Archive for the ‘blogging’ Category

Are you now or have you ever been a commentist?!

Since I have a foot in the music “industry”, one of my regular reads in my RSS Reader is the Musician Coaching blog by Rick Goetz. He quite often has posts of interest to me. But last week, he had one that hit me right in the bull’s-eye: an interview with a singer-songwriter about how she built her career around house concerts.

About now, you’re asking what a house concert is. Quick explanation: a house concert is a musical event where a host opens up his or her home to a performing musician, and that musician is paid by donations from the audience. My partner and I started doing house concerts in 2007, and have had about 40 evenings where amazing musicians have left audiences laughing, crying, or just about any reaction in between.

After I carefully read the post, I left a comment praising the post, adding some background and context, and correcting (politely and constructively) some misstatements. That was on March 21. I waited a while, then dropped back to the site to see if there was any response to my comment. It was still in moderation. And, as I write this, there it remains, in moderation. After a few days I emailed Goetz to ask if there was some reason my comment wasn’t being approved, and I tweeted him as well. To this point, I haven’t heard from him. It’s been five days.

I’m not egotistical enough to think that being deprived of my comment is something that will affect anybody. But I do want to point out a problem that many websites face – handling comments well.

To effectively manage commenting, there are two things to keep in mind: your policy, and your technology.

First, policy. Decide if you even want comments. Most of the time, the advantage of comments — the extension of the conversation —  outweighs the disadvantages. But if you are concerned about abusive comments, about spam or malware, or have another reason for not wanting to allow comments, then that’s a choice you have the right to make. For example, übersite Copyblogger has just ended commenting on its site, arguing that the conversation shouldn’t be confined to its own property, but should be “in the cloud.” I don’t quite get that, but hey, they’re way more important than me, so …

You need to think about whether you are going to allow anonymous comments. I am generally of the belief that you should be confident enough in what you say that you’re willing to say it under your own name. Much of the worst vitriol online is generated by people using anonymous handles rather than real names. There’s no “right” answer to this beyond the answer you decide is right.

If you decide to accept comments, then you need to think about how you’re going to do it. You can let the floodgates open up and allow people to comment willy-nilly, without moderation. You can have people moderated the first time, but are given free rein once they’ve had a first comment approved. You can always have comments moderated. If I’m working in that environment, I get email notifications when I have comments, and I pretty much ALWAYS immediately click on them. If you’re going to moderate, you’re pretty much committing to TIMELY moderation or you’re going to take the wind out of the conversational sail.

If you moderate, you also need to make clear somewhere on your site why you moderate, and under what circumstances you won’t approve a comment. It’s much easier to point people to your house rules and explain why what they wrote is not going up on the site: personally abusive, obscene language, racist content, etc. are some of the reasons that are quite valid for rejecting a comment. AND DO NOT rewrite anyone’s comments. That’s just not done.

Now, to the technology.

Most modern blog software have built-in commenting systems. My usual recommendation is to ditch those. They’re pretty rudimentary, and there are better ones that you can plug in with little difficulty. There are three that are commonly used: Livefyre, Disqus, and Facebook. The nice thing about these commenting systems is that they allow things like threaded discussions, so that you can follow the flow of a discussion. They also allow people to sign in using a variety of social media tools (e.g. Sign in using Twitter, Google, etc. etc.). That makes it easy for people to sign in. While I’m not a giant fan of Facebook-based comments, there’s one undeniable advantage to them — when people comment using the FB comments, it will more often than not pop up on their wall, which may lead to people discovering your post from the commenter’s wall.

So put a little thought into your strategy around blog commenting. It’ll pay off down the road.

“Why You Are Stupid” – my Social Capital presentation

In a fit of perversity, I decided to submit a proposal to the 2013 Social Capital Conference with the title “Why you are Stupid.” I wanted to talk about some of the things that we social media people do that are… stupid. Generally speaking, I was thinking of:

  1. Stupid offensive
  2. Stupid boring
  3. Stupid and poor (budgetwise)

I decided that I thought I’d see if I could turn the crowd (assuming there WAS one) away and then try to pull them back in.

Here’s how I promoted the session:

I THINK I did okay at living up to the billing. But I’ll leave that for the audience to decide, and perhaps share. You can chime in based on the slides here:

More importantly than my own presentation is the success of the conference. Lara Wellman and Karen Wilson of the eponymous Wellman Wilson Communications led the organization with many other volunteers, and they pulled off a great conference. Why did I enjoy it so much? Here are a few reasons:

  • Keynotes. I got the opportunity to see friend Danny Brown do a keynote for the first time. And I got a totally different sense of why he’s so smart from seeing him in that context. Made me proud to be friends with him. The other keynote was delivered by Gini Dietrich, who for me existed in that odd world of having been friends for literally YEARS online without ever having met. I told someone yesterday that before Gini and her colleague Lindsay Bell-Wheeler arrived at a Friday night reception, I was literally a bundle of nerves inside, desperately hoping that I wouldn’t be too much of a dork in their presence. That jury may still be out, but there’s no doubt that Gini is a charming and polished and top-notch speaker, and that Lindsay just might prove the sayings about the relative depth of the Atlantic Canadian gene pool. She feels like a sister after just one meeting. Which is likely bad news for her, since that just means more insults.   
  • Collaboration. When Danny was confirmed as keynote, I really wanted to do something to celebrate the launch of Influence Marketing, the book he just published with Sam Fiorella. So I got in touch with Caitlin Kealey at MediaStyle, another Ottawa communications consultancy, and they jumped in with both feet, putting together (with some help from me) a super fun event called Gin and Talkin‘. MediaStyle President Ian Capstick interviewed Danny, there was great food and better drink, and several dozen people ended up with complementary copies of the book, courtesy of Translucid and of MediaStyle. It was a great kickoff to a hectic weekend. And I never could have put together an event that good on my own.
  • Connection. While it’s rewarding to go to events like #socapott and reconnect with the people you already know, it’s just as exciting to meet new people and learn from them and discover what makes them cool. While I was a bit limited in doing that due to a family wedding in the middle of all this, I got to know a number of people at the conference that I hope to know better in the future.

Oh, and one bonus:

  • Karaoke. A group of us decided on post-conference festivities at Ottawa’s legendary Shanghai Restaurant, home to Saturday night Karaoke with the one and only China Doll. We got there to discover two bachelorette parties already heating up the mics, and then China Doll made a late appearance to show off Ottawa’s best to some locals and out of towners.

If I can leave you with one takeaway from my presentation, it’s this:

Raise your own expectations is a double-edged sword. If you expect your own work to be better, to be smarter, you will spread that expectation to others. Your boss, your clients, your friends will expect you to be that good NORMALLY. That’s intimidating, but it’s also necessary. Push beyond the stupid and the easy. 

That’s one of the things that I’m going to try to do. Might not be a bad idea to take my own advice.

Fish where the Socialfish are.

I’ve been more and more interested in smaller organizations lately. Many small businesses and associations are using social media very well. But many others — among them people who I’ve worked with or who I’ve taught social media courses at Algonquin College — find social media to be a perplexing challenge.

Maddie Grant

Maddie Grant, series creator

I think one of the biggest parts of the social media challenge for small businesses and not-for-profits is to create a strategy that allows them to be confident they can meet the demands that social media place on an organization. I think it’s crucial that organizations without giant budgets or staff have a chance to create and maintain an effective social media presence.

You’ll have a chance to learn how to create a content strategy as part of a small organization from… well, me, this August. I will be part of the Summer Think Tank Series presented by SocialFish and CommPartners. This series of webinars is bound to be useful for people working in associations, not-for-profits, or any small organization. Maddie Grant has led the development of this series of webinars, and she has done a pretty impressive job.

Check out this lineup:

Each of the webinars costs $129 US, and the whole series can be purchased for $499 US. And if you drop me an email, I might even have a discount code for you.

It’s a real honour to be in the lineup with these talented communicators who I like and respect. And I’m looking forward to finishing the presentation and doing it online, hopefully with you in attendance.

FIR Book Club with Gini Dietrich TOMORROW

One thing that really gets me going is conversation with smart people. I’m very lucky to know some that I get to see face to face, and then there are the people who I don’t know personally but get to hear speak or converse with.

And tomorrow, I get to speak with Gini Dietrich, co-author with Geoff Livingston of Marketing in the Round as part of the FIR Book Club. If you’re not familiar with FIR, it’s “For Immediate Release.” I do book reviews for that must-listen podcast, and I host these online talks as well.

Gini Dietrich is smart, funny, and prolific. She’s the founding CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based communications company that describes itself as a firm that started as “a very traditional public relations firm” and is now “a company that helps clients monitor and measure online efforts against business goals…providing an alternative to their traditional marketing efforts.”

In addition to their many clients, Arment Dietrich is responsible for the cheeky blog Spin Sucks and the PR resource site Spin Sucks Pro. And Gini became a first-time author with the publication of Marketing in the Round, a highly useful book on integrated marketing and communications in a social media age.

I’m excited to have 60 minutes to talk with Gini about her book and the ideas she and Geoff brought to it, and to offer listeners the chance to join that conversation.

If you want a primer on the book, you could listen to my review of the book on the FIR site. Then, join us on Talkshoe as a listener or a caller at 2 Eastern time tomorrow, won’t you?

Partial PAB presentation

It gave me great pleasure — and more than a little nervousness — to have my presentation idea accepted by Mark and Bob for the final PAB conference in Ottawa.

I wrote a bit about the conference earlier. But here’s an edited version of my presentation from PAB, which was an attempt to argue that bloggers and content creators could steal a technique and a principle or two from more traditional forms of content creation (like… journalism). Hope you like it. And feel free to argue with me.

Rock & Roll is a Vicious Game. Politics too.

Anthony Marco I am much more the armchair quarterback than the participant when it comes to politics. I volunteered on an NDP campaign in Halifax back in the 80s, and I tried to help a friend become an Ottawa city councillor in 2006. Beyond that, I’m a dutiful voter and an active discusser. I don’t know many politicians. I’ve met a few, from time to time. But I don’t really know them.

So watching the assassination of a friend’s character in 24 hours has been a sobering experience.

Anthony Marco is someone I’ve met through PAB. I consider him a friend in the social-media sense of the word. We might not speak for months at a time. More likely, we might trade an e-mail, a tweet, or I might leave a comment on one of his several podcasts. Anthony is a dynamic speaker, he’s a great writer and a superb podcaster.

And he’s also the NDP’s candidate for the riding of Ontario PC party leader Tim Hudak.

And since yesterday, he’s been the subject of a story in the Toronto Sun, and now the smearing of the Liberal Party’s war room. The source of the outrage in the Sun story? Anthony said, in a podcast, that he was an atheist, that he thought churches were great examples of brand loyalty, and that he sometimes considered religion equivalent to a hobby. The comment thread at the Sun story quickly degenerated to juvenile and insulting personal comments.

Now the Liberal party, led by its prominent war-room blogger Warren Kinsella, has decided to paint Anthony as a “kook”, a “lunatic”, and to insinuate that he is somehow anti-Semitic and/or sympathetic to Nazism. By referring to one (I’m waiting to find out which one)  of his more than 300 podcast episodes at LoveHateThings.

Since I haven’t the time to listen to all 332 episodes, I can’t determine whether the quotes are accurate, or whether the context would have something to say about them. So I’m not going to try (at this point) to defend them, beyond saying I’ll wait until I know what the actual content tells me.

What I will say is this. I know enough about Anthony Marco to know a misrepresentation when I see one. And if this is how the game of politics is played, I pity our country. If political parties are willing to listen to hundreds of hours of audio to search out something to smear a fundamentally good man, to paint him as an anti-Semite, then I now see one reason for our country’s political disengagement.

Someone once said that you don’t want to see two things being made: sausages, and laws. I would now add political victories to that list. This is ugly, and infuriating, and nauseating, and sleazy. And it makes me wonder just how many other good, worthy people have lost elections because of this sort of nonsense. Sad, isn’t it?

UPDATE: I appear to have been banned from Warren Kinsella’s website. Mr. Kinsella posted a reply to me that read “Then beat it.” I replied with “Cogent.” He deleted that reply in the moderation queue. I then replied again, assuming that it was a mistake. The second reply was deleted, and he then added significantly to his comment. You can find the thread here. I suppose I should start emptying my closets. God knows what skeletons Mr. Kinsella will find there.

In any case, just to be sure that SOMEONE gets to read my reply to his comment, I’ll post it here.

Warren, I’m not sure what your issue is here. When it started, you said that this candidate  was deserving of censure because he was in some way denigrating those who “fought Nazis.” However, the direct quote suggests nothing of the sort. It argues that trying to change the mind of those who hold Nazi-like beliefs is futile. I agree. I’m not going to waste time trying to convince a lunatic that his Holocaust-denial beliefs are mistaken. Might as well tell Michelle Bachman that the HPV vaccine is safe. Now, you’re accusing this candidate of a “paean to Mein Kampf.” Again, I see nothing of the sort in the expanded quoted text. In fact, I read it as an argument against book-burning. As the organizer of an event called Censored Out Loud here in Ottawa, I tend to disagree with book burning. Even when the book is the product of a homicidal maniac. I would argue in order to understand such human monsters as Adolf Hitler, we need to read and comprehend their writings. When you wrote “Web of Hate”, an excellent and courageous book, did you read neo-Nazi literature? Perhaps even Mein Kampf? Does your reading it imply an endorsement? Of course not. We owe it to ourselves as a society to understand those we oppose. Even the loathsome. I’m disappointed that you would put your political ambitions above a commitment to honesty and fairness. 

Some worthy advice for new politicians… and others.

BlogIn Ontario, new mayors and councillors are settling in for a four-year term that began last night.

Here in Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson was sworn in, along with the 24 city councillors, 10 of whom were new to council. That’s a big turnover in municipal politics, where incumbents are generally thought to have a great advantage in election races.

The ceremony was marked by a couple of interesting symbolic actions. First, instead of City Hall, the ceremony was held at the Shenkman Arts Centre, a new city-owned arts facility in Ottawa’s suburban east end. And second, rather than a wine and puff pastry reception, Watson ‘called a friend at Tim Horton’, and the ceremony featured donated coffee, cookies and donuts from the company. Apparently that saved taxpayers $25,000. Yay, I guess.

Eric Darwin of the truly excellent West Side Action blog attended the swearing-in ceremony. One paragraph way down in his post about the ceremony really caught my attention(emphasis mine):

While chatting with a new councillor and a few other residents, someone pointed out I wrote the West Side Action blog. The conversation then turned to the blog, recent posts, the value of the micro-reporting on neighborhood affairs … and I noticed the councillor had drifted away, no longer centre of attention. Conclusion: Councillors, start a blog today, blog daily, if you don’t write it yourself get a staffer to do so, and write in plain English and not bureaucratese. Get someone who can spell better than me.

Compare this with some similar advice given to Carleton University by David Reevely, the “Greater Ottawa” blogger (also truly excellent, by the way) at the Ottawa Citizen yesterday(again, emphasis mine):

People want to talk to people, not to Carleton as a corporate entity. There are no people [on Carleton's new community engagement site]. It’s just an empty room. Maybe Katherine Graham could blog. Just her — no committee approving the posts and making sure they all align with Carleton’s strategic plan and have enough Latinate words in them. Just be a human being talking about work she’s proud of.

Sensing a theme here, folks? Is it a sign of a collective failure that 10 years after Pyra Labs launched Blogger, this advice still has to be given? And attention Rob Ford: it’s not free, but it’s pretty close, and I’m sure we’d all be entertained.

TSA coulda been a social media contender (updated)

There was a time when I pointed to the Transportation Security Administration as an example in social media, like this:

Hey, if the TSA can start a blog, what’s stopping other government agencies?

But I have to say that they’re fumbling badly with the introduction of their new Advanced Imaging Technology machines and the “advanced patdown” – also known as the “Don’t touch my junk” patdown.

I don’t need to tell you how much attention all of this is getting and how many gaffes and incidents are getting attention now.From women being asked to remove breast prostheses to children being patted down to an amputee having to run her prosthetic leg through the luggage x-ray machine to a woman doffing her duds and trying to be patted down in lingerie to (and this one hit home for me) a bladder cancer survivor having his urostomy bag broken by the pat-down and having to board his plane with pants soaked with his urine.

And tomorrow seems like it’s going to make things even worse, with “National Opt-Out Day” encouraging US travellers to opt out of the scanners and allow themselves to get groped.

The TSA’s response? In part, this video:

Not an image of Blogger Bob. This is The Stig.

Not Blogger Bob.

Ouch. The lameness burns.

UPDATE: The very smart (and very good on how to work with video) Ike Pigott has taken a run at why the Pistole video doesn’t work in his very worthwhile blog Occam’s Razor. Check it out.

TechCrunch has pointed to the mysterious “Blogger Bob” as having the most unenviable job in social media — that of running the TSA’s social media presence. He’s at the former “Evolution of Security” blog and he’s running the one official TSA Blog Team twitter account. And man, he takes a lot of heat.

But the problem with TSA isn’t their social media activity. It’s that their social media activity isn’t matching up with their real-world actions. Blogger Bob is trying to do his best in the time-honored Dell model, but it doesn’t feel like TSA is doing what Dell did to re-engineer their business and to better meet their customers’ expectations and demands.

If I use TSA as an example in a future, it is going to be more along the lines of:

Don’t start down this road unless you’re willing to actually CHANGE based on what you hear. Just saying you’re listening only gets you so far.

So to Blogger Bob, I wish a happy and stress-free American Thanksgiving. To all those travelling, I hope your trips are free of horror stories.

To the TSA, I hope that you’re soon better able to balance the need for security with basic human rights.

And finally, if that video by TSA administrator John Pistole has left you with a bad taste in your mouth, here’s something that’s about airport security, but also a bit more entertaining: webisodes from the Gruppo Rubato production of “Airport Security”, starring buds Kris Joseph and Nancy Kenny, among others.

Audio from my Cafe Scientifique panel discussion

Last night (Tuesday, May 25), Ian Capstick, Erik Hagborg and I were the panelists for a hugely fun (at least for me) panel discussion on social media and its effects on more “traditional” communications. The discussion was part of the Cafe Scientifique program. This discussion was organized by The Canada Museum of Science and Technology and the Canadian Museum of Nature. Particular thanks should to to Isabelle Kingsley, who organized the event.

Here’s roughly the entire evening in audio format. It’s about 100 minutes long, and it ranges from the future of cursive script, to the “art should / shouldn’t be free” debate, to the fundamental disadvantage of the e-book (hint: “Hey! Read this!”) to how we preserve the important things in a digital age that doesn’t preserve things in tangible format.

Apologies for any rough audio — it was a big room and I was recording only with my Edirol. Mostly pretty good, I think. The audio begins with Erik Hagborg’s opening remarks. Download it here, or use the player below.

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  • 00:00 — Opening statements. Erik takes us back to the beginning of communications with the run at Marathon, then moves on to the four questions of the evening: Are we conducting too many of our relationships via tech? Why do we choose to use technology to communicate? Does tech facilitate or impede face-to-face communications? Are technology and f2f interactions complementary or exclusive? (Bonus from Erik: The difference between a “friend” and a “good friend”?)
  • 05:45 — Ian Capstick talks about his earliest experience with technology and F2F communication, when he was a teenager and met online friends in Ottawa at a choral conference.
  • 09:20 – Ian’s train of thought is briefly interrupted as his dinner arrives.
  • 11:40 — Ian recalls the phone phreakers as one of several examples of how humans hack technology for good and ill.
  • 15:25 -- Bob acknowledges that concern about social media is fair, but fear is unreasonable. People will use technologies in the ways that best suit them, and that one of the tension points with social media is that they are changing and growing so rapidly that our collective, unconscious agreements on what’s proper — the norms of using the medicum — are being left behind. Social media killed geography as the defining limit of friendship.
  • 23:00 — I inform the audience that Mel Blanc was allergic to carrots (as is Ian Capstick)
  • 24:00 – Discussion kicks off with an anecdote from moderator Isabelle Kingsley about texting as distraction
  • 26:00 — How to sift through “all the crap” on the Internet, and whether there’s more crap on the Internet than there was before, with a slight detour into Internet dating
  • 34:00 — Ian recommends Andrew Potter’s “The Authenticity Hoax
  • 37:00 — Discussion about the idea of digital legacy, in which I deftly pimp out PAB 2010. Adele McAlear and Derek K. Miller, come on down to pick up your name-checks! Ian argues that the problem won’t be a lack of information left behind but TOO MUCH.
  • 40:00 — Erik talks about the craft behind communication — the calligraphy and the content of handwritten letters, for example. We won’t lose the CONTENT; we’re going to lose the style and soul. Ian counters by saying “the pen stole oral history,” polls the audience on the use of cursive handwriting, and nominates Isabelle Kingsley as the leader of the future handwriting guild.
  • 46:00 — Where will obsolete media be preserved? Punch cards, 8-inch floppies, 5.25s, 3.5s… Erik suggests most technologies will be backwards-compatible and that this is not a huge worry. He also admits to, as a child, ruining his father’s punch-card programs on their home mainframe (parenthetical note: Erik had a mainframe in his HOUSE?!)
  • 49:00 — Bob shouts out to Project Gutenberg and Librivox as examples of how people are preserving ‘outdated’ content
  • 51:00 — Do people have opinions on e-books? Ian is conflicted and thinks there’s a generational shift involved with the shift from paper to pixels. Bob hates the DRM, the lack of pass-on-ability and marginalia and mourns the loss of craft in e-books as well as the LP-CD-MP3 transition.
  • 55:00 — Erik jumps on a DRM soapbox and ventures the “art wants to be free” argument, to be countered strongly by Ian and audience members, and weakly by house-concert presenter Bob (yes, I’m shamelessly whoring myself; it’s my blog.) Erik maintains that examples of commercial success exist.
  • 59:00 — Ian begs to differ and betrays his proud socialist heritage by arguing creating content has to be valued and compensated (shoutout, Cory Doctorow)… “we must find alternative funding models!”, and takes a run at Robert Bateman (f-bomb warning)
  • 1:06 — Discussion of the power of social media tools to connect people and to foster awareness and action internationally, with references to Iran, to Burma, Michael Jackson, balloon boy, and to the local experience of Ian and my blogging about Cornerstone.
  • 1:16 –  Does reliance on specific ways of communicating leave you excluded from some people because they don’t use the same channels? Discussion of how to get out of your “comfort zone”, how Bob’s next-door neighbour reached out using Facebook to make the introduction (thank God), and how Ian met his condo-mate at a ChangeCamp.
  • 1:27 –  Does the desire for texting / tweeting / constant “communicating” mean people miss out on genuine interactions?
  • 1:30 — The difficulty of sloppy communication, and how interpretation of communication tells as much about the  interpreter as about what is being interpreted.
  • 1:34 — after an awkward jump-cut where I muffed the recorder, Ian gives his online parenting advice, which incorporates a story about his own adolescent online adventures in the land of shirtless men. Bob talks about tailoring communication media to the audience, whether family or not.

Errata: I talk about Librivox at about 48-49 minutes in. But I screwed up: it’s Hugh McGuire, not Hugh MacLeod, who created Librivox. Hugh MacLeod is also a great human being, but for other reasons.

Links:

Erik Hagborg is a VP at RealDecoy

Ian Capstick is the owner of MediaStyle

Canada Museum of Science and Technology

Canadian Museum of Nature

Librivox

Project Gutenberg

ChangeCamp

Cornerstone

Changecamp

CBC gig on "the art of blogging"

I’ll be appearing on Ottawa Morning next Wednesday morning (listen online via their web site) to talk about the “art of blogging.”

They’re still working out the rest of the panel, but apparently one of the two owners of “Victoire”, a very cool boutique here in Ottawa and host of “Notre Victoire”, will be on.

I’m going to open this up and ask for people to give me the end of this sentence:

“the key to the art of blogging is … ” and I’ll pimp the response I find most interesting / annoying / entertaining / thought-provoking on air. If Kathleen Petty doesn’t cut my mic.

Go at it.

Ciao,
Bob.