Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

What is Web 2.0?

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Web 2.0 is a term that has existed since 2004. The phrase is now widely used by anyone who works on or with the Internet, but Web 2.0 is one of those expressions that many business people outside the Internet industry only “sort-of” understand.

Web 2.0To understand Web 2.0, you first have to be familiar with Web 1.0. Web 1.0 is the Web as it existed up to and immediately after the Internet bubble burst in 2000. Web 1.0 followed the “broadcast model,” meaning that any content that existed on the Web was one-way – the content was written and published by the author (a company or an individual) for the reader. The best way of understanding the broadcast model is: “We talk, you listen.” There are still many sites that are Web 1.0, including most corporate and informational Web sites. Examples include Weather.com and GM.

Web 2.0 was born when the broadcast model started to change to a conversational model.

The hallmarks of Web 2.0 are conversations and user-generated content. Sites that provide technology platforms that allow users to interact and to contribute content are Web 2.0 sites. Examples include Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, YouTube and blogs – these sites provide the technology that lets users submit content and interact with each other in various ways, such as by submitting photos and videos, chatting or by commenting on on each others content.

Today, many Web 1.0 sites are moving toward Web 2.0 by launching Web 2.0 features. These sites publish content, but solicit a response from users to further enhance the conversation. For example, retail sites such as Walmart and Target now allow visitors to post reviews of products. Traditional publishing companies like the NY Times have opened up their articles for comments and have discussion areas to facilitate reader interactions.

The following are some of the most useful articles you can read to find out more about Web 2.0:

  • What is Web 2.0- This article by Tim O’Reilly is often sourced as the definitive treatise on Web 2.0.
  • Web 2.0 – This 2005 article was written by Paul Graham, and is a very good explanation of Web 2.0.
  • What is Web 2.0- This 2006 documentary from TechCrunch features Editor Michael Arrington’s interviews with start-up CEOs about Web 2.0. (24 Minutes). The CEO’s definitions of Web 2.0 really illustrate why this term is so difficult to pin down and how everyone defines it a little differently (around minute 5).
  • Web 2.0- The Wikipedia entry about Web 2.0.
  • Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0 – This post will help you understand the differences between 1.0 and 2.0.

Here Comes Another Bubble music video

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Just saw this posted on the BoomTown blog, it’s a music video about Web 2.0 set to Billy Joel’s song We Didn’t Light the Fire. It’s hysterical.

UPDATE: Turns out that YouTube was forced to take down the video. So if you click the link below, it won’t work. Right now, Yahoo still has the video up here.

Here comes another bubble

How to keep tabs on your company and personal brand using Google Alerts

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Google Alerts LogoHow big is the World Wide Web in 2007? The answer to that question is hard to pin down, to say the least. I can find little reliable data since a report published by Berkeley in 2003 (at that time the Web had 170 terabytes of information, 17x the size of the Library of Congress), and an analysis done by Antonio Guilli in 2005 placing the number at 11.5 billion Web pages. The most recent data that I could find was an article from Pandia from February 2007 indicating that the size of the World Wide Web is somewhere between 15 and 30 billion pages, probably closer to 30 billion.

My point? The Web is big. Huge. And the best way that I know how to keep up with the new information that is being produced about my brands on a daily basis is to use Google Alerts.

This is a simple tool to use, and in my opinion, every professional up and down an organization should be using it. To set it up, take the following steps:

  1. Go to the Google news home page.
  2. Click the icon in the left-hand column that says “News alerts.”
  3. Enter the search terms that you want to track. I recommend tracking your company name and your personal name at the very minimum.
  4. In the “type” field, select “comprehensive” – this will track the Web, news, blogs, groups and all the information that Google has indexed.
  5. How often depends on your needs. I recommend once-per-day, but if you are really a stickler for finding out information more quickly, you could select “as it happens.” The only warning about that setting is that you’ll be getting multiple notifications per day and it could quickly overwhelm your inbox depending on how many alerts you set up.
  6. Click “create alert.”
  7. In the past I needed to confirm my alerts – I no longer need to do that, but I’m not sure if that is because I am using a Gmail account, because I have set up so many news alerts in the past, or because Google has done away with the confirmation step. So just be aware that you may have to confirm your subscriptions (or you may not).

That’s it! You’ll now start getting notifications to your inbox. You can remove subscriptions by following the links that are in each email, and Google has created a page to manage alerts that will let you see all your notifications in one place and add and remove them easily.

That covers the how, but a quick word on the why you should do this. The primary reason to set up alerts is obvious – if you are the owner or an executive of a company or work in the PR department, it is your responsibility to monitor your brands. This is the easiest, least-intensive way to make sure that you are up-to-date on what people are saying about your company. But there are some other benefits that you might not realize:

You will know what is going on with your company. If you’re an executive, you are likely privy to information before the rest of the employees, so this might not apply to you as much as to the non-executive who isn’t kept up-to-speed. It’s possible that by monitoring your company’s alerts, you’ll find out about acquisitions, financials, layoffs and even scandals before the rest of your colleagues. This happened famously at New York Times Digital where employees found out about layoffs before they were announced because of an article that was published in the New York Times.

You will make sure that a bad image of you isn’t being leaked to the public. By keeping tabs on your personal brand (ie, your name) you will make sure that you know what people are saying about you and how you are being portrayed on the Web. Think that your MySpace page won’t show up in a Google search? Think again. By monitoring my alerts with my maiden name (Melissa Reyen), I found out that I am among the record holders for Harvard softball for most times grounded into a double play. Slightly embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as this.

You will look smart. If you set up alerts to monitor not only your company, but also your competitors and the product or service that your company produces, you will be able to stay on the cutting-edge of the news for your industry. When you find out a particularly juicy tidbit, you can email your colleagues, who will think that you are super-smart and insightful for knowing this information, even though it was sent directly to you from Google.

You can be proactive. If you find out that some unfortunate information is being spread about your company, you can work to to avert the problem and end up looking like a hero. When I worked at Ziff Davis, we were often accused of spamming people – anyone who works at a publishing company knows that this is a fairly regular occurrence, not because we were spamming, but because there are humans involved in the unsubscribe process and things occasionally go wrong. This happened, and my colleague Mary Hart was on the case quickly to respond to a blogger who was ranting. Her actions immediately turned the rant into praise for the exemplary customer service that she provided.

Bottom line: If you don’t have Google Alerts set up, do it today. The small amount of effort will be well worth it.

The excitement of the launch

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

When I started my career, the Internet didn’t yet dominate publishing to the extent that it does today. There was a lot more paper being pushed around, and my first two “real” jobs – at Let’s Go travel guides and Network World magazine – were both print-based.

Let's Go USA 1997The thing that I liked the best about both of these jobs was the feeling of accomplishment that I got when something was finished. At Network World, we put the magazine to bed every Friday afternoon, and were free for the weekend. Monday morning, the issue would appear in the office, all our hard work evident in the print publication. Let’s Go was much the same way, although on an extended scale. We would work through the spring semester and summer, and at the end of the year, the updated and improved travel guide book would be released. An entire book, with your name on it, to prove that you worked hard and produced something great. (I just checked and now that book is 10 years out of date and available to buy for $0.35!)

With my current work, I relate this publishing experience to launching a new Web site. Or a new feature on a Web site. Or a redesign. Or a blog post. There are so many more milestones with the Internet because things are fluid – if something isn’t working, it can be changed easily, so I am quicker to approve and launch something. But there is still a thrill that I get when I create something new and see it live.

Today I get to tell you about some new stuff – and I am excited. I hope that you check everything out and let me know what you think.

16th Letter header
First, my blog has been redesigned. If you are reading this post on RSS reader, come to the site and check it out. The redesign was done by Allyson Nickowitz – she’s great and incredibly talented. Not to mention that she managed to get me to sit through a photo shoot!

Pure Incubation logo
The Web site for my new company is now live, as well. I hope that this helps explain a bit more about what I’m doing with my business for anyone who is curious.

Cara Austin logo
I have been lucky enough to be involved in the Cara Austin music project from the beginning, and Cara’s first song is now available for free download at her Web site. The CD should come out sometime in December.

There are other projects that I have in process, but they are not yet ready for prime-time. More announcements on future launches will be coming soon.

TechCrunch Meetup in Boston

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

TechCrunch logoI made it to the TechCrunch Meetup in Boston on Friday night, and it was a lot of fun. I appreciate the hospitality from the folks at TechCrunch (there was open bar for the duration of the event) as well as the sponsors. I managed to talk about half of the vendors who were there, as well as a lot of random folks who, like me, just wanted to network and see what was going on with start-ups in Boston. Personally, I got a lot more from the people who I talked to than from the exhibitors (and I think that they had better products and projects in the works). But here’s my take on the exhibitors that I chatted with:

Mzinga – B2B social networking, is how they explained it to me. What I don’t get about this service is that they launched at the event, but they already have 2.7 million registered users, according to TechCrunch. That’s a pretty solid user base for a newly launching product. Where did those users come from?

CoreBlox – The president & CEO did a very brief demo but had a hard time because his co-worker nearly spilled water on his laptop before someone else tripped on the wire and unplugged it, but my takeaway is that they are offering a free customer support tool that can be used by businesses. I didn’t get a good sense of the quality of the tool.

Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment – The people at this “booth” (I am not sure that it could be called a booth – cocktail table is more like it) were really knowledgeable and kind, especially since I don’t know much about online gaming, specifically MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role playing games). The thing that really shocked me, though, was that this company is two years, $40 million dollars in, and has 100 employees and a solid management team (from the looks of its Web site), but it doesn’t yet have a live game. My conversation with them went like this:

Me: What’s your biggest game?

Them: Stargate Worlds.

Me: How many people are playing it?

Them: Oh, it’s not live yet.

Wow. $40 million in, they must be sweating it a bit.

NowHound.com – Live Webcast search is all I got from the demo before Erick Schonfeld (from TechCrunch) came over and the folks there spun around in a neat little circle to talk to him.  

A personal note, my favorite part of the event was that I managed to drag along my good friend Denise Dubie. Denise and I worked together years back, but I haven’t attended a work event with her in years. It was so fun for me to see what a celebrity she has become in the IT world (she is a senior editor at Network World). For example, we walked by the Perkett PR booth and a couple of her story headlines were flashing on their screen, and at one point, I noticed some other people ducking and whispering about her before they came over to introduce themselves and shake her hand.

One of the guys in that group was Ross Levanto from Schwartz Communications, who was chatting with us for awhile. Our conversation was interrupted by some announcements by TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington and Schonfeld. One of the things that they did during that set of announcements was draw a winner to play in an online game by Moola for a chance to win $5,000. Ross’ name was picked. He went, played and ended up winning the cash. He celebrates in the picture below (sorry for the bad photo, I was using my iPhone in a dark and crowded room):

Ross Levanto Wins

Fortune cookies and the Internet

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

On Friday night, after the TechCrunch event in Boston, my friend Denise and I headed to P.F. Chang’s for some late-night dinner. It was definitely some of the most delicious Chinese food I have ever eaten. I recommend the chicken lo mein for all you noodle lovers!

 At the end of the meal, I opened my fortune cookie to this lucky number surprise:

Lucky Numbers in a row

I had never seen such a thing, nor had anyone that I showed this weekend. So I went on an Internet research mission to find out the source of the lucky numbers that are in fortune cookies. No surprise – according an article from The New Yorker,  Cookie Master, a computer picks the numbers. But there is a real guy – or real guys at this point – who write the fortunes.

And in case you’re wondering if anyone actually pays attention to the lucky numbers, they do. The same article recounts a story of the lucky numbers actually turning up lucky:

“…in March, five of six lucky numbers printed on a fortune happened to coincide with the winning picks for the Powerball lottery, a hundred and ten people, instead of the usual handful, came forward to claim prizes of around a hundred thousand dollars. Lottery officials suspected a scam until they traced the sequence to a fortune printed with the digits “22-28-32-33-39-40.”

I guess I won’t be the only one coming across this unusual sequence of numbers.

How to hire a Web designer using eLance

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

eLance LogoI have hired a lot of Web designers for various projects over the years. I am not a Web designer, nor a graphic designer, nor any kind of designer. But I know how to use eLance.

eLance is one of the best tools on the Internet for hiring contractors to do one-off tasks, such as creating a Web design, or a logo or content for a Web site. I love eLance. I use it all the time. In fact, I love eLance more than I love CustomInk, which is saying quite a bit.

eLance was founded in 1999, and when I started using the service – I posted my first project on 10/4/2002 – I was still an early user of the online marketplace. Since that time, millions of projects have been completed using eLance, and it now is used by many of the biggest companies around the world.

Here’s how eLance works if you are buying services. (If you are a freelancer and want to sign up to provide services via eLance, try the Find Work section of eLance for more information.)

Sign up for an account.
This process is easy and self-explanatory. You will need to have a credit card or a bank account from which your payments can be made. When you are picking your username, choose a name that can be associated with you and your business, as that name shows up everywhere when you are posting projects. For example, my username is PureIncubation, which is my company name, and works great.

Post your project.
After you have registered, you will be able to post projects to get bids. This involves filling out a form with the details of the project, including:

  • Posting Title: Make sure to use the keyword for the project in the title – such as “One-page Web design of a technology site.” The providers are alerted to new projects based on keywords, so you want to include the type of project that you are hiring for (Web design) somewhere in the title.
  • Category: For a Web design project, select “Website development”
  • Subcategory: Select “Web Design”
  • Work Description: Include a description of the project. Concentrate on making this as descriptive as possible without overwhelming the providers who are bidding. This will not be your last time to talk to the people you will consider hiring, but you need to be descriptive enough to interest them in the project and to get an accurate bid. I typically include a short description of what the project is (how many pages, what I want designed, if I have a logo or need one, if I know the general layout of the site, etc.), and I ask for a timeline and samples of relevant work. I also try to throw in something specific in the bid that the providers will need to respond to, just so that I can be sure they are reading the description of my project and aren’t just bidding indiscriminately. For example, I’ll write “Please include a link to another technology site that you have designed in your bid.”
  • Work Type: For a Web design project, I pick “Fixed fee” because I do not want to go over the budget that I have set.
  • Budget Range: This depends. If I know the budget, I sometimes pick a range from the list. But most often I select “prefer not to disclose” because I don’t want to influence the provider higher with their bid. Many times I have gotten a project completed at a lower cost than I anticipated because of the competitive nature of the eLance bidding system, and I don’t want to foil that process.
  • Response Deadline: This depends on how much of a hurry you are in. Most of your bids will come in during the first three days, but the longer your bidding is open, the more bids you’ll get. You can always extend this deadline later if need-be, as well.
  • Sealed Bidding: This allows you to be the only one to see the bids. Since this feature was instituted, I have found a much greater range in the bids that I receive because providers are independently bidding. I usually leave this checked but I’m honestly not sure if it makes a difference.
  • Work Location: I always select “work can be done anywhere”
  • Escrow: This just depends on how you want to pay. If you choose this option, you will use the eLance Escrow service and pay for everything up front – only releasing the funds when you approve various phases of the project. I personally don’t select this feature, but I am happy to use it if a provider requests this type of payment option.

Review the bids.
This part of the process is the key to making sure that you have a successful experience with eLance. You’ll likely receive quite a few bids (I typically get from 15-20 per project) and you need to review each bid from each provider to find the one that will be best for you. This is how I manage the process:

  • Read the bids: By reading the bids that are made, you’ll be able to see if the eLancer is a good communicator, if they have answered your specific questions and if they posted any relevant information for your project. It is a red flag at this point if the provider either does not answer the questions that you posed in the description of the project or has spotty communication skills – you will want to proceed very carefully with hiring anyone who fits into either of those categories. Eliminate any providers that you don’t think will work.
  • View all the portfolios: This is the most important part of the process. I look at every single portfolio, specifically, I am looking for sites the provider has designed in the past that are similar to the one that they will do for me. Sometimes providers are excellent at designing a Web site for an ecommerce company, for example, but terrible at designing a site for an elegant restaurant, or vice versa. I also look for overall style and if I “like” the designs that the provider has produced in the past. This is subjective, but design is subjective, and this site will represent you and your business, so it’s important to be picky. Eliminate any provider who doesn’t fit your requirements.
  • Review the bid amounts: At this stage, I look at all the providers who are left and see how much money they bid. You may be able to narrow your shortlist down further.
  • Look at history: eLance allows you to review the feedback and earnings history for all their eLance providers. You’ll quickly see that some providers have been using eLance for years and make gobs of money using the site, and others only occassionally dabble with projects that they find via the marketplace. What I am looking for at this point is any red flags – providers that score low or have consistantly bad comments. It is not unusual for a provider to occassionally have some negative feedback. If this happens, look to see if the provider had responded to that feedback, how they handled the complaint, and if the buyer has a history of dissatisfaction with providers. There are a lot of bad clients out there and a random bad comment should not elimate a provider from your selection process. But if you find any pattern of bad feedback, beware!
  • Ask some questions: You are likely down to a shortlist of vendors, and at this point I always ask each provider on that list a question via the Private Message Board (PMB). I don’t always have a question, but I always come up with something to ask because at this point I’m trying to assess if the provider is quick to respond and if they have good communication skills. If a provider doesn’t respond, or doesn’t respond well, do not hire them even if you love their designs. It will not be worth it in the long run.

Select your provider.
Once you have made your choice, select the provider with the “choose bid” button. You’ll then go through a process of reviewing the business terms. Some providers require you to pay a percentage of the work upfront, this doesn’t bother me, but if you don’t want to work that way, you may want to choose the escrow option, or negotiate the terms.

Fill out the requirements document.
Once you have selected your provider, it is likely that they will ask you to fill out a requirements document to help direct the project. These are usually guides to the design process and help you and the provider figure out exactly what you want so that the designer can better fulfill your needs. Fill out these forms! Take as long on them as you need and be thorough- they will greatly help with getting you to the finished project that you want.

Communicate effectively.
At this point in the project, the only thing left is for you to communicate effectively throughout the process. Respond promptly to questions from the provider and ask them any questions that you have. Keep an open line of communication.

Pay and provide feedback.
After the project is complete, make sure to pay the providers promptly and give your feedback about their work on the project. When you are leaving comments remember that future providers will be reading what you say and will bid on projects that you post to a large degree based on what kind of a buyer you are. At the same time, make sure that you are providing accurate feedback to help other buyers in the future.

That’s it! If you go through all the steps, you will likely have a great, completed design. Of course, once you have the design you’ll need to have your Web developer implement it (or hire someone from eLance to do it for you) but that’s for another post.

Just a couple of other points to mention:

Negotiation – It is possible to negotiate with the providers on eLance. However, keep in mind that many of them are making the lowest bids possible already because the marketplace keeps prices down. But if you find a provider that you really want to use, and their fee is just slightly above what you are willing to spend, you may be able to ask them if they will drop their bid. Sometimes they will not – so be prepared for them to say no. Also, this typically works better if you are working on a second or third project with a provider that you have worked with in the past.

International outsourcing – If you have been wanting to jump into the international outsourcing market, this might be the best place to get your feet wet. Many of the eLance providers are not U.S.-based, and by using eLance you will have the opportunity to work with various people from around the world. Also remember that English is a second language for many of the people who use this service, so keep that in mind when you are conversing and negotiating. Err on the side of politeness.

If you have any problems – I have never had a single problem with an eLance provider, but I know that it happens. If you run into any issues, eLance offers assistance, including mediation and the ability to report any violations.

If you don’t find a provider – It is possible that you will go through the selection process and not find the provider that you are looking for. This has happened to me in the past. Never pick a vendor just for the sake of picking a vendor. Usually, this is a case of a project being posted incorrectly. You may need to change the category or subcategory under which the project is posted. Or you may need to change the description or scope of the project. Sometimes you may have an unrealistic budget that needs to be amended. Typically if you re-post the project again with some changes, you will find a provider. There is also the option with eLance to search through the providers that are part of the site and specifically invite select ones to bid on your project – this is another great way to get excellent providers bidding on your projects.

So if you need to be in the market for a new Web design, consider eLance as an option.

CIA.gov: Is this site a joke?

Monday, November 5th, 2007

No, seriously, is it? I honestly can’t tell if the www.cia.gov site is for real. I first went there following a link from The Big Noob to look at one of the worst logo designs I have ever seen. Then I poked around the site a bit to see if it was a serious thing (I mean, the domain name is cia.gov – it sounds real!) and I found the following gems:

  • The Kids’ Page – equipped with an animated “spy” with a ringing shoephone.
  • The Iraqi Rewards Program – I tried to read about it, but it seems like the CIA is trying to keep this program a secret.
  • The CIA movie – Click “play movie” on the home page to see this warm and fuzzy video about “clandestine services.”
  • On the contact us page – you’ll find this bit: “Solicitations to transfer large sums of money to your bank account: If you receive a solicitation to transfer a large amount of money from an African nation to your bank account in exchange for a payment of millions of dollars, go to the US Secret Service Web site for information about the Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud or “4-1-9″ Fraud scheme.”

This site is the warmer, kinder U.S. spy service. Or else it’s a hoax.

Back to Web design

Monday, November 5th, 2007

Future of Web Design ConferenceLast week, I started a series of blog articles about Web design with the post A bad Web design could kill your business, and then I never finished the series. Shame on me. I am back to the topic again this week, and there will be more posts. And with the Future of Web Design conference coming up (Nov. 7-8)  in NYC, it probably makes more sense for the series to happen now, anyway, so I’ll chalk my delays up to kizmet or good timing or at least convenient procrastination.

This conference looks like it is going to be a really good one, with sessions on topics including finding inspiration, designing for moble devices, using illustration on the Web, and AJAX and design, along with a group of speakers who really know their stuff. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the Web sites of some of the experts who are speaking at the event to see if it might be possible to glean some insight into the future of Web design by examining their Web designs. Here’s what I found:

Jina Bolton – Her site is a blog (as were many of the designers’ sites), and the design looks more like a Web site design than a traditional blog. Advances in blog design will definitely be a continuing trend as blog tools are getting better, and more and more people are catching on to the fact that blog platforms, such as WordPress and Moveable Type, are the new content management systems, making publishing to the Web easier than ever.

Jeffrey Kalmikoff- Kalmikoff works for skinnyCorp, the company that founded Threadless, a t-shirt design community that is now a multi-million dollar business that sells more than 90,000 t-shirts per month. The site has a unique design that matches up with the company’s fun and off-beat brand. You’ll see that there are sections on the site for both podcasts and videos, and this is a Web design trend for the future, as firms move toward including audio and video content on their sites as part of their overall designs.

Ryan Sims- Sims is the lead designer for Virb Inc., and as is evident from the site’s design, his company is clearly focused on community. Web designs that foster community are a trend that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, as social networking grows and grows and grows.

Josh Williams- When landing on the Firewheel Design site, you’ll be greated with a message: “Firewheel Design has bolted the studio doors. We have taken an oath of secrecy. We are working on something new. If you want the skinny on our top secret project, we simply ask for your email address.” If this doesn’t make you want to submit your email address immediately, nothing will. This practice of designing a site in order to optimize audience building is a Web design and online marketing trend that will continue to gain in popularity.

Cowboys.com … um, nevermind

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

This (really funny) story is a testimony to how much the domain name business has grown, and how little anyone who is outside of the industry really understands it. Apparently, the Dallas Cowboys football team bid $275,000 for the domain name Cowboys.com – but thought that they were bidding $275. After getting the bill, they backed out of the deal.