John and Julia’s First Photos

Don’t you wish you had the first photos you ever took?

Not long back, John got hold of our Family Digicam and went to town snapping pictures of just about everything. I didn’t put him up to it at all. As you’d imagine there were a lot of unusable photos. There were also a lot of photos that got some of the basics right and some that even captured something special. Best of all, they all represent a unique perspective – that of a child and a first-ever photographer. My Favorite of John’s photos are the portraits of Charlie playing his guitar this summer. How cool! I tried to only delete photos that were blank or completely out of focus.

Just in the last month Julia picked the camera up and did the very same thing and with very similar results. My favorite of Julia’s is her self portrait close-up of her face.

First, here are John’s Photos

John’s First Photos

Now, let’s take a look at Julia’s photos.

Julia’s First Photos interface

I’ve been using for the last week or so.

Try it!

This “new to me” music service features a great user interface that makes exploring music fun. Well, to be honest I always find exploring music fun. I’ve found musicovery to be very reliable in different browser/OS combos (note: I have not tried musicovery in Linux yet).

What really differentiates the most is the decidedly rich user interface that will remind you of mind mapping. It’s very functional, not just a pretty face, allowing you to see upcoming music, see the branch of music you are exploring, along with useful basics like artist name and track info. There are built in links to Amazon music and iTunes if you’re ready to purchase a track or album. If you fork over $5 a month you can get your music in high quality bit rates.

Newsvine: Julian and Shannon sitting in the Greenhouse, k-i-s-s-i…

Shannon and I recently started using Newsvine.Newsvine We’ve lurked there since it went live earlier this year but now we’re taking the time to get involved.

If you’re the type that likes to listen, here you go.

Gabcast! #2

Newsvine is a news website where users, or citizen reporters, contribute blog like posts or more traditional news stories to the Newsvine site and community. Notice that I said community – this is not a typical passive experience news site. Like, users vote and comment on stories. The amount of votes and comments a story receives determines the overall visibility of your story. Highly popular stories make the front page – other stories never see the light of day. The user generated content is built around a complete, and non-programmed feed from the Associated Press news service. The sheer number of AP stories is really staggering – we’re used to content programmers at media outlets whittling this content down to bite-size morsels for us. I believe Newsvine also features ESPN content.

As you can imagine, the fact that you have full access to the AP wire is both a good and bad thing, but it’s clear that the purpose of the AP content is to give people fodder to have conversations around. That’s the real point of Newsvine. The action is in the conversation that takes place between the readers and author, and reader to reader. You participate in Newsvine by reading, commenting, voting on stories, and writing your own stories. You can also ‘seed’ Newsvine by publishing story excerpts from interesting web sites and stories that you read elsewhere on the net. For example, you’re reading your local online newspaper and there is an interesting story on rising crime rates. By putting a piece of that story on Newsvine others will then come to know about the story, and just like AP, or user generated stories, people ‘on the vine’ can vote your story ‘up the vine,’ and comment.

One thing that makes Newsvine so fun to use is the tools they give users to interact. There are many taken from different successful communication, web, or social media sites. You can make friends, chat, e-mail, create watch lists, and more. What’s really different though are the tools that let you track your interactions and contributions. For example, it’s really easy to return to Newsvine and check on how people reacted to a comment you made on a story. You can track authors, stories, comments, geographic regions, the list goes on. It all brings you closer to the news and the people who are writing it and reacting to it. I’m not even a big news consumer and there’s something about this service that is addictive.

The Internet marketer in Shannon and me is also fascinated by the triggers that cause people to react to content. I wrote a humorous comment on someone’s story last night and I had more votes (by far) on my comment than all the other comments. This was especially interesting to me because NO ONE in the conversation thread, the author or readers, acknowledged my comment. When you read the comments they were very much interacting and talking with each other – but not to me. Because of the Newsvine voting functionality, I learned that readers liked what I wrote, but I also found out that what I wrote did not induce a conversation. This is pretty powerful stuff for a blogger or marketer to learn, given that a major goal of both fields is to connect ideas and people and create a relationship that is relevant, engaging, and interactive.

Did I mention that it’s also just fun being part of the community? I’m enjoying the exercise of writing stories more in the voice of a reporter, vs. a blogger. The wider scope of the audience requires you to explain things in more general terms, which contrasts with a blog where you can assume readers have some interest and expertise in your subject matter to begin with. Except for general purpose blogs like that’s aren’t about anything at all (apologies to Seinfeld).

Shannon and I are excited by the opportunity to expose a new audience to our blogs while also connecting with writers and people we might not otherwise find in the blogosphere. We have already seen some lift in traffic on our blogs from the stories we’ve posted on the vine. That was true even before we made it out of the Greenhouse which is impressive given the Greenhouse’s limited audience (more on the Greenhouse in a minute). It’s also yet another venue to increase our expertise in the emerging field of social media optimization (a useful term coined recently by Rohit Bhargava). BTW: Shan has published a couple of pieces on social media optimization, (SMO) on our online recruitment marketing blog EXCELER8ion. I originally used the term social network marketing (you’d never know I was a marketer) but fortunately Rohit’s term saved me from the most unfortunate use of the acronym SNM… Anyway, to wrap your head around SMO, think search engine optimization (SEO) type practices applied to social media like blogs, forums, wikis, Newsvine, RSS, MySpace, Flickr, etc. You can also check out the new wikipedia definition for a just-so description of SMO

Which is a perfect segue to explain our post title and the picture below. And you thought I’d never get to it. When you first start using Newsvine your stories don’t automatically appear everywhere on the vine. There’s a proving ground where you have to contribute stories, vote, comment, and otherwise interact with fellow users. People find new users by going to the Greenhouse (there’s a link on the left side navigation of the Newsvine web site). If they like your content, which includes anything you’ve written or ‘seeded’ from another news site, they vote for you. This voting, combined with all the other aspects of interaction (commenting, voting, etc.), eventually get you out of the Greenhouse and into the general community. The GreenhouseWhy didn’t they just call it the dog house? The message is clear, the more you interact and use ALL of the Newsvine features, the faster you climb the Greenhouse leaderboard and the quicker you get out. Not a bad way to teach people how to use the tools either. People on the top of the page are the closest to graduating to the general community. You’ll be shocked to learn that Shannon took this as our latest venue to compete. I started out way ahead of Shannon but within a day she was nipping at my heals in the Greenhouse, despite my head start. Very early this morning, while Shannon was sleeping, I staggered (careened even) down the halls of the vine, voting, seeding, commenting and even posting to see if I could push myself out of the Greenhouse. But, try as I might, I couldn’t get into the number one position – never mind out onto the vine. Not only that, while Shannon was sleeping, my voting for her stories inched her up a couple of spots (I’m taking full credit) so that we were right next to each other – with me on top, just as it should be. 😉 I took the screen shot shown above because I didn’t know how long it would stay that way. Good thing, because this morning when I logged in, you couldn’t find either of us in the Greenhouse. I guess this means that we’re bona fide members of the community now. It feels a little like graduating from Kindergarten and moving into grade school, sad, terrifying, and exciting all at the same time.

There’s even a revenue model thrown in for you budding authors out there. As Newsvine grows their advertiser base (something they’re still struggling with at present) you get compensated for the traffic you receive from the stories you publish on your column. I’m sure this won’t amount to much for most Newsvine contributors but you can expect some authors to make some real cash (the author receives 90% of the money from the ads that show up on their stories in their column – Newsvine gets 10%). Speaking of columns, here is Shannon’s.

Want to see Newsvine’s 60 second tour? Sure, now I tell you! Hey, you came here to read me didn’t you?

P.S. The CEO of Newsvine, Mike Davidson, has a good blog that you should check out if you’re interested in all this stuff.

P.P.S. Hey Shannon, the race is now on to increase our Vinacity. See you at the finish line.

Update Two things. First, it would be quite ironic, but now that we’re no longer in the Greenhouse, we don’t appear to be anywhere. Even areas where there wouldn’t appear to be ANY competition for our stories. Perhaps all our commenting, publishing, and voting DID get us in the dog house? Only time, and an even greater scouring of Newsvine help, will tell. Next, I had a thought for a feature. Just as we can vote on stories and comments, wouldn’t it be great if we could vote on specific written passages of a story? What a tremendous help it would be to the author to understand how their piece was received, was relevant, or which parts packed the most punch? It would be similarly useful to all Newsvine readers to see what parts of a story were considered to be of the highest import, or quality. It could work much like the Seed feature. The user would highlight the text that they wanted to vote on, or promote, and then hit a ratings or voting button. You could also place a visual indicator in the stories to show hot spots of the story. I’d call this feature ‘passages.’ There you go Mike, your next cool Newsvine feature.

Update September 5, 2006
The day after I wrote my last update my stories started making it out on the vine. Seems like it was probably just a database refresh ‘thang.’ Not only that, but I’m a ‘Featured Writer’ on the home page today and I’m also featured on the sports section.

My first Podcast using Gabcast

I want to give a shout out to Ronald Lewis, who I found via way of Newsvine, for introducing me to Gabcast. Here’s Ronald’s Gabcast channel if you want to have a listen. This is my fist podcast using their service and so far, so good. I had no trouble setting up a channel, posting this podcast using their phone podcasting tool or publishing it on my blog. I’m interested to try their conference calling feature to see how reliable it is. Given that it’s a paid service, and I won’t have to use my phone’s three-way calling feature to conduct interviews as I’ve done with Odeo, I suspect it will be more reliable to use. The conference call service gives you 30 free minutes to try it, after which it is paid, which seems like a fair shake Gabcast’s part.

Gabcast! #1

Social media equals less than six-degrees of separation

Summary: a real ramble (sorry) on how online social media makes me feel like there’s less than six-degrees of separation…

I blog. I use WordPress . I use a theme called K2 . I went to a site today to download the latest version of a blog plug-in called flickrRSS that I use on several of my blogs. While I’m there I notice a modifed K2 theme called Fork that looks cool. I click on the image of the theme and I notice a comment on the theme from a flickr member who calls himself SoFlaChris

“I use it on my site… it’s killer. See“.

Given the name of his flickr screen name I know he’s in my neck of the woods in South Florida so I click on his link so I can see the Fork theme in action. By the way, here’s another modified K2 theme I really like that I am now using on a blog I just started yesterday (it’s about my four kids and raising them as a part-time stay-at-home dad / part-time entrepreneur).

So SoFlaChris is also Chris::Wired . He blogs, he uses WordPress, and the modified K2 theme called Fork, and he has some of the same interests that Shannon and I have like Motorcycles (we used to have a 2002 HD Fatboy and lust after all sorts of other alternatives). He has a pic of his new VW golf on his site and I think about the VW GTi that I just sold a couple of months ago and how I really like the latest version . I notice he has a lot of stuff about weather on his blog. I have a blog called abigwind about hurricane protection. I notice Chris has recently been interviewed by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel about his home weather station. The article is no longer live in the Sun-Sentinel’s archives (they drop off after two weeks) but I find a cached version via Googlefun article. I need to link to his site from our hurricane blog.

Anyway, the guy who interviewed the blog author (Chris Maltese) for the Sun-Sentinel is the guy who I’ve corresponded with a number of times about hurricane related stories — Josh Frank , who writes their hurricane blog. Speaking of which, I STILL have to follow up on a prior story of mine that I had suggested Josh write as I now have a lot more information from an expert interview that I conducted with Dr. Tim Reinhold (the article I have to still write is about the efficacy of various plywood materials and the best methods of their installation). And though I haven’t had much of a chance to investigate it, Chris had a bunch of headlines on his blog that referred to Australia and New Zealand which made me think he may be from there. But, from reading his bio he sounds like a New Yorker so perhaps we don’t have Australia in common after all.

Weirdness…the virtual world of the blogosphere connects to real life in all sorts of interesting ways. A couple of months ago we discovered we were right down the road from a delightful fellow blogger who is in the recruitment space (jobs/employers/job seekers/stuff that supports same) that Shannon and I write about on via EXCELER8ion. I’m out of breath. That was a link-full now wasn’t it?

What’s the point?

Even though it’s my business to use blogs and other online tools to connect people I’m still amazed when it happens to me. I find it to be a very rewarding and compelling experience. Online tools like blogs, search engines and myriad other social networking sites can connect seemingly random (and not) people, interests, and data with each other and they can intersect in equally pleasing and random (and not) ways. Without my interest in blogs I would have not found Ami or Chris. I may never meet Chris but he knows about me now because I linked to him, and we are connected now. That may be the extent of it. With Ami, we eventually arranged dinner and had a great time (after all, there were pre-existing similar interests). Soon, Shannon and I will be out for our second dinner with Ami and we can’t wait. Perhaps he’ll even talk his wife into coming along on this round.

Shannon sent me an article today about how some highly popular bloggers are starting to see the limitations with the medium. I could identify with some of what the popular bloggers were saying. It’s easy to get carried away with ourselves when our ego runs roughshod over our original purposes for blogging. At least it is for me. But, most of the time (when I’m not being a wanker) I use my blogs to connect with people, to think more clearly, for therapy, for entertainment, to make money, to make connections in my head about indisciminate thoughts and ideas, to connect in a richer way with the life that I am participating in, to the community out there in the world that I want to be part of, to gain more expertise, to make new friends and professional associates, and more. And it’s not about dry humping your computer – the big wins come when we make connections in the real world.  When I think about how blogs have enriched my life, both personally, financially and professionally, both online and offline I just can’t see much down side. I know these thoughts of mine (ramblings obviously) don’t seem particularly well articulated. And since this is my personal blog, and I allow myself the freedom to publish un-edited brain***** in this forum, I’ll let this go into the ether in the hope that it will inspire greater thinking on my part, and interaction with people like you, who surely have an opinion or some useful thoughts to add. Do let me know.