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technology

The Shiny New Thing that just came out last week!

Overheard by a friend talking on his phone:

Friend: Do you have an iPhone 5 yet?
Pause
Friend: Yes?! Really?!?! Cool!
Pause
Friend: No, I’m waiting to get the new iPhone 5s because I want the newest phone.
Pause
Friend: Yeah, I know it’s not out yet, but when it does come out, you won’t have the new phone anymore and I will.

And on and on the conversation goes…

Shiny New ThingIt seems like a cool new feature or widget or website or data feed or doodad or wahoo is coming out every day. And it seems like we need to constantly be on the cutting edge, out with the old, in with the new. And dressing our sites up like a Christmas tree with the latest bells and whistles.

And for what?

Seriously – why do we need to have the latest stuff on our sites?

Tim Ferriss boasts 25,000+ subscribers, and a net worth of $15M, all from his online endeavours which stem from his blog. And guess what he uses for email management: FeedBurner. Yep – Feedburner. FeedBurner is sooo 2004. The product hasn’t changed much in a few years. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that Google had the product on idle. But the product is great. It’s stable. It reliably delivers. And it works.

So why recreate the wheel? Sometimes, there’s a new tool that adds value. But it’s been a while since I’ve seen one.

The key reason for new platforms, widgets and doodads is to chase crowds. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ – these are all walled gardens that limit access to people. You can’t send a tweet to someone’s Facebook wall. So instead, you have to send your message twice. You tweet it. And you put it on Facebook. And on Google+. And on Instagram. And on Pinterest. And… you get the idea.

So, to interact with those people, you’re not finding new people. You’re simply finding new ways to get in front of them. And that can be painful after a while. How many social networks can we have? It seems there’s a shiny new network or tool every week. Is it worth chasing all of these new networks? Not a chance.

Then what should we do?

We want eyeballs. We want to reach our target audience. We want to make sure our content reaches as many people as possible.

I’ll tell you how I do it:

PublicizeI use the Publicize feature of WordPress to advertise my blog posts on the main social networks: Facebook and Twitter. I don’t use Tumblr (it would be a duplicate of my WordPress blog) and I save LinkedIn for business communication. The only major social network that misses out is Google+ and that is a shame. I would like to distribute my posts to Google+ as well, but for now, the walled garden philosophy has kept the big players from playing nice together. So, until WordPress.com has a post to Google+ feature, I’ll live without it. I feel that the bulk of the audience still resides within Twitter and Facebook anyways. And, Google indexes my content so search still brings people to my blogs (a high proportion of my blog visitors arrive via search results from Google).

From there, I might get fancy with some tweets from time to time, duplicating my original “this post just went live” tweets that go out when I post something new.

Now back to Feedburner for a minute: Feedburner has stuck around because it does email well. Sure, MailChimp and Constant Contact do it great as well, but it’s hard to revolutionize that space. So, if you’ve got Feedburner, you’re not really motivated to migrate.

So yeah… that shiny new thing – you could kill yourself chasing all of the new things instead of focusing on your content. And that would be too bad. Focus on your content instead. The rest will sort itself out in the wash.

So there we go… this section of my “So you want to start blogging…” series is now over. Now that I’ve finished with my “Set up your tools” section, it’s time to move on to the next section, called, “Build Your Tribe”. In that section, I’ll talk about growing an audience.

Stick around and stay tuned for more content coming up soon!

Todd

Categories
technology

Mailing Lists

This is part 6 of my blog series entitled Set Up Your Tools.

MailChimpEmail is the most direct electronic method that you can use to interact with your audience. Email is the one queue that everyone manages on a regular basis. Twitter & Google+ steams, Facebook walls and RSS feed readers can get overwhelming, forcing people to simply start from scratch, thinking that if it’s important, they’ll see the tweet, blog post or news item somewhere else.

But email is different. Inbox Zero is a desired state for many, but the barrier to getting there is simply processing all of the email that comes into our inbox on a daily basis. But this is also its strongest allure: Email is considered more valuable. Email is coveted and each piece is individually read, actioned and curated for later reference. Thus, the ability to deliver your message directly to someone’s inbox is the most direct and the most effective way to catch someone’s attention.

But I am constantly surprised by the number of people that forego collecting email addresses. When you are building a community, it is important to connect with each person as directly as possible. Otherwise, you risk being ignored or unseen in the overwhelming torrent of information that is available on the internet. To remain relevant, you must have the most direct line of contact with your reader. And that direct line is email.

There are many ways of collecting and distributing content to email addresses. You can add people individually. You can get people to sign up using a paper form at an in person event. You can send emails to your mailing list asking people to sign up. These are all okay, but they don’t capitalize on your site visitors. Instead, you need to put your signup right beside your content. That way, when people visit your site and read your messages, they will see a way to get more of the same content. And, you’ll have a system in place that manages their signups, unsubscribes, address changes, etc. And to do that is easier than you think.

There are numerous engines out there for collecting email lists and then sending emails out to your subscribers. Some of the more common systems include:

MailChimpMailChimp: More than 3 million people use MailChimp to create, send, and track email newsletters. Whether you’re self-employed, you manage projects for clients, or you work for a Fortune 500 company, MailChimp has features and integrations that will suit your email-marketing needs.” (quote source)

Constant ContactConstant Contact: “Email Marketing just plain works. See how. Your customers check their inbox all day, every day. You’re sure to reach them when you work with Constant Contact. Build relationships, drive revenue, and deliver real results for your business.” (quote source)

And WordPress has this built in as well:

WordPress: “When you follow a blog on WordPress.com, all new posts from that site will appear in your Reader, where you can view all the latest posts published across all the blogs you follow. You’ll also receive notifications of new posts by email.” (quote source)

Now that we know some of the players, let’s break this down into two parts: 1) collection, and 2) distribution.

First, collection:

Subscribe Today!To collect email addresses, you need a “sign up” form on your site. Something that says, “sign up now!” or some other catchy call to action.

This button will trigger some sort of form that will collect some basic info. Keep it simple: collect email address and maybe name. Don’t ask for a bunch of info – people don’t like answering lots of questions nowadays. If you give them too many things to do, they may bail on the whole exercise.

Most systems have the capability to do this quite easily.

Second, distribution:

The delivery portion of this is can be quite easy or quite hard and quite pretty and quite plain, depending on the platform. The simplest distribution method is WordPress. People that follow your blog get an email each day with the new blog posts. No customization. No muss. No fuss.

MailChimp and Constant Contact both have the capacity to customize your emails. You can make templates that make your emails look more professional and more polished. But this takes work – and in some cases, some design and/or development skills as well. But, you should be able to get a fairly snazzy looking email out to your followers using one of the custom themes that are available for either platform.

Personally, I think that the polished look of MailChimp or Constant Contact are valuable. But, I also think that simplicity is good. For now, I’m erring on the side of simplicity and using WordPress’ generic emails. This may change over time if I get more time and more followers, which might necessitate a more professional look & feel.

The most important takeaway here is to have a mechanism to connect with your site visitors over email. Without that, you’re missing out on the most direct method of contact you can get on the web.

Hope this helps!

Todd

Categories
technology

WordCamp Hamilton 2013 – My presentation

WordCamp Hamilton 2013As a follow up to my last post about WordCamp Hamilton 2013, here are the slides from my presentation.

Conference Name: WordCamp Hamilton 2013
Date: Sun June 23 2013
Location: The Art Gallery of Hamilton

Let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns.

Talk soon!

Todd

Categories
technology

WordCamp Hamilton 2013 – A Summary

WordCamp Hamilton 2013I participated in WordCamp Hamilton 2013 this past weekend. It was a great event and I want to share my experiences. So, here goes…

Conference Name: WordCamp Hamilton 2013
Date: Sun June 23 2013
Location: The Art Gallery of Hamilton

Overall summary:
What a fun event! The speakers were good (not speaking for my own presentation here – haha), the content was current, relevant and helpful, the facilities were perfect for the size of the conference and the catering was well done. And, the price was hard to beat: $20 got you all of this:

  • Continental breakfast
  • Catered lunch
  • Event t-shirt
  • 7 talks from great WordPress speakers on a variety of topics
  • Panel Q&A session with the speakers at the end of the day
  • Complimentary beverage at the after party location (Radius Cafe)
  • Free WiFi internet access at the venue
  • “Swag bag” with WordPress and sponsor goodies

And, participants helped to encourage and support a great community of developers in the Hamilton area.

It was a fantastic event and I look forward to attending and possibly participating again in next year’s event.

Here’s my play by play of the day’s activities:

Kevin Browne9:45am – Keynote – Kevin Browne (@hamiltonkb):
Kevin spoke about communities and the strength and resiliency of networks. I really liked Kevin’s summary of M. Scott Peck’s four stages of community building:

  • Pseudocommunity – superficial interactions
  • Chaos – initial member interaction leads to conflict
  • Emptiness – Apathy gives way to understanding of what’s important
  • True community – healthy team interaction

Kevin’s keynote offered great insight into the potential that exists for the Hamilton development community. Kevin encouraged the audience to get involved and help lead the numerous events and activities that can draw us closer together. One particularly relevant example was the do an “introduction to wordpress” event.

Great presentation Kevin – Very inspiring!

Joey Coleman10:15am – Joey Coleman (@joeycoleman):
Joey talked about how he grew his editorial career. Great story – great example of hard work and being in the right place at the right time!

I was particularly interested in Joey’s summary of the Creative Commons license types. I’ve always known about these, but have never spent a lot of time understanding them. I was particularly appreciative of Joey’s principles pertaining to content sharing. He subscribes to the “Attribution | Share Alike” license, and he shared a story where he was asked to share some content with CBC on the condition that he change his licensing terms for the content he was asked to share. He stuck to his guns and refused to change his licensing terms, in spite of offers for compensation. I like it – it’s always good to see people who stand up for what they believe in.

Thanks for the summary Joey. Entertaining and informative talk!

Kristin & Seema11:05am – Kristin Archer (@ihearthamilton) & Seema Narula(@thismustbeseema):
Kristin and Seema have an infectious enthusiasm about sharing and community building. Their presentation was an awesome example of how to roll your sleeves up and start doing!

Kristin and Seema offered their expertise about interacting with and building an audience. Their tips and techniques were helpful and are required reading for anyone that is interested in building a community around an interest or location that interests you. Some of the topics that they covered included:

  • Consistency in voice (be authentic, honest)
  • Frequency of posts (regular posts)
  • Categories – use them!
  • Personality
  • Connect w/ the blogging community
  • Social Media
  • Accessibility

They have done a fantastic job as cheerleaders of the Hamilton area, of which they should be rightly proud.

Thanks Kristin and Seema for your lessons about building an effective niche blog and for promoting my hometown!

Richard Rudy11:55am – Richard Rudy (@thezenmonkey):
Richard shared his expertise designing and building for mobile. I really liked the stats that he shared comparing the number of babies born in 2011 and 2012 compared to the number of mobile devices that were “born” during that same time. I didn’t capture the exact numbers, but there were a heck of a lot more mobile devices born than people during that period of time!

Richard shared the main models for developing for mobile and the pros and cons of each. I really liked his answer when he was asked, “which model is best?” and he replied that it depends on the use case. That is perfect, as it really does depend on the use case – you want to make sure the solution matches what you’re trying to accomplish and each situation will be different.

My main takeaways were to check out some mobile frameworks (the developer in me is a bit rusty on mobile frameworks):

Thanks for the great overview Richard. Very educational! And, I really like your website: http://about.me/richardrudy – it is very unique, creative and cool!

Al Davis2pm – Al Davis (@adavis3105):
Al has a very relaxed presentation style – the stage is like a second home to him. And, he came prepared with two presentations – the audience voted to see which topic he would present on. We, the audience, decided to listen to him talk about “10 things to do after the install”.

The slides went by quick at times, but I think I captured all of the items (I missed a couple of slides, then I Googled a previous presentation of his to try and piece together what I missed):

  1. Change default admin
  2. Security: check out ‘wordfence” plugin as a security plugin.
  3. Edit permalinks: Al doesn’t like using date in posts as it might be construed as old and irrelevant.
  4. Akisment: enable it!
  5. SEO: Install WordPress SEO by Yoast.
  6. Activate Google Analytics
  7. Categories: Add them
  8. Change your blog tagline
  9. Install a theme: wordpress.org/themes
  10. Back it up!

Al offered a great overview of some top things to do as you begin with a new WordPress site. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and entertaining the crowd, Al!

Laurie Rauch2:50pm – Laurie Rauch (@lauriemrauch):
Laurie is a hard core geek! She codes for a living. And, when I complimented her on the look of her sites (lauriemrauch.com and CodeDiva.com), she modestly told me that she couldn’t take credit for the look and feel as she didn’t do the design work on her site. Then, she went on to do a presentation where she showed us how to create child themes and manipulate css and such. My suspicion is that she knows what she’s doing and that she’s being modest so that she doesn’t lose any of her hard-earned geek coder cred. 🙂

Here are my very high level notes from her presentation (my notes don’t do justice – her presentation slides go into great detail about these items):

In a nutshell:

  • To create a child theme, you create a child theme folder
  • The child theme folder will override anything in the parent theme
  • You can override css, functions, etc.

The best tip that I got out of her presentation was to use Firebug to change code on the fly – this allows you to experiment. Then, you take that code that you’ve changed in Firebug and paste it into your child theme.

Thanks Laurie for the in-depth session – very informative!

Todd Dow3:40pm – Todd Dow (@toddhdow):
I had the final presentation slot of the afternoon. I think my presentation went well. The audience seemed attentive and there were plenty of questions and lots of discussion. I enjoyed the session and the interaction with the audience. I’ll be posting a summary of my presentation in my next blog post.

4:20pm – All-speaker panel:
This was fun – interesting questions and interaction with the audience and the rest of the panel. This was a great way to finish the day.

We had a wrap up and an after party at Radius Cafe. It was a long day, but a very valuable day.

Much thanks to the organizing committee – you put on one heck of an event. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do for an encore!

  • Dale Mugford
  • Roz Allen
  • Martin Kuplens-Ewart
  • Nick Tomkin
  • Geoff Campbell
  • Kevin Browne
  • Shanta Nathwani
  • Jacqueline Norton
  • Carolynn Reid
  • Michael Canton

And great work to all of the presenters and to everyone else that made this event happen. I look forward to attending and participating again next year!

Let me know if you have any additional information or if you think I’ve misrepresented or neglected to mention anything.

Talk soon!

Todd

Categories
technology

WordCamp Hamilton 2013 – my presentation overview

wordpressIt’s official – I’ll be speaking at WordCamp Hamilton 2013 on Sunday June 23 2013 at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. I’m excited to be able to participate in what looks to be an awesome day.

The event is officially sold out – I’m looking forward to spending the day with 150 local WordPress aficionados. And, I’m looking forward to getting a cool t-shirt as well.

And, if you’re wondering what I’ll be talking about, here’s an overview:

Title: SPEED & UPTIME with WORDPRESS

Overview:

  • Why do we use WordPress?
  • What if my WordPress site fails?
  • Causes of failure
  • Mitigation Strategies:
    • Hosting
    • Backups
    • Monitoring
    • Security

Be sure to follow along on Twitter for the latest updates from:

Hope to see you tomorrow at WordCamp Hamilton!

Todd