Ideas, Networks and Change

This is a great talk from one of my favorite big thinkers Anil Dash on how new tools can assist in the spread and scope of change. Highly recommended for people interested in learning how one person really can make an impact and help create change.

Anil Dash at Gel 2011 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

On the power of networks: Anil Dash tells a story of family, history, governments, and ideas – starting and ending with three Malcolm’s.

Time and Tool Tip

Do you like to read? Are you frustrated with the refresh button on your browser? Have you ever visited a great site once and then never been able to remember to visit it again?

Have no fear, technology is here! If you have a Google account, you’re less than 5 minutes away from never missing something important on the internet again:

Once you’re set up, let me know if you’re going to offer a shared feed, I’d love to follow you.

Easily Collaborate

I’m working on a new project that involves collaboration, so today’s roundup is heavy on aspects of that theme:

  • Google Moderator: Google Moderator allows you to create a series about anything that you are interested in discussing and open it up for people to submit questions, ideas, or suggestions.
  • WordPress Q & A: Stack Overflow creates a WordPress Q & A site. If you’re already at home on this might be duplicate content, but I can see this becoming useful for esoteric issues.
  • Long form video (lectures, conference programs) finally find a home online.
  • Dropbox: Hands down one of the best online file sharing applications I’ve used, Dropbox allows you to create shared folders accessible from any computer system.

Bonus points if you can pinpoint the collaboration area. Don’t worry, I won’t use a “this for that” analogy.

Shiny New Things –

Some new tools I’ve come across lately:

  • Viral Heat: Find out what is popular on the web. Offers embeddable graphs, wide range of existing terms already being tracked. Great for monitoring social media mentions.
  • OpenDNS: Free internet content filtering and phishing protection.
  • Quora: Curated Question and Answers site. Better than average quality, but bound to get hammered by Facebook Questions feature.
  • Sprouter: Get help with your start-up in 140 characters or less.

Links for 7-22-2010

Interesting reads from around the web:

  • 22 Statistics That Prove The Middle Class Is Being Systematically Wiped Out Of Existence In America: There are some scary statistics in this article. Without a healthy, confident middle class, the market is not going to tick upwards. The two most critical to me are: 1. In 1950, the ratio of the average executive’s paycheck to the average worker’s paycheck was about 30 to 1. Since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 to 500 to one. 2. 66% of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.
  • Why QR Codes Are Poised to Hit the Mainstream: Jennifer Van Grove @mashable also thinks QR codes are about to become hot. She mentions new to me StickyBits and SCVNGR as well as some other good reasons you’re going to keep seeing squares. Want more QR goodness? The sharp folks over at 2D Code mentioned a recent Verizon/ScanLife case study on DROID applications [pdf] that has good demographic information.
  • Chris Dixon is thinking about graphs, more specifically, the underpinnings of data structures (like Hunch’s suggestion engine that tells you what you might like) that connect people in the social graphs such as friendships (Facebook) or people and images (Flickr). He’s predicting the rise of several new types of graphs, such as financial, local and taste based graphs.
  • Paul Graham points out that what you think about in the shower can literally throw you off track, so make sure you are clear about what you’re sharing head space with.
  • Misfit Entrepreneurs: Vulnerable isn’t one of the adjectives I’d use to describe most of the entrepreneurs I know, but paired with misfit, it works!

Tools & Tracking

Neat tools and sites I’ve run across this past week:

MagCloud: Create and publish your own magazine. You can pull from public RSS feeds, news items or publish original content. Intriguing way to improve output options for HP’s print division, too!
Newsmap: All the news before it becomes fish-wrap. Interesting, visual way to display news headlines and stories. Great place to study headlines that get clicks if you’re looking to improve post titles or general headlines.
Spezify: Visual search engine that pulls videos, pictures and text to form a visual map of a keyword. Fun to play with, quickly overwhelming.
Trendistic: yes, you guessed it – visualization of hot twitter terms. Good potential to become a viral hit due to the ability to embed queries.
Optimizely: Easier A/B split testing. Currently in private beta, but anything that makes A/B split testing easier online is worth reviewing. Nice overview video.

Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments section and I’ll cover it in a future post.

Disclaimer: I have no financial or personal engagement with these companies.

How Copiers Work

I wish I’d had this simple explanation back when I was teaching new coworkers at Kinko’s:

Still useful even today. Color copiers use a similar process, but thankfully I won’t have to watch him cut one of those open!

via BoingBoing

image of an uprooted tree, mossy trunk and greenery surrounding it.

Are You Listening?

image of an uprooted tree, mossy trunk and greenery surrounding it.

image by spratmackrel via Flickr

Online, people are likely to talk about you, your business or your brand. If you aren’t listening, how do you know when or if to respond?

One easy way to monitor what people are talking about is to set up a listening station. I prefer to use Google’s Reader application for this (you’ll need to create or sign in using your Google account), but you can also use Outlook or Netvibes if you want a tool more like a dashboard.

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a web data format used to publish frequently updated works like headlines, blog posts and images (moving or still). Many websites offer data in this format – we’ll be using these feeds to build our listening tool so that Reader (or other) can track these mentions and bring them to our attention.

To discover your first feed, head over to Twitter search and type your organization’s name into the Search box. To the right of the results that pop up, you’ll see an orange icon with text that says Feed for this Query next to it:

Clicking on that link will bring up the option to add this feed. You can either add it to Reader or add it to your Google home page:

You can also copy this url: and manually add it to Reader using the Add a Subscription button in the upper left corner:

google reader Add a Subscription button feature.Just click the button to expand it and paste the feed URL directly into the box.

You may also want to listen for other terms people are using in their messages – for example, if you are a chef and want to hear about people looking for places to eat, you can go back to Twitter and search for the term restaurants or eat ? to find tweets containing “restaurant” or “eat” that ask a question.

You may get a lot of search results for that specific term, but you could also use advanced search to narrow your results by including near: or within: (or both), for example, restaurants or eat or good place near:”Richmond VA” within:15mi would pull up any recommended restaurants within 15 miles of Richmond VA. Surprisingly, there weren’t any when I looked, but that is the value of using a feed – when someone does ask for a recommendation, I can jump in and suggest something.

If I’m listening, that is šŸ˜‰

Once you’ve got Twitter configured, it’s off to Google Alerts to configure searches for words or phrases we want to listen for. Google Alerts is a free service that scans blogs, videos, discussions and news items for terms you’re interested in.

screenshot of the google alerts configuration toolHere I have asked for any type of alert (video, news, etc) as it happens if it contains the word Envelopes in it. You can preview the potential results:

screenshot of an Alert previewHere I see that the 4th result, PolyPak buying Trinity polymer envelope division is exactly what I’m looking for. I can then either add further terms to envelopes to narrow down the results, or know I am going to get a little static on my listening station. I prefer human editing, so I am not going to further refine this term.

That will bring me to a page to manage my alerts, where I can either grab the feed or add it to Reader directly:

You can use your name, your company name, terms you’re interested in tracking or even competitor’s names if you’d like. Using the term in quotation marks, such as “polymer envelopes” means any item containing both the words polymer and envelopes together will show up. If I wanted to know whenever was used in a discussion or blog post, I could set up an alert for it so that I’d know to pop over and keep up to date on who was talking about me or linking to a post.

Now that you’ve got these two items configured and the feeds added to Reader, you’re ready to go – just remember to check in at least once a day, or else you won’t really be listening!

an image of a QR code that resolves to

Quick Response Codes

an image of a QR code that resolves to

Quick Response Code

Quick Response codes (also called QR or 2D codes) are available in a variety of flavors but their mechanism and use cases are quite similar.

If you see one and have a web enabled mobile device, a photograph of the QR code with your camera will unlock the information encoded within.

That might include some of the following content types:

  • YouTube videos;
  • Mobile landing pages;
  • vCards;
  • Contact information; and
  • Coupons or special offers.

Increasingly, print creators are weaving QR codes into magazines, newspapers and direct mail pieces to build additional levels of engagement into their marketing materials.

Heidi Tolliver-Nigro at Digital Nirvana just posted that their review of QR case studies showed a 65-70% engagement with QR codes, even when a computer is physically present. That dovetailed nicely with Steve Rubel’s post yesterday on the rise of mobile computing devices, or, in his words, the end of the world as we know it.

One key takeaway from an excellent, must read piece:

Mobile devices, by their nature, force users to become more mission-oriented. As more internet consumption shifts to gadgets, it’s increasingly becoming an app world and we just live in it. Innovation, fun, simplicity and single-purpose utility will rule while grandiose design and complexity will fall by the wayside.

Increasing simplicity and fun in marketing sounds like a great outcome to me. How is it working in the real world? Mashable recently profiled how the Boston Globe is using SCVNGR to fuel themed promotions throughout the city of Boston.

With lots of great prizes to be had, is it selling more print editions of its paper? The jury is still out on that as the contest runs through September 3, but I suspect the outcome will be carefully watched by nervous publishers.

What is important to note, however, is that technology has advanced enough that these contests require significantly less human labor to create and monitor, and that testing new mechanisms of engagement only enhances the Boston Globe brand.

What could your business or organization gain from these new tools and technology? If you’ve got an innovative use, please share it!