer. Much like I was bummed when the Red Herring ceased. Only the get a free subscription to Business 2.0. No luck this time. My balance of issues will be filled by Fortune magazine.

Maybe it’s time to relook at Wired. It’s been awhile, but I need to read paper every now and then.