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Using Twitter for a Competitive Advantage

Dear Reader,

Over at the Small Business Idea Forum, Staci asked about twitter and I replied. This, along with a couple of other things today are pointing me towards a blog post and possible a podcast this weekend.

Twitter has gone from WTH to ZOMG to “Hey, I can use this for my benefit!” I like any tool that hits that last stage.

Three things have come together today to prompt me to write this post.

First, my friend and editor Elizabeth Naramore tweeted today:

someone explain to me the reasoning behind a company “following me” on twitter; are they just hoping I follow them too?

She’s not the first person that has noticed this trend, just the latest. The trend of following everyone on twitter because a lot of people automatically follow you back is growing. The obvious benefit is if you follow 10,000 people on twitter and 10% follow you back because they don’t know any better, when you post, 1,000 people see your post. So as a side note to this blog let me jsut advise any twitter user out there, don’t auto-follow. When you get a twitter “follow” notice, check out who it is. If it’s not someone you know then it’s twitter spam. Don’t bother to follow them. (You don’t have to block them though, let them artificially inflate your follower number.)

Then I saw this post from Michal Arrington. (Whom I do not follow because I do not know and usually don’t care to hear what he has to say outside of techcrunch.com.) It was an A-Ha! moment for me. I do a lot of scanning with Google Alerts but his point is very important.

Twitter is the place where conversations are exploding well before they even make it to mainstream blogs.

It’s not enough these days to just monitor the web via Google alerts or some paid clipping service. Blogs are a trailing indicator these days. To be on top of your brand you have got to take it to the next level. tweetscan.com lets you do just that.

Finally, a forum post over at the Small Business Idea Forum again mentioned twitter and my reply there got me thinking.

Twitter started as a way to connect friends but is fast becoming a powerful marketing and business intelligence tool. I cover the former briefly in my forum post and on Sixty Second Tech but it’s the latter that I really want to talk about.

tweetscan.com

tweetscan.com is just what you think it is, a search engine for twitter. Yes, Google indexes twitter but these days that just not fast enough. Thankfully the guys and gals behind tweetscan solve that problem for us. It looks like they database and index the public feed. I don’t know where they get their resources but I hope to god they stay alive because this is something that twitter really needs.

If you have looked at their page by now and can’t figure out how to use it, please turn in your Internet secret decoder ring and shut off your modem. If you did figure it out, bully for you, you are as smart as a fifth grader! A couple of notes. If you read their blog and wiki (these people are on the web 2.0 ball!) then you know that they support OR and “-” operators. This makes life ever so much more interesting. GO ahead, play with a few queries like cats OR dogs. Hopefully they will add AND and NOT in there soon.

So, you can scan for topics. That’s kind of cool but other than replacing google egosurfing with twitter egosurfing what’s the pint, right? Here’s the point. Search for your brand! In my case I have searches for “Cal Evans”, Zend and ZF. All fine and good, as Arrington points out, I can now see things before they happen as twitter is a leading indicator. But who wants to go visit their page every so often and execute a series of searches?

FEED ME!

Thankfully, the people behind tweetscan are fully Web 2.0 compliant and they provide me with a custom feed for each search I execute. This means I can plug the RSS feed of the above search for “Cal Evans”, into ANY feed reader and voila, instant ego surfing!

Now, I use Google Reader as my primary feed reader and it does a wonderful job. However, these feeds (I’ve got 8 now) are much more important to me than anything I have in Google Reader. I almost need them to be push. The next best thing to push is pull in a program I already use. I did NOT want to have to install yet another piece of software to make this whole thing work. (Que Attensa to enter stage right) I used to use this Outlook plugin back when I was at Jupiter Hosting. It’s a great way to add RSS feeds into Outlook. It’s made some progress since 2005 and now is very unobtrusive.

Wrap It Up

So, to summarize; tweetsearch.com + Attensa’s outlook plugin = quick and easy business intelligence. Don’t forget to add feeds for your major competitors brands as well!

Until next time,
(l)(k)(bunny)
=C=
So,

Join the Podcast Generation!

Dear Reader,

I was talking to a friend of mine recently and mentioned that I have a podcast (yes, I routinely try and convert my friends to podcast listeners.) His response to me was “Yes, I have an iPod but I’m just not a member of the podcast generation”. His problem is that he is suffering from information overload. Others that I have talked to complain that they just don’t know where to start. No matter what your excuse, if you are not listening to podcasts on a regular basis then you are missing out on a lot (I mean a LOT) of good information, tips and entertainment that is there for the taking.

So, I’m going to make it my mission to try and convert people to be podcast listeners. I hope, along the way, I’ll pick up a few listeners to my podcasts but honestly, a rising tide floats all boats. So, if you don’t currently listen to podcasts on a regular basis, keep reading. If you are already a member of the podcast generation(you subscribe to at least one podcast), I want you to send the URL to this article to at least 5 friends that don’t. If you’ve got a twitter account, tweet it. Let’s see if we can’t increase the number of podcast listeners significantly in the next month.

Editors Note: If you are in a hurry, just skim the bullet points and visit the URLs.

Cal’s 4 Step Program to joining the Podcast Generation:

1: Figure out how you are going to listen.
If you don’t have an mp3 player, you are not out in the cold, it means you will most likely have to listen to them on your computer. I have 2 iPods myself and a total of 8 in the family and I still listen to about 25% of my podcasts on my computer. So don’t fret if you don’t have an mp3 player.

Most podcast sites these days have an embedded flash player. If you are going to be listening via your computer, take advantage of these. The only downside here is that you have to go check each podcasts site on a regular basis. The embedded players are great for testing out a podcast to see if you want to subscribe though.

If you don’t want to have to check each site regularly, You will however, want a “Podcatcher”. A podcatcher is a program similar to an RSS feed reader that gathers all the feeds from all the podcasts you want to subscribe to and puts them in one place. Your podcatcher checks each feed on a regular basis to make sure that when you are ready to listen, you have the content downloaded and ready to go.

By far, the most popular podcatcher on earth is iTunes. iTunes is free from apple and comes with every iPod. It works on Windows and on OSX. You don’t have to have an iPod to use iTunes but if you have one it makes life so easy.

There are a lot of other podcatchers and originally I was going to list all I could find. However, in researching the list I found that someone else has already done the research. If you don’t want to use iTunes, visit PodCatcherMatrix.org and find the podcatcher that is right for you.

I know that Microsoft packages software with the Zune but I do not yet have one so I can’t comment on it. If you have a Zune and the software, please leave a comment telling us what you like/don’t like about it.

2: Figure out what you are going to listen to.
This may sound simplistic but you really don’t want to listen to everything out there. (Actually, you probably couldn’t but that’s beside the point) To get started, pick one topic that you like and find a single podcast you like on that topic. This could be more difficult than you think. First, there are several good podcast directories out there. If you use iTunes, by far the most popular is the iTunes store. It is, however, not the only source.

Find one show that you like and subscribe. Then as you have time, find a second, a third, etc. Since most shows release every week or every other week, if you are using podcasts to fill time on your commute, you will eventually find how many you need to fill the void. Resist the urge to type in a keyword into iTunes and then subscribe to every one of them. Podcasts vary in quality of content an production values. Not all the high quality content podcasts have high production values and that’s ok. However, you will want to be selective in who you subscribe to. Also, don’t be afraid to drop a podcast that is not filling a need.Speaking as a podcaster I want “listeners” not “subscribers”.

3: For the first month, commit time each week to look for new podcasts
If you do this for a month, it will become as natural as checking your email. Just check the directories for new podcasts that match your keywords. If there is a new one and the description looks interesting, either subscribe to it in your podcatcher or give it a listen on-line if you’ve got the time.

4: Participate
This is where most of the podcast generation fail. Podcasters want feedback, we want lots of it. So if you like a podcast, take the time to tell the podcaster you do.

  • If they have a blog, comment.
  • If they are listed in iTunes, rate them.
  • If they are on one of the directories, rate them.
  • If they have a forum, post.

Participation is one of the things that sets podcasting apart from traditional “broadcast” media and it’s an important part of being part of the podcast generation. While most podcasts resemble radio shows in that the host talks to you, almost all podcasts have some way for you to communicate back to the host and we really want to hear from you. Regardless of the topic, most podcsts are one side of a conversation, you are the other half. Make sure you hold up your end of the conversation.

Many podcasts these days have “listener call-in lines” They actively encourage you to call in and pe a part of the conversation. You don’t have to have any special equipment or even a “radio voice” to have your voice heard. If your favorite podcast has a listener call-in line, put it on your speed dial and when listening, pause the podcast and call in. Let the host know if you agree, disagree, or just have more information.

Podcasts I listen To

That’s my four points. Now, I’m going to share with you the podcasts I listen to on a regular basis. Not because I have some deep insight as to what you should be listening to but mainly as a small way of saying thank you to the people that produce these shows. Consider my listing them here as an endorsement, if they fall in your area of interest, I would highly recommend them to you. (These are in alphabetical order, not in any order of preference.)

So, there you have it, a primer on joining the podcast nation. As I told my friend, our dues are cheap and our benefits are plentiful. No more excuses, get out there and participate!

Until next time,
(l)(k)(bunny)
=C=

Telecommuting’s Time has Come!

Dear Reader,

[DISCLAIMER: I work at one of the greatest companies in the tech industry. They let me telecommute. They get it…most of the time. They rock.]

The Problem

Because I telecommute and of late travel a lot, I don’t often fill up my car with gas. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I fill my little Miata up with gas once a month. SO you can imagine my surprise when I went to the pumps recently and discovered how much gas costs these day! (I know, old news) This got me to thinking. Usually, companies hand out telecommuting privileges to employees as a perk. “You can work from home one day a week.”, crap like that. These days though, with gas prices high, pollution worries (no I’m not a global warming alarmist but I think we should take care of the Earth when we can) and the price that people are beginning to put on their time, I think companies should have to justify to the employee when they want them to work from the office instead of home.

The value of time

1 hour a day spent sitting alone, behind the wheel of a car, even listing to great podcasts, is still 1 hour a day of your life wasted. All because your employer either doesn’t trust you to do your work or can’t figure out how to do his work without you standing next to him. Quality of life is important to me and I’m sure it’s important to a lot of you. I know many people who would rather cut out their commute and spend that time with their family or just sleeping later.

The Solution

The solution I’m proposing should be obvious by now. The technology exists to allow almost all office workers to work remotely. Before they were purchased by Sun, MySQL had 70% of it’s workforce distributed around the world, working at their own locations. Telecommuting is no longer a perk to be negotiated for; it should be common sense. It’s not a right but it is a clue for smart workers looking to switch jobs. Companies that do not immediately tout their telecommute policy are companies mired in the 70’s and 80’s.

I’ve said it before and I know I will say it again, if a manager doesn’t feel that they can get their job done with a distributed team, that is a failing of the manager. If you are in charge of a manager who won’t let employees telecommute because they feel they will lose control, fire the manager, get someone in who can actually do the job.

Conversely, if you have employees that you can’t trust to telecommute, fire them now. If you can’t trust them to work on their own then having them in a cube near you won’t solve the problem.

All of this was sparked because someone I know was pinged today about a job he wanted but had been previously turned down for. Now that he’s telecommuting, he’s really torn because while he still wants the job, he does not want to give up an hour a day of his time just to have it. So I’m calling on all employers. If you manage office bound staff, take some serious time and consider, do you really need your employees in the office each and every day? Can they do their jobs using the technologies available without having to be in the office? Will it improve morale if you offer them a perk that costs you nothing and gives them freedom? Take a step in the right direction, setup a telecommuting plan and let people discover for themselves if they can do the job.

Until next time,
(l)(k)(bunny)
=C=

iTunes vs. Xbox vs. Tivo for Movie Rentals

Dear Reader,

I use iTunes every now and then to rent a movie for my iTouch; usually when I’m traveling. Last night I rented a movie via my XBox 360 from Microsoft and previously, I’ve rented movies from Amazon’s Unbox from my Tivo. Here is a chart laying out the basics of each of the three options. Below it I’ll discuss my thoughts on them.

  XBox 360 iTunes Tivo
Minimum
Hardware Price
$349 $229 $99
HD Yes * Yes No
Monthly Fee $5 $0 $12.95
Movie Price 480 Points (aprox $6.95) $.99 – $3.99 $1.99 – $3.99
Terms Expires 15 days (24 hrs after you click play) Expires 30 days (24 hrs after you click play) Expires 30 days (24 hrs after you click play)
Mobile Device None iPod family Windows Based Laptop

Ok, first my thoughts on each service:

XBox 3060

I love my XBox for gaming; I even use it for watching DVDs. However, I don’t see myself renting many movies from them. First, they are the most expensive option, per-movie for new releases. I bought 500 “points” from them for $6.95 and “3:10 to Yuma” was 480. Maybe it’s cheaper if I buy more points at a time but honestly, I hate the whole points system. Why should I buy up a bunch of points and let MS hold onto my money? Microsoft needs to grow up and let adults use currency for our transactions, this isn’t NeoPets. Finally, while rumors abound of being able to download movies to a portable player (Zune, which I don’t have and probably won’t be getting any time soon), Microsoft doesn’t yet have a strategy in place. You watch it on your XBox…period. Honestly, that’s probably fine for a lot of people, but not for me.

XBox 360 Summary

Reduce the price of movies, let me rent them using hard currency instead of your company scrip, and let me move them to my portable device.

iTunes

I am not an Apple fanboi. There are parts of Apple (like their horrid customer service after the sale) that I deplore and makes me wary of purchasing from them. However, I do believe they have got it right this time around. The Apple TV can be added to any entertainment syste for $329. There are no monthly fees for usage and you can download damn near anything to it. I don’t yet have one but I’m a big enough iTunes fan to see the potential here. I have rented movies from iTunes for my iTouch and can say that the experience is painless. I’ve probably bought 5 movies from them and rented 1. It’s always very easy and the price for rentals isn’t bad. The only negative I have is in the licensing but that really applies to everyone so I’ll save it for a special section below.

ITunes Summary

It’s the winner, hands down. They have cheap hardware, no monthly fees, reasonable prices and a portable device strategy. Really the only downside is the stupid licensing…which I discuss later.

Tivo/Unbox

I’ve had a Tivo since they first came out. I currently have 2 and love moving things between them. When Tivo announced their deal with Amazon unbox, I was excited. I’ve now rented 2 movies from them and overall, I am happy with the experience. The downside is unless you catch them on a special deal, you have to pay a monthly fee for your Tivo service. I waited till they put them on special then bought my HD with Lifetime service so I don’t have a monthly fee. (Given my history with Tivo devices, I do actually save money buying the lifetime.) I have 2 problems with Tivo/Unbox though.

  1. I like the ability to move things to my iTouch. Tivo/Unbox won’t let you do that.
  2. You currently can’t rent HD movies. That’s a huge negative in my book.

You can rent movies and download them to your laptop via Amazon Unbox. This may give some small comfort to travelers. I’ve not tested this though so I don’t know if you can watch the content untethered from the Net. (i.e. in an airplane)

Tivo/Unbox Summary

It’s not a reason to buy a Tivo but if you already have one and can live without HD, it’s a good system.

Wishlist

Ok, here are the things that none of them get right and I wish they would.

NetFlix/Microsoft

Rumor has it that Microsoft and NetFlix may be working on a deal. I don’t see why Microsoft would be interested in this deal as it would kill their rental revenue but if they did, and I could pay my monthly NetFlix fee and have my queue downloaded straight to my XBox, that would rock. They would have to work out the licensing issues as right now I can watch a movie an unlimited number of times and that’s an important feature. This union, if it happened in the right way, may make my XBox the most important piece of equipment in my entertainment system.

Microsoft/iTunes

I’m dreaming here but the best of all worlds would be for Microsoft to cut a deal with Apple and let me use iTunes on my XBox like I can on my PC. This would totally rock because I get Apple’s pricing, downloads to my iTouch AND my XBox too. There are just too many reasons why this won’t happen (the main one is you can’t fit Jobs’ and Gates’ ego in the same room.) but it would be awesome if it did.

Better Licensing Terms

Now that I can rent movies from iTunes, I won’t be buying anymore. Mainly because I can only play them on one of 5 iTunes devices listed on my account. The reason I LIKE DVDs is I can give it to my son, he can take it upstairs and watch it, I can take it over to the neighbors and we can watch it with friends, heck, I can even use Handbreak, rip it and stuff it on my iTouch. This “You have x days to watch it and it expires 24 hours after you press play” is bad. Get rid of it now and I’m much more interested in rentals and downloads.

Summary

Downloads and rentals will kill physical media in the next 2-3 years. Most of that is thanks to Apple and Amazon. Overall, I think this is a good thing. However, I’m one of those weird people who can live without the content produced by the major television and movie studios. There has not been a movie produced in the last ten years that was “must see” for me. So if the hardware/software industry is going to keep treating me like a criminal (with abominations like Vista) and the studios are going to keep trying harder and harder to make me pay for their content each and every time I watch it or for each devices I want to watch it on, I’ll just watch less and less of it. There’s enough good stuff being produced out there independently to keep me entertained. However, if you let me watch my content where ever and whenever I want, I’ll keep paying you.

Until next time,
(l)(k)(bunny)
=C=

Sixty Second Tech, the Tech Podcast for Non-Tech People.

Dear Reader,

I have launched a new project called Sixty Second Tech.

Sixty Second Tech is the tech podcast for non tech people. Each weekly episode discusses a new technology, idea, or concept for one minute.

In the first few episodes we cover topics like:

  • How to Find a Programmer
  • Websites on the Cheap
  • OpenID

…and of course, the episode that C.C. Chapman featured on his podcast, “Managing the Gray”, “Go Relevant or Go Home!“; the only SEO secret any web site owner needs to know.

I’ve been working with technology for 25 years now. (yes, I actually owned a VIC-20!) For most of those 25 years, I’ve been explaining technology, demystifying buzzwords, and correcting misconceptions to anyone who will listen. Sixty Second Tech came about because repeating the same explanation of a concept like OpenID individually to 50 different people just got old. (For my technical friends, the model just didn’t scale.)

Sixty Second Tech is the cure for BSS

Sixty Second Tech is the only known cure for “Blank Stare Syndrome” (BSS). BSS happens when one of your technical friends starts talking to you and unconsciously slips into geek speak. They don’t realize they’ve triggered BSS until long after your eyes glaze over. BSS is an embarrassing condition but a curable one, just spend one minute a week listening to Sixty Second Tech.

Of course no one is going to become an expert on a subject in sixty seconds. Each episode of Sixty Second Tech will however, spark your imagination and give you enough information so that you can decide if the concept is important to you.

Subscribe Today

It will soon be on iTunes but for now, you can subscribe to Sixty Second Tech via the Sixty Second Tech RSS feed,

Spread the news

I’m asking my (4) regular readers to help me spread the word.

  • Blog about Sixty Second Tech
  • Link to Sixty Second Tech homepage
  • tweet it
  • become a fan on facebook and invite others to do so as well
  • Stumble it
  • When you see someone suffering from BSS, send them to Sixty Second Tech for the cure.

Thanks!

Until next time,
(l)(k)(bunny)
=C=