Monday, June 29, 2009

Collaborative podcasting

Several years back, I had what seemed to me a good idea for a fun hack: fill my iPod. Here's how it works: you find an MP3 file, you tag it at with the tag "ricksipod". I used the feed from for that tag as the source feed for a new feed in FeedBurner, and applied FeedBurner's "SmartCast" service to turn that feed into a podcast feed (by linking to the mp3 files as enclosures).

Since I just bought an iPhone, I'm using iTunes more often now (my iPod sat, unused, in my briefcase for quite some time). Subscribe to the resulting feed in iTunes, and voila! Now any MP3 file you guys tag gets routed to my iPhone.

I'll report back with any particularly good finds you guys steer my way.

Update: In the comments, Eric points out that I'm standing on the shoulders of a few giants (namely, Eric, Fred and David Hornik) by re-purposing this. I'd completely forgotten the origin of this idea - and enjoyed re-reading the original post that planted the seed for me. I also like the more modern implementation - Sam's idea to redo this as a Twitter-powered podcast. Neat!

Friday, June 26, 2009

My commencement speech

Last month I was the commencement speaker at the University of Richmond School of Law's commencement ceremony. I graduated in the class of '96, and was honored to be invited back to address this year's graduating class. The transcript of the speech is here, and the video of the speech is now available on YouTube:

Thanks again to the graduates for the invitation - it was an honor to share the day with the very accomplished graduating class.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Social media presentation at SMPS event

Just finished presenting at the Society for Marketing Professional Services San Francisco event, where I shared the stage with Maura Ginty from Autodesk and Heather Durham of The Durham Group. We were there to talk about social media, and we covered a number of interesting avenues. The audience was marketers for architecture and engineering firms, and was a great opportunity to talk to a group for whom much of social media - blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. - is new territory.

These firms - much like the law firms I used to work with when I was at iManage and Interface Software - have to justify investing in new things with uncertain results to leadership who's often of a generation that didn't grow up with access to these tools. For many of them, "social networking" (as one of the organizers told me) still means cocktail parties and country club memberships.

I tried to stress more than anything else that the key to social media is keeping it personal and conversational. One of the lessons we learned on the Dean campaign was that supporters responded more strongly to the campaign when they got to know the people inside the campaign. Posts didn't go out on the campaign blog under Howard Dean's byline, they went out as written by Joe Trippi, Matt Gross, Nicco Mele, Jim Brayton, Zephyr Teachout, Garrett Graff, and so on. And as people got to know them, the connection to the campaign got stronger and more resilient. When Matt asked for tech help, or Zephyr called for volunteers, people responded.

This wasn't just a political thing - I watched it happen when we reached out on the publisher services team at FeedBurner, and it's equally true now with the Blogger team responding to users on Twitter. I stressed to the audience today that a blog can help individuals within a firm establish their own voice, and by creating that visibility directly benefit the firm in the process. It's a lesson that I think is too often overlooked, as people tend to emphasize the tools (do I set up a blog? get an account on Twitter? How do I use LinkedIn?) instead of thinking about the end result: do you want your firm to be more visible? More authoritative in industry press? Establish personal connections with business leaders, potential clients, business partners?

Blogs, networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, and yes, even Twitter - every one of them can play a role in accomplishing those objectives. But saying you have a blog, or getting a Twitter account - those aren't the objectives. They're the means to an end.

There was a good crowd there today - well over 100 attendees, which is apparently double the typical attendance for these events. I'd love to hear from anyone there - what questions didn't we get to? What else do you want to know? I'm guessing your colleagues have some ideas to share, or additional context to provide... have at it in the comments.

Thanks to the SMPS for being such great hosts, I had fun!
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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Who and where are you?

Here's a cool hack: earlier today I created a two column Google Spreadsheet, and built a form front-end. One column is for location, the other column is the caption for that location. Using the Google Maps gadget for Google Spreadsheets, I was able to create a real-time map of the data in the spreadsheet. The gadget contains a "publish gadget" option, which provides the javascript to display the embedded map. Finally, I grabbed the HTML from the embedded form and added it to an HTML/Javascript gadget on Blogger right below the map itself. The result is a real-time, updated map showing the locations of visitors to my blog:

Go ahead! Add your location and be like all the cool kids:

Your location:
(City, State/Country)
[Zip only doesn't work]

I'm going to work on tweaking the Maps gadget so that URLs in the caption balloons are clickable... but I'm interested to see where this heads. Thoughts?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Blogger templates - favorite sources?

A while back on Twitter, I invited @Blogger followers to share their favorite third party template designers, and promised a summary post on Blogger Buzz with pointers for our users. Responses were great - but unfortunately, they're lost (for the time being, at least) while Twitter works on repairing its archival search.

So I'm going to try again: and this time, I promise a more timely response. If you have a favorite source of Blogger templates, please share it in the comments. I'll summarize by tomorrow on Blogger Buzz (if I get enough comments), Wednesday at the latest.

Looking forward to seeing what you share!
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Free screening of The Response - tomorrow in Chicago

A few days after I gave my commencement address, I got an e-mail from Ari Lapidus, one of the subscribers to my blog. His cousin, Sig Libowitz (a lawyer at Venable) had recently completed a film called The Response that he thought I'd like. We've since corresponded, and I'm hoping to bring a screening of the film to Google at some point.

The film is a courtroom drama about the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals and is based on the actual transcripts from those tribunals. In addition to Sig playing one of the judges, it stars Peter Riegert (Boon!), Kate Mulgrew, Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi and several others.

Among other awards, The Response won the ABA's "Silver Gavel" for "drama and literature", and is being screened at the ABA tomorrow in Chicago. The screening is free, but you do need to register ahead of time - details are here. If you attend, let me know what you think - I'm looking forward to meeting Sig and his cousin Ari, and can't wait to see the film.

Blogger custom search gadget

Earlier today we announced a new gadget that Blogger users can install on their blog: with one click, they get a search gadget that will search not only their blog, but other sites they've linked to, their blogroll, and the web. (Here's TechCrunch's post about it.)

To call it "new" is actually a bit of a misnomer: it's been available on Blogger in Draft (akin to Gmail's Labs) for some time, but we polished it up a bit and let folks know about it this morning.

Louis Gray wrote up his reaction shortly after we published our post, concluding that Lijit should "look out!" I think Louis is as sharp as they come, but I'm not sure I agree. I've been fortunate to meet with the Lijit team on a number of occasions, and think that the opportunities they're addressing are a bit different than what we've done at Blogger with this launch. Indeed, in the comments on Louis's post, Micah Baldwin from Lijit does a good job pointing out that the custom search gadget and Lijit really aren't that competitive.

Where our custom search gadget enables visitors to find a specific piece of content from among the sites that the blogger has linked to, Lijit takes a somewhat more expansive view and uses search as a way to build a community around the blog in question. So there's search, but there's also stats, and there's an ad network built around the context Lijit has about how sites link to each other. It's that last piece - the network of associated sites - that I happen to know something about, as I helped build out a very similar idea at FeedBurner before we got acquired. I'm not just saying they're coincidentally similar - Lijit's networks were in many ways a continuation of what we started at FeedBurner. From the press release earlier this year about Lijit's networks:
Lijit Networks, Inc., a company that provides search-powered applications for individual online publishers and publisher networks, announced today the launch of Lijit Content Networks, which are sites built to support self-organized groups of bloggers that write about a common area of interest. Much the way FeedBurner, Inc.'s FeedBurner Networks once worked, Lijit's Content Networks aggregate their content via RSS feeds from many individual sites into a single website that captures the collective perspective of all sites in the network. [emphasis mine]
So... is there some overlap? Sure. But while I think our gadget provides a cool way of applying several Google products to solve a complex problem (notably our AJAX APIs and our Custom Search Engine), Lijit is different. I don't think it's likely that users would use both on their blog at the same time, but I think that's because users of one are likely looking for something different than users of the other.