My favorite newsletters

I have two favorite email newsletters, and I wanted to take a minute to share what they are and what I enjoy about them. There are two motivations behind this: (1) to offer you suggestions on how to get me on your list as an email subscriber, and (2) to get you to let me know what your favorite email newsletters are.

1. Funds For Writers by C. Hope Clark

I forget what first got me interested in FFW – possibly a ramp-up to my first National Novel Writing Month – but Hope Clark's weekly newsletter provides a message from her about how to find success, motivation, inspiration or some other writing-related topic; an article from a contributor about writing; available grants, fellowships and contests; and freelance opportunities.

FFW hits my inbox Friday afternoon or evening, and gives me enough food for thought for the weekend – and enough action items to keep me busy as long as I want to be busy.

Clark also does a free small markets newsletter and a free WritingKid newsletter, as well as a paid newsletter.

2. SearchCap from Search Engine Land

SearchCap is a round-up of everything going on in search (SEO, SEM, PPC, local, maps, etc.), social media, and analytics. It's a daily, sent out in the evening, with whatever is new on Search Engine Land that day, along with links to blog entries by many different people across the social/search landscape (Friday's edition, for instance, included summaries of six of SEL's posts, links to 40 blog posts by other writers, and summaries of some of the top items on Sphinn, which is SEL's social sharing site).

The things these two newsletters have in common that I particularly enjoy are:

• They have lots of information
• They arrive at a good time for me to read them and utilize the information in them
• They save me time on searching for all the info
• They provide me with information I wouldn't have thought to look for

Which are your favorite newsletters?

New Twitter: Sexy? Sure. Useful? Well…

We all use social media differently. Personally, I rarely use to read Twitter, unless I'm using search. I'm a HootSuite or sometimes TweetDeck kind of guy.

I got to see the new Twitter in action yesterday. It's shiny and new, and admittedly kind of sexy. If there's a photo or video in a link, it will load in the right sidebar. Same with threaded conversations (though, oddly, not hashtags or trends).

That's awesome.

Will I use it? Probably not.

» Kyle Lacy: Twitter is Changing and Exploding Myths
» Chris Brogan: Why I Am Still Not Ready for New Twitter

I keep my following list very low, in the 200 people range. But that's still too many people to entirely keep up with. And that's why I prefer to use an application that allows me to set up lists in columns across the page; I can see my mentions and tweets from people in three lists that are important to me spread across my window, which allows me to concentrate on those people.

There are others I follow whose tweets I don't necessarily want in my timeline during my work day. They're not people who I'm likely to go to lunch with today, or who are sharing information I find crucial to my job. They're people I like (or I wouldn't be following them), but viewing them in my stream would destroy the productivity of Twitter for me.

And that's why the new Twitter, while sexy, isn't enough for me. I can't put those people on hold for part of the time and catch up with them later.

What do you think?

Foursquare as a travel journal

Some of you know my back and forth with Foursquare as a tool. Foursquare isn't going away, so I may as well embrace it – and my guess is that long-ish service outage we saw Sunday morning means they're getting their ducks in a row for some major funding, either in terms of a purchase or a round of venture capital.

I was in Saratoga Springs over the weekend, and I used Foursquare throughout the weekend to mark where I'd been, so that I could go back and recall names, and be able to find addresses and Web pages. It was a handy note-taking tool. I probably abused the "Tell Twitter" function a little, but I tried to take it easy on the anti-Foursquare amongst my followers (I've been telling Twitter less and less lately).

I found Foursquare to be a highly effective tool for the purpose. Even when Foursquare was down, I could tweet my location (I don't get people who tell Twitter where they are, but who claim to hate Foursquare – it's the same thing, just without the 4sq link). Sure, it means if you were stalking me, you could find me. You already knew I wasn't home because I told you on Twitter that I was heading out of town. That doesn't mean you could get by the dogs, the electrified lawn barrier, and the two other things I'm not telling you about.

The two things I like best about using this method:

1. It's digitized. When my brother and I drove from Massachusetts to California in 2003, neither of us had a smart phone, we weren't on Facebook, (what with it being still in development and us out of college) and we didn't have location-based services in general. We kept a road diary, and while I've referred to it for purposes of stories, I've never digitized it. My Foursquare travel journal is already digitized, and I can just copy and paste into a document if I want.

2. Contact information. Most of the venues in Foursquare have some modicum of correct information, including an accurate venue name. That makes a venue easy to find should I want to refer to it in a blog entry or get in touch so that I can go again.

Using Twitter as a Feed Reader

I've been using Bloglines as a feed reader for about five years now, and there are some things I like about it, including the ability to see embedded video within the reader. But as I get more mobile, I find it's not enough.

I've recently launched a new Twitter account at @_ThatJosh (with the underscore; without was already in use). I'm using it as a feed reader rather than a conversationalist, like I do with my main @JoshShear account.

I didn't duplicate the feed list I have in Bloglines. I'm still running image-heavy feeds (like the Dilbert daily comic strip and Josh Spear's trend-spotting blog) through it, but now for the social media, search and entrepreneur feeds I read, I can see what's going on in a list form, with only a headline, a few words and a link.

This is especially helpful when conferences are going on and my feed reader blows up with the live blogging (I still love you, Outspoken and BCI, I'm just making it easier on me).

Here is how I set it up:

1. I created a new GMail account. This gives me the opportunity to use it as a pivot point for anything I decide to do with this particular group of accounts. GMail has a good spam filter, so I don't have to worry about cleaning out the inbox frequently, and Google seems to be OK with me opening as many accounts as I want.

2. I signed up the Twitter account.

3. I went to Twitterfeed and signed in with my Google account (use the "Sign in with Open ID" link). I added the feeds, told Twitterfeed how often to check each, and to post them to my Twitter account.

I use Hootsuite to read Twitter both on my laptop and on my phone (I use the Android application, not the website, on my mobile). I created a tab for _ThatJosh, and put three columns on that tab: mentions (people talking to me), direct messages (private messages to me), and my sent feed, which essentially ends up being the feeds I'm reading.

This is antithetical to how I recommend people to use Twitter, but my goal is not followers: It's a tool for me to make my morning reading routine go smoother. I hope it helps you as well.

Farmshed CNY

I had a chance last week to meet with Neil Brody Miller to talk about his new project, Farmshed CNY.

Farmshed is an iPhone app (I'm hoping there's an Android app in the future) that lets you see nearby farms, farmers markets and locally-owned restaurants. The download times are getting faster (it's a fairly large database), and Neil clued me in on a few upcoming changes, including organizing everything by distance (it's currently alphabetical) and further organizing what farms do (meat? veggies? organic?).

Neil met me at Strong Hearts, and we chatted a bit about our backgrounds. He's an old (70s-era) punk with an entrepreneurial mentality, great ideas, and a love for all the stuff that's going on here. He particularly mentioned Syracuse First and the guy who introduced us, Marty Butts of Small Potatoes.

Watch for more coming on Farmshed. If you're the iPhone sort, download the app (it's free, I'm sure you have seen it because its mobile app marketing is on point.). Here's a miniaturized version of the brochure:

Connecting on multiple platforms, or why I’m no longer reading your updates

If you move your eyes to the right, you'll see a box labeled "Connect." It's under the search box, next to my mug over there. While you may not have a Delicious account, there's a reasonable chance you have a Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook account. Even all three. And possibly Foursquare, too.

I use those three social networking platforms very differently. Facebook is primarily social for me, although I do operate a Facebook page or 2 for businesses. I play Scrabble with my sister and other word games with my mom and some friends. I check in on birthdays. On rare occasions I'll check the status updates, but really, that is pretty rare. LinkedIn is purely business; even the stuff that feels social is business – I'm sharing professional information, and since I'm a sole proprietor, that business life sometimes spills over into the personal (and vice versa). Twitter is a mix of everything. I definitely don't over-share on Foursquare, and I only check in at clients, potential clients, and places I have a comment about. And I only share that on Twitter if I have something to say about it beyond, "I'm here."

Sometimes I find something worth sharing on multiple platforms, though I find that increasingly rare. More often than not, it's a photo shared on a Twitter platform that I send to Facebook as well so that I don't have to upload it twice.

If you're just on social networking sites to be there, that's cool. I have goals. Which is why if you're flooding my LinkedIn stream with the same stuff I just read on Twitter, totally overwhelming other connections who update what they're working on once or twice a week, I've pulled you out of my LinkedIn timeline. And really, a lot of us are on LinkedIn for the professional networking – we don't care if you're sharing ice cream with your kid. Save it for Facebook or Twitter.

I've been doing the same on Facebook lately, too.

This has a further consequence, as well: once I've pulled you out of my stream, you're out. It's not like I go back weekly to see if your practices have changed. If you point out to me that your practices have changed, I may go check, but if I've pulled you out of my stream and tomorrow you have an epiphany and decide to share good stuff on LinkedIn, sorry, I'm not going to know, and I'm not going to share it with my network.

How are you using these platforms, and how do you deal with people who use them differently from you?

In defense of content farms, sort of

On Friday of last week, Demand Media filed for an IPO.

For those unfamiliar, Demand owns eHow, Answerbag, and a handful of other sites that offer content and advertising. Sounds like a newspaper or magazine, right? Well, not exactly. The content on these sites is determined by what people are searching for, and is populated by people who can do a modicum of research and can string a couple of sentences together.

Danny Sullivan explains a little more about their revenue streams, but basically the way this works is that you search for something like "how to string a tennis racket" and Demand Media's computers say, "We could own that." So, "How To String A Tennis Racket" gets added to a list of articles available. It gets assigned a type of article and site, and based on those, a price point they'll pay for the article.

Someone who has been accepted as a writer says, "Hey, I could write that," and does. The article goes to a copy editor, the editor accepts the article or sends it back for rewrites, the writer either gives it up or re-writes it; if the article is re-written, the editor either accepts it or rejects it. If the article is accepted, the writer gets paid.

You may have guessed by now that I've done some writing for them. I'm not particularly proud of that writing, and don't generally include it in portfolios or writing samples because it's really mediocre work – the whole model revolves around the articles being relevant to searches, rather than enjoyable, in-depth writing.

But by and large, if you're asking how to string a tennis racket, you want to learn how to string a tennis racket, and if the piece is good enough to get that done, frankly, it's good enough to get it done.

I'm writing for them because they pay, and if you know how to do the research, they pay well. While $15 for a 400-500 word piece (call it 3 cents a word) is far less than a good publication would pay, it's far more than their competitors (Textbroker, for example, pays about a penny a word to its most highly qualified writers, and about a half-cent to its writers who demonstrate mediocre grammar skills).

I type in the neighborhood of 90-100 words per minute, which means that I can do the actual writing for an article for eHow in under 10 minutes. If I add 10 minutes for the research, I just made $15 for 20 minutes worth of work. Grab 3 or 4 articles that can be written on the same research, and you can clear $50 an hour for working for Demand. That's pretty good by any publication's standards, even if you're not racking up a portfolio you can be proud of (let's face it, even quality publications need someone to write up unremarkable content, and they do it for more like $8-$10 an hour).

So yes, you're definitely losing some quality in exchange for relevance, but that's been a problem on the web since before someone thought up the content farm idea. Journalism itself has fallen victim to the search engines to some extent. But frankly, if I want to know how to file for a copyright, I don't need to be wowed by the prose. Just tell me what to send where and how to figure out how much it's going to cost me.

Collateral Branding: The difficulty of Online-to-Offline

I came across one of these notepads from the SUNY Oswego Metro Center (I snipped that image above; I figured you'd get the idea even if I didn't include all 20ish lines on the piece of paper). I love the Metro Center. It gives people the opportunity to take classes downtown. It opens its doors to groups like 40 Below. I even love these notepads: they're a good size, bigger than a shopping list, smaller than a journal. I even really like Amber Spain-Mosher, who handles the marketing for them.

But the Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn logos at the bottom caught my eye. Because in order to find them, we're supposed to search those sites. And that's fine – if you make yourself easy to find.

Facebook. Facebook has a really good search. In fact, as I was typing, it pre-filled the SUNY Oswego Metro Center page. Very good. The one problem is, take a look at the profile image they use – it's the statue in Clinton Square and The Post-Standard building, as taken from the front of the Atrium, which is the building that houses the Metro Center. There's no way to visually identify the Metro Center when you land on the Facebook page.

Twitter. Twitter has good content search. I ran two different searches and didn't find the SUNY Oswego Metro Center account. For the first search, I simply typed suny oswego metro center in the search box that runs in the right-hand column of a Twitter page. My only result was someone who checked into the Metro Center recently on Foursquare. Then I went to "Find People" and searched for suny oswego metro center (most people search lower case; so do I). I wound up with a list of 20 accounts, including CNN Weather and NASA's Stennis Center, but not SUNY Oswego Metro Center's account.

LinkedIn. You have to know how to search LinkedIn in order to be effective. It's actually fairly difficult. The search defaults to searching people, and it's an all-word search. When I searched for suny oswego metro center under people, I got six results – two were people who worked there (one as a graduate assistant), and the other four had gone to SUNY Oswego and had worked at places that included Metro Center in their name. Next, I tried to search under Companies, and received zero search results (they'd be combined under the SUNY Oswego umbrella).

There are a couple of ways to solve that. One is to list URLs. Unless 1,000 people like your page, that's unwieldy on Facebook (unless, of course, you were to buy and redirect it to your Facebook page), but then Facebook's search is actually good. My business cards don't list my Facebook URL, but they do list my company website, my blog, my Twitter and my LinkedIn.

Another way is to build a QR code (like the one on the left there). You can include a lot of information (about 1500 alphanumeric characters) in not very much space. As the smart phone market grows (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm, etc.), just about anybody is going to be able to read one of these – all they need is to download a free app and have an auto-focus camera. Most applications will give you a button to just add the information to your address book.

What challenges do you face when trying to market your online presence in an offline environment?

Syracuse Wiki Survey Results

Last week, we asked you to take a survey about a Syracuse-area wiki. In all, 54 people answered the questionnaire. Just about everybody said they would use a local wiki, though only some would contribute to it. What it really came down to, though, was do we create a new wiki from scratch? The answer was no, we should work to really build out the existing one.

Admittedly, because this survey was promoted primarily on Twitter, the people who took it are pre-disposed to using online tools and aren't representative of the larger potential audience of a local wiki -- but those who took it are also among those most likely to help build out the wiki, and no wiki really survives if the community doesn't build it.

Next step: Let's get to work on!

Syracuse Wiki Survey

We're asking you for some help, Syracuse-area folks! Take a three-question survey about using and contributing to a local wiki.

You can take it on SurveyMonkey by clicking here or answer these questions in comments:

1. Would you use a Syracuse wiki as a resource?

2. Would you contribute to a Syracuse wiki? (If yes, occasionally or frequently?)

3. Would you prefer to use an existing wiki, or see a new one developed?

Please share, and ask your friends, family and readers to take the survey as well!