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Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Vuvuzelas, Youtube, and the new PR

in: Communicate, Standing out

Public relations is a tricky game. For a long time, PR has been about shaping a message — getting the words just so, tugging on an audience’s heartstrings. But shaping a message is changing dramatically in today’s more connected, more transparent world, and I can think of no better demonstration of this than the Vuvuzela button in Youtube.

In the unlikely event that you haven’t yet heard of this nefarious noisemaker, here are the facts: it’s loud; it’s indigenous to African sporting events; and it’s droned so loudly at every World Cup match this year that programmers have built custom filters that remove its sound from games, and many fans have called for its abolishment.

So Google put a Vuvuzela button in Youtube.

Not, as you might expect, to filter it out. Instead, the button adds the unmistakeable droning to any video clip for which it’s enabled.

Changing Youtube isn’t something that’s done lightly. For one thing, every time Google changes the Youtube interface, millions of visitors’ browsers need to re-download its components, generating a flood of new traffic that would otherwise be cached in browsers if the interface hadn’t changed. That Flash plug-in is 132.61 KBytes, and Quantcast estimates Youtube receives around 100M unique visitors a month.

Bandwidth consumption aside, as every good web operator knows, changes are bad simply because they break things. There’s also testing to consider. Google probably has clever ways to minimize the impact of new components, but however you slice it, changes to a popular part of the UI cost the company money.

What’s more, this is a feature with no real utility. It’s an annoyance, a trick, a novelty. It doesn’t add anything to the viewing experience — in fact, it outright ruins it.

As a marketer, would you have allowed this?

Read more…

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

The seatback rule for business documents

in: Communicate, Funding, Standing out

Investors and partners have short attention spans. If you have something to communicate, Guy Kawasaki suggests you keep it to one idea and five sentences. I followed those suggestions when I asked him to write a sidebar for Complete Web Monitoring, and it worked.

2436838012_86d2fdc64fBut what if you have something more complex to say — a business plan, for example? What if you’re giving a colleague a competitive analysis? Or proposing a new product? How long should that document be?

In my experience, you should follow the seatback rule. This is the time between when a pilot asks passengers to put their seatbacks up and tray tables away, and the time when it’s safe to use portable electronic devices.

Read more…

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Using Twitter for fundraising: Lessons learned from Beers for Canada

in: Case studies, Communicate, Standing out

[Update: Beth Kanter has re-posted this piece over on her blog; she’s had some great guest posters keeping things moving over there while she makes the move from Boston to San Francisco. If you’re looking for other resources on social networking and nonprofits, there’s no place better than Beth’s.]

Visible GovernmentLast week, we helped out our friends at Visible Government with their Beers for Canada campaign. In the end, the campaign raised just over $1,000 in two days; donations will help open government data to citizens and promote transparency in public offices.  We learned a lot about what did and didn’t work, and in the interests of transparency, we thought we’d share some of the lessons we learned along the way (and see if we can collect some ideas for next time.)

How it worked

Beers for Canada donation pageA week before Canada Day (July 1) we built and tested a simple site that encouraged donors to “buy their country a beer” — basically making a donation. We told a few key bloggers and Twitter personalities about it beforehand; then, on June 30, we started talking about it online. We continued to mention it, and amplified what others were saying, until midday on July 2.

From the outset, this was a short-term campaign built around a single day. We did this to give it urgency and purpose. We chose to start talking on June 30 because so many people were out the office (and away from their computers) on the holiday itself. But it’s important to realize the differences between a short-term campaign (minimal upfront work, strong word of mouth, modest goals, and real-time virality through Twitter) and a longer one. The timeframe also meant that most blog coverage only hit on July 1st (and thanks to all the bloggers who covered us!)

What worked? What didn’t? What would we have changed? Here’s a quick list.

Read more…

Friday, March 27th, 2009

FarmsReach takes the covers off

in: Standing out, Startups

We call Rednod a startup accelerator. That means we get our hands dirty helping to design product features, business models, positioning, look and feel, business processes — whatever it takes to get the job done. It’s a lot of fun, particularly when the team is smart and they’re trying to solve an important problem.

logo.jpgOne of Rednod’s clients, FarmsReach, fits that bill especially well. They launched on Tuesday at the Green:Net conference. After ten months of hard work on a web platform that could actually transform the local, sustainable food industry, the company’s finally taking the covers off.

Best of all, the company won the inaugural People’s Choice award at the Launchpad event with CEO Lana Holmes’ great presentation. The buzz has been huge, and while FarmsReach is taking it slow, focusing on San Francisco farms and restaurants, it’s a model that can work across North America in short order.

Congratulations to the FarmsReach team.

Also worth checking out is Saul Griffith’s awesome presentation on the energy we use, which takes a decidedly engineering-centric view at the daunting challenge humans face in trying to slake our thirst for energy. Green:Net was an excellent — and thought-provoking — event.

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Self-branding: Your personal favicon

in: Communicate, Standing out

User interfaces are busy things. They’re cluttered with information, and designers have to reduce it down to its minimum to make things work properly. If I’m using chat, or Twitter, I have icons for everyone I interact with. And they’re the closest we get to a personal logo.

Consider Twitter:


I have only a few pixels to identify people. Many of these are surprisingly memorable: GigaOm, Laughingsquid, and others stand out nicely. The personal icon shows up elsewhere, too. Here’s the icon strip from my chat (names removed to protect the innocent.)


And there are “visitor log” tools like Mybloglog.


Unfortunately, I’m breaking my own rule: I have different photos for Mybloglog. It’s time for some brand cleanup. Here’s what I’m going to do:

  • Decide if I want a photo or a logo.
    • Folks like Om Malik, or Redmonk, or Laughingsquid are so closely associated with their brands that their logoes stand out well.
    • The other option is a photo. Given that I wind up having headshots in conference programmes (a constant reminder nobody’s paying me for my looks) and several loose associations (Rednod, Bitcurrent, Interop, Unconference, Bitnorth, whatever) rather than one allegiance, it probably makes sense to use a photo.
  • Use a close shot that’s visible, rather than a full portrait. Mitch Joel does this very well; it’s just forehead and glasses, but you know it’s Mitch in a second.
  • Pick a color scheme. Something that’s consistent with colors of Bitcurrent, Rednod, or whatever I’m most associated with. Hopefully this is also something that’s not taken (a red/green/blue/yellow square might look a little too much like Windows, for example.)
  • Reduce the number of colors in the image. This makes it easier to follow a color scheme, and has the added beneft of making resizing clearer.
  • Invest some time in sizing the image to target resolutions. Several of the sites out there auto-crop or resize the image you submit, so sending it in the right size results in much better image quality.
  • Claim the name. Figure out all of the sites that have an avatar/portrait, and make sure I’ve got the image.

Sean called this a Personal Favicon, and I think he’s right. The little 16×16 icon that appears in the address bar is a brand, reduced to its barest of bones.

I’m betting that a branded personal icon, particularly in microblogging circles, will become something trademarked and defensible that graphic designers add to their list of design deliverables for a startup. There will be a land grab, too: I’m not going to choose black and green, or blue and white, because those are pretty well known.

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Nailing that presentation: Have one idea

in: Communicate, Standing out

In conjunction with Bitcurrent, Syntenic, IDG, Flow Consulting and others, we’re helping to run a weekend-long conference in Montreal in September. It’s called Bitnorth. It’s an informal take on conferences, where the attendees are expected to provide much of the content.

One of the ways they participate is by delivering Short Bits, 10-minute long presentations on a topic they care about. This year’s general theme is The Other 99 Percent, and we’re looking at how technology has changed non-technologists’ lives.

Getting an idea across cleanly is always hard, and presenting is a challenge for many people. So for those folks presenting (and anyone else who cares abount communicating) I decided to try and summarize the process of creating and delivering a presentation. I’m constantly humbled by great presenters (and there are some links to noteworthy ones at the bottom of this entry.)

It boils down to knowing what your point is, and getting it across memorably.

Read more…

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