Monday, October 29, 2007

Update to the update

Umm, so I don’t think I was very clear last week. The feed updates are for the “shared items” feed, not for the blog feed itself. In other words: if you weren’t subscribed to my “shared items” feed before, the post didn’t/doesn’t apply to you (and sorry for the rambling). If you were subscribed to the shared items feed, then you should update the URL you’re subscribed to. That’s all.

For those that don’t know, the shared items feed is a simple way for me to mark blog posts as interesting; when I read them in Google Reader, I click “share” and they’re immediately inserted into the shared items feed. If that sounds interesting to you, you can subscribe here.

Sorry for any confusion.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Administrivia - update my shared items feed

I’ve been using Google Reader’s shared items for a while now, and originally ran the resulting feed through FeedBurner. Truth be told, I don’t need the metrics (it’s mildly interesting that there are three dozen people subscribed to my shared items feed, I suppose). More importantly, some useful context with respect to the items is lost when the feed is run through FeedBurner. So… I’ve deleted the feed from FeedBurner, which should permanently redirect you to the original source feed, which is here. However, it appears that there may be some funkiness if you try to unsubscribe to the old feed after subscribing to the new. Please unsubscribe from the shared items feed and resubscribe to the original feed produced by Google Reader. If you’re not subscribed to the shared items feed at all, give it a try. There’s a whole lot more content in there than there is in this blog lately…

That is all.

Voce 5x5 interview

Meant to post this a couple weeks ago when it went up, but I’ve been on the road and didn’t get a chance to get to it.

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It was fun to sit down with my former law school classmate (and now social media guru) Andrea Weckerle, who’s now at Voce Communications. This interview was the inaugural episode of their video interview series at Voce Nation. Thanks, Andrea – it was fun to talk about FeedBurner and what’s going on at Google.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet (3rd ed.)

I don’t spend much time in the legal world these days, but I did spend time over the past year updating a book for the American Bar Association, the Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Now in its 3rd edition, it’s a book that I think will help law firms of all sizes prioritize where they want to spend their time (and money) online. We talk about blogs, podcasts, e-mail, website strategies, how to hire consultants, the ethics of online advertising, and often try and identify options for when you’re on a tight budget or when you’re at a big firm looking for the creme de la creme. This isn’t a theory book at all: we deliberately focused on practical tips that you can implement as soon as you’ve read them.

My co-authors are a terrific bunch – Greg’s been doing this longer than anyone (his law firm website is well into its second decade, and he wrote the original edition of this book), and Deb is proving to be one of the savviest marketers around, with a terrific ability to distill key learnings from hundreds of websites to identify what actually works. Collaborating with them is a joy.

Thanks to Ernie Svenson, Dennis Kennedy and Elizabeth Lampert for providing us with helpful feedback on the manuscript, and a huge thank you to ABA employees Bev Loder (actually, former employee, but Bev deserves the lion’s share of the credit for shepherding this book from day 1 and hounding us to get it done) and Tim Johnson (who made sure the finished product was one we’d all be proud of).

I’ve heard that some reviews are coming out shortly; I’ll point to them when they’re up.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Back from Yosemite

Just got back from a wonderful three day vacation at Yosemite National Park. This is my fourth time to Yosemite – and my first in the fall. Wow… the park is a remarkably different place in the fall. The lack of crowds was certainly nice, but it was like exploring an entirely new park.

Lots of pictures to upload, tag, etc. But check out this sunset over the Yosemite Valley:

The fog was setting in, so the sun actually set below the fog and above the mountains. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen, and the effect – pink, orange, yellow, white… it was just breathtaking.

Oh, and the reason for the vacation? 10 years married to my wonderful wife.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Peggy Noonan on Barack

What a difference a few years makes. In 2005, after he’d been elected to the Senate, Barack Obama wrote a small piece in Time magazine about his political hero, Abraham Lincoln. WSJ columnist (and presidential speechwriter) Peggy Noonan was aghast. “There is nothing wrong with Barack Obama’s résumé, but it is a log-cabin-free zone. So far it also is a greatness-free zone. If he keeps talking about himself like this it always will be. Obama said he keeps a photographic portrait of Lincoln on the wall of his office, and that ‘it asks me questions.’ I’m sure it does. I’m sure it says, ‘Barack, why are you such an egomaniac?’” Back in December, Peggy Noonan appeared mildly skeptical that Barack was legit, and wondered aloud whether he wasn’t really just an ego-centric, selfish, standard pol.

Which is what makes today’s column all the more interesting. Perhaps what she saw as selfish is really more about confidence, intelligence, and commitment: “You get the impression Mr. Obama trusts himself to think, as if something good might happen if he does. What a concept. Anyway, I’ve started to lean forward a little when he talks.”

I’m glad. Here’s hoping the Democrats do the same.

Speaking of trusting himself, let’s not forget that Barack trusted his own instincts five years ago on a topic that put him in a small minority of the country. We now know he was right, and the words from his speech given five years ago today are painful to hear. What would our country be had we had someone like Barack in office in 2002? Let’s find out by putting him there in 2009.

[youtube AUV69LZbCNQ]
(Click through if you’re not seeing the video; it’s worth it.)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Feeds in search results?

A good discussion is going on at Joost de Valk’s blog about situations in which feeds do/don’t show up in search results. (Short answer: they shouldn’t.) I provide some clarifications about what we do at Google insofar as feeds and search behaviors are concerned, and answer a few questions that (hopefully) clears up some misconceptions about FeedBurner, Google and feeds in general. Worth a look if you’re into that sort of thing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

eBay and Skype not going so well

John Paczkowski at AllThingsD writes that the honeymoon is most definitely over in the eBay/Skype marriage:

This morning the Internet auction giant said it was taking a $1.43 billion charge for its acquisition of the Internet telephone provider and that Niklas Zennström, a co-founder of Skype, was stepping down as chief executive of the division. The charge announced today reflects the “updated long-term financial outlook for Skype,” eBay said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

When I wrote about this at the time of the acquisition, we were all trying to figure out why eBay bought Skype. The canned response from eBay at the time didn’t make much sense, and I thought I had the right answer: eBay was angling to be the virtual Kinko’s. Think about it: FedEx bought Kinko’s in part to become the brick-and-mortar operation for small companies and sole practitioners of all stripes who didn’t have shipping or communications departments. You could send and receive faxes, ship boxes, use their computer applications to lay out publications, print up signage, even use their a/v equipment to do videoconferences. I mentioned at the time that eBay was already offering healthcare for those high-volume ‘power sellers’, PayPal had added transaction management, its integration with the USPS and UPS made logistics increasingly seamless – and its conferences of power users were becoming industry events unto themselves. For the increasing numbers of individuals who were turning to eBay to build a business – of acquiring and selling goods, with eBay as their storefront – I thought (but clearly was not thinking the way that eBay management was) that eBay’s move was downright elegant: add IM, phone (inbound and outbound) and voicemail to the virtual storefront. Seemed like a good idea at the time – and, come to think of it, it still seems like a good idea to me.

Guess I’d like to know what % of transactions are handled by ‘power sellers’ (I’d guess the number is approaching 75% if not higher). Of those, I’d want to know how many are individuals (and not just the auction group within a more traditional retailer/seller)… if that number is sizable (my hunch tells me it is), then adding telecom to its suite of services just fits.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Whatever… sounds like pressure is building for eBay to sell the company. That could get interesting, no?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Long overdue update on my Nikon D80

You may recall that I received a loaner Nikon D80 from Nikon earlier this year, part of their “Picture This” campaign. Absolutely no conditions were placed on the loan – it was an opportunity to put a sophisticated camera in the hands of a decidedly unsophisticated photographer. And I’ve pretty well lived up to that lack of structure – what with an acquisition, a sudden move, and untold upheaval, I’ve been a pretty poor test case. That said, some of my pictures from the past four or five months are on Flickr, and I uploaded a bunch last week. I’m excited about next week, when Robin and I (and the kids) will head to Yosemite for a short vacation to celebrate our 10th anniversary. I’ll have a ton of good pictures to share from that trip…

Before getting into my thoughts on the camera so far, one thing that is unique for me that I think added immeasurably to my early experience with the camera had nothing to do with the camera: the Flickr group that 25 of us joined to exchange ideas, answer questions, and showcase our favorite pictures so far. More than any other aspect of this experiment, this was a revolutionary process for me: instead of experiencing the camera in a vacuum, I had access to a similarly situated group of camera users (mostly enthusiasts, but all of different abilities) who had an interest in helping each other out.

The only other time I experienced anything remotely like this was a (short-lived? I don’t know) experiment Gateway tried 15 years ago with their phone support line. Callers were put into a party-line phone queue, so instead of listening to hold music, as many as 5 of us would be connected to a tech at once. The result wasn’t the cacophony you’d expect, it instead led to a number of people connecting – and helping – independent of the tech. It was fascinating.

Back to the Nikon. Whether or not it was Nikon’s goal (or their PR firm, MWW group, who’s organizing this project), it seems to me that this could be a huge step forward in creating and cultivating passionate users. Think of it as communities developing around the products you love – you get to meet others who can help, suggest hacks, or offer critiques/praise on techniques as you ramp up. In the first month or two, I didn’t feel like I was playing with a camera so much as I was joining a community: and that was incredible. (Then I went radio silent, and am only just now emerging… sorry guys!) I have no idea if Nikon plans to expand this – the Flickr group was, I believe, started independent of Nikon or MWW and may have been a happy accident – but if they’re looking for feedback as a result of this experiment, let me be clear: this had a huge, positive impact on my ability to get value from the camera. More like this, please.

Back to the camera. As you may remember, I received a D50 just months prior to this as a Christmas present – so I was already familiar with the Nikon DSLR in general. Moving to the D80 was easy: much like buying an Acura after owning a Honda, it felt familiar while also being obviously “upgraded”. The first thing I noticed was the lens: the 18-135mm lens really made a difference: In the months I’ve owned the camera, I’ve never once felt the need to use the 55-200 I had for the D50. 135mm is plenty for most zoom situations, and the quality of the optics, not to mention the convenience of not having to change lenses, made it an easy choice to leave the lens in the bag.

The camera feels wonderful in your hands – if you’re looking for a point-and-shoot this isn’t your gig – and the start-up time and focus are nearly instantaneous. As another project participant noted over the summer, it’s impossible to take a bad picture. But as you get more advanced in learning the ins and outs of the camera, it’s also possible to take some really remarkable shots.

I’ve kept a set at Flickr of my favorites, and all of the recent additions are taken with the D80. In particular, here are some of the pictures from our recent trip to Mt. Shasta that I consider to be above-average, thanks in large part to the camera and its capabilities:

At Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Mt. Shasta

Sunset, driving away from Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park

There are others in the Favorites set, feel free to poke around there if you’re curious.

Is the camera worth the price? I can clearly see the advantages of this camera over my D50 – the enhanced image finder with 11 auto-focus zones (versus the 5 in the D50), the higher resolution (10.2 megapixels vs. 6.1) and the better lens all result in superior photos. It’s not cheap – the camera today would cost you about $1100 – but if I were in the market for a superior camera without paying the exorbitant prices for a true “pro”-level camera, this would be what I’d buy. I’m probably a year or more away from outgrowing my D50, and the D80 would give me more room to grow.

I’m re-reading the Learning Digital Photography book before heading to Yosemite, and will post those pictures when we’ve returned. I’ll update the site with additional observations about the camera once I’ve done that.

Here's to the crazy ones

I don’t have an iPhone – I must be getting older (come to think of it, I do turn 36 later this month which is starting to sound decidedly un-young), but it just doesn’t hold much fascination for me. Sure it’s an elegant piece of equipment, but I just need my preferred phone/device to make calls and make email and mobile browsing manageable. The iPhone is a decent phone (er, well, for some but not others) and its interface is nice, but do I need to spend $599 $399 for it when my Blackberry does just fine? Just never had a burning need to go and get one.

Nevertheless, I am amazed by the turn of events over the last week as Apple bricked a ton of phones, many belonging to their most passionate supporters. In response, someone created a beautifully apt parody of my favorite ad ever that really makes its point well:


(Click through to the site if you’re not seeing this in your reader – it’s worth a minute of your time.)

Tracking Twitter

Twitter’s new track feature is really remarkable. Back in March, I  asked (on Twitter, naturally):

So… if I wanted to monitor the twitter public timeline for mentions of “FeedBurner”, how would I go about doing that?

I ended up answering my own question, and it spawned a nice comment from Chris Thilk who implemented my hack (using Google’s site search) to monitor his own topics of interest. A few months later, David Churbuck at Lenovo realized he needed to be monitoring Twitter as well, and went the same route as I had.

But now there’s a far more efficient, not to mention comprehensive, way to do this: implement the Twitter track feature, and you’re notified in real time as people make a comment about the term you’re interested in. I’m now tracking “FeedBurner” and so far am seeing far more twits than I’d seen using my Google search hack. Nice.

As Twitter makes replies more visible (in the past, replies were harder to see if you weren’t already following the person who replied to you), this ability to create a unified notification mechanism for terms of interest is really valuable. Anyone out there who wants to monitor how their company/brand/product is being discussed online can now be alerted instantly when a conversation happens; from there, a quick reply (replies on Twitter are designated with “@username”) can be used to participate in the conversation.