The Idea Dude


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Houston we have a problem

Over the last 12 months, Tony and I have lost count of the number of times we were stumped and a quick search on Google yielded the solution. Most often than not, it was a personal blog, someone had the same problem and cared enough to blog about it.

User generated content is probably the best product support system out there, unlike so many companies who do not know or do not want you to know and are less likely to share their product deficiencies and workarounds. Nor can they compete with the innovation collective of thousands of people who gnaw at the same problem because it means something to them. Customer support teams are often people who answer questions based on a database, if you don't frame the question correctly, you will get no answer or worst, the wrong one. People who blog about the problem usually have experienced it first hand and gone down many dead ends. It is that appreciation of the knowledge they possess that makes them want to share.

Companies bold enough to embrace good and bad opinion and be part of the conversation will win because they present a refreshing sense of authenticity into the company-customer relationship. Customers are more likely to stay with you if you can show that your customer is not part of the problem but also part of the solution. Without exception, the appreciation of our members comes not because we solve the problem (sometimes we can't) but because, we acknowledged, we listened and we replied.

Tony and I are tempted to get matching tattoos that say "Google first, ask questions later..."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Want to see who has the biggest smile?

I met Phil Gerbyshak online through TheGoodBlogs. But nothing quite prepares you for meeting him in person. Legend has it that when Phil was a baby, he fell into a vat of happiness, the permanent side effect is that amazing smile. The best part is that smile is just the doorway to a genuinely warm and funny human being.

Phil calls himself the Relationship Geek. Here are some of things I learnt from Phil at Sobcon.

  • Know who your are first, don't try and model yourself on someone else
  • Know who your readers are, understanding what starts conversations with your readers
  • Be a relationship geek, seek out people you want to create relationships with
  • The goal of your blog is not to create agreement, it is to get the conversation going
  • Don't just republish information, wrap your stuff around other stuff

If you go to Phil's site, you'll notice that he has this sign that says don't just have a nice day, Make it Great!

Have a great day! I know you will.

BTW: Phil has more Sobcon photos to share here.

Monday, May 28, 2007

What do you get when you cross Seth Godin with Tom Peters?

Andy Sernovitz.

I'm a big fan of both Tom Peters, who first gave us his search for customer excellence and then Wow and Seth Godin, who challenged us to be remarkable. Then, along came Andy Sernovitz. I had the pleasure of listening to Andy preach his word of mouth marketing gospel at Sobcon07. As someone has helped large companies like Dell come to terms with their online conversations and blogs, you just have to sit up and pay attention.

The beauty of Andy's pitch is that he doesn't try to introduce a new paradigm but really makes us wake up to the fact that word of mouth marketing is something we always did offline. Salesforce folk always knew that repeat customers were the cheapest cost of acquisition and the highest possibility of customer acqusition was always through referrals. Using the internet through consumer opinions on review sites and blogs is, in reality, customer referral gone online. We now call it word of mouth marketing.

The biggest difference is that word of mouth marketing is not a choice companies have anymore, it is something that is thrust upon them because both satisfied and dissatisfied customers can determine your reputation by shouting very loud and in unison. Your only defence is to engage in the conversation. Acknowledging your failures and highlighting your successes is no longer a preemptive activity, it has become reactive because the world at large will invariably have first strike. Andy doesn't tell you to circulate silly joke or videos to create a viral buzz, he tells you to provide great products, superb service and exceed your customers' expectations.

Anyone cares about how word of mouth can make or break your company should go read Andy's book Word of Mouth Marketing. How can you not read the book, when the author stands up as a marketeer and bold declares, "Advertising is the price for being boring..."

Disclaimer: Nope, I don't get paid to post this or get royalties from Andy's book, I just recognize purple cows who have a passon for excellence.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Infatuation with the epidemic

The best part of TheGoodBlogs is discovery, you can't read everybody all the time, but a quick prompt every now and then will reveal a gem. What's a gem for me? That moment when you read a blog and the whole world stops because you go, "wait a minute, what is he or she really saying?". It's the blog post that challenges you to a conversation and threatens an assumption or a perception you've held for a long time. Last week it was my friend Liz. This week it was Sean Howard.

Sean posted an article about tipping points and how having influencers is not enough to create a forest fire. The conditions for starting the fire have to be right. I love the tipping point paradigm, it's about achieving the non-linear when acceleration is created by self-momentum or rather the momentum of the environment. I resolved my internal conflict by noting to Sean that influencers are part of the conditions not external to it and yes, I agree, it is not the only factor. There are other factors and often, these ecletic factors seem so obvious after the fact. We all love free lunches.

His reply to my comment was equally profound. He mentioned that even the true masters of viral campaigns would admit that only a very few succeed and most only result in minor blips in marketing campaigns. He called it the "infatuation with the epidemic". You gotta love that phrase. It describes everything about Web 2.0 today. I think it defines where we are today. During the it was about getting out there fast and making lots of money. Welcome to the new currency, it's not dollars, it's people. Web 2.0 is about getting out there and getting mindshare, it is our infatuation with the epidemic. We've thrown out all the basic principles of providing real value and real service over long periods of time. Now it's about getting as many people to like you as possible. Sobcon taught me a very basic principle, when the party ends, who are really still your friends?

Thanks for the conversation, Sean.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Who will be the next American Presidential Idol?

The final round of American Idol attracted 74 million votes and over 609 million votes were cast over the course of this season's series. This is a staggering number when you consider the total popular vote for the 2004 US presidential elections was under 120 million with George Bush collecting 62 million votes.

While I'm comparing apples to oranges (vote eligibility, duplicate votes etc), it is nevertheless interesting to note that almost as many people voted a 17 year old girl as their favorite singer as they voted for George Bush to be their next president. Perhaps, the next American elections should change their format with 30 candidates and several elimination rounds. If anything, they would attract a wider audience to listen to the issues over the course of several months! How about your favorite Republican singing the blues or Hilary Clinton singing, "New York, New York". Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger proved that it is as much about charisma and character as intellect to win the hearts of the people.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A man for all seasons

I met Doug several years while I was helping a recruiter fill a CTO position. We instantly hit it off. He's like the mad inventor with a thousand ideas and doesn't know the meaning of impossible. With an ever present smile and a twinkle in his eye, you knew he was always hatching something in that smart brain of his.

Doug moved to Hawaii and we kinda lost touch for a while. Last week, he sent me an email with a link to his latest project. Check it out, if he can do it, you wonder why it's taking the rest of corporate so long to do the same.

Way to go Doug!

I love being inspired and Doug inspired me today. He reminded me that we can reach beyond ourselves to do something different. I wish I was in Hawaii right now...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The art of getting things done

Ben at InstigatorBlog is creating an ebook on productivity tips. I was tagged by Chris, another great blogger on branding and marketing. I was in awe with all the entries that Ben has accumulated. Probably prevented me from starting this post. In the end, it was more important to share than be right! So here's my own little contribution really based on how I do things. When you have as small a team as we have at TheGoodBlogs, being productive is a number one priority.

  • Never reinvent the wheel.
    Lose the "not built here" syndrome. Before you start, find out if others have done it before and learn from their successes and mistakes.
  • Take time to figure out what's strategic and what's tactical.
    Strategic things are part of your core fundamentals to your business. Tactical things can be outsourced.
  • Take time to network
    Your total potential is the sum total of your entire network because the accumulation of additional intellect and critique can only make you run faster.
  • Fail fast
    Break a large project into little pieces so you can make changes quickly or even abort. Learning by failure is not an option
  • Take time to learn
    We're generally so busy we forget to update our own skillsets. Getting new skills on a regular basis is one of the best investments to give you that productivity boost.
  • Take time to teach.
    Invest in others and the return will be ten-fold. Don't be the bottleneck.
  • Learn to be agile and versatile.
    In small companies, job descriptions are non-existent, sometimes the best person for the job isn't available. Build a team that can step up and fill shoes when necessary.
  • Don't forget the team.
    Creating and keeping high energy levels and great attitudes should be a number one priority. You are only as good as the collective effort of your team.
  • Pick one thing a day and complete it.
    Nothing more demoralizing than working on the same feature every day for two weeks and seeing no light at the end of the tunnel. Also makes your peers very nervious.
  • Delayed commitment by design.
    Give new ideas a chance to settle in. Shooting them down to quickly or getting to excited may mean either losing a potentially great disruption or wasting valuable time.
  • Know your team.
    Understanding the strengths and weakness of each team member so you know what to expect and creating the best-fit scenario.
  • Teach everyone to lead.
    Being a leader is not being a manager. Not everyone should be a manager but everyone should be a leader. Challenging people to lead means everyone in the company will look to improve the company regardless of job description.
  • Inspire
    Nothing like the adrenalin of achievement. Inspire people to go beyond what they think they can be capable of, and it's a win-win situation for both the individual and the company.
  • Look for people who are curious and creative.
    They will find ways to solve what are seemingly insurmountable problems. They are also the ones that tend to take the initiative because of their own self-motivatation to create things.

Hope this inspires you!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Who is Liz?

Funny how sometimes, words whirl around in your head and then you see a post that resonates with you. Last night I spent a long long time on one post by my friend Liz. She was pondering about connecting friends, ideas and words. She is the consummate connector because there is a refreshing generosity about her. She will start a conversation, step aside and let you in. This morning I found the ultimate description in a Fast Company article on Sylvia Paull, a well-known Silicon Valley connector.

What Liz does is "intentionally serendipitous". This is the deliberate intent of creating connections and discoveries by accident. Is that an oxymoron or what?

Wow, I gotta say that again. Intentionally serendipitous.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

We let a 1,000 flowers bloom

1,000 bloggers actually, that's the number of members that signed up since we went open beta in late November. That accounts for over 1,200 blogs in TheGoodBlogs network. What's more exciting is that we also fast approaching our 50 million blog promotion mark. What's a blog promotion? It's every time we show your blog post in our widget. For us, it's a huge number because I remember when we started with 1 blog less than 6 months ago. You have no idea how scary it was to start with just 1 blog, but that's how it started.

I'm really excited, because I feel Tony and I have made our mark on the blogosphere. It may be dent or a scratch, but it is a tangible mark. What's more important, we're connecting bloggers to each other every day, facilitating conversations, and building communities. In our short journey, we helped a 1,000 flowers bloom a little more. We sure going to hang around and help another 1,000 more.

Liz Strauss said it best at SOBcon, you don't build a community, you make room for one. We have lots of room at TheGoodBlogs

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

If you only knew what I was reading

Picking winners for writing competitions is always hard. Everyone has their own style and no opinion is any less than others. But here are 3 posts we selected that we felt represent Mother's Day the best.

If these 3 posts touched your heart today, go ahead read some more from.

And if you liked what they wrote, drop them a comment, I'm sure they'll love to know their voice found a way to your heart.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

How do you end it all?

I'm pretty tired of ending my emails the same way. I envy those people who always know how to make an exit. What's your suggestion? Pray tell...

  • CYA
  • Ciao
  • Best regards
  • Hugs and smiles
  • Be in touch
  • Sincerely
  • Yours
  • ?????

Monday, May 14, 2007

Will your legacy be a 404, file not found.

During Sobcon, the discussion arose that we have to be careful what we say in our blogs because once said it becomes a permanent record even after we delete a post thanks to Google cache and the like. What was a more interesting question for me was what would become of our blogs when we're too old to blog or die.

Our blogs are often mirrors of ourselves. We spend hundreds of hours in our lifetimes on this thing we call the blog. It is record of ourselves, a legacy to leave behind. Will your grandchildren or great-grandchildren continue to pay your blog host the monthly to keep those pages alive, or keep your server running if you self-host, or pay the annual fee to keep your url?

When we are born we are given a name we own forever, etched on our tombstones. We leave behind our diaries, photos and life artifacts to pass on generation after generation. But where will our blogs be when we are gone. What will become of our 'permanent record'? How should we preserve out blogs to be living memory? Ideas?

Perhaps search engines like Google have a social and moral responsibility to be the system of record forever.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

So what inspires you?

I feel very inspired today. Tony and I had a 9 hour discussion in the car on the way back from Chicago last night. We routinely receive wonderful emails and blog posts on TheGoodBlogs. But nothing quite prepares you when people who have signed up with us physically come up to you and say, "I love TheGoodBlogs, you guys are doing amazing stuff." I'm honestly thrilled and honored to share a place on your blogs. You inspire us, your blogs inspire us. To know that in some small way we can carry your blog to more corners of the internet inspires us. Being able to connect to bloggers through TheGoodBlogs inspires us. Man, I love being inspired!

I live for the moments I see a comment on a blog that says, "I found you through TheGoodBlogs". Isn't that a wonderful legacy to leave behind? It's like connecting the two plugs together and all of the suddenly the lights go on! We aren't the light, by jove, we're not even the electricity. We simply put the two cables together... sweet!

So what inspires you? a trembling voice? a moment in time captured in a photo? a kind word? a profound remark? a warm hug? ... I would love to know.

What we didn't do at SOBcon07

We didn't talk about better writing, making money, blogging platforms or making the A-list. Hang on... this is a blogging conference right? Wrong, it was a blogger conference. Instead we talked about starting the conversation, authenticity, connecting to each other, building relationships. If you were an SOB, you wouldn't have blinked an eye, what else would you expect from this community. This wasn't a conference, it was a life experience. I felt I could really walk up to anyone in the room and talk to anyone as if I had known them forever. As Liz says, you're only a stranger once. I was proud and honored that the TheGoodBlogs was part of this.

As you would expect, some awesome Sobcon'07 posts already out there. Jason Alba has some terrific summaries, you can find more from Rick Cockrum, Robert Hruzek, Jesse Petersen, the list continues... Oh, and I finally met my long-time digital friend Ben Yoskovitz in person and next time you see Terry Starbucker, ask him to sing, yes Terry, we didn't mind at all!

For pictures, click here

I'll be gathering some notes and posting my highlights in the next day or so.

In the meantime, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Big ideas come to Sobcon07

Virtual reality just became reality last night as we dropped our digital personas and met bloggers face to face. It was unlike any other conference I've been to before. Even though the majority of folks had not met in person before, it felt like a homecoming, a lovefest. And it was. Bloggers celebrating bloggers, bloggers celebrating blogging. From the moment we walked through the door and got our first hug from Mike Sansone, it was amazing.

The best thought I walked away? For many, the decision to blog wasn't a whimsical idea, it was often part of life changing decision to do something different with their lives. The blog was a window to that change. It reinforced their passion for life, their passion to share their life experiences, their passion to write.

[Update] Flickr must have been having issues, last night the flash widget displaying the SOBcon07 wasn't working, a quick check showed it wasn't working for anyone else on the 'net either. However we managed to get the slideshow going on the flickr site. This morning, the flash widget was back but all the photos uploaded to the group had disappeared. Was this another episode of the Twilight Zone?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Blog meets world

We're packed and about to leave for an 8 hour drive to Chicago. Sobcon'07, the conference where successful bloggers go to connect. I'll be posting updates, in the meantime, check back here tonight to see pictures of the event.

Update: Seems like there are issues with the Flickr flash slideshow widget. If you don't see the slideshow below, click here. Sobcon'07

Thursday, May 10, 2007

How do you buy your music?

In the light of my miniblog entry about stepping out of yourself, I just bought a Spanish CD. Because I have no clue what the singer is singing, I ended up focusing on the voice and the music. A very telling experience. Sometimes too much information clouds the experience. Keeping it simple allows true beauty to emerge.

Here'a fun tongue-in-cheek look at how your buying habits may determine your personality type.

You like a song and ...

  1. Buy the CD immediately and never listen to it again.
  2. Only buy that one song from iTunes and never buy the CD.
  3. Always buy the CD and listen to every song.
  4. Borrow the CD and never give it back or stand in the local music store and listen to every track before buying it.

If you answered

  1. You're the driver type, i.e. accomplishing things are important to you but you never have time to enjoy the present.
  2. You're the expressive type, you live for the moment, and the song you like defines that moment... especially if others like it too.
  3. You're the amiable type, you'll always buy the whole CD even if you've only heard one song. You have to be sure that you haven't missed out on any other songs on the CD that you might like.
  4. You're the analytical type, you have to be right and listening to every track before buying it ensures you have all the information making that buying decision.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The one blog post you have to make every year

Mother's Day is fast approaching. Anyone who blogs owes one post a year to the women who define and make our lives whole... our mothers and our wives. I'll be on the road back from Sobcon07 on Sunday. So this is my tribute.

Firstly, to my mother, who loves me through all the success and failures and in my darkness, only sees my light. Thanks Mom.

Secondly, to Karen, who is more than just the mother of my two kids. The term "wife" would be adequate to describe her. She is also my confidant, soulmate and friend. Thanks K.

Thirdly, to all the Mom blogs we have at TheGoodBlogs. More than any other category, you have made me cry a little and laugh a lot. Your blogs are real and from the heart. Reading them makes me feel like I knew you forever. Thanks TGB moms!
Happy Mother's Day on Sunday.

We're running a competition for the best blog post about your mom and Mother's Day. Check it out at TheGoodBlogs. It's free to enter but you have to be a member of TheGoodBlogs so we can find your post through your RSS feed.

Click on this tag and see other great posts about mothers and being a mother.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Why advertising on the Internet needs a new paradigm

Flipping through the last issue of Business 2.0, the one headline that jumped out at me was You can't just buy people's attention anymore, you must engage them. Google essentially has a done terrific marketing job with Adsense. The prospect of making thousands of dollars by putting up a website or blog is certainly enticing and being able to create a blog page in a matter of minutes has meant thousands of websites and blogs being created with no value other than trying to buy a click from an errant visitor who stumbles upon the page through the Google search. The irony is the Google drives the traffic to your site, you make a couple of cents but because it has convinced thousands if not millions like you to do the same, their profits are in the billions. i.e. they do the herding and also the harvesting, sweet deal.

The problem is that other than Google, those who really make money operate extremely high traffic sites because it is a volume game. The jury is out whether blog networks really work because the long tail is just as prevalent there as anywhere else. There more plankton in the sea than there are whales. So where is this going? Surely not more webpages, more splogs and more ads. That would be a travesty for the digital net.

Here's the question for you, name 3 ads that you remember when you were reading blogs today. Better still how many of you actually clicked on an ad after reading a blog entry in the last 7 days. The point is advertising in the digital highway is not unlike driving home on a busy Friday afternoon. You see a lot of billboards but can't remember too many of them. The next wave of advertising must first engage the people, get their attention and their permission and then serve them the punchline.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Winning in your workplace

I was reading Winning the Devil's Bargain about how to cope in the workplace when your integrity and ethics are at odds with what you are asked to do. We've all been put in those situations, asked to do or say things that may not be truthfully or ethical. Done all in the name of survival we are told. Nevertheless, it is unsettling because we are forced to compromise our values in the name of loyalty, commitment and keeping our jobs.

In the end, it's all about choosing our battles and maintaining a winning attitude. We're often caught up by issues that seem so large and important and yet weeks or years later we laugh at their insignificance in the grand scheme of things. Often our egos are caught up by the moment. Here's some of the things I reminded myself constantly over the years to keep me sane.

  • I'll be doing this 'job' at least one third (often half of my day) every day, five or six days a week. I'd better find reasons why I enjoy it and want to continue doing it.
  • Look for things to celebrate regardless of whether it is my win or my colleague's win. We're all in the same boat, there's no 'the leak is on your side'.
  • Attitude is not determined by the job I'm doing. Attitude is a personal responsibility. It's proactive and not reactive.
  • Enthusiasm and excitement is infectious. Celebrate each win whether it is yours or not.
  • I don't have to have a title to lead
  • If I don't agree with something or feel uncomfortable doing it, don't just voice my opinion. It only makes people defensive. Find alternatives that create a win-win situation for both the company and me. Then go and sell the alternative.
  • Find someone to inspire every day.
  • Find a reason to complement at least one person every day and do it.
  • Have the courage to walk away when it is time. To prolong unhealthy relationships hurts both sides. Not being the right fit doesn't mean either party is wrong. Water and oil aren't bad ingredients, they just don't mix.
  • When I'm overwhelmed, choose just one thing to do and do it. Not two, not ten, just one.
  • I do more harm by not initiating than having the courage to do so and risking the consequences.
  • Smile at one person every day.

How do you get through your day?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Losing face

A few posts ago, I talked about how society is struggling with social networks like Facebook. In a recent development, the Ontario government has blocked all access to Facebook from government networks. Other sites that have been banned include YouTube. While you can argue that allowing employees to access YouTube and Facebook adds no value to workplace productivity, I fail to see why those two sites have been singled out. If an employee really didn't want to work, he or she would find other alternatives. How about browsing for books at Amazon, checking your eBay bids, looking at Flickr pictures, reading celebrity blogs, the list is endless. The irony is MySpace seems to have been spared a similar fate. This must go down as one of "What was I thinking?" decisions that is as impractical as it is stupid. Wait 'til they find out every government employee actually moonlights at Second Life.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Most important open-source apps of all time

eWeek lists the following as the most important open-source apps of all time. If you're using any of these, you're in good company, if not, go check it out. It will save you a ton of time and money. I've added my own comments where we've used it and recommend it personally. Didn't have time to add links to each entry but I'm sure if you typed 'open source' and the topic in Google, you're bound to find them. (or go to eWeek and read the descriptions)

  • Apache, web server (recommended)
  • Linux Kernel, operating system (recommended)
  • Nessus, security
  • Firefox, web browser (recommended)
  • Perl, language (recommended)
  • Wireshark, network analyzer
  • PHP, language (recommended)
  • VNC, virtual networks (recommended)
  • BSD, server platform
  • Webmin, administration
  • Asterisk, telephony
  • Nmap, pen-based testing app
  •, productivity
  • MySQL, database (recommended)
  • Nagios, system monitoring
  • Eclipse, editor (recommended)
  • Samba, file and print services (recommended)
  • OpenSSH and OpenSSL, security (recommended)

Wait, there's's what they missed! These are all highly recommended by me.

  • Drupal - webportal
  • GIMP - graphics
  • Putty - ssh client
  • TortoiseSVN - version control
  • Mediawiki - wiki
  • ImageMagick - image manipulation

Do you have more? Add to the list by leaving me a comment...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Web etiquette or lack thereof

As social networking on the Internet continues to grow, the problems related to free speech and slander become increasingly controversial. Take RateMDs for example, like any other profession, there are good apples and bad apples. Allowing people to rate their doctors is becoming highly contentious. If it was RateMyPolitician, I would guess no-one would bat an eyelid. Apparently there are sacred cows in our society. Today, I heard on the radio some students in an Ontario school were disallowed from attending a school trip because of discussions they had on Facebook regarding certain teachers. This follows another incident also involving Facebook and students. None of these conversations are new, we've had them over coffee, in the schoolyard but what is new is that now that discussion is public. The web brings about a transparency that is unsettling to many.

The irony is that many of these digital conversations have always existed. Over the last 2 decades, if you were a reader of newsgroups and forums, you would find similar rants and raves about people and products. I guess what's different is that most of these tirades has been targeted at public figures or people who opt in to be part of the conversation. As a politician, celebrity or CEO, you would accept your fair share of criticism whether it was fair or not, that was part of the game. The tough part is in today's Internet anarchy, private individuals are unwittingly and unwillingly dragged onto center stage. The second part is exposure, limiting criticism to a small group is tolerable to most people, being exposed rightly and wrongly to potentially millions of people is not. So where is the fine line between free speech and violation of other people's rights?

In the past, physical limitations have made it easier to avoid things you didn't want to see, i.e. don't visit a particular neighbourhood, don't watch that channel. Unfortunately, the web is too linear and unstructured, it is hard for a day to go by where 50% or more of what's in my inbox or browser are things I didn't need or want to see.

I think the Wild Wild Web just got a little wilder...don't you?