Jeff, You’re Wrong… But for the Right Reasons

So I just finished reading Jeff Turner’s (@Respres) post on his site: Kenya Exposed More Than Just My Emotions and I felt compelled to deliver a response. Jeff has that effect on his audience – part of what makes him worth following and paying attention to. But I’m a snarky sonofabitch who can’t help but speak up.

The gist of his post was this:

It’s been a week since I’ve updated my public Twitter or Facebook stream. I don’t think anyone has noticed. It’s noisy in both places, lots of people are vying for attention. And I have no desire to broadcast this post on either one of them. I’ve unchecked the “Publish to Twitter” box on this post. I realize that will mean fewer people will ever know this post is here. I don’t care.

And that’s fine. But you’re wrong. For the right reasons, to be sure, but you’ve fallen for a fallacy that I can’t help but call out. Correlation is not causality. People (well, at least myself) noticed your absence, but also respected the fact that you were on a legitimate adventure. That’s worth experiencing in its entirety because it’s not something you get to experience every day.

But imagining that the world is better because you’re NOT adding to the collective conversation is… well, it’s false logic. You’re blaming the network for the noise, but then not adding signal to the stream. That’s backwards. You choosing to disable the “Publish to Twitter” button means that the quality of dialogue is diminished; not improved. [And besides, that one checkbox took me hours to figure out how to build – have some appreciation! Hehehe…]

I’m rambling, so let me get back to the point. The simple fact of the matter is that we’re all participating in a connected environment that has never been imagined. We’re still building it – and there’s a lot of junk to sift through. There’s lots of noise. Our attention spans are pulled in a thousand directions at once. Focus & presence is at a premium. But the reality is that once you have that attention – the attention of an audience – it’s your responsibility to raise the level of discourse to new heights. Abandoning your audience doesn’t provide value for anyone – you or them.

You have the opportunity to educate us. You have the opportunity to share your journey, to share what it meant to you, and to share what you want us to take away from it. You have the opportunity to raise awareness about the challenges and obstacles that exist for the girls that you’ve made part of your life – and to empower us to support them and the millions like them. You have the opportunity to tell a story that compels positive action. Or, you can choose not to. Those are your choices.

You’re part-owner in a piece of social media software designed to create better conversations – to build better dialogue. It shouldn’t come at the cost of looking people face-to-face and discussing what matters. It should compliment it. It should improve upon it. It should broaden our horizons and raise our perspectives. This software isn’t perfect yet; but that perfection is worth striving for. It’s why I keep chipping away at the boulder. If your trip has inspired ways of improving how we pay attention to each other – let’s build it.

There are all kinds of communities. Should we spend more time in the physical ones and perhaps better focus (and reduce) our attention while in the virtual ones? Absolutely. And, should you have paid attention to Head Mutha while she was talking with you? Damn straight.

Welcome back.

Why Schedule Tweets?

Over the last couple weeks I’ve had the chance to have several good conversations about social scheduling. One of the areas of discussion (specifically related to Dashter) is – why schedule tweets?

It’s a good question – and requires having a little familiarity with Twitter, but here’s my short answers…

Etiquette: When someone logs on to Twitter, they’re going to see a stream of the latest tweets in their “home” display. This is true for most clients like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck as well. Generally, there’s an implicit assumption that when you log in you’ll see a stream of the latest tweets from around your social circle. But, if someone you’re following logs in and posts all their tweets all at once, that tweet stream fills up with just them. It’s not particularly courteous.

You’re Missing the Spread: One of the best advantages to spreading your tweets out throughout the day is that you can cover the whole audience. Remember – 7am on the East Coast is 4am on the West Coast – and that’s just in the US. If you’re trying to reach / appeal to a global audience, the clock never stops – and twitter adoption continues to rise globally. Remember, Twitter is attempting to position itself as the “universal” social network thanks to the low adoption threshold (140 text characters can be managed by just about any cell phone on the planet) – so global audience & reach is essential. Assume that your audience logs in to Twitter once or twice per day and scans 20-30 tweets, and that’s it. Wouldn’t you like to increase the odds that they’ll see your tweet?

Tweets Don’t Last Very Long: There’s a couple schools of thought in terms of “how long” a tweet lasts on the network. That’s because of the signal vs. noise challenge. In general, I’ve heard that Tweets have a “lifespan” of anywhere from 5-15 minutes; all the way up to 2 hours. After that, it really has run its course. By and large, people don’t interact with Tweets older than a few minutes.

Maintain Multiple Conversations: If you get involved in a couple simultaneous conversations on Twitter, suddenly you will be posting multiple replies over a span of a very short period of time. By scheduling tweets, you can spread out the likelihood of holding one conversation at a time – allowing you to carry on better one-on-one conversations than if you have to have many at the same time.

The Signal vs Noise Challenge: There is a lot of noise on Twitter. Even the best selected group of people to follow will result in a wealth of conversations and “starters” that really don’t matter to you. The same will be true of the people who follow you… Some people will be deeply engaged, but generally few will be interested in your individual messages. That’s the advantage of the short lifespan of a Tweet. But how do you overcome the noise? By seeding your tweets throughout the day via scheduling, you’ll have more chances to have your message reach its audience and provide true signal than if you posted all your messages simultaneously.

Heavy Active User Paradox: It would make sense that your messages will be more effective if the people you engage with, follow, and follow-back were all heavy active users on Twitter. They’d be ready to spread your message, right? But the paradox is that active users on Twitter tend to interact and engage with heavily active users on Twitter. So the signal processing gets overrun again…

Here’s what I mean: If you are followed by someone who follows 10 people (and each person posts 1 message per day) you have a 1/10 (10%) chance of being “read.”

But if the person who follows you follows 100 people, and each person posts 10 times per day, any single message now has a “read” chance of 1/(100*10): 0.1%.

That’s the challenge with Twitter – as people find more interesting people to follow they end up hitting a wall of signal. So how do you improve the likelihood that your message will at a minimum get viewed (and hopefully RT’d, quoted, replied-to, or curated)? You schedule your tweets to spread them across the potential audience-online timeframe.

Remember – if someone logs in to Twitter and browses through their last few messages, they’re only 1-click away from your profile to view all your latest tweets, so your tweets should always be interesting and a reflection of you. You want your messages to be quality and consequential, but you ultimately want them to be read and ideally engaged with. By using scheduling, you can reach a broader audience, have better engagement with the people who follow you, and improve your objective outcomes on Twitter.

Showing off Curation

This post was generated by Dashter

There’s a contest!

Here’s another curated thing! 🙂

The Freelance Life (Part 2)

So this post is a follow-up to my article yesterday – My (Simple) tips for Freelancing. I wanted to go collect some more ideas to share that I think can amplify the conversation beyond just my basic ideas. There are so many people freelancing and calling their own shots these days that there’s plenty of interesting insight to be found.

… The Couch is Calling …

One of the best / worst parts about freelancing definitely has to be when you’re not running at 100%… The upside is exactly what Michelle mentioned here – you can just post on the couch and tinker. The downside? You’re responsible for your own healthcare. Definitely a mixed bag – but believe it or not self-coverage isn’t that expensive. Gets a lot more pricey if you’re covering kids / family – but it’s still pretty reasonable.

The downside of Freelancing is that if you’re not focused on projects – it can be really easy to get distracted by things at home. Of course – anyone who’s been in a corporate environment knows that an office is full of distractions too!

Dude – I love this. That’s so true. Freelancing is definitely a legitimate enterprise, but older generations sometimes look at the online business world as a bunch of smoke & mirrors (and spammers). Sometimes it takes a good conversation with the family to really show & share what you’re up to. Great point Salman.

That’s another thing often overlooked in freelancing… You really have to do everything by hand. There’s no “mail room” no shipping supplies, and you gotta foot the bill for all the postage. Direct mail (especially like pointed out here) is so effective if you’ve got an engaged client / prospect base, but it can add up really quickly. Look for deals on shipping products when you can – Staples or Office Depot usually have clearance racks for shipping supplies that can save you a ton of money on envelopes, packing material, and even weird-sized shipping boxes. If you’re sending more than a dozen pieces of mail a week, I definitely recommend checking out Stamps.com or similar print-stamps-from-home solutions.

There’s definitely some truth to this. Freelancing IS very similar to being an employee, since your clients will often place similar demands on you as they would an internal employee. Though if you prove your expertise, I think you can often establish more of a peer-to-peer relationship, rather than a client-vendor one. It’s tricky, but quite possible – especially if you’re providing skills that truly support the clients’ business that they don’t have internally.

Had to include Alexanders’ response, because it’s absolutely part of the reality too. Like I’d written before – the project & the client selection process is so crucial! If you find clients who are looking for skilled service providers to help amplify their business and meet their goals – it feels much less like an employee relationship and much more like a pair of business professionals working together towards a common goal.

And finally, I think Brian has conveyed what many freelancers feel after a period of time. There are two worlds when it comes to freelancing: People who freelance because they want the freedom, independence, and ability to call their own shots. They typically leave stagnant work environments to strike out on their own. Then there are also freelancers who are doing it because the job market is rough.

Thanks for reading! Again – if you want to check out the original post check out My Tips for Freelancers.

My Tips for Freelancing

A friend wrote this question, and I just felt like it was good blog-fodder…

When dealing with clients, whats the best way to set time restrictions for yourself so you can have a social life or be able to hangout with your kids? Are stating you have a hardstop later in the day the wrong way to go about it? What if something comes up? I’m conflicted going from a 9-5 office gig to working for multiple clients from home.

Dude. I have so many opinions on this.

Freelance Clients aren’t Corporate Clients

Freelance clients come in every variety – so be forewarned. Even the most stable-sounding client could turn in to a nightmare headcase if you’re not paying attention.

For starters, I’d suggest you pick clients who share your value system. If you believe that a work day should start and stop at certain times, make that part of your client onboarding process. Ask them when they expect deliverables from you – morning, afternoon, evenings, weekends?

Secondly, make sure your clients understand your circumstances (to a degree). If you set aside 4-8pm each evening as “playing with the kids time” make sure your client understands that ahead of time.

Also, especially in this economy – cashflow is king. If a client is asking for payment terms or flexibility in paying for services, either decline them or make them one of your “when I’ve got the time” clients. You should have 2 classes of clients: Those who are paying the full run rate – so you better get running! … and those paying the “jog” rate – where you just have to get to the end eventually, no sprinting required.

Just remember – there’s a reason why your client will consider you rather than a corporate alternative. What would inspire your confidence if you were in their shoes? What would you be willing to accept? Typically, they want a freelancer because they can get more for less, and often (in creative industries) a much more dynamic set of ideas. But just realize part of that proposition is that they expect to be able to demand your time under certain circumstances. Just be clear up front what you think is fair. Continue reading My Tips for Freelancing

The Tale of Two Meetups

With the launch of my product Dashter, I wanted to share a little bit about how the company / product / solution came to be. One part of that story is how my attendance and participation in two great Meetup groups here in Orange County helped spark, nurture, and evolve the product & the business – and ultimately myself.

#OCWP

About a year ago I started attending a group that I’d found on Meetup.com called Orange County WordPress (OCWP). I’d done numerous WordPress sites for myself and my clients in the past, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to attend and learn more about the platform beyond what I could gather off the web. I also suffered from what so many small business owners can attest to – which is when you’re running a small business you crave interacting with people. So I figured what the hell – I’d show up on a Monday night and see what it was all about.

Meetups – just like any new networking event – are always a little nerve-wracking. I walked in alone and didn’t know anyone there. The space at the old Zeek offices were cramped like you wouldn’t believe – there were 40 people fitting in to a room that was probably intended to hold 15 people comfortably. Lots of folks knew each other already, were sharing inside jokes, asking about friends & family, etc. It took a little while to get my bearings, but overall I could tell instantly I was in a good space with people I could definitely get along with. Continue reading The Tale of Two Meetups

OC WordPress Dev Night Dec 5 2011

This post was generated by Dashter (which is available now, by the way!) It’s been a while since I posted a round-up – so here we go!

OCWP Dev Night

Cooking up some good geek knowledge here at the Zeek Interactive / Dashter offices. Let’s get started!

WordPress Network Sites

Tonight’s first topic is WordPress Network (formerly MultiUser) sites. If you want to get started using them on your site, there’s a great WP Codex page for getting started: http://codex.wordpress.org/Create_A_Network

Suzette FranckSuzette Franck – @suzettework
#ocwp Can’t wait to set up a multisite! Awesome demo!

Yep, multisite are a lot of fun. Also great for playing with multiple client projects – if you want to offer a variety of different theme options or choices, you can setup multiple “multisites” and then show off a full range of choices. It’s typically easier and more understandable from a client site if they’re choosing things like how many columns or where navigation will go. You can copy the source database of content and share it between as many sub-sites as you want.

Jeff HesterJeff Hester – @jeffhester
PJMedia.com is a great example of a site using WordPress multisite. #ocwp

Steve (@zengy) quickly showed off Pajamas Media – the author sites are “network sites” so that each author can manage and maintain their own content. It’s a clean install that demonstrates how MU / WordPress Network can be used for large-scale content sites. (Photo of Steve also courtesy Jeff Hester)

Jeff HesterJeff Hester – @jeffhester
Skateboarding.com (and the other TransWorld sites) use WordPress multisite, too! #ocwp

Yeah, that was cool. Awesome addition to the discussion.

[brief pause between sessions for pizza!]

BuddyPress Presentation by Suzette Franck

Suzette is sorta known ’round these parts as the “BuddyPress” queen – she’s got a great presentation prepared featuring a good walkthrough of why you might want to use BP, what some of the limitations & capabilities are, and how to do a successful install.

BuddyPress is available here for your WordPress site. For the developers in the group, there’s a full BuddyPress Codex available as well.

ManageWP Service Update (publicly launching / premium pricing coming soon!)

Jeff HesterJeff Hester – @jeffhester
Holy cow! managewp.com looks awesome for managing multiple WordPress sites. #ocwp

Yeah, that looks like an awesome solution for folks running numerous sites. I was impressed by the fact that they’re getting two-way chatter from the sites – so for instance a plugin installed on one site can get logged in the ManageWP admin; and then you can review it directly from there. No more having to log in to 20 different places to manage your stable of sites! Nice. Also includes member management, backups, cloning / replicating, and more. May have to check that out soon!

WP Ajax

Brandon Dove shared a pretty quick hands-on with wp_ajax for plugins & themes – perhaps one of the most useful set of functions to get familiar with as a modern-day WP developer. Considering how much clients expect clean real-time user interfaces, AJAX is absolutely clutch to solve those problems.

Again, there’s a good article in the codex on wp_ajax – but I also suggest you check out the Professional WordPress Plugin Development book for some good explanation of the action as well.

So that’s about it for the evening! Had a good time – and good to see everyone. If you want to attend the OCWP (general audience) meetup – Subscribe to the Meetup Group on Meetup.com.

How Many +1’s Does It Take To Screw In a Social Network?

Alright, let’s start off with where this article came from:

Jeremy BlantonJeremy Blanton – @jb140
RT @respres: “a social network isn’t a product; it’s a place” http://t.co/QVZlUdrA

I caught Jeremy’s RT of Jeff’s post a couple days ago, but I was out in Vegas for PubCon so my attention span was running a little short. But I read the linked article, and I knew I had to dish out a response. First off – I want to make it totally clear that I’m not a Google+ apologist. I’m not sitting around on Google+ waiting for new comments or likes. But to the same vein I’ve almost entirely stopped participating on Facebook too. I’m working on Dashter – I’m living in Twitter – things are good. Conversations abound (especially when you’ve got the right tools).

But this article (written by Farhad Manjoo @fmanjoo) just seemed so far off base I had to whip up a rebuttal – or at least a pragmatic alternative to the doomsday prediction he provided in his article.

What initially caught my attention to the line that Jeff quoted in his tweet was a strong disagreement that his premise is correct. Social Networks are places in as much as any website is a place. But social networking isn’t a place – it’s a process. It’s a verb. And because of that – the place is less important than the process provided.

Is Google+ A Dead Man Walking? Continue reading How Many +1’s Does It Take To Screw In a Social Network?

OC WordPress Meetup Oct 24

This post was generated by Dashter

ǝɹpǝɹp – @dremeda
I’m heading over to @zeekinteractive for #ocwp – Should be a fun meetup 🙂

Thrilled we could get Dre to come make a visit – looking forward to seeing his chat on WP security. After the rash of recent hosting hacks and other problems, it’ll be good to have some expert advice on the topic.

Jeff TurnerJeff Turner – @respres
Truly… “@jeffreyzinn: Holy Moses, it’s packed to the heezie at the OC WordPress Meetup. Need some stadium seating in here. #ocwp”

Yeah, even the big room got crowded! Great to see so many WP fans!

Jason TuckerJason Tucker – @jasontucker
bah, and they blame me 🙂 (streaming) “@DevineLines: It’s always fun when techy people have technical difficulties. #ocwp”

Jason, we wouldn’t blame you for the technical difficulties if it wasn’t your fault! 😉

Jeff HesterJeff Hester – @jeffhester
Is #Dashter the ultimate tool for fighting blogger’s block? @respres @heydavecole http://t.co/7WIEhIEz #OCWP

In short, yes. Thanks for the shoutout Jeff.

Ross TeasleyRoss Teasley – @RossTeasley
Waving from home… #isuckattwitter #ocwp

Hey Ross! Sorry you’re having a tough time with Twitter… Maybe a sweet Dashter is in order?