Lightening Up The Travel Gear

Google_Nexus_7_front-back-side_270x206This week at bpmNEXT was my first solo outing with the new blogging setup: Google Nexus 7 tablet, Logitech Bluetooth keyboard, and WordPress app for Android. I was also working on a white paper for a client, so had to edit and view documents in Word and PowerPoint formats, for which I use use the Kingsoft Office Android app, plus Dropbox for synchronizing my work to the cloud for backup and Astro File Manager for local document management. Prior to this, I carried an HP Mini netbook running Windows 7, which provided me with the same functionality as on my desktop, with all of my documents synced locally via Dropbox. When I started carrying the Nexus while travelling for media consumption, the combination of Windows netbook + Android tablet + iPhone started to seem like overkill; a comment from my brother (a non-technical lawyer, of all people) made me start thinking about adding a keyboard to the tablet as a netbook replacement.

wpid-91hO7brqtZL._SL1500_.jpegIn summary, it worked great. Once I learned that some familiar keyboard shortcuts work on Android (Ctrl+X/C/V for cut/copy/paste, Ctrl+A for select all, Alt+Tab for switching active applications, Fn+Backspace for Delete), my productivity increased tremendously. The keyboard is as big — maybe a bit bigger — than my netbook keyboard, so touch typing was speedy as you might have surmised from the thousands of words that I pumped out in blog posts this week. Kingsoft Office had a hiccup over one particular Word document, but I copied and pasted the text to strip out the formatting and had no problem with basic editing. Today, when I had to send off a draft of the white paper to my client, I used Astro to attach the Word document to an email (native Android only allows adding media file attachments). Email worked well, since my domain email is hosted on Google Apps: I could add/remove tags for organization, as well as send/receive and most other functions; since I also had my iPhone, I did a lot of email and calendar functions there. Chrome, Pocket and Feedly kept my online reading in sync, and for tweeting, I used the very capable Buffer and Twitter apps. Also, the battery life on the Nexus is great, lasting for an entire day even with Bluetooth and wifi enabled, which is better than the netbook. If I needed to scrimp on power, I could turn wifi off since most things could be done offline.

There are a couple of remaining challenges:
– As far as I know, there is no way to give a presentation from the tablet using the standard setup that is available at a conference (namely, a VGA cable connected to a projector). That means that I still need to carry the netbook when I will be giving a presentation, unless I am so organized that I have it completely finished before departing for the conference, and the conference has a PC with my presentation loaded. If anyone knows of a small gadget that would allow me to connect my tablet to any standard projector (a Bluetooth to VGA converter, maybe?), I want to know about it.
– The formatting in the WordPress app is a bit basic, with no support for bullets or quote blocks as I would have in the regular web interface or Windows Live Writer on the PC. Unlike the web, however, I can compose offline (as I’m doing right now at 35,000 feet) and it saves a local draft for posting later.
– The usage of Bluetooth devices is not really permitted on aircraft, although I have to believe that there are many devices on my current flight with Bluetooth enabled, and we’re still flying. Flight attendants either haven’t noticed or don’t care about the keyboard.
– Dropbox requires that I mark each file individually that I want synchronized locally, which means that I have to remember to mark the right ones while I’m connected so that I have my reference and editing materials available. A “sync this folder” function would be great.
– Kingsoft Office is good for editing, but I really need to review any document that I create or edit with it on my desktop to make sure that the formatting didn’t get screwed up. Kingsoft is free, and I’d be happy to pay for an Android MS-Office clone if I had better confidence in its formatting integrity.

The verdict: this will be my go-to gear for travel when I do not have to do a presentation, or when my presentation is submitted in advance. If I find a way to present directly from the tablet, then this will be my only travel configuration unless there is a weird requirement such as Visio on the road, and the netbook may be permanently retired.

Having A Spammy Time

This blog has been inundated with comment spam lately: yesterday, I deleted over 4,600 spam comments that had accumulated in the spam folder in the past two weeks, which is about 100x the usual volume. Akismet is doing a great job of trapping it, since I’m only seeing one or two per week pass through to the moderation queue, and none have been auto-published. However, that means that I can’t manually check the spam queue and fish out legitimate comments, so if you make a comment and it doesn’t show up, let me know and I’ll try to find it.

New Mobile Theme

Since the Jetpack plugin is now available on self-hosted WordPress sites, I’m gradually rolling out more of its features. Today, I enabled its mobile theme (disabling the previous MobilePress plugin, which hasn’t been updated in over two years), please let me know if you experience any problems with it. Note that it only changes the theme for smartphones, not for tablets, which is the same behavior as MobilePress.

I’m also using Jetpack for site stats (replacing StatCounter code, although I still use Google Analytics), sharing (for the buttons at the bottom of each post, replacing the WP Tweet Button plugin) and a few other functions. If you’re running WordPress, definitely worth checking out what’s in Jetpack.

Reorganization Underway

In the anticipation of ramping back up with blogging this year, I’m doing a bit of housekeeping. I’ve been getting the urge to write things longer than 140 characters at a time, and to keep my content someplace where I have better control over it, prompted in part by this article.

First of all, I’m converting all of my conference subcategories to tags, since they have got a bit out of control with the number of conferences that I attend. I’m using a redirect so that if you had a link to the conference category page before, it should redirect to the tag page, but let me know if that’s not happening. If you follow the comments feed, you will see a flurry of activity, since updating a post causes any trackbacks to be refreshed, which appear in the comments feed.

Second, I’ll likely be changing the theme fairly soon to something that allows (at the very least) nested comments. Last time I tried this, I had complaints from a few people on IE6 saying that their browser didn’t support some of the feature properly, but the percentage of IE6 readers has dropped to 0.1% so likely no longer an issue. Again, if you see a problem with the new theme, let me know.

Third, I’ve trimmed out a number of unused plugins and some widgets from the sidebar, which may improve speed somewhat.

Fourth, I’ve added more sharing options at the end of each post – Twitter, Google+, Facebook and LinkedIn – to replace the Twitter share button that used to be at the beginning of each post.

Update: Fifth, I’m replacing some of the little-used or old categories with tags, but without a redirect since I don’t think that there’s much linking to them. If you have a link to a category that no longer works, either check for the same name in a /tag/ URL rather than a /category/ URL, or let me know and I’ll add an explicit redirect.

New Toys

For those of you who see me at conferences occasionally, you may see a new (and even smaller) setup in front of me next time: my Google Nexus 7 tablet (which I carry with me anyway as an ebook reader and general media device) and a new Logitech Tablet Keyboard for Android, plus the WordPress Android app for offline (or online) composition. Although the combined weight of the keyboard, case and tablet is probably about the same as the netbook, I am currently carrying both the netbook and the tablet when I travel, so this will lighten things up slightly. Also, it’s less bulky, and the keyboard can be tucked into my suitcase with the tablet in my handbag, meaning less weight over my arm rather than rolling along behind. One question is whether I will have to pull out the keyboard for separate security scanning at airports, where I currently have to take out my netbook but not my tablet.

The keyboard is really good: the keys have plenty of space — at least as big as my netbook, I think — and good feel and travel, so I can touch-type without a problem. The keyboard case, which protects it during travel, props up and doubles as a tablet stand. There are a few things I haven’t figured out how to do yet, such as moving forward/back by a word at a time rather than a character (shift+left/right arrow on a regular Windows keyboard), but everything else is in just the right place. Obviously, I can also just touch the screen to reposition the cursor.

The remaining challenge is what to do when I have to give a presentation, since I usually present from my own device to include any last-minute edits. Kingsoft Office (a free Android app for viewing and editing Office documents) seems to work fine for my travel writing needs including lightweight PowerPoint editing, with the added bonus that it integrates seamlessly with documents on Dropbox, where I keep my travelling files, but there’s no way to hook this baby up to a projector, as far as I know.

Conference Season Begins

I attended one conference back in January, but the season really starts to ramp up about now through June, and I kicked it off with the Kofax conference in San Diego earlier this week. Just a few disclaimers about my participation in conferences, in case I forget to mention it in each case:

  • Conference organizers provide me with a free conference pass under the category of press, analyst or blogger. In exchange, they receive publicity when I blog or tweet about the conference. That publicity may or may not be favorable to them: giving me a conference pass does not guarantee that I will like the content.
  • For vendor conferences, the vendor always reimburses my travel expenses. This does not give them the right to review or edit any of the blog posts that I publish; in fact, it does not even guarantee that I will publish much while there if I’m really busy investigating their products and talking with their customers. However, it does guarantee that I understand their products and market much better afterwards.
  • If I’m giving a formal presentation at a vendor conference, it’s safe to assume that they paid me a fee to do so; at some other conferences (such as academic or non-profit ones), I may waive my fee. Paying me to speak at a conference does not give a vendor any additional coverage or editorial rights with respect to my blog posts.
  • Everything is on the record during the day, and off the record once the bar opens in the evening, unless otherwise requested. I created the “Kemsley rule” after noting that people tend to spill exciting upcoming news after a few drinks, then follow with a slightly horrified “don’t blog that”. I’m almost always invited to briefings under embargo or NDA at vendor conferences too, which I don’t blog either.

In April, I’m scheduled to give a keynote at Appian World in DC, and possibly sit on a panel (and definitely attend) IBM Impact in Las Vegas. May and June will be pretty busy, and I even have something scheduled in July, which is usually quiet for conferences. More to come on all of these as they get closer.

Recording a “Hello World” Podcast with @PBearne at #pcto2012

I’ve been blogging a long time, and participate in webinars with some of my vendor clients, but I don’t do any podcasting (yet). Here at PodCamp Toronto 2012, I had the opportunity to sit through a short session with Paul Bearne on doing a simple podcast: record, edit and post to WordPress.

In addition to a headset and microphone – you can start with a minimal $30 headset/mic combo such as a USB Skype headset that he showed us with decent transcoding included, or move up to a more expensive microphone for better quality – he also recommends at least a basic two-channel audio mixer.

He walked us through what we need from a software standpoint:

  • Audacity – Free open source audio recording software. We recorded a short podcast using Audacity based on a script that Bearne provided, checked the playback for distortion and other quality issues, trimmed out the unwanted portions, adjusted the gain. I’ve used Audacity a bit before to edit audio so this wasn’t completely unfamiliar, but saw a few new tricks. Unfortunately, he wasn’t completely familiar with the tool when it came to some features since it appears that he actually uses some other tool for this, so there was a bit of fumbling around when it came to inserting a pre-recorded piece of intro music and converting the mono voice recording to stereo. There’s also the option to add metadata for the recording, such as title and artist.
  • Levelator – After exporting from Audacity project as a WAV or AIFF file, we could read into Levelator for fixing the recording levels. It’s not clear if there are any settings for Levelator or if it just equalizes the levels, but the result was a total mess the first time, not as expected. He ran it again (using an AIFF export instead of WAV) and the result was much better, although not clear what caused the difference. After fixing the levels with Levelator and importing back into Audacity, the final podcast was exported in MP3 format.
  • WordPress – As he pointed out, the difference between a podcast and a regular audio recording is the ability to subscribe to it, and using WordPress for publishing podcasts allows anyone to subscribe to them using an RSS reader or podcatcher. You may not host the files on your WordPress site since you may not have the storage or bandwidth there, but we used WordPress in this case to set up the site that provides the links and feed to the podcasts.
  • Filezilla FTP – For transferring the resulting MP3 files to the destination.
  • PowerPress – A WordPress plugin from Blubrry allows you to do things such as creating the link to iTunes so that the podcast appears in the podcast directory there, and publishing the podcast directly into a proper podcast post that has its own unique media RSS feed, allowing you to mix podcasts and regular posts on the same WordPress site.

He also discussed the format of the content, such as the inclusion of intro music, title and sponsorship information before the actual content begins.

There was definitely value in this session, although if I wasn’t already familiar with a lot of these concepts, it would have been a lot less useful. Still not sure that I’m going to be podcasting any time soon, but interesting to know how to make it work.

What Price Integrity?

As an interesting follow on to the previous session on blog monetization, I attended a panel on maintaining integrity on blogs when you do advertising or promotions on your site, featuring Danny Brown, Gini Dietrich and Eden Spodek. A lot of this is about transparency and disclosure; one audience member said that she writes paid reviews on her blog but that although you can buy her review, you can’t buy her opinion: there’s a fine line here. This is particularly an issue for lifestyle bloggers, since they often receive offers of free product in exchange for a review; this might be seen as being less of a “payment” than cash, although it still constitutes payment.

When I write a product review here, I am never compensated for that, although arguably it can impact my relationship with the vendor and can lead to other things, including paid engagements and conference trips. That’s quite different from being paid to blog about something, which I don’t do; I’ve had offers of payment from vendors to blog about them, and they don’t really understand when I tell them that I just don’t do that. Of course, you might say that when I’m at a vendor’s conference where they paid my travel expenses and I’m blogging about it, that’s paid blogging, but if you’ve ever spent much time at these conferences, you know that’s not much of a perq after a while. In fact, I’m giving up potential paid time in order to spend my time unpaid at the conference, so it ends up costing me in order to stay up to date on the products and customer experiences.

By the way, my “no compensation for blogging” doesn’t go for book reviews: it is almost 100% guaranteed that if I write a book review, the author or publisher sent me a free copy (either paper or electronic) since I just don’t buy a lot of books. I currently have a backlog of books to be read and reviewed since that’s not my main focus, so this isn’t such a great deal for either party.

The key advice of the panel is that if you do accept free product or some other payment in exchange for a product review, make sure that you remain authentic with your review, and disclose your relationship with the product vendor. In some countries, such as the US and the UK, this is now required; in places where it isn’t, it’s just good practice.

I was going to stay on for a session on webinars but the speaker seems to be a no-show, so this may be it for me and PodCamp Toronto 2011. Glad that I stopped by for the afternoon, definitely some worthwhile material and some food for thought on monetization and integrity.

Blog Monetization

The next session that I attended was Andrea Tomkins talking about how to make money through advertising on your blog. She started with ways that blogs can pay off without direct monetization, such as driving other sorts of business (just as this blog often drives first contacts for my consulting business) and leveraging free trips to conferences, but her main focus was on how she sells ads on her blog.

She believes that selling your own ad space results in higher quality advertising by allowing you to select the advertisers who you want on your site and control many of the design aspects. Plus, you get to keep all the cash. She believes in charging a flat monthly rate rather than by impressions or clicks, and to set the rates, she looked at the rates for local newspapers; however, newspapers are very broad-based whereas blog audiences are much more narrowly focused, meaning that the people reading your blog come from a specific demographic that certain advertisers would really like to have access to. Andrea’s blog is a “parenting lifestyle” blog – a.k.a. “mommyblogger” – and she has 1,300-1,400 daily views, many of whom are local to her Ottawa area.

She started out charging $50/month/ad, and bumped it for new clients as well as an annual increase until she reached a sweet spot in the pricing (which she didn’t disclose). She doesn’t sell anything less than a 3-month term, and some advertisers have signed up for a 12-month spot. Her first advertiser, who is still with her, is a local candy store that she and her family frequented weekly – she felt that if she loved it so much, then her readers would probably enjoy it as well. She approached the store directly to solicit the ad, although now many of her new advertisers come to her when they see her blog and how it might reach their potential audience.

She controls the overall ad design: the ad space is a 140×140 image with a link to their website, with the images being updated as often as the advertisers wish. New ads are added to the bottom of the list, so advertisers are incented to maintain their relationship with her in order to maintain their placement on the site.

She also writes a welcome post for each advertiser; she writes this as her authentic opinion, and doesn’t just publish some PR from the advertiser since she doesn’t want to alienate her readers. Each advertiser has the opportunity to host a giveaway or contest for each 3-month term, although she doesn’t want to turn her blog into a giveaway blog because that doesn’t match her blogging style. She also uses her social network to promote her advertisers in various ways, whether through personal recommendations, on her Facebook page or Twitter; because she only takes advertisers that she believes in, she can really give a personal recommendation for any of them.

Before you call a potential advertiser, she recommends understanding your traffic, figuring out an ad design and placement, and coming up with a rate sheet. Don’t inflate your traffic numbers: you’ll be found out and look like an idiot, and most advertisers are more interested in quality engagement than raw numbers anyway. Everyone pays the same rate on Andrea’s blog; she doesn’t charge more for “above the fold” ads or use a placement randomizer, so sometimes has some new advertisers (who are added to the bottom) complain about placement.

A rate sheet should be presented as a professionally-prepared piece of collateral coordinated with your business cards, blog style and other marketing pieces. It needs to include something about you, the deal you’re offering, your blog, your audience and traffic, and optionally some testimonials from other advertisers.

Handling your own ads does create work. You need to handle contacts regarding ads (she doesn’t publish her rates), invoice and accept payments, track which ads need to run when, set up contracts, and provide some reporting to the advertisers. Obviously, there has to be a better way to manage this without resorting to giving away some big percentage to an ad network. She also writes personal notes to advertisers about when their ad might have been noticed in something that Andrea did (like a TV appearance) or when she is speaking and hence might have their ads be more noticed. She does not publish ads in her feed, but publishes partial feeds so readers are driven to her site to read the full posts, and therefore see the ads. She has started sending out a newsletter and may be selling advertising separately for that.

This started a lot of ideas in my head about advertising. I used to have Google ads in my sidebar, which pretty much just paid my hosting fees, but I took them out when it started to feel a bit…petty. As long as I get a good part of my revenue from end-customer organizations to help them with their BPM implementations, it would be difficult to accept ads here and maintain the appearance of independence. Although I do work for vendors as an analyst and keep those parts of my business completely separate, with appropriate disclosure to clients, it is just as important to have the public appearance of impartiality as well as actually be impartial. An ongoing dilemma.

Psychology of Websites and Social Media Campaigns

I arrived at PodCamp Toronto after the lunch break today; “PodCamp” is a bit of a misnomer since this unconference now covers all sorts of social media.

My first session of the day with Brian Cugelman on the psychology of websites was a bit of a disappointment: too much of a lecture and not enough of a discussion, although there was a huge crowd in the room so a real discussion would have been difficult. He did have one good slide that compared persuasive websites with persuasive people:

  • They’re reputable
  • They’re likable with personality
  • They demonstrate expertise
  • They appear trustworthy
  • You understand them easily
  • What they say is engaging and relevant
  • They respect your time

He went through some motivational psychology research findings and discussed how this translates to websites, specifically looking at the parts of websites that correspond to the motivational triggers and analyzing some sites for how they display those triggers. Unfortunately, most of this research doesn’t seem to extend to social media sites, so although it works fairly well for standard websites, it breaks down when applied to things such as Facebook pages that are not specifically about making a sale or triggering an action. It will be interesting to see how this research extends in the future to understand the value of “mindshare” as separate from a direct link to sales or actions.