web2.0

Trying Out Neeva

“…advertising income often provides an incentive to provide poor quality search results.”

– Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in a 1998 research paper while they were doctoral students at Stanford

I’ve been trying out the search engine service Neeva lately. You can read more about the founding of the company by ex-Googler Sridhar Ramaswamy here (it’s a fascinating story).

I come from the time when the web was still in its primordial stage. Thought technologies such as web browsers and search engines were still young and completely exhilarating. I paid for Netscape (and I was amazed when I got to college in 1996 and walked into the computer lab with 8 machines running Netscape, WordPerfect, Office, and the Corel suite). Browsers and search engines and minute-based access to the web were something you paid for (unless you stockpiled AOL disks like I did).

Neeva is definitely a different service. I’m still wrapping my head around it, but it feels like a good mix of “old school web” and what we’ll eventually get to once we exit this period of advertising-based “free” services that have been the predominate business model on the web for the last 15 years.

The search interface is clean and fast. There are no ad trackers. The company is looking to make money by offering subscriptions. That’s intriguing for me. I’ve never been a big fan of the saying “if you’re not paying for a service, you’re the product” and all, but it does ease my mind to exchange money for what I consider valuable services on the web (Pinboard for bookmarking comes to mind).

Google is such an intimate part of all of our lives, whether we care to admit it or not. Our memories, correspondence, social graphs, birthday reminders, calendars etc are all wrapped up in the service (at least… much more than that for “power users” like myself). But we need alternatives.

I’ll continue experimenting with Neeva to see if it’s one of the dandelions that pops up to spread seeds across the ecosystem of the web or if it’s just a one-season deal. But it “feels” like it has staying power. And for that, I’m excited. Will report back here about my usage as it accumulates in the coming weeks.

R.I.P. Stumbleupon

Stumbleupon was one of those services that I loved to talk about on my blog or during a conference presentation back in the ’00s when describing the glorious democratized future that web2.0 would bring us. Twitter was still a texting service called twttr and Facebook was still at Harvard. You could edit the CSS on your MySpace page and make your profile ugly. We all had blogrolls. Forums still mattered and mods were there to keep the conversation in line. It was a fun and engaging period of time to be on the web. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as I thought they would and here we are in the Digital Dark Age of commodified social interactions and proprietary human farms built on the back of unmoderated advertising based on avarice and attention.

I wasn’t a particularly heavy user of Stumbleupon, but it was a fun service that helped me discover quite a few sites and resources over the years. I’m sad to see it go.

But now there’s no more of Stumbleupon’s pure, unadulterated content. All we have is angst-filled social media with a new monster around every corner. Sad stumbling through the interwebs now, everyone. Sad stumbling and watch your step.

Source: Stumbleupon died right when we needed it the most

Defending the Liberal Arts

Long overdue…

The new statement offers a counterargument to the notion that the liberal arts are impractical, and perhaps unnecessary. The disciplines, it argues, increase students’ curiosity, prepare them to be lifelong learners, and offer a foundation for academic freedom. As a result, the associations argue, the benefits of the liberal arts should be available to “all college students and not solely a privileged few.”

— Read on www.chronicle.com/article/2-Associations-Forcefully/243544

Blogging Isn’t Dead

I’d have to disagree with this…

Blogging is Dead – But Long Live the Blogosphere – exploreB2B: “While the thought process remains the same today (‘Here is what I think, read my blog’) – the effect is minimal, if anything at all. A viewer may read an article on your blog, maybe even find it interesting, but then never return. Memory of the author, ideas in the post (and certainly the URL), are long forgotten amongst the array of activity online.”

The main reason I would disagree with the sentiment that “blogging is dead” is because it isn’t. Sure, the concept, tools, and way we write our blogs today have changed since the inception of blogging back in the late 90s and early 2000s, but blogging is far from dead.

Even though people aren’t doing the type of hyper-personal blogging which they were doing back in the late 90s and early 2000s anymore, blogging as a medium is still very valid and a great way to carve out your own space on the web. Blogging is a key part of what we consider the open web since it uses “old-school” components like RSS and a blog isn’t a walled garden you have to log into. The type of trade-offs you have with walled gardens such as Facebook are nonexistent when you start your own site given that you run it on your own server, etc. It’s a geeky process and takes a little bit of heavy lifting here and there, but it’s worth it considering that you keep control over what you do.

I started my first blog (and I still write there) on a whim back in July 2011 and I can honestly say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done on the web. The magnificent thing about writing your own site is that you can learn so much from others and yourself. You practice and become a better writer and as you devote a little more time to it here and there, you learn about a few other things too (like design, SEO, moving things around on a server, and what you should and shouldn’t put on a site). Looking back at some posts I wrote in 2011 and last year, I have to cringe and scratch my head a great deal, but that’s part of the learning process that comes with anything on the web.

I’ve learned a ton and continue to learn from writing my own site and writing here on MarketingTrends. I’ve blogged elsewhere in the past, but there’s something about writing your own blog that’s so satisfying and in a way, fulfilling to yourself as a writer and user of the internet. While folks who say that blogging is dead have a point because the way we view blogs and publishing in 2013 has changed and adapted a lot over the years, declaring blogging “dead” isn’t justified. Blogging, while old-school (also see email marketing and RSS, neither of which are “dead”), is still one of the best ways to build a solid reputation and name for yourself on the web.

I’d say the feeds that I’m subscribed to in my RSS reader of choice (currently ReadKit) are a solid 50/50 split between bigger sites and smaller blogs written by folks in the industry or just people whose stuff I enjoy reading.

One of the first things I tell anyone looking to go beyond the walled garden principle on the web is for them to go buy a domain name. It’s dead simple and pretty inexpensive. If they want to go beyond that, I’d tell them to go get their hands dirty with a hosted solution first (Tumblr is great for this and I also love Shareist) and eventually move their stuff over to a self-hosted WordPress site (or Movable Type if you’re into that). With all the things we have at hand in 2013 (Squarespace, WordPress, etc), there’s no excuse for why you shouldn’t have your own space on the web.

“And if your words are good, people will read them.”

Thanks for reading our blog.

Devin

Architectures of Participatory Learning

But the meat of the argument is about how the best explanation for many of the group phenomena we see online, from ICanHazCheezburger to Wikipedia, is that people like sharing with each other and collaborating. Not always, of course. But there are architectures of participation that encourage the kind of sharing and generosity that enriches us all, and by experimenting with them, we can create media and social change that harnesses millions of people to help and amuse each other.

Just got this on my Kindle/iPad/Desktops/iPhone (have I mentioned I love the type of portability the Kindle platform offers and hope that iBooks can replicate that type of cross-platform experience?) and can’t wait to dig in today.

I’m a big Clay Shirky fan (click the link if you need a sample), and I’m hoping this book, along with Daniel Pink’s ongoing work, becomes a pointer I can use when folks ask about the “effectiveness” of my teaching style.

I love the idea of the Teacher/Learner as an Architect. There’s something inherit about teaching that lends itself to the type of mystical and very practical practices of masons-meet-Howard Roark.

We’ll see and I’ll, of course, keep you posted.

Great Review of @Posterous

Years of building and maintaining my WordPress blog have resulted in my learning a lot about WordPress and getting a lot of grease under my fingernails. Weeks of using Posterous has resulted in a media-rich blog with several posts per week. Tell me which service is more powerful.

via suntimes.com

I started using Posterous primarily as a photo-blog back in September of ’08.

However, it’s transitioned into my full time personal blog as I’ve changed up the samharrelson.com domain into a static landing (pointer) page.

Posterous solves so many problems for me.

Thanks to Andy Ihnatko for the great review affirming my love and thanks to the Posterous team for a fantastic product that has renewed my love of posting.

From Evernote Back to Backpack

I’ve been a longtime Evernote member going back to March ’08 (and then a paying Premium member since June ’08 shortly after they opened that functionality), but I just can’t figure out the best way to integrate the service into my workflow.  I’ve certainly tried because I do see so much potential in the product.

However, since I’ve been trying to do most everything using only web apps and my iPhone, I’ve had a tougher time using Evernote. The Mac desktop client is beautiful and easy to use. The Windows desktop client less so. But it’s the web interface that just isn’t working for me (and that is the most important one at this point since I can’t install the desktop client on my locked-down school Macbook).

So, I’m going back to Backpack (in the old days, I would have used my affiliate link for the program there with a little disclosure) for workflow management. The web interface is fantastic (and familiar), I can easily email in material, create seperate pages, feel secure, integrate easily with GMail, Google Calendar and be completely web-based. 

However, the killer app Backpack has going for it is the Journal feature:

http://www.viddler.com/player/a45407f8/

I’m using it for product management, status updates to myself and as a “private twitter” etc. It’s like the anti-social bookmarketing site Pinboard for micro-messaging.

The problem that has plagued Backpack (and the whole suite of 37Signals products such as Basecamp and Highrise) is the lack of iPhone apps or integration.  That’s been solved by a nifty app called Satchel.  Yes, it costs $10, but it’s well worth the price. Satchel is speedy, works “offline” (whatever that means anymore), and intuitive. I can also easily update my Journal through Satchel. Plus, there are hacks and apps for getting Backpack to work well as a web app (like GMail) on the iPhone if preferred.

So, between Backpack’s web apps and Satchel, I’m very happy (and productive).

I’ll explain more on today’s Thinking.FM podcast episode. 

FriendFeed Catchup in GMail

I absolutely love FriendFeed's GMail IM integration. It's how I consume most of my FriendFeed content as well as lots from my favorite folks on Twitter that I have piped into FF via the Imaginary Friends (now Rooms) feature.

So, if I miss a few hours and want to catch up on what is going on in the Valley or from the folks I follow (and left GMail open on my Macbook), I can just open up the "Chat with FF" message waiting on me in my GMail FriendFeed label and scan. Plus, I can go back and search topics or people I'm interested in after a few days.

Not completely practical for everyone, but I love the feature (and greatly miss the good old days when Twitter had the same IM integration with Track).

My Laptop’s Operating System

I have a school issued (white) MacBook 13′ that I’ve been using the last few weeks when I need a computer (besides my iPhone). It’s great that we have MacBooks for teachers and students. However, since we are also transitioning to Google Apps (thankfully) and everything I do is mostly cloud-based, I don’t see much of the shiny Mac OSX operating system.

Instead, this is what I see and use as my main operating system (Firefox).

Using MindMeister for Mind Mapping in the Classroom

MindMeister Academic Edition

The Academic Edition of MindMeister is a complete collaborative mind mapping solution for educational institutions such as schools, universities and learning centers. It helps teachers and instructors to apply essential thought mapping elements in the classroom and ensure that learning is an effective and memorable experience.

After doing some researching and testing, I’m going to be using MindMeister for our “mind mapping” classroom (and out-of-classroom) sessions in my 8th grade science and 6th grade robotics classes this year.

I’m hopeful this will be a great augment to our classroom learning.

Stunning Lack of 2.0 Teacher Tools on Web or iPhone


When I taught 8th grade science from 2004-2006, I made heavy use of MyGradebook and it eventually became (much to the delight of my students and their parents…and eventually administrators) my complete gradebook and student documentation platform.

What wasn’t to like? In 2004, the social web was just getting cranked up and folks were still becoming familiar with the idea of blogs…especially in the education space. What the students, parents, administrators and I realized is that everyone enjoyed being able to access grades, progress notes, lesson schedules and lab details via the web at anytime. Transparency and education do go hand-in-hand.

Fast forward five years to 2009. Not much has changed. MyGradeBook still seems like the most advanced platform for online grade/progress access. I even use objective-based grading and MyGradeBook supports that kind of customization, which is a great feature.

However (more like BUT), there is no iPhone app for MyGradeBook. There is actually only one iPhone app for teachers keeping grades. That’s a huge market not being served. Where are the developers? Charge me $20 or $30 and give me an app (even from MyGradeBook) that offers offline sync’ing, mobile grade/note inputs, etc… I’ll sing your praises all day long. It just doesn’t exist yet for some reason but there are a great deal of teachers, students and parents using iPhones, so that’s just unbelievable.

There are some solutions such as using FileMaker Pro’s Bento database on the Mac and porting a database over through Bento’s iPhone app. However, it still befuddles me that there’s not a better way to have that sort of access other than using an offline product and creating a database by hand a la 2001.

So, if there are any iPhone devs out there who’d like to make a few bucks… figure out a great way to make a web/iPhone app that brings the 2.0 goodness to teacher gradebooks. We’ll love you forever and make you rich.

Until then, I’m off to pay $60 a month for MyGradeBook…

Hey, You! Get Off of My Cloud! (Or The Rise of Anti-Social Media)

I’ve fallen in love with Pinboard (for bookmarking) and Simplenote (search for it on the iPhone app store) this week. I’ve been testing out both services for a little while but decided to take the plunge this week and use them more heavily.

And they rock.

Pinboard is Delicious from 2004 with more goodness baked in. It’s fast, easy and private.  That’s right… in an age of rival-bookmarker Diigo’s communities, Evernote offering sharing of notebooks as a Premium feature and RememberTheMilk touting their social features, I’m finding myself leaning back towards sites like Pinboard that take advantage of the web2.0 goodness with a nod towards those of us who want to bookmark without worrying about what the neighbors might think (not that I’m bookmarking anything scandalous, but I don’t have to worry about crossing the education/tech/marketing/science/music streams with Pinboard). 

Simplenote does exactly what I want a note taking app to do… it takes notes quickly, easily and syncs automagically. I love Evernote, but I’ve found myself overwhlemed there as of late since there are so many features (and since I do have so much data there).  Simplenote is… well, simple. And that’s refreshing.  The same with Pinboard vs Diigo. I love Diigo, but I honestly don’t make use of all their community and bookmarking features enough to pledge allegiance. 

So, will we see a rise of anti-social media apps that take us back to a “much more civilized time” of elegant and simple lightsabers rather than social blasters? I’m not sure. But the evolution of media is definitely fascinating to participate in and ponder.

Anti-Social Bookmarking


I joined Delicious back around the Holiday Season of 2004 and soon started bookmarking with regularity.  Aside from GMail, Delicious was one of the first web2.0 sites I really got excited about. And for good reason. Delicious changed the way we all thought about bookmarking. 

"A long long time ago, I remember how that music used to make me smile…"

However, Delicious eventually caught on, found a solid userbase and got itself acquired by Yahoo. Despite a site-wide user interface revamp, things have been stagnant on Delicious for the last couple of years. The original founders left Yahoo, the rabid community seemed to dissipate and folks like myself went off searching for other places to bookmark our web finds. One of those places was Ma.gnolia.com. We all know how that went (#FAIL)  I've been trying Diigo since I'm teaching and there's a heavy concentration of educators there (and great tools for us), but I still wanted a place where I could post my bookmarks in a quick, easy and thoughtless manner.

I might have found that in Pinboard.

Not only is it what Delicious was in '04, it includes a nifty "Read Later" function (hello Instapaper!). Best of all, Pinboard is "antisocial bookmarking" that gives me exactly what I want – bookmarking without having to worry about who is following, subscribed, in my network, etc. Clean, simple, fast and antisocial are sometimes good qualities.

This mentality even shows itself in the sign-up process. Rather than having an "open beta" program, you have to pay an increasing fee to join Pinboard. In other words, as the service becomes more popular, you have to pay more to join.  I had to pay $2.91 via Amazon Payments to join. I love that thinking. Revolutionary. Look for more copycats very soon.

So will Pinboard replace Delicious for me? Already has. Will it replace Diigo? Time will tell. Will Pinboard replace Instapaper? Not sure. I'd need an iPhone app or some way to save things on mobile Safari (iPhone browser) to make that happen.

But for the time being, I'm excited 2004-style. Fingers are crossed that roadmap goal at the top of this post doesn't happen

Leveraging Social Media in Affiliate Marketing

samspeaking2.jpg

I’m doing a solo presentation on the Sunday of https://www.fusionquest.com/cgi-bin/main/hotlinks.cgi?aflt=afc1&client=affsumAffiliate Summit East in Boston about how to use “social” media in the context affiliate marketing.

My opening line is “you probably know of and maybe use Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, FriendFeed, Google Reader and Ning, but you are probably using them wrong if you’re connecting them with your affiliate program…”

I’ve got a rough sketch of how the rest of the hour will go, but I’d like to make sure I cover the bases you’d like covered. So, comment (or email, call, twitter, etc) below and let me know if there’s anything specific you’d like to hear about using social media in an affiliate program.

Affiliate Summit East 2008 Agenda: “Leveraging Social Media
Location: Harborview Ballroom 1
Time: 1:30pm-2:30pm

(This Session is Open to Full Conference Pass Holders Only)
This session helps affiliate marketers, networks and merchants recognize the power of adapting and adopting social media platforms into their programs for increased traffic, conversions and profit.

* Sam Harrelson, Director of Performance Marketing, Motive Interactive”

For instance, I’ve got close to 2,500 people following me on Twitter and the platform provides a nice stream of passive and active traffic (when Twitter is up). However, I don’t just throw affiliate or even site links up to get that traffic. There are very specific and practical steps that you can take to be a productive part of a community like Twitter and still derive benefits.

So, let me know what you’d like to hear…

ShareASale Twitters

ShareASale has been a long time supporter of Twitter, but they are stepping it up with a new official account:

ShareASale Blog: “2.  Follow us on ‘Twitter’.  I have recently created a ‘ShareASale’ specific entry which is www.twitter.com/shareasale.  Also, feel free to follow me personally – I talk about ShareASale stuff as well as other things going on.  www.twitter.com/brianlittleton”

There’s a reason that ShareASale consistently ranks at the top of affiliates’ and publishers’ “Best Network” rankings when you consider how much they not only embrace but also take seriously mediums such as blogging or Twitter.

Other networks could learn a great deal from them or from @zappos or the growing myriad of advertisers finding a welcoming community on Twitter.’

Great job, ShareASale.

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