The End Of NPTech (.INFO)

After eight years, I’ve decided to shutter the nptech.info website, which will also disable the @nptechinfo twitter feed that was derived from it.  Obviously, Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus have made RSS aggregation sites like nptech.info obsolete. Further, as Google ranks links from aggregators lower and lower on the optimization scale, it seems like I might be doing more harm than good by aggregating all of the nptech blogs there. It will be better for all if I spend my efforts promoting good posts on social media, rather than automatically populating a ghost town.

Long-time Techcafeterians will recall that NPTECH.INFO used to be a pretty cool thing. The history is as follows:

Around 2004, when RSS first started getting adopted on the web, a very cool site called Del.icio.us popped up.  Delicious was a social bookmarking site, where you could save links with keywords and descriptions, and your friends could see what you were sharing (as well as the rest of the delicious userbase). Smart people like Marnie Webb and Marshall Kirkpatrick agreed that they would tag articles of interest to their peers with the label “nptech”. Hence, the origin of the term. They let about 50 friends know and they all fired up their newsreaders (I believe that Bloglines was state of the art back then — Google Reader was just a glimmer in some 20%er’s eye).

Understand, referring information by keyword (#hashtag) is what we are all doing all of the time now.  But in 2005, it was a new idea, and Marnie’s group were among the first to see the potential.

I picked up on this trend in 2005.  At lunch one day, Marnie and I agreed that a web site was the next step for our experiment in information referral.  So I installed Drupal and registered the domain and have kept it running (which takes minimal effort) ever since.  It got pretty useless by about 2009, but around that time I started feeding the links to the @nptechinfo Twitter account, and it had a following as well.

Yesterday, I received an email asking me to take down an article that included a link to a web site.  It was an odd request — seemed like a very 2001, what is this world wide web thing? request: “You don’t have permission to link to our site”.  Further digging revealed that these were far from net neophytes; they were SEO experts who understood that a click on the link from my aggregator was being misinterpreted by Google as a potential type of link fraud, thus impairing their SEO.  I instantly realized that this could be negatively impacting all of my sources –and most of my sources are my friends in the nptech community.

There is probably some way that I could counter the Google assumption about the aggregator.  But there are less than three visitors a day, on average. So, nptech.info is gone, but the community referring nptech information is gigantic and global.  It’s no longer an experiment, it’s a movement.  And it will long outlive its origins.

Everything That You Know About Spam Is Wrong

At least, if everything you know about it is everything that I knew about it before last week. I attended an NTEN 501TechClub event where Brett Schenker of Salsa Labs spoke on how the large mail services identify Spam emails.  It turns out that my understanding that it was based primarily on keywords, number of links and bulk traits is really out of date.  While every mail service has their own methods, the large ones, like GMail and Yahoo!, are doing big data analysis and establishing sender reputations based on how often their emails are actually opened and/or read. You probably have a sender score, and you want it to be a good one.

Put another way, for every non-profit that is dying to get some reasonable understanding of how many opens and clicks their newsletters are getting, Google could tell you to the click, but they won’t.  What they will do is judge you based on that data.  What this really means is that a strategy of growing your list size could be the most unproductive thing that you could do if the goal is to increase constituent engagement.

As Brett explained (in a pen and paper presentation that I sadly can not link to), if 70% of your subscribers are deleting your emails without opening them, than that could result in huge percentages of your emails going straight to the spam folder.  Accordingly, the quality of your list is far more critical than the volume. Simply put, if you send an email newsletter to 30,000 recipients, and only 1000 open it, your reputation as a trustworthy sender drops.  But if you send it to 5000 people and 3500 of them open it, you’ve more than tripled the engagement without soiling your email reputation.

I know that this goes against the grain of a very established way of thinking.  Percentage of list growth is a simple, treasured metric.  But it’s the wrong one.

Here’s what you should do:

  • Make sure that your list is Opt-In only, and verify every enrollment.
  • Don’t buy big lists and mail to them. Just don’t! Unless you have solid reasons to think the list members will be receptive, you’ll only hurt your sender score.
  • Put your unsubscribe option in big letters at the top of each email
  • Best of all, send out occasional emails asking people if they want to keep receiving your emails and make them click a link if they want to.  If they don’t click it, drop them.
  • Keep the addresses of the unsubscribed; inviting them to reconnect later might be a worthwhile way to re-establish the engagement.

Don’t think for a minute that people who voluntarily signed up for your lists are going to want to stay on them forever.  And don’t assume that their willingness to be dropped from the list indicates that they’ll stop supporting you.

Even better, make sure that the news and blog posts on your web site are easy to subscribe to in RSS.  We all struggle with the mass of information that pushes our important emails below the fold.  Offering alternative, more manageable options to communicate are great, and most smartphones have good RSS readers pre-installed.

One more reason to do this?  Google’s imminent GMail update, which pushes subscriptions out of the inbox into a background tab.  If most people are like me, once the emails are piling up in the low priority, out of site subscriptions tab, they’ll be more likely to be mass deleted.

Techcafeteria Blog Facelift

If you visit the blog (as opposed to just subscribe), you’ll note that I did a little cleaning.  My old WordPress site had gotten a bit corrupted, so, instead of trying to fix it, I just installed a new copy of WordPress, found a simple theme, and selectively imported the important things from the database. It was about four hours work.

If you ever visited Techcafeteria.com, without the “/blog” appended, that was actually a site that I created in a little-known content management system called Frog CMS. I ditched that; now techcafeteria.com simply points to the blog.

So, nothing fancy – I’m not here to rack up page views and compete with Yahoo!  Do let me know if I broke anything.

Google Made Me Cry

Well, not real tears. But the announcement that Google Reader will no longer be available as of July 1st was personally updating news.  Like many people,  over the last eight years, this application has become as central a part of my online life as email. It is easily the web site that I spend the most time on, likely more than all of the other sites I frequent combined, including Facebook.

What do I do there? Learn. Laugh. Research. Spy. Reminisce. Observe. Ogle. Be outraged. Get motivated. Get inspired. Pinpoint trends. Predict the future.

With a diverse feed of nptech blogs,  traditional news,  entertainment, tech, LinkedIn updates, comic strips and anything else that I could figure out how to subscribe to,  this is the center of my information flow. I read the Washington Post every day,  but I skim the articles because they’re often old news. I don’t have a TV (well, I do have Amazon Prime and Hulu).

And I share the really good stuff.  You might say, “what’s the big deal? You can get news from Twitter and Facebook”  or “There are other feed readers.”

The big deal is that the other feed readers fall in three categories:

  1. Too smart: Fever
  2. Too pretty: Feedly, Pulse
  3. Too beta: Newsblur, TheOldReader
“Smart” readers hide posts that aren’t popular, assuming that I want to know what everyone likes, instead of research topics or discover information on my own. There’s a great value to knowing what others are reading; I use Twitter and Facebook to both share what I find and read what my friends and nptech peers recommend.  I use my feed reader to discover things.
Pretty readers present feed items in a glossy magazine format that’s hard to navigate through quickly and hell on my data plan.
The beta readers are the ones that look pretty good to me, until I have to wait 45 seconds for a small feed to refresh or note that their mobile client is the desktop website, not even an HTML5 variant.

What made Google Reader the reader for most of us was the sheer utility.  My 143 feeds generate about 1000 posts a day.  On breaks or commutes, I scan through them, starring anything that looks interesting as I go.  When I get home from work, and again in the morning, I go through the starred items, finding the gems.

Key functionality for me is the mobile support. Just like the web site, the Google Reader Android app wins no beauty contests, but it’s fast and simple and supports my workflow.

At this point, I’m putting my hopes on Feedly, listed above as a “too pretty” candidate.  It does have a list view that works more like reader does.  The mobile client has a list view that is still too graphical, but I’m optimistic that they’ll offer a fix for that before July.  Currently, they are a front-end to Google’s servers, which means that there is no need to export/import your feeds to join, and your actions stay synced with Google Reader (Feedly’s Saved Items are Google’s Starred, wherever you mark them).  Sometime before July, Feedly plans to move to their own back-end and the change should be seamless.

July is three months away. I’m keeping my eyes open.  Assuming that anyone who’s read this far is wrestling with the same challenge, please share your thoughts and solutions in the comments.

 

 

Get Your IT In Order — I Can Help

While I look for that new job (see below), I’m available for IT consulting gigs.

Not every NPO has a full-time IT Director, and outsourced services can provide some guidance, but many of them aren’t focused on the particular needs of nonprofits.  I’ve had considerable experience running IT Departments, consulting and advising NPOs, and developing strategies for maximizing the impact of technology in resource-constrained environments. This gives me a unique skill set for providing mission-focused guidance on these types of questions:

  • What should IT look like in my organization? In-house or outsourced, or a mix? Where should It report in? How much staff and budget is required in order to get the desired outcomes?
  • What type of technology do we need? In-house or cloud-based? How well does what we have serve our mission, and how would we replace it?
  • We’re embarking on a new systems or database project (fundraising/CRM, HR/finance, e-commerce, outcomes measurement/ client tracking, virtualization, VOIP phones – you name it). How can we insure that the project will be technologically sound and sustainable, while meeting our strategic needs?

The services and deliverables that I can offer include:

  • Assessments
  • Strategic plans
  • Staffing plans
  • Immediate consulting and/or project management on current projects
  • Acting CIO/Director status to help put things in order

If you want some tactical guidance in these areas, please get in touch.

 

Talking NPTech in Marin

Yesterday I joined my frequent collaborators John Kenyon and Susan Tenby at the Marin Nonprofit Conference, where we presented a 90 minute panel on nptech, from servers to tweets. John deftly dished out the web strategy while Susan flooded us with expert advice on how to avoid social media pitfalls. I opened up the session with my thesis: You have too many servers, even if you have just one”. I made the case that larger orgs can reduce with virtualization tech and smaller orgs should be moving to the cloud. The crowd in Marin was mostly from smaller orgs, so I focused the talk more on the cloud option, and that’s where I got all of the conversation going. My goal with the slides was to do a semi “ignite”, given that I only had 25 minutes and I value the Q&A over the talking head time.

Two Thoughts On The New FaceBook Timeline


Photo by
smemon

Facebook announced that, on October 3rd, our profiles will all turn into “Timelines” that describe our lives (as Facebook knows them) in a glossy, magazine like format. And, as of right now, you can enable magazine apps (for WaPo and Guardian, more to come) that will randomly post what you’re reading to your wall without asking your permission first.I have two thoughts on this:

First, I feel sorry for the early adopters. I came to Facebook late, long after I had reason to distrust Zukerberg and co, in response to the cajoling of some of my more notorious nptech friends. I never believed that anything I posted there was private, and I had been well trained in online reputation management by my prior years of activity on bulletin boards, Usenet, mailing lists and Twitter. For many of you, all of your early mistakes are about to be unearthed and offered for everyone to see, from new friends that you’ve made since you got your FB voice modulated, to advertisers who are eager to know that, three or four years ago, you were really into SpongeBob.

Second, this new API feature that allows an app to post your activity when it wants strikes me as the epitome of anti-social networking. I really appreciate that I can peruse my wall and see articles, pictures and clips that my friends, co-workers and family thought I might like to see. This is, perhaps, the biggest boon and focus of social networking: curated sharing. It’s not random; it’s not based on a metric; it’s based on someone I like enough to call a friend saying “I found this worthwhile”. But, were I to install the WaPo app, it would decide which articles I want to share with my community for me. So I might click on some very boring report on a White House policy effort, or a review of some TV Show that I’m checking to verify that I was right to ignore it, and WaPo will happily tell my friends that I’m reading about this or that. This sucks the value out of social networking and turns me into a spammer.

Reports came in today that Spotify, the popular online music service, now defaults to posting every song that you listen to to your FB profile. If I have twenty friends who listen to Spotify all day and do this, I’m afraid that I’ll never bother to read my FB feed again. It’s cool if you’re listening to that awesome Gillian Welch cover of Radiohead’s “Black Star” and want to share the occasion; it’s not if you follow it up with the Hall and Oates hit, the Eddie Veder Beatles cover and the Indigo Girls or Beyonce or Five for Fighting song that follows. I’m not THAT interested.

So Facebook is apparently about to take sharing into the realm of spamming, and make all of us the perpetrators. Nice move…

Administrivia

For the three of you that noticed we were unavailable yesterday, my normally drama free (and wind-powered) hosting service, Canvas Dreams, had a nasty power failure and moved my domains to a new server. Since I follow what I consider to be a best practice of managing my DNS with a separate company from my hosting service (I’ve had to many unreliable hosting service experiences prior to finding Canvas Dreams), my site didn’t survive the transfer without a DNS update and, as usual, this all happened while I was out of town on a business trip. We’re back today.

In the Bay Area and still wrestling with the concepts of cloud computing? NTEN has you covered with a Cloud Computing mega event on Monday, August 29th. I’ll be presenting, along with such luminaries as Holly Ross, Allen Gunn, Donny Shimamoto and more.

And, finally, a bit of bragging about something I’m really excited about: we now have solar panels installed at our home (making this a very green blog indeed). We took a leasing deal from highly-rated Sungevity that should significantly reduce our energy costs along with our carbon footprint. Bill Gates might think home solar is a fad for the wealthy, but, hey, I work at a nonprofit and I not only can afford it, it will save me money. The picture above is our roof with the last panel being installed.

Why Google+ Will Succeed Where Wave And Buzz Failed

Geoff Livingston of NPTech Strategic consulting firm Zoetica held a little contest yesterday, and I won a copy of his book. The challenge? Explain, convincingly, why Google’s latest attempt at social networking, Google+, is not just a shiny object. Or why it is one. I chose the former, here’s my winning post:

Here’s my take on why, after the shininess fades, Google+ will still be an active social network.

First, they’ve learned from mistakes, theirs and others. They learned a lot from the failed Wave and Buzz projects, making privacy front and center; doing uncharacteristically flashy UI design (even stealing one of the Apple guys to do it); and not being too heavy-handed in the rollout. They are leveraging the Google App ecosystem, as Buzz tried to, but this seems like a cleaner and more serious effort — instead of just pasting a social network onto GMail, they’re incorporating apps like Picasa into it. Those of us already drinking the Google Koolaid (and they say that Google Apps is a high priority) will find it very useful (as opposed to redundant, as Buzz largely was).

The biggest lesson they learned was to not let people stream pollute as easily as they could on Buzz. I maintain that Buzz is a great platform for communications. It’s the ultimate cross between a blog and blog comments that could foster great conversations and raise the art of information sharing, if we didn’t have to wade through 20,000 redundant tweets to get to the good stuff. Google opened a floodgate of noise there, and too many users — including very good friends of mine — were happy to add to the din.

Second, they’ve created something compelling. It out-Facebook’s Facebook for interpersonal sharing and it can stretch to Twitter functionality. What’s powerful here is that, unlike Facebook, where targeting subsets of your friends requires advanced knowledge of the platform and a lot of patience, this interface makes it easy to either have an intimate chat or broadcast info widely. It’s easy to follow strangers that I’m not really interested in conversing with, at the same time that I can have deep talks with my close friends. They really got it right with Circles — friend/follower management on FB and Twitter is ridiculously kludgy in comparison. So, unlike Wave, which was too obtuse, and unlike Buzz, which wasn’t compelling, this is elegant and compelling. It wins people over.

Third, they’ve nailed SEO. The early adopters are raving about the hits it’s generating and the great statistics available. That’s going to be a more sticky draw than the shininess.

Most of all, they’ve emulated the cool Facebook stuff while shedding all of the annoyances. You can friend strangers here without over-sharing with them. You can +1 a commercial entity (or NPO) without inviting them to flood your stream with ads. You can tell your best friend something without sharing it with your mom. And that’s all easy; there’s no complicated help screen or multi-level privacy settings to contend with. It just works.

Sleazy Sales Tactics and Social Networks

usedcar
Image courtesy bonkedproducer

This is a public service announcement (aka rant) intended for IT product and service reps. In a nutshell:

If your spam and cold calls haven’t resulted in a business relationship, tracking me down personally on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook won’t work either.

Let’s be clear: it’s not a secret that I have purchasing responsibility for IT at my company, and my business contact info is easy to find (or purchase). Mind you, I don’t hire companies based on their ability to locate that information and email or call me. I hire consultants and purchase products based on the recommendations in my communities. So cold contacting me might be inexpensive and easy for you to do, but all it tells me is that you don’t respect my time or privacy and you can’t sustain your business based on quality and word of mouth. Two strikes against you, whereas, before you cold-contacted me, you had none.

But, in failing to spam me into a relationship, taking it to LinkedIn or the contact form here is taking your pathetic and unprofessional approach to marketing into a whole new realm of sleaziness and creepitude. Cold-contacting me at my business email or on my business phone is annoying and pathetic, but far more appropriate that tracking down my personal, non-business addresses and contacting me at those. It’s called stalking.

I’m looking at you, Server Technologies. The fact that you’ve spammed me in the past does not mean that we have an established business relationship, as your LinkedIn invite falsely indicates.

And local IT Recruiters 58 and Foggy — you take the cake. Within two minutes, out of the blue, you cold-called my work number, emailed me personally via this blog, and sent me a LinkedIn invite. That was so over the top annoying that I not only will never do business with you, I’ll make sure that all of my professional acquaintances are warned away.

Because I seriously question what a company that violates my privacy as a means of introduction would do if I actually relied on them and dealt with them financially. Ethical behavior? Not a safe thing to assume. Professionalism? Already in the toilet.

Social networks offer a great avenue for the type of business promotion that works for me — word of mouth. Sincere recommendations from people who think you’re good at what you do because they’ve used your products or services. You can foster my business by doing well enough with your current customers that they will speak well of you online. You can also demonstrate your expertise by publishing materials and distributing them on Slideshare and other public repositories (including your web site, of course). If you put your energy into establishing your credentials, instead of shoving your uncertified opinion that you’re great into every channel that you can reach me through, you’ll get a shot at my business. But using these networks to harass and annoy potential customers is incredibly stupid and short-sighted.