Introducing Little Bird, the Best Way to Find the Key People Online

11 Comments 10.05.12

I’m excited to announce this morning the unveiling of the startup I co-founded, left journalism to do and have spent the last year working with my team to build. It’s called Little Bird.

Little Bird automates the discovery of community-trusted topic influencers and experts on any topic. You can find the best sources of information online in minutes using Little Bird. Once you find them, we’ve got a whole bunch of very cool tools you can use to leverage their collective knowledge.

Yesterday my co-founders Mikalina Kirkpatrick, Tyler Gillies and I closed a $1 million round of funding, with the participation of an All Star team of social media innovators, engineers and practitioners. The round was led by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who been a great lead investor to work with through our private beta period. Our other investors are Howard Lindzon’s Social Leverage, Wieden + Kennedy, Hubspot and OnStartups.com founder Dharmesh Shah, leading marketing consultant Jay Baer, Henry Copeland, Jonathan Siegel, Matt Haughey and Blaine Cook. If you’re familiar with the last 10 years of social media history, you’ll probably recognize these as some incredibly experienced and innovative people.

Introducing Little BIrd from Little Bird on Vimeo.

If you spend time online doing research to figure out who the best people to connect with are on Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, Google+ or elsewhere – you’re going to love Little Bird. If you believe, as we do, that connecting with the right sources of information and engaging with them using the right tools can move mountains for your career, business and worldview – then I really hope you’ll dig in to what we’re building.

Sometimes I describe it as a robot librarian, swooping down out of the sky with arms full of power tools to augment human perception and memory.

I’ll write more later, but I’ve got to focus on getting ready to pitch the company at the demo day for the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE). PIE has been a great experience and there are five other companies pitching today. You can check out the live streaming video at 2:00 PM PST today at http://livestream.com/piepdx

You can read more at the following coverage: AdWeek, Techcrunch, The Next Web, All Things D, Venturebeat, Betakit, Digital Trends and GigaOm and Wired! That’s most of the coverage, but my favorite so far has been Lora Kolodny’s write-up on the WSJ. (Yay!)


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5 Unique Ways to Win Friends & Influence People Online

8 Comments 10.01.12

I keep reading articles about how to build influence online, because they get a lot of traction on social networks. Most recently, 35 experts weigh-in: How we create influence on Facebook, an article I thought I’d read just to see if there was anything unique about the Facebook angle. There didn’t seem to be.

Most of these articles can be summed up like this: be consistently useful, generous and interesting. That’s good advice!

I think it’s possible to discuss some more tactical methods, though. Here’s what I’ve thought for some time are some good ways to add value and thus strengthen your position, make new things possible, win friends, influence people etc.

Be first – If you’re the first place that someone finds out about something, they’ll likely notice that. Do it again and they’ll start paying attention to almost everything you do in the future. Everybody likes the feeling of learning new things early – the sources of that kind of learning are highly valued.

Be the best at articulating common things – If you ever look at the tech news aggregation site Techmeme, you know for example that there are often developments in the tech news world that everyone writes about – but some people write about them much better than others. That’s a great way to build influence, to create more compelling content than other people about issues of general interest. Maybe the things I’m writing here are really no different than what everyone else is saying – but some of you will like the way I say them, you’ll find them uniquely clear, compelling, inspiring, intelligent, funny, charming, whatever the case may be. Perhaps then you’ll follow me on Twitter so you can read more like this in the future. (Or use aarh-ess-ess)

Aggregate – Compiling high quality content well from other sources, curation, is a skill and a good way to build influence and add value yourself. It’s easier said than done though! Robots can be very good at it – are you smarter and more creative than a robot? You probably know about Brainpickings and BoingBoing, but how about OpenCulture.com, Dan Cohen and Kate Theimer?

Find a unique perspective – Have you read Monday Note? A good example of a site that creates high quality content from a unique perspective and thus has made itself influential. In order to pull this off, you’ve got to have a genuinely unique perspective on things and it’s got to be interesting to other people.

Be funny – If you’re funny, people will come back for more.

See, it’s not so hard. You just have to be consistently useful, articulate, generous, uniquely interesting, smart, fast and funny! In reality, any single one of these is likely to be enough to take you far.

Finally, if you really want to rock the social web, you should sign up to get more info about the startup we’re going to be unveiling very, very soon.


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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Meeting Prep, on Your Own Time: A Template Google Doc

4 Comments 09.10.12

After feeling frustrated that I wasn’t prepped as much as I wanted before a meeting called by one of my co-workers at Plexus Engine, I came up with the following Google Doc template to capture all the info we needed before meeting with someone from outside our company. I really like this system and thought I’d share it.

The procedure we’re experimenting with is to create a copy of this Google Doc, edit it to fill it out, then paste the URL to view it inside our company calendar listing for said meeting. I’ve been experimenting with changes; just tonight I added the field for “confirmed within 36 prior hours” because I try to email people the day before a meeting to confirm and set the stage.

This system helps us communicate explicitly about meetings, but on our own time. It doesn’t take too much time to fill one of these out – generally less than 5 minutes. We’ll see how it works, we’ve only just begun doing it. If you’d like a copy of that same template, I posted one here. I have a link to that master template doc bookmarked in my browser toolbar. If you can think of any other ways this could be made more useful, please let me know.


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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

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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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

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.

Enjoy!


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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 Counterparties.com, 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.