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A little history... and some of the cartoon's greatest hits

Wed, 23 Sep 2009 18:15:49 +0000

If you're visiting from PC World - or just happened to stumble onto us - we're glad you could come by. Pull up a chair. Lemonade? Your timing's terrific: I was just about to start the slide show. Oh, no, don't get up - the holiday pictures aren't until later. No, this is all about Noise to Signal, my cartoon about the intersection of technology, communications and life. Sit back and make yourself comfortable. Let me just plug the remote... into the projector... dim the lights... and here we go. Here's the cartoon that launched Noise to Signal (although I didn't call it that yet) waaaay back in the spring of 2007. It was a simpler time (at least in the Oval Office, ba-dump-bump!)... This is a tribute to the famous New Yorker cartoon, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." (I've come back to this theme once or twice.) This one is probably the first one I published under the name "Noise to Signal". And now, as measured by raw hits, here are the top 10 Noise to Signal cartoons of all time: Number 10, sadly a little timelier now than when I drew it: Number 9, a cartoon the PC World folks (and Amazon customers) will recognize: Number 8, for everyone who obsesses about their Twitter follower count: Number 7 is for my fellow gadget freaks out there whose spirituality glands may be underperforming: Number 6 goes to a pie chart. Somewhere, my grade 6 math teacher's ears just pricked up. Coming up to number 5, a reminder that it's probably a good thing Alex and I didn't have iPhones yet when we got married: Number 4 promotes both privacy awareness and good dental hygiene. Hard to do in one cartoon, but we're committed to value here at Noise to Signal industries: Third place - bronze! - is the closest I come to a religion: typography. Number 2 - ooh, so close - makes that case that, while Flooz may have flopped, alternative currencies for the online world are still alive and well: And the number one Noise to Signal cartoon of all time... Thanks for checking us out! You can also find Noise to Signal on Facebook... and if you're hankering for the RSS feed, it's right here. [...]

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Getting to know a tool before pigeonholing it

Wed, 03 Jun 2009 06:08:40 +0000

A few days ago I got a super-special birthday present (xoxo, Alex!): a new 12" Cintiq, Wacom's combination graphic tablet and display.

I don't doubt that it's going to revolutionize the way that I draw Noise to Signal. It integrates the retouching phase and does away with that whole scanning phase, not to mention the chasing-the-three-year-old-who-grabbed-the-pen-and-ink phase and the scrubbing-the-ink-off-the-three-year-old phase.

But it's not exactly portable. The tablet comes with an external power supply, a converter box and a slew of cables - and now, for the sake of everyone's sanity, its own carrying case (h/t Kate Trgovac).

My intention was to park it somewhere instead of hauling it from place to place, but Alex had wise advice: take it around with me, use it in several circumstances and see how it could be useful. Because while I think right now that I know how I'll use it, I actually don't.

This is a tool with unknown possibilities. Maybe it'll turn out to be great for taking notes, for mocking up ideas or for sketchblogging. Maybe I'll cartoon with it, but it will change the way I do that in some way.

Most really powerful tools are the same way. That's especially true for the tools of the social web: even the oldest ones are still new by most standards, and it seems every week brings another innovative way of applying them.

A way for geeks to log their daily web surfing highlights becomes a way for someone to share their cancer battle with a circle of loved ones; a way to keep tabs on blog updates becomes the engine behind podcasting; a way to share videos of cute animal tricks becomes a tremendously effective political communications vehicle affecting the outcome of a presidential election.

Which is a good cautionary note for any of us working in the field. It's tempting to pigeonhole tools: Twitter works for this, Facebook is for that, mobile is for the other.

But if you can count on one thing in Web 2.0, it's that no category is permanent. Somewhere out there, someone who hasn't pigeonholed those tools is going to find an amazing new use for them, a way to reach people in a way they haven't been reached before.

Hey - why shouldn't that person be you?

Cintiq photo: Tobias Rütten. Used under a Creative Commons license.



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And take a shot whenever their domains redirect to a link farm

Mon, 05 Jan 2009 05:00:00 +0000

(police officer on radio, surrounded by bodies and empty beer bottles and cans) Yep, acute alcohol poisoning. Looks like another one of those take-a-shot-every-time-a-Web-2.0-business-goes-under drinking games.

Labour and social media: resources and cases from the CALM workshop

Tue, 27 May 2008 19:02:07 +0000

Last Thursday, through the kind offices of the Canadian Association of Labour Media, I spent the day with a gaggle of communications professionals from a wide assortment of Canadian labour unions, sharing what I know about the social web and learning about an array of initiatives that various unions have launched in the last while. So how many of the challenges labour communicators face are the same as those faced by anyone else trying to communicate on behalf of an organization, whether it's a commercial enterprise, a non-profit or a government agency. You have to convince traditional communication types that it's okay to hand some control over web content to the public; traditional budgetary gatekeepers need to learn that you have to staff the community as well as the technology; and we all have to come to grips with the legitimate concerns of open collaboration and conversation in an often-adversarial environment. Incidentally, I asked my LinkedIn network to suggest their favourite labour-related Web 2.0 initiatives, and they came through with some great ideas. I've credited them below; a big thanks to Gordon Mayer, Mike Old, Martin Roell, Beth Kanter and Mike Gifford. And a big thanks, too, to Rosemarie Bahr and Sally Leitch who pulled it all together, while at the same time organizing the massive 2008 CALM Conference. I don't know how they do it... I'm just glad they do. I promised the participants I'd share a slew of links to the resources and cases we looked at, so here they are (it's an anything-but-exhaustive list): . . . Hola, folks, and thanks again for a great day. As promised, here are some links to some of the resources and examples we covered, including: Hosted blogging services Open-source blogging/content-management software Media-sharing Social networks Other social media venues Search and media monitoring Cases we looked at If you have any you'd like to add, just mention them in the comments and I'll be happy to drop them in. Thanks again for coming! Hosted blogging services: LiveJournal Open-source blogging and content-management software: WordPress Movable Type Drupal Joomla Media sharing: YouTube Google Video Viddler Flickr Picasa Creative Commons media search Social networks: Facebook MySpace LinkedIn Ning Other social media venues: Twitter Second Life Wikipedia Search and media monitoring: Technorati Google blog search Google video search iGoogle custom home page Netvibes Pageflakes Here are some of the cases we looked at: Seven Days at Minimum Wage (thanks to Gordon Mayer!) CUPE 391 bargaining blog and their Facebook group (thanks to Mike Old!) Free the Blackadder One! (and some more thoughts on Facebook) Second Life strike info from Uni Ver.di blogs (thanks to Martin Roell!) TWU YouTube channel WGA strike video That AFSCME video (not safe for work!) Chevy Tahoe parody on YouTube An SEIU video in support of Houston janitors bargaining for their first contract (thanks to Beth Kanter!) My Union, Canadian Labour Union supporter and LabourStart (Facebook applications) Green Gifts (Facebook application) Catch the Flame (thanks to Mike Gifford!) [...]

How social media is turning viewers into value contributors - on a mass scale

Wed, 07 May 2008 22:15:14 +0000

This is a spectacular presentation from Clay Shirky at last month's Web 2.0 Expo. He makes a compelling argument that the time-sucking power of television has masked a huge pool of creative and collaborative energy out there... and that social media are all about unleashing that energy – at TV's expense:

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How your non-profit can earn revenue with Web 2.0: Part 5 - Product sales

Wed, 23 Apr 2008 04:47:27 +0000

This blog post is part of our series on Social Media for Social Enterprise: How non-profits can earn revenue with Web 2.0. What bake sales once were to PTAs, online storefronts are to today's non-profits. We're used to thinking about participants in non-profit web sites as members or supporters, people we are trying to reach with a message or mobilize around a campaign. But your online community members can also be customers -- customers who may be delighted to spend their dollars in a way that supports their values and your work. Here are some of the forms that online product sales can take: Schwag: Your site can earn money by selling promotional items (t-shirts, mugs, posters, bumper stickers, yo-yos) with your organization's name or a related message. (I'm waiting for someone to buy me an Obama Mama t-shirt.) This is a great way to get your message out and earn money at the same time. While you can earn more money by mass producing these items for sale, you can limit your risk (or test the waters) by using a print-to-order service like Goodstorm (a printing service set up to support non-profits, and recently acquired by Zazzle) or Café Press. Educational materials: If your organization engages in education or issue awareness work, your web site can be a great way to sell or distribute educational materials like books, DVDs or CDs. Think carefully about how to weigh your revenue goals against your desire to get the message out: selling your products at high prices may limit their circulation. On the other hand, shipping stuff for free may make it hard for you to fund development or distribution. Media downloads: Selling educational or cultural products electronically is a terrific way to earn revenue while limiting distribution costs. If your organization has produced a book, magazine, poster, DVD or CD, could you sell it in electronic form? Once you create an electronic version of any of these products, the marginal cost of each additional sale is zero: selling a thousand copies of your Christmas concert in MP3 form costs no more than selling ten. Again, think about the trade-off between revenue and mission: distributing media products electronically for free (or very cheap) is also a great way to get out your message. Social enterprise: If your organization supports community enterprise, you can sell the products of that enterprise on your site. is an online store specifically created to sell the products of the Barefoot College. Mission-aligned products: Even if you're not directly involved in a community enterprise, you can still find mission-aligned products to sell on your site. For example, an organization promoting responsible forestry could sell recycled paper products. You can stock a warehouse and ship products yourself, or you can partner with a retailer or social enterprise, and earn transaction fees from each sale that is processed by or referred from your site. Affiliate sales: If you don't want to deal with the costs of production, fulfillment and credit card processing -- or you want to test your visitors' appetite for on-site purchasing before you make an investment -- consider setting up affiliate sales. The Amazon Associates program is a great, unobtrusive way of generating revenue from books or other products you happen to mention on your site; linking those recommendations to an Amazon account earns you dollars and makes the follow-up process easier for your readers. The BookSense affiliate program is similar, but sends your visitors' business to independent booksellers. For a wider range of potential advertisers, check out Commission Junction, which runs affiliate programs for many major retailers. Before you setup your virtual storefront, here are some issues to consider: Do our visitors like to shop online? Unless your site visitors include a meaningful number of people who already buy products online, they're probably not going to start wit[...]

How Web 2.0 taught me to clear a traffic jam

Sat, 08 Mar 2008 06:00:48 +0000


You're looking at how an online community can work, and save you a lot of aggravation.

This is a traffic jam curing itself: an entire block of downtown Vancouver traffic a few days ago, with every car, van and truck in reverse. They're inching their way backwards, in concert, away from a stopped truck that had jammed Hamilton Street from Davie to Helmcken. (The Google Map's right here.) And all without police intervention.

Now, you know the way these things usually work (especially on narrow one-way streets): an incident happens, the road becomes unpassable, people try to back up and escape but there are other cars coming in behind them... and it's all horns and waving fists until the police show up.

Alex and I were stuck along with the rest of them, and it suddenly just seemed impossible that we shouldn't all be able to solve this ourselves. So instead of sitting, cursing and waiting for the thin blue line to kick in, we jumped out of the car. Ran to the front of the line to see what was the problem. And then ran back, car by car, to let people know we'd all be backing out.

Which is exactly what we all did. While one of us stopped traffic from other blocks from entering, the other waved the last car in the line back, and the next, and the next... By the time a police officer arrived, at least half of the jam was already cleared.

We hopped into our van and joined the happy exodus.

And it occurred to us both that one reason we both felt we could get involved, why we felt that of course we could solve this, was that we spend so much time working in open systems.

Everything about a car, on the other hand, screams "closed system". You're enclosed in a steel-and-fabric climate-controlled cocoon, shielded from outside sounds by your stereo, navigating fixed routes according to rules created, interpreted and enforced by external authorities. You'd have to work hard to do a better job of designing a system to discourage initiative and self-organization.

But the kind of systems we work in where "open" seems to be everything's first name - open source, open APIs, open standards - foster communities where it's not only permitted to pitch in and start building solutions, but encouraged. Even expected.

I'm going to predict that, years from now, we'll look back on the social web's legacy. And one of the biggest pieces of that legacy will be, not some whiz-bang web application or fabulously successful startup, but the simple fact that a generation will have grown up immersed in an environment that invites them to participate, with the full expectation of making meaningful change.

Instead of passive drivers, active citizens.

Introducing Bedtime with Rob and Alex

Tue, 05 Feb 2008 19:01:34 +0000

It's the start of our favourite season here at Social Signal: the run-up to Valentine's Day. For us, it's a celebration of love, togetherness and community.

And what better way to express that togetherness than through a podcast? That's why we're launching a new experiment, Bedtime with Rob and Alex. It's a podcast that captures the knowledge, insights and passions of our online community and Web 2.0 explorations -- whether that involves a new way of looking at online collaboration, or a new piece of software for looking at online pictures.

As partners in both bedroom and boardroom, we get to explore these questions 24/7. (Don't you talk about RSS aggregation after your baby wakes you up at 3 a.m.?) But we've long noticed that our most creative, wide-ranging conversations often happen at the very end of the day, as we're comparing notes or sharing what got us most excited. (Not that kind of excited. Usually.)

And now we're ready to see whether our king-size bed has enough room for two adults, two kids, a dog and an iPod. For the next ten days (just until Valentine's Day!) Bedtime with Rob and Alex will share our conversations as we wind down. Check it out and let us know whether what happens in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom, or whether you're enjoying the chance to eavesdrop.

Our first episode, What's missing from the Web 2.0 menu? (recorded February 4th) asks why there are still unmet needs amidst the overabundance of social web applications. Would Microsoft's proposed acquisition of Yahoo! help fill in these gaps....or erode the quality of existing solutions?

You can subscribe here. Tune in and let us know what you think!

P.S. For those of you who are curious about Alex's solution for menu-planning on the Mac (as discussed in the podcast), it's a program called YummySoup. It lets you import recipes from sites like Epicurious and Martha Stewart, and turn ingredient lists into grocery lists.

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Social media for social enterprise

Fri, 18 Jan 2008 08:12:19 +0000

Social Signal has worked with many different non-profit organizations, of varying size and means, to create a variety of social media sites, of varying scale and ambition. One thing that just about every non-profit client (and most for-profit clients) ask is about the return on investment. How can non-profits assess the financial value of their social media investments? And perhaps even more fundamentally, how can they find the money to pay for sites that can be costly to build, and just as costly to run?When we work with non-profits to think about the financial model behind social media projects, we encourage them to think not only about the cost of building a site, but the costs of maintaining an active online community -- which can be a much more expensive endeavour than running a conventional site. A social media site thrives on active and ongoing user contribution. That typically demands ongoing infusions of content, skilled animation, participation incentives -- all of which cost money.The great news is that social media sites offer at least as many opportunities for revenue generation as for spending. Over the years, we've worked with our clients to identify a range of revenue-generation options for social media sites. This is the first in a series of blog posts that will review options for non-profit revenue generation using Web 2.0. Over the coming weeks we'll review: Intellectual property Advertising Fee for service Product sales Indirect revenue Reflected glory marketing Danger zones We'll conclude by helping you think about how to choose between these different options for revenue generation -- and how to consider whether revenue generation is even an appropriate part of your site's business model.But first, let's talk about why you might want to earn revenue from your social media venture. Here are some of the reasons that our clients have looked at generating revenue on the web: To pay for the operating costs of social media (e.g. content creation, moderation) To fund a new online initiative To create employment opportunities for your clients (e.g. in product fulfillment) To fund upgrades to your site To pay for a special program, campaign or initiative To support your organization's general operating budget To create a model for sustainable, socially responsible enterprise Of course, there are also some reasons to hesitate before looking to earn money from your online community. Bear in mind... Revenue-generating sites are perceived differently by users and the public, particularly for non-profits. Think about potential alignment (or conflict) between your organization's mission, and your sources of revenue. Tax laws in your jurisdiction may restrict the kinds of revenue a non-profit organization can generate. Be sure to get legal and/or accounting advice about how different revenue models could impact your non-profit status. There's no free lunch. Most options for generating online revenue carry a price -- even if it's just the price of making your site that much better and more compelling. These are reasons to tread carefully, not reasons to foreclose the potential opportunity of revenue generation on your site. If your revenue targets bear a reasonable relationship to your site's development and operating costs, and your revenue model maintains a responsible relationship to your organization's mission, your site's revenue model can provide a great source of financial support for your online operations, and your revenue-generating activities may even enhance the value you provide to users.If there are specific questions or issues you want us to tackle as we work our way through the different kinds of revenue options listed above, feel free to leave a comment below. And if you want to know when the next installment comes out, subscribe to the RSS feed for our Social Media for Socia[...]

Can Web 2.0 save the world?

Mon, 03 Dec 2007 23:51:15 +0000

It's easy to get fixated on the shiny toys of the Web 2.0 world: the latest invitation-only beta of the hottest new collaborative technology using the coolest whatever. Nothing wrong with that; our natural affinity for cool and new helps provide a built-in audience for technological innovators. But the bright glare of technological promise can obscure its social impact... and not just the negative effects that technology's critics are fond of citing. The social web holds enormous promise for social transformation. Alex recently posted about how you can help steer the web toward that promise, but it's also worth asking: just what makes us think the social web could be so transformative? Bear with me for a minute, because answering that question isn't as easy as it might look. Before you can say whether a particular technology can bring about change, you need to have an understanding of how social change happens... an understanding that's likely to evolve throughout your life. And one way my understanding of change is evolving is through the 2006 book Getting to Maybe by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quinn Patton. The authors take an in-depth look at several cases of social innovation from a range of perspectives: chaos and complexity theory, behavioural psychology and even biology and ecology. Drawing on examples from the so-called Boston Miracle to Brazil's fight against HIV/AIDS to the creation of the Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network*, they found tremendous diversity – but also important areas of common ground. And that led the authors to offer a series of recommendations (framed as advice to a philanthropist looking to support social innovation). Have a look at them... and see if you aren't as struck as I am by their alignment with the social web (italics are my comments): Support vision, people with a strong sense of calling, and emergent possibilities. One of the most powerful characteristics of the social web is the way it has tended to give the highest profile to those who combine passion with clarity, and transparency with authenticity. And the recombinant possibilities of features like tagging, RSS, aggregation and social networking create an environment where complex interactions can lead to emergence. Support intense interactions, networking and information exchange among those who have the potential to tip a system in a new direction. Remove barriers to innovation [and facilitate new interactions]. Conversation, content, connection and collaboration are the lifeblood of the social web. It offers tools to discover others who share your sense of calling, communicate with them across barriers of time and distance, and share ideas along the entire spectrum of media, from the crispness of text to the richness of video. Speak passionately about the things that really matter to you. Give voice to those you serve who live the problems you want to attack. The social web's killer application is self-expression – in particular honest, passionate self-expression – and the way it extends the ability to speak and be heard to a larger swath of the human race than at any time in history. Practise expressing your vision and calling in a way that helps you attract others of like mind and commitment. Be mindful and attentive to the reactions generated by what you say, and use those reactions to form powerful alliances for change. Take the emblematic medium of self-expression the social web: a blog. Its simple interface allows you to post quickly and easily; its culture encourages you to speak not only with facts and statistics, but with stories and self-revelation. Its newsfeed allows people to subscribe to your blog and then follow it – again, quickly and easily. Tagging allows your content to be discovered by like-minded people. And commenting, trackbacks and [...]

Best practices for non-profits using web 2.0

Sat, 29 Sep 2007 03:27:50 +0000

Just how much should you fear the Social Signal vendetta of the week™? Not that much, it turns out: no sooner had I written my tirade against LinkedIn Answers than I spent the evening answering them. The key to my change-of-heart? The discovery of a groundbreaking technology known as cutting and pasting. Sure, I'd rather have pulled my LinkedIn Answer with the miracle of RSS, but this is a decent plan B. So, without further ado, here is my answer of the day, in response to the following question from Seth Rosen: Which nonprofits are using Web 2.0 technology in an innovative way to listen and talk with their clients and constituents and further their missions?A lot has been written about Web 2.0, or the social web, to communicate and share information. Have you seen nonprofits do this effectively? How are they using the power of the web to spread information and have virtual conversations with their supporters? Here's my response: We work with a wide range of non-profit and change-oriented for-profit organizations who are using the web to deliver their message, but more crucially, to engage audiences in a conversation. Some of the best practices we note: Focus your site on a particular goal or conversation, rather than a general mandate. For example, the UN Foundation has had a dazzling success with its Nothing But Nets site, which focuses specifically on providing malaria nets to kids in the developing world. Invite your community to make contributions other than money. Non-profits often experience "donor fatigue" because so much of their public interactions hinge on asking for money. The web is a great place to ask for other kinds of contributions -- whether that means connecting people directly with people who need their expertise or services (as in Nabuur) or asking them to share their personal experiences (as with the March of Dimes' Share your Story project). Play nicely with other non-profit (and for-profit) organizations. The web is just that: a web of interconnections. Succeeding in an internetworked environment means working effectively with others, colllaborating, and interacting -- it's not just about getting your own message out there. So being a good 2.0 non-profit means engaging with conversations and ideas on other blogs. Change Everything, a project of the Vancity credit union, is in the middle of a contest that will award $1,000 to a non-profit organization -- and the contest has fuelled a great deal of interest and awareness of non-profit activities in British Columbia. Don't feel that web 2.0 means building your own online community. In fact, it's a lot easier to ease into the web 2.0 culture by making effective use of existing web tools -- whether that means fostering internal collaboration by choosing a common tag to use when storing your favorite web sites, or creating an iGoogle page that lets you constantly see the latest news in your key issue areas, or creating a photo-based petition on Flickr (check out the Oxfam example). Or try setting up a Facebook group -- we attracted 1300 people to a Flickr group within 3 weeks of launch. Once you're comfortable with the idea of web 2.0, you can starting thinking about whether it makes sense to build some community features into your own site. Be gentle with yourself, and your colleagues. It's a big challenge for most non-profits to shift from message delivery to conversation, or from approaching your members as donors to seeing them as content contributors. For organizations that have been all about the message, and have approached that for decades from a paradigm of message control and careful rollout, it is a genuine (and at times frightening) adventure to bring your audience into the conversation in public, and before you've got everybody lined up to stay "on mes[...]

Helping your community do what they want to online - even outside your website

Thu, 30 Aug 2007 03:13:16 +0000

How do you create a site that keeps people on your pages? By creating a site that's easy to leave.

Traditional web design often focused on keeping people on a site by reducing the number of exit points: with few or no external links, the logic goes, people will stay longer.

It doesn't work that way. The Internet is designed for hyperlinks, lateral exploration, serendipitous discovery. When you cut off exit routes, you're cutting off your site's circulation, and you're creating a stagnant site.

And people don't like to visit sites that feel cut-off from the rest of the Net. Just think of how annoying it is when you get trapped in one of those spam sites with the endless pop-ups: window after window opening until you think you'll never escape. It doesn't make you want to visit that site again, does it?

Healthy circulation -- in and out -- is even more important in a user-driven community. The experience of porousness, of connectedness to the larger Internet, is crucial to user engagement and participation. Think of some of the most popular Web 2.0 communities: Technorati,, digg, even Facebook: all of them build engagement through porousness, through pulling in the best of the larger web and letting users tag, remix and search it.

What comes in must go out, of course. All of that bookmarked, tagged, aggregated and shared content points to external web sites: people come in and out of these sites all day long.

And that principle of porousness doesn't just apply to sites that are deliberately set up as content archives. Any online community can benefit by embracing porousness: by highlighting, aggregating, republishing and remixing the best of the larger web.

Porousness can mean something as simple as adopting a tag for your site, and inviting people to tag their external blog posts with that tag so you can republish their posts. By making it easy for people to contribute to your site -- without requiring them to do their blogging on your own platform -- your site's content and freshness expands. You get a ton of inbound links from all those people blogging about you (hello, Google!) and you get lots of people reading about you on those external blogs.

What's in it for the bloggers? Traffic back to their own sites -- from the highlights you're republishing on your blog, linking back to their original posts. Yes, you're pointing YOUR visitors to THEIR external blogs -- but you're getting back many times the energy and interest from all these folks now blogging about you.

The alternative is to build a big wall to keep all those visitors locked in your own site. But any wall that keeps people in keeps even more people out.

Lijit: a social web search widget

Tue, 27 Feb 2007 08:17:21 +0000

I've just installed a nifty new widget on my personal blog. Called the Lijit, it uses Google to allow users to search my blog. Not a huge deal, you say? True enough.

But it does a lot more than that. Users can also search my entire Web 2.0 presence – Flickr photos, bookmarks, LinkedIn contacts and more. They can even search every blog in my blogroll. And I can track what visitors are searching for on my personal profile page, with popular search terms displayed in tag cloud format.

According to Lijit, they want to combine web searches with the filtering process we constantly pursue as we build our personal networks:

In real-life, people seek out advice from friends, co-workers, family, professionals, etc. Content is vetted though these social connections reducing the number of possibilities, and filtering for local relevance. This filtering is complex and it evolves through our entire lives. It is shaped by the experiences we have, the people we know, and the path that we take in life.

Lijit plans to build out the widget's features... including the inevitable financial incentives:

In the very, very near future we plan to give you interesting statistics about what people are searching you for, and who other experts may be that have that information. And, because you worked hard to write, bookmark, and read all that cool stuff we also plan to give you a way to monetize searches people make with your hard earned online ‘stuff’.

Because Lijit uses Google's Custom Search service, it requires you to submit a Gmail username and password (not necessarily – or advisably – your primary account). I felt a little queasy about that, although the site's Attention Trust certification helped that go down a little easier.

Some aspects of the service still aren't really documented. Just what a "Lijit list" is, for example, and what constitutes the "best" and "worst" hits on it, is absolutely cryptic to me; I couldn't find any reference to it in the help files.

That said, Lijit is still in beta. I'll be interested to see how that tag cloud evolves, and what uses people put the site to. Widgets are growing in popularity, so I'll be just as interested to see what other handy little gadgets this one inspires. I'll keep you posted.

Updated: First feature request – I wish you could opt to style Lijit yourself in CSS. Instead, the widget's Javascript snippet brings in a bunch of inline CSS styling of its own... including some that made it too wide for my blog's layout. I've had to rejig the page to accommodate it, which is pretty much the exact opposite of how a well-behaved widget should work.

Advice to social media mavens...from media pros

Mon, 29 Jan 2007 05:02:12 +0000

We're just back from two days in Houston as the guests of ttweak, a marketing, communications and design firm that shares our belief that authentic, original voices are the best way to convey a message. ttweak's best-known work is probably their Houston It's Worth It campaign, but their extensive and varied experience also includes a number of video projects that let interview subjects, rather than narrators, tell the story. ttweak principals Randy Twaddle and Dave Thompson proved to us that Houston is indeed worth it, not only for the food (mmm, bbq. I mean mmm, Mexican. I mean, mmm, Cajun.) but even more notably for the almost unbelievably friendly people.

While we were in Houston we had the opportunity to meet with a number of ttweak's clients, all of whom reinforced our impression that Randy and Dave have mastered the art of bottom-up marketing campaigns -- and did so long before us johnny-come-latelys in the Web 2.0 world started yakking on about user-generated content. Here's some of the wisdom we gleaned from their example and their advice:

  • Let participants speak for themselves. Don't drown out original voices with heavy-handed narration or moderation.
  • Remain tool agnostic. If your goal is to convey a message, you'll need to choose a different medium depending on the message you're delivering.
  • Production values matter. Don't kid yourself into thinking that people will see past your barebones interface to appreciate the depth or brilliant of your feature set. Appearance counts.
  • Invest in your local community. Even if your business has a national or international reach, a solid reputation with clients in your own city provides a bedrock for growth.
  • Build relationships with your client's entire team. During one client visit, we saw how ttweak's introduction counted with the CEO -- but we also saw Dave on hugging terms with the parking valet. We got a warm reception in the boardroom -- and a warm car waiting outside when we were done.
  • Client service is the surest way to grow a business. Resist the temptation to cash in by focusing on a single hot product, or cash out by selling your company to the highest bidder.
  • Do what you're great at. Over-reaching is the surest way to burn your client -- and your brand.

We're excited to work with a company that realizes Web 2.0 values of user engagement in all of its work. And thanks again to Randy and Dave for introducing us to their wonderful city!

Workshop: Web 2.0 and your organization

Mon, 01 Jan 2007 00:35:23 +0000

A Workshop sponsored by the Hollyhock Leadership Institute, Web of Change, IMPACS, Social Signal, Communicopia and Social Tech Brewing

Friday, March 16th: 6:30-9:30 pm
Saturday, March 17th: 9:30-4:30 pm

This workshop will be held in Vancouver. Location available upon registration.

Are you interested in how online communities like Flickr, MySpace, and YouTube can empower your members and customers to carry your message out into the world? Could your organization benefit from deeper collaboration among your team members, clients, partners or the public? Could better knowledge-sharing, stronger relationships and closer communications inside your organization and with your core supporters foster more efficiency, insight and effectiveness?

The latest generation of "Web 2.0" or social web strategies and tools offer powerful opportunities for organizations to improve the way they work, communicate their messages, empower others, and serve the public. In this workshop you will learn how the latest tools for online collaboration and community building can make your organization smarter and more effective.

This workshop is designed for communications strategists, marketing managers, and webmasters who are interested in how this evolution of the web can help evolve your organization's online strategy. We will give you the tools, knowledge, and most crucially, the vision for how your organization can use the web as a stronger agent of change. We’ll also cover the nuts-and-bolts, introducing the latest tools so that you know which options are most promising for your needs.

About the presenters: Jason Mogus is the CEO of Communicopia, which has helped progressive companies and non-profits communicate and collaborate via the web for 13 years. Jason is also the founder of Web of Change at Hollyhock. Alexandra Samuel, PhD , is CEO of Social Signal, and is helping some of the web's most ambitious community ecosystems use the social web to support dialogue and collaboration.

To register please call 800-933-6338 x232 or e-mail registration (at) hollyhock (dot) ca