The Google+ Power-Up Button

11 Comments 09.07.12

I’ll confess, I’m a regular user of Google+ but I haven’t played around with a lot of the features to really figure it out that much yet. This week I’ve been experimenting with a paradigm I’ve used with RSS and with Twitter, but in Google+ and I’m seeing some awesome results. It’s this: set yourself up to be disproportionately likely to see content from the most high-priority people in your network so that you’re more likely to engage with them.

I didn’t know you could do this with Google+, but if you look at the screenshot below – I’ve got a Circle I call “Key Peeps” – which is made up of a select few high-priority contacts on Google+. People like O’Reilly’s Julie Steele and Abraham Williams, now building Addvocate with Marcus Nelson, and probably the web’s leading Human Computer Interaction specialist (according to our company Plexus), Ed Chi of Google. These are all super-smart, really awesome people who happen to use Google+ a lot. Now that I get an email and a red square notification whenever they post anything, I jump right on their high quality content, engage with it and them, reshare it with others, etc. If I can do so in a way that adds value to them, well then that helps me move from wannabe to friend of Heavy Hitters to a Heavy Hitter myself.

So that’s the Google+ Power-Up Button, “send alerts for this circle.” It’s pretty awesome.

Think “nobody’s using Google Plus?” This alert system is making it sing to me like crazy. In the interest of full disclosure, Google put me on the Suggested User List of Google+ so I have 2m followers there and see plenty of activity, but I know not everyone does. Check out the big, deep thread of comments on a post I put up about Occam’s Razor the other day though. That kind of conversation may not be available to everyone without loads of followers, but you Google+’s Circle Alerts feature means you can develop a solid online relationship with just a handful of Heavy Hitters yourself too, no matter how many followers you have on the network.

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Blogging is alive, well and very inspiring

6 Comments 08.18.12

Matt Mullenweg at WordCamp PDX

Above, WordPress founding developer Matt Mullenweg speaks to a full house at WordCamp Portland. I posted this photo on Instagram along with a note about how publishing used to be the exclusive domain of those who could afford to own a printing press.

I’m attending WordPress Portland for the first time in years today and it’s really inspiring to be here. The room is full of self publishers, new voices online, and more than 70% of them identify as developers. So they create in words, images and code. Mullenweg says that WordPress will soon see more than 100 billion pageviews every month.

Blogging is beautiful, it elevates the human spirit and enriches public life. In my work on Plexus Engine I see a lot of blogs on niche topics and there’s a whole lot more blogging going on than you might think. Geneticist Daniel Swan blogs about moving from academia to the private genetics industry. Ana Lilian and Roxana A. Soto blog together about raising bilingual kids. Jeff Rothe blogs about his collection of classic arcade game machines. And I think the world is a much better place for it.

I remember discovering how easy it was to blog, not so many years ago, and I really hope that lots of people are still discovering how easy and how rewarding it is every day today. Yes, Facebook and Twitter are even easier – but there’s nothing like a good blog post.

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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

A List of Checklists for Startups

3 Comments 07.31.12

tl;dr: Checklists for Startups

I’m falling in love with checklists. Specifically, a new service called Checkmarkable, which makes it easy to create re-usable checklists for any purpose. My Daily AM Checklist is proving super effective in helping me change my habits and maximize my productivity. I fill it out every day before jumping into the unique tasks of the day.

Checklists mean you don’t have to spend mental energy remembering the details of a complex workflow, they are all just right there in front of you. They also mean that people who do complex jobs in high stress environments (pilots, surgeons) are less likely to forget to do important things. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

Checklists are themselves like technology, aren’t they? They do work (the work of coming up with a plan), through automation, which saves time and lets the user start their work from a higher level of abstraction. Once you’ve got a good checklist, you’re no longer a person figuring it out cold – you’re someone who’s just taking care of business, getting it done, and then moving on to more creative work.

At Plexus we’re realizing there were some basic things we should have done before starting the company, or as we started it, and we wish someone had told us about those things. So we’re working on a checklist to share with others, particularly our class-mates in the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE).

One of the things we did in the meantime though was survey (using our own automated technology) all the top tech startup incubators we could find for checklists they had made or shared already. A first iteration of that list of checklists is here: Checklists for Startups. Included are checklists for CEOs, for salespeople, developers and designers.

Checklists for Startups

Can you point us to some other good startup checklists? Please do and I’ll add them to the list!

Related: this 40 minute video from Joe Stump about things to do when starting your startup. Joe told me a few days ago when he came into PIE that was probably his favorite presentation he ever gave.

If you want to track the incubator community day in and day out, PIE’s Rick Turoczy has a list of 400+ Twitter accounts associated with the leaders in the field.


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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

We’re entering a golden age of news geekery

9 Comments 07.24.12

Jason Calacanis announced a new proof-of-concept site called Launchticker today. At first glance it’s just an overloaded Google Doc with a bunch of tech news summaries and links streaming down the page. Look at the blog post explaining the site though and you’ll see there’s a lot more going on here. It’s an attempt to improve on the fabulous half-human/half-machine edited tech news site Techmeme. Specifically, by limiting the areas of editorial coverage to startups, technology and features – excluding a lot of financial news, hardware and maybe enterprise stuff. It’s the tech news Jason Calacanis cares about and his taste is probably reflected in a lot of other peoples’ tastes too.

Just like Calacanis’s tech news site Launch helps pull in traffic that converts to promotion of his startup conference Launch, so too will this new tech aggregator serve as content marketing for other money-making business concerns.

In the meantime…what a lot of fun! The Google Docs delivery is just a stop-gap until Calacanis can hire an engineer to build a Content Management System for the site, but the basic idea is awesome. He’s hired two really experienced, worldly looking women to do the story discovery, curation and summarization: Megan Rose Dickey and Kirin Kalia. (Incidentally, I think it’s a little distasteful that neither of these women are named but their salaries are made explicit in the announcement blog post in order to prove a point that an experiment like this doesn’t have to be expensive.)

Kalia and Dickey will apparently work around the clock racing to find the best news originally reported elsewhere, to summarize it on the web and then also deliver it each day at 3:00 in an email. How many of us have fantasized about building and running a system like this? Original reporting is of course essential, and maybe some of that will come through the Launch Ticker as well – via the Launch blog at least – but the adrenaline of competing to get one step ahead of other aggregators to find and then pack as much added-value as possible into an alert about the news is a different, if related, experience.

European news editor Robin Good used to write all the time about a concept he called Newsmastering. He imagined it becoming an essential role inside of every company. A little like what we call Content Marketing, but focused on curation and pointed inward, not outward to the public. I still think it’s an awesome idea, it may prove ahead of its time, it may be right around the corner, I don’t know. Below, from Good, to be read aloud in his captivating accent.

Newsmastering is the ability to identify, select, aggregate, filter and distribute/publish news and informatiom streams on very tight, specific themes/topics.

Newsmastering is a new emerging and much needed network function allowing the huge news flow to be categorized, filtered, de-spammed and re-routed and contextualized in one one thousand and more ways.

The output generated by a skilled and qualified newsmaster enables a great number of individual to avoid needing to subscribe to tens of RSS feeds or to having to visit multiple sites daily to keep themselves on top of the latest relevant news to their specific field of interest. The newsmaster aggregates and compiles very high-quality news feeds which completely replace the need to visit or subscribe to large number of RSS feeds, suddenly providing those same individuals with much greater time available to them and much higher quality up-to-date news available to them at all times.

People are doing a lot of this publicly now, not inward facing. It’s not just Huffington Post aggregating and advertising. Some examples to check out:

  • Evening Edition, just announced by Mule Design, a single human editor summarizes the day’s political news each evening. Thanks Todd Barnard for finding this, as he finds so many things I’ve never seen before.
  • Reuters now curates and comments on financial news at, edited by the fabulous Felix Salmon and powered by content discovery startup Percolate.
  • Remember real-time search engine Collecta? Serial smart-guy Gerry Campbell is now working on a high-end financial news curation as a service startup called VitalBriefing.
  • Laughing Squid has been capturing news of the weird and wonderful for years. Traffic gets converted to web hosting customers!

How many of these can prove as awesome as Techmeme? Gabe Rivera’s site has been using machines melded with human minds for more than 3 years and is going to be tough to beat. He’s got such a consistent format though that I think there is room for other startups to come in and challenge that site, or co-exist, with very different methods and presentations. See, for example, the incredible story of the 19 year old who created Breaking News Online.

It’s an incredible time to be a news geek. Who can be fastest, smartest, best, add the most value, exercise the most compelling editorial judgement, capture social experiences and build a loyal audience? The game is on!

How do we at Plexus Engine relate to this? Besides jealousy that all these people have actually launched their products, someday they’ll all be our customers.

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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

What a tech blog post about a startup should include, according to me

4 Comments 07.23.12

I just read a really good post about a startup that felt unfinished, because there was no mention of critiques of the company’s product or business. I’m not blogging about startups these days, I’m building one, but in the bloggers’ spirit of telling other people how to do their jobs, here are some things I believe every post about a startup should include, if possible.

  • Info about the founding team’s relevant background. This is something Michael Arrington taught me was an important part of every startup’s story. Reading Roger Ehrenberg’s thoughts years later about how a founding team’s background illustrates what skills they won’t have to spend the time to learn from scratch helped me understand why all the better.
  • Mention of the company’s business model. They say business is the ultimate sport, would you report on a game pitched full of curveballs without mentioning that?
  • Discussion of the market and competitors. Who else is in this space? It’s one thing for a blogger to make an assessment of a company’s viability, but I think it’s important to point the reader towards enough information about competitors that they can make their own informed decision, too. Many people have said over the years that tech blogs are so poorly written their only value add is in discovery of cool companies to follow the links to – in that case let’s link to more than one per article!
  • Thoughts on a company’s meaning, its place in larger trends and what it points to in the future. Richard MacManus taught me about adding that kind of value.
  • Links to previous coverage, on your blog and on other blogs. It’s a good value add for readers and it’s fair play to recognize those who wrote before you. I always use a Custom Search Engine made up of the archives of the top tech blogs to search for previous coverage of a company I’m covering, as well as to learn about competitors.
  • Critiques. Every product and company has its critics. If you’ve used the product yourself and can talk about it from personal experience, all the better. I don’t think blogging/journalism has to be objective or balanced but if there’s not some inclusion of critical perspective, I don’t think the post is finished.

That’s my list, off the top of my head, of near essentials. Some blogs do better than others at including this kind of information – and I certainly haven’t included it all in all the posts I’ve written either. Sometimes you just run out of time and have to press that publish button.

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Is Google Glass Bolder Than the iPhone?

1 Comment 06.28.12

Google Glass could be understood as a new form of search, but the most important part of the tech – its information consumption capabilities – have not yet been demonstrated.

Tim O’Reilly said on Twitter yesterday that he suspects that Google Glass could be a tech milestone that surpasses the iPhone. What do you think?

The main objection seems to be that mainstream people won’t wear something so bulky. I actually think they are pretty unobtrusive and maybe they’ll grow even more so. So far we’ve really only seen the Write capabilities (broadcast of media) but I’m very excited to see the Read capabilities demonstrated. They say it’s not for regular browsing but for rapid access to information. It looks great. Will that information be contextually tailored to what you’re looking at? That’s the next question, whether it will deliver what some people call Augmented Reality. That could also be understood as automatic search, searching for information about what’s in front of you and what you’re doing – without your having to ask – because that’s what you’re most likely to want to know about. That fits within the things Google has said it would do.

I think the Read capabilities are going to have to be pretty well executed, because most people don’t need eyeglass video and image cameras. Live video is high pressure and out of sync with our usually silent and mundane lives. The power curve says that a much smaller number of people will create content than consume it – and I expect that will be true of Glass as well. But do I want to be able to look things up faster and less obtrusively with glasses than I do with a phone? Yeah, I do. Perhaps then Google Glass is really just more Search from Google. Search with a side of blogging.

Look out Responsive Web designers though, huh? Your job may have just gotten a lot harder. Perhaps the output will be text-only though.

The iPhone packed a whole lot of computing power into a wonderful interface. Presumably Glass will cary less computing power due to size and the requirements of the ways people will use them. Is the interface going to be that much more fabulous than the iPhone’s? It seems it would have to be to change the world as much.

They say that kids growing up now will have jobs as adults that don’t even exist today. I can imagine editing and annotating the long, chaotic and often boring video broadcast from the eyes of celebrities as one of those jobs.

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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Apple’s new Podcasts app – my review

4 Comments 06.26.12

Apple’s promised stand-alone app for Podcasts went live in the iTunes store today. I thought I’d post a quick review of it, because I love podcasts. They are an incredible example of the opportunity for new voices to self-publish and distribute multi-media content; they are a core part of the Web 2.0/social media revolution. Podcasts were also my introduction to this world, years ago.

I’ll never forget the day I was at my University work study job, reading Newsweek and came across a profile of The Dawn and Drew Show. I had no idea there was technology available that made it easy for anyone to publish and distribute serialized audio content. It was like the clouds opened up, beams of sunlight shone down into my eyes and Dawn Miceli was riding on one of them. I was in love, with the technology and its potential. That was how I started learning about all this social media stuff: blogging, wikis, RSS, etc.

Apple’s App

Now Apple has an app dedicated to helping other people discover and enjoy this beautiful world of podcasting. Have they risen to the occasion? It’s a visually attractive app on most but not all pages, no surprise there. That’s what I think, apparently not everyone agrees. UK Mac developer Dan Counsell says, “Not sure why people are hating on the new Apple Podcast App so much, it actually has some rather lovely UI and UX in it.” I agree but can see why some parts of the app are being criticized, too. The live streaming page is cool but weird to use. Maybe I just need to get used to it.

Functionally, there are two things I hoped for. The first is discovery. The app has a cool Top Stations interface that appears to use your existing subscriptions to come up with suggested categories and shows inside of them. I have no idea how it works and I haven’t gotten used to it yet, but it seems ok. Better than nothing, but not as good as HuffDuffer, the social network for podcast bookmarking and discovery.

The other thing I was hoping for in the new Podcasting app is episode-level text visible that describes each audio file. Apple did it! On at least some episodes of the shows you’re looking at, there’s now a little i button that opens up a full page of info. That way you can learn about, for example, the guests on an interview show, their backgrounds and the topics they discussed. That makes it much easier to peruse a new series and pick out just the episodes you want to listen to. This was my biggest complaint about the iTunes podcast interface and now it’s resolved!

The podcasting world doesn’t seem to have had a lot to say about the app yet. As Daniel J Lewis said today, “Hopefully this is preinstalled with iOS 6!”

There’s a lot more that could have been done, but this is simple, utilitarian and supports some discovery. Works for me.

Long live podcasting! If you’re interested in plugging-in to the community of podcasters online, here’s 500 of them on Twitter.

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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.