Out of an Oddity of Timing and Photo Community Building

  Originally uploaded by eschipul.

(self promotion warning!) Out of an oddity of timing, specifically I hit upload on the way out to dinner, one of my photos was the 1000th Houstonist group photo on flickr.

Here is the post on Houstonist and here is the Houstonist flickr group. And of course here is the photo.

Hats off the Houstonist to leverage something as simple as acknowledging photos to build community. In fact the first time I saw a link to the Houstonist blog it was through flickr. Giving first is good karma.

And of course thanks for the honor of being photo of the day on Aug 31!

Now, how can folks like the Houston Zoo (another disclaimer: the Houston Zoo is a consulting client) engage the Houston zoo community on flickr. The Houston Zoo Elephant blog is exciting but not yet as participatory as flickr communities.

TUAW – Bryce 5 Free for a Bit

Speaking of visualization, via the tuaw blog:

Bryce 5 free until September 6th

DAZ Productions is the latest software company to have been struck by the ‘let’s give it away for free!’ bug, as they have placed a $0 price tag on Bryce 5 for both Mac and PC – but only until Sept. 6th.

I wonder if you can import the Bryce models into Sketchup? Hmmm.

On the visualization theme we also *finally* finished painting what used to be our training room to be a small green room. Chroma Key paint to drop in backgrounds from Star Wars. Or more subdued maps like the weather man.

Now the catch here is none of us are exactly videographers. So, if you have this need for a chroma key green backdrop and are in the Houston area, drop me a line. Free access to a mini studio – not a bad deal.

Social Softare Blog Posts Worth Saving

A round up of related and interesting blog posts. Mostly to save the links for myself.

  1. Google Earth and Emergency Aid – now this is *real*
  2. Research on Social Network Sites – your brain will hurt reading all of this amazing research
  3. Traffic Congestion Tax Experiment in Stockholm – Collective Action Predictable, why must we be surprised that taxation dramatically affects behavior?

And last but not least, I’d like to see a mashup between

Flickr Adds Geo Tagging and Microsoft Live Phototouism?

This Runway Small Aircraft Only

Signage matters. Usability matters. Visuals matter. Particularly for aircraft.

Design could have prevented this tragedy. Maybe a sign in big letters that reads "This Runway Small Aircraft Only" with a picture of a small aircraft.

Having flown a lot I can say that I don’t understand the signs at most airports. When reading them out the airplane window they are cryptic. One of the lessons from the 9-11 commission was to use normal speak. Airports communicate in a way such that you have to be trained to understand. Why?

At the beginning of the shorter runway put a sign with a picture of the maximum size plane that can possibly take off from that runway. Maybe it is stacked like a traffic light showing 5 size aircraft. Everything too large to take off from a given runway has a big red X through it. I would understand that even if I was tired. Design with strong visuals can and does save lives.

When One Technical Team Insists on Talking to Another Technical Team

From recent events at work…. When a prospects technical team insists on only talking to your technical team to solve the users problems; you have a problem. This point coagulated in my mind even more because as the whole things was happening I was reading The Inmates are Running the Asylum on software usability and design.

I called the bid process off. And probably hurt our reputation in the process. It was still the right thing to do – mainly for the potential client but for us also. Why?

It wasn’t just the geeks-only-talk-to-geeks aspect. There isn’t anything wrong with technical folks comparing specs. I can be somewhat of a geek myself at times. The challenge is the people who write the checks assume we the technical-team are off to the side solving actual user needs. And they haven’t actually specified any specific user needs, just overall demographics of theoretical audiences.

And we shall call the creation the <trumpet sound>USERS</trumpet sound>.

Ah… that word… the "user". Well just who the heck is that?

For too many of us the user is an amalgamation of audiences lumped together into this chimera of a beast. And truth be told that beast will never be happy. And YES this is even if the chimera signs off on the specification documents.

My point? I agree that the creation of personas is completely required for software development and web design. And I agree with the extension of that paradigm to marketing in books like Cat. On the other hand I don’t believe you can write functional specs for software without a big time budget. And your technical team can’t design for the people, they can only design for one person. And they should specify that. Just sayin’

Continue reading “When One Technical Team Insists on Talking to Another Technical Team”

Bob Brockman and UCS buy Reynolds and Reynolds Dealer Systems so R&R can go Private

A long time ago in a land far away, I used to know the folks at UCS. Congratulations to Bob Brockman and the team at UCS for the purchase of Reynolds and Reynolds Dealer Systems. This weeks Houston Business Journal has a write up but it isn’t online yet. Resources:

Reading between the lines it is an awesome exit plan. Execs at UCS get the cash. R&R gets to go private and avoid the huge expense of SARBOX. R&R CEO stays CEO. Keeps the R&R Brand. The shareholders get a fair price. The UCS employees have got to be a bit “nervous” but stuff happens. Fin O’Neil, R&R’s CEO gains another 5% market share in the US. Everyone rides into the sunset.

Anyone else think it’s time to take another look at the expense of SARBOX and why the only tech exit strategy these days is to be bought?   Can we please bring back innovation even if it means dorky IPOs?

update: Apparently Mr. Brockman is going to be CEO after all 30-Oct-2006. From the press release on reyrey.

The company also announced that Fin O’Neill, Reynolds’ president and CEO, will be Vice Chairman, Office of the CEO, for the merged company. He will be responsible for helping lead the integration of the two companies and helping ensure that customer voices are heard and reflected in Reynolds’ policies and procedures, as well as in products and services.

Robert Brockman will serve as Chairman, Office of the CEO, for the new company.

New Article on Schipul.com – Emergency Response Tools for Every Day Systems

Just posted a new article on Schipul.com here. It has been a few months since I wrote a full article although the team has been charging forward. The beginning of the article is below followed by a link out to the full article. I’d love to hear your feedback here or through comments on the site below the original article.

Pop-Up Emergency Response Tool versus Enabling Every Day Systems

NOTE: For disclosure purposes, it’s important to point out that our company has a software product called Tendenci ®
that includes a first responder module and emergency response
capabilities. Whether an organization uses Tendenci or not, I believe
the key to effective emergency response is to use familiar tools that
are widely deployed and accessible.


It will be through
extensive training, experimentation, practice and repetition, with
lessons learned properly applied, that assumptions will be validated or
found faulty, concepts proven or rejected, and the theoretical molded
into the practical ““ that process alone will yield the best practices,
policies, and procedures required for the effective employment of new
technology (for emergency response).

Lt.Col. Mark Stanovich, USMCR, Emergency Readiness and Response Research  Center
“Network-Centric“ Emergency Response

As a resident and a corporate citizen of
Houston, I have kept a close eye on the progression of hurricane
season. Despite dire predictions, we’ve had only three named storms so
far. At this time last year, we were already up to our 12th named storm. So we are cautiously optimistic.

Unfortunately, I am less optimistic about
the ability of communities throughout the Gulf Coast to leverage
technology investments in their response to the storms that will
inevitably come. Too many are relying on technology tools that sit
dormant until an emergency is imminent rather than deploying
multi-functional technologies that integrate emergency response into
familiar tools.

I believe there is a significant danger
with emergency response tools that sit on the shelf until they are
needed. Primarily the danger lies in three areas: training, reach and

Full Emergency Response Tools Article here.

Smirnoff – Raw Tea in the parlor makes the ladies holler

Via this post on qViews first an excerpt and then the video from Smirnoff about a Tea Partay

Smirnoff has a new viral video
out on YouTube, but that’s not so unusual. However, a creative director
from Smirnoff’s ad agency, Kevin Roddy, said something really
interesting. He says that brands need to stop being advertisers and
become tools

um… emphasis added. Visit the post for more meaningful quotes or just watch the video.

eMuse Me – Can Web 2.0 Break Down the Walls of Museums?

The final votes are not in on the sxsw panels but one of them caught my eye. It directly relates to Houston because we don’t exactly encourage citizen media in our museums. We don’t even allow photography which of course is why Houston is known for art car parades more than the Menil collection. Anyway, back to the panel….

eMuse Me: Can Web 2.0 Break Down the Walls of Museums?

Is Web 2.0 welcome in museums? Should you be allowed encouraged to tag
objects and share your opinions and discoveries? Or is online museum
design best left to expert curators, art historians and museum
educators? Can rich media, tagging and blogging deepen your connection,
or does it cheapen and distract from the museum experience? Explore
fascinating research into museum technology including tagging,
(steve.museum) online interactives, blogging and delicious handheld
(link to Glenda’s blog)

If you get a chance vote for it on the sxsw panel picker here. And of course please also vote for the one I might (if you vote!) get to moderate called: United We Stand,
Divided We Fall: Alternatives to RSS Alerts During

Neven Bought by Google, Google Passes on Riya, Photo Recognition Fuzziness

I posted previously on the perils ahead for Riya by not talking about security. If I was correct or not, if that is an invasion of your privacy, remains unknown.

What is known is known by Liz Gannes is that google purchased Neven.  Google, which fears being known as evil despite click-fraud making that a silly debate, passed on purchasing Riya. Instead Google purchased Neven Vision for photo recognition capabilities. Press release here.

This reminds me of the stat that 80% of users want a personalized experience but 60% of those that do are unwilling to provide the data needed for that personalized experience. So Riya’s proposal of asking me to id my friends is not compelling. I am clearly in the 60% that does not want to provide the data no matter how much I enjoy the personalized experience.

Will google use this for good or evil? Unfortunately my money is on evil given the randomness of their expansion. Which makes me nervous about tagging my photos.

On the plus side? Any system, once understood, can be jammed.

Stutz: Useful software written above the level of the single device

Trying to wrap my brain around business models and APIs of the big guys. Generally our strategy is to ignore them and focus on our customers needs. Innovate from there. But I came across this quote worth pondering:

"Useful software written above the level of the single device will command high margins for a long time to come." – David Stutz

and this one as well, both written in a context of Microsoft

"Digging in against open source commoditization won’t work – it would be
like digging in against the Internet, which Microsoft tried for a while
before getting wise. Any move towards cutting off alternatives by limiting
interoperability or integration options would be fraught with danger,
since it would enrage customers, accelerate the divergence of the open
source platform, and have other undesirable results." – David Stutz

From 2003 no less. And now Microsoft is committed to live technologies. Or what O’Reilly calls Web 2.0.


Things the user can actually do versus things the product can do

I bought a cell phone recently that I loathe. It is a complete brick that somehow tips past convergence of convenience to the land of this-damn-thing-sucks. And I am a moderately tech savvy, right? But if your phone weights so much you have to worry about your belt falling then you are less likely to wear it. A different post on that….

Checking in with the headrush blog creating passionate users led me to the graphic on the right (from their blog). Interestingly the post starts off about SLR cameras and I HAVE been able to get past the P mode on my camera into some fun stuff. By reading magazines, books, surfing flickr and thinking "how did they do that??" I still need to take a class.

My fear on this topic? My fear is that our Tendenci clients are not getting the value they could from our product because of usability and training. We have a ton of help files etc, but are they getting to the right people at the right time? Hmmmm.

Viral Marketing Described as Link-Bait

While a few of our team attended Search Engine Strategies in San Jose this week, I did not. But I have been reading the newsletters that come out on the sessions.

On session that is worth review is from SEOmoz blog on a formula for creating compelling content by Randfish. Content so compelling that others link to it and therefore help your search engine rank. It is told from the perspective of the web yet it should work off line just as well from a PR perspective.

Here is the link-bait presentation with a summary below (go visit the presentation for the REAL content):

  1. Researching a Sector’s Link-Worthiness
  2. Discovery of “˜Big’ Players in Your Field – Technorati and Google Trends with your keywords
  3. Targeting YDDS (Yahoo!, Digg, Del.icio.us, Slashdot.org) (maybe also netscape.com)
  4. Targeting Offline Media – hire PR expert
  5. Selecting a Content Focus
  6. Melding Branding and Viral Elements
  7. Targeting Keywords/Search Traffic
  8. Look at Examples of “˜Brilliant Ideas’
  9. The Value of a “˜Web 2.0′ Look & Feel – "The  right "look and feel" will earn links"
  10. Elements that Encourage Linking
  11. Pre-Launch Public Relations
  12. Managing Launch Traffic – do not respond negatively
  13. Continuing to Get Value from Linkbait – "Update the content with timely information."

Mantra and Jennifer Rice on Branding

Through Laura Ries’ blog I just learned about Mantra consulting and Jennifer Rice’s blog on branding. I am excited to learn about another great thinker on branding. Specifically I like this recent post on the brands blog:

What’s Your Brand Mantra?

…The issue of focus versus flexibility in a brand can depend on a couple factors:

1) How new is the brand? Here’s where I completely agree with Laura: new brands should tightly focus. Pick one problem that needs solving and build a reputation for solving it. Netflix solved convenient movie rental. Google solved fast, accurate search. Apple offered a cool new way to compute.

As the brand becomes well-known, it may earn the right to extend its products and services. Sometimes age translates into trust; older brands are familiar and usually within our comfort zone..

So yes I am saying that I agree that there are SOME brands where brand extensions DO work. Some. If you bring this up with me over a beer then you have to pick up the tab. Rarely. Rarely do brand extensions work.

And speaking of brand extensions, have you tried to buy a toothbrush lately? It has gotten to the point where "will it fit in my the toothbrush holder attached to the wall?" is my primary criteria.

From a PR perspective, you should be as lucky as Tuscan Milk

Sometimes the key to good public relations is freaking luck. Such is the case for Tuscan Milk. From the NYT article:

“One word of caution “” milk, even when frozen into a baseball-bat
shape, is nigh worthless as a baseball bat, merely shattering into
cloudy fragments at the first strike of a baseball.“

OK, that is just funny. Now go buy some Tuscan Milk on Amazon. And of course boingBoing was the amplifier.

Best Article on Personas I have been able to find

Continued reading on conversion design, persuasion, psychology and user interface design. Usability for everyone is another way to say it. It must work for the visitor as well as for the site community itself. Either everyone wins or nobody does – cliche or not.

To that end in the software world a common theme is the use of personas. The article below is the best article I have been able to find on the use of personas available on the web anyway.

Personas: Setting the Stage for Building Usable Information Sites by Alison J. Head

Personas are hypothetical archetypes, or "stand-ins" for
actual users that drive the decision making
for interface design projects. …