Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why free now probably means free later. Or not.

The Bill
Image by mrmatt via Flickr
During my presentation to the Arizona Association of REALTORS™ last week, one in the crowd of some 200+ asked me a question. I'd been waxing poetically about the crazy world we "digital citizens" inhabit. This was most certainly not speaking to the choir. My audience was mostly people who haven't progressed much beyond email in the digital space. That's why I was invited -- to show them ahem... a simpler way to get into the digital world of 2010. OK, maybe 2007. :)

The question asked is one I get fairly frequently. Apologies to Helen if I mangle the question, but the jist was this:

If we spend all this time signing up for these free services (Google, specifically), what will we do once the company decides to start charging, and these free services are no longer free?

It's a fair question. A completely unfounded one, but fair. Yes, there are plenty of examples of services that start out for free and then change to a paid model. I'm facing this right now with Get Satisfaction, a service I've grown rather attached to over at So I'm forced to pay. Or unplug. But I don't want to unplug... so I'll pay. Not with too much grumbling, as it's a great service.

But please understand that what I'm going through with Get Satisfaction isn't a parallel. Google isn't about to start charging you to use Gmail or use their search engine. It's antithetical to their business model.

Also understand this: you aren't costing Google money when you search or send an email. You are allowing Google to make money. Every search you conduct is another ad impression they can serve, and another chance you might click on a paid ad they serve. Every email you access has ads on the side. Sure, you ignore them almost all the time. But sometimes they catch your eye -- or someone's eye -- and they get clicked on. Money for Google.

So no, Helen. I'm not worried that Google will suddenly start charging for Gmail or even Google Voice, the other service I mentioned in my talk. These tools entangle me with Google, increasing the chance that I'll keep using their services. And letting them keep serving me ads. That I'll mostly ignore. Mostly.

Three things:
  1. The reality is that it's much more complex than I've outlined. But that complexity is for pundits to argue about. When you get to that level... have a good time.
  2. Lots of services do start charging after a time. I said that before, but you probably forgot. Not every service is Google, and you should expect some of the services you grow attached to to start charging. You'll deal with that as it happens. Just like we do.
  3. I'm talking way too much about Google lately. I promise the next post will not be about Google, OK? Thanks for your patience.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Find out how much Google knows about you...

... and then prepared to be disappointed, for it's not all that Earth-shattering.

Yes, Google tracks your behavior as you navigate the web. And so do thousands (maybe only hundreds) of other online entities. And if you're shocked by that, you're either not paying attention or new. If the latter, welcome to my site. If the former, welcome to paying attention.

Google, and lots of other sites, track you by something known as a cookie. It's not tasty, and diabetics shouldn't worry. A cookie is a nothing more than an identifying tag that gets associate with your browser. When you browse to different websites, websites read and set cookies all the time. Cookies do not pass personally identifiable information. Anyone who tells you differently is incorrect1.

Yet this still weirds people out. They worry that some straw man, let's call him Big Brother, is collating all these cookie entries, web history and other data to actually figure out who you really are, for some unnamed yet nefarious gain. And to that I say: balderdash.

Some time ago, Google got sick of everyone freaking out what they did and didn't know about you. So now instead of sweating that Google is telling a host of advertisers about your predilection of visiting some er... well, unsavory sites you may have stumbled across but quickly left when you realized what it was honestly it was only that one time I'm a good boy I swear... now you can just check to see what sorts of interests Google thinks you're into.

My list is shown in this post. If that's all they have about me, you probably have nothing to worry about. I'm online all the time. I visit lots of sites I probably wouldn't want my grandmother surfing to anytime real soon. Yet those don't show up. And the categories that do seem a pretty close approximation to my interests.

Personally and professionally, I think that highly targeted ads do make for a better online experience. Notice I didn't say that ads make for a better online experience. They are a fact of life and won't go away. So if I have to look at the damned things2, they might as well be as targeted to me as they can get.

So the bottom line: don't be scared. And don't jump to conclusions. At least that's my $0.02. If you have a differing opinion, that's what the comments are for. But please, no crazy conspiracy theorists. If that's your thing, go bug my friend Phil. He digs that sort of stuff. :)

1 - Yes, it is possible. I'm also willing to concede that it may have happened in the past. But there are enough privacy watchdogs fighting the good fight that I sleep soundly at night.

2 - Yes, I realize there are plenty of ad blocking programs or tweaks available to me. They aren't worth my time. They may be worth yours.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

You're doing it wrong in the bathroom

I get the need to market yourself. I really do. It's a down economy. You've got bills to pay. You want to make sure you make the most out of every opportunity to sell you product, service or business.

But isn't this going a little to far? Forcing your business cards on everyone you accost meet at an event is a bad idea. Littering every table in the venue just wastes business cards. But when you strategically place said business cards in the men's room on the urinals... you've taken the concept of wrong to a whole new level. And you certainly haven't figured out the meaning of the word strategic.

I snapped this picture at a local internet marketing event I attended this week. Yes, I said a marketing event. And no, it wasn't staged. And yes, both cards were placed in this configuration by the president -- the president! -- of the company. He placed others on the wash basin counter, but they didn't quite capture the same spirit as this shot. Remember: marketing event. [sigh]

Laughable? Yes. Hell yes. Remarkable? Yes, but not in the way he wanted. Plenty of remarks were made.

Let this be a cautionary tale. Your ill-planned attempts at drumming up business might do more harm than good. Seek business wherever you can, but know that some places are off-limits.

And I'll start off the puns -- What a piss-poor attempt! Have fun in the comments!

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Don't forget about the basics: My talk to the AZ Assn of REALTORS® today

Logo of the National Association of Realtors.
Image via Wikipedia
Today I'm driving up to Prescott to speak at the Arizona Association of REALTORS® 2010 Winter Conference. It's the same talk I gave to the National Association of REALTOR® late in 2009. And yes, you have to capitalize REALTORS and add the ® mark!

The talk is called Digitally Expose Yourself : Building Your Web Presence, and is aimed at those who are very brand new to the digital space. In fact, if you have any online acumen at all, you'll watch the presentation below wondering just who the heck needs this extremely low-level information.

Well, judging from the 350+ people in the room in San Diego a few months ago furiously taking notes, a lot more people than you think. And that's a good lesson to just about anyone in the digital space -- don't assume that your audience is at your level. Chances are, they aren't.

When I gave the talk the first time, I went to great pains to explain how basic the info was and gave my express permission for anyone to get up, walk out, and enjoy one of the other presentations going on at the same time as mine. Three people did. Three hundred and fifty stayed. And about a dozen had more questions after I was done. People are hungry for this information, and I'm happy to provide it to them.

How basic? See for yourself. Below is my dry run of the talk in SlideCast form. Not quite the same as seeing me live, but it's a close approximation.

And I hope someone turns the heater on before I get back to Phoenix. I hear they've just got a fresh batch of snow in Prescott. Yikes!

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Building your skills as a connector

Close connection - Verbundenheit
Image by alles-schlumpf via Flickr
As we progress closer to the post-scarcity world, it seems that nearly everyone is developing unique skillsets. Copywriters, mobile application developers, HTML5 experts, local business specialists, video optimizers... and those are just people I met yesterday. Mix in the countless jobs and specializations that have been around for years and you'll see that entrepreneurs and business owners now have a nearly endless talent pool.

If, that is, they can find them.

That's where the connector comes into play. Connectors know people. They know the skills that people offer and have a general understanding of how that skill fits into the marketplace. Connectors understand the rules of the new economy and are keen at spotting trends. As the economy improves, the need for well-positioned connectors will grow. Do you know one yet?

Building your connecting skills

Being a connector takes certain skills. And any skill can be honed. Here are some tips on doing just that, and a call for help at the end.

  • Build a network.
    There isn't an end-goal to a connector's network. We don't have a certain number of friends or followers in mind. We don't select a handful of social networks and ignore the rest. More important, we build out network outside the online world.

  • Stay informed.
    Connectors have become masters at drinking from the firehose. Yes, it's an ungodly amount of information. But along the way we've developed techniques and adopted tools that help intelligently filter out much of the noise so we can focus on the signal. Still, it's not easy.

  • Be visible.
    It's all for naught if the people looking for a connector don't know you exist. Offer to speak at conferences. Teach at events. Lead panel discussions. Create SlideCast presentations and share them with the world. Blog! Get used to creating copious amounts of material. Think like a publisher, and share everything -- and everyone -- you know.

  • Cultivate your list.
    Here's that cry for help: I'm lousy at this part. While I'm pretty good at recalling information and figuring out who's the best person when I'm asked to make a connection, my network has grown to the point where it's no longer efficient. I tend to keep going back to the same wells. Or I see the same person multiple times and fail to remember what unique skill set they offer.

How do you cultivate and care for your list of connections?

While there are plenty of contact management systems out there, they tend to be aimed at casual relationships or sales leads. The former seems more what I need than the latter, but the latter tend to be much more robust than the former. But too robust leads to clunky, and I don't have the time to spend on that.

I want an Evernote-simple tool that I can both dump info into and quickly pull info out of. I want to know who does what, and I want to know who's doing what new thing right now. I want magic, I know that. But Evernote proved that magic in the form of advanced technology does or will exist. I'm just waiting for the application in this space. Unless it already exists and I missed it? Help a brother out!

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Promoting may not be the best way to spend your time

Wacky Waving Inflatable Flailing Arm Man
Image by jcrew270 via Flickr
Conventional wisdom tells us that time, money and energy need to be spent on promotion. Whether you work for a business, are in business for yourself or maybe you are the business of yourself, you'll feel the pressure to promote. And you'll find countless examples of others who spend lots of time, energy and money on promotion. Promote, promote PROMOTE!

But what if you took all that time you spent promoting your business, your venture, your product, yourself... and spent that time instead being truly remarkable?

How much time would you need to spend promoting if you were truly doing remarkable things?

The fact is that most things that are promoted aren't remarkable. They aren't that much different than other similar things, of which there may be dozens, hundreds or thousands. In effect, they are terribly average -- even if they are quite good. So someone has to promote these average things to take away mind-share from other interchangeable average things. If these things were instead remarkable, people would make remarks about them. In turn, other people would make remarks, and others... And the cycle perpetuates. Sans promotion, perhaps?

Of course, you can't be remarkable in a vacuum. Someone has to have knowledge of "the thing" before they can make remarks about "the thing". And to do that, someone needs to put "the thing" in front of the audience most likely to make those remarks. But is that promoting? Or is that just smart marketing? Or is it something else entirely?

So given the choice of spending time, money and energy on either promoting or being truly remarkable... which will you choose?

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Monday, March 8, 2010

State of the Internet video

It's no secret I'm a fan of numbers. Facts and figure are just... cool. Especially when they are presented in a way that makes them interesting to everyone.

A recent "State of the Internet" video showcases some of these numbers. The word staggering comes to mind.

JESS3 / The State of The Internet from JESS3 on Vimeo.

Still think this whole social media thing is just a fad? I've got news for you: this is the internet today. Get used to it.