Wednesday, December 26, 2012

SkyDrive and the Windows 8 Music App

SkyDrive and the Windows 8 Music App

Problem: Your music library is on SkyDrive and the Windows 8 Music App does not see or manage all of your music – especially songs and albums in M4A format.

I found this when using my brand new Microsoft Surface R/T device. The Music application reported hundreds of songs under: “Unknown Artist”. When I scanned the titles in the folder I recognized almost all of the list and quickly figured out something was wrong. Also, the whole idea of putting your music on SkyDrive is to have it available on my multiple computers, my Windows 8 Smartphone, and my Xbox (which will soon be connected to my home audio system).

The Music application does not recognize many M4A files and might have trouble with some WMA files as well. The M4A file type is primarily associated with 'MPEG-4 Audio Layer'. This format is also known as Apple Lossless, Apple Lossless Encoder, or ALE. It is a new codec designed to provide lossless encoding in less storage space.

How many items does the Music application show on your “Unknown Artist” list?

Just a few, or hundreds? Since the conversion process is one-by-one, you may need to set aside some time if the list is long. I was able to resolve all 600+ songs in about 3 hours (while writing these notes). All you need to do is convert files M4A files to MP3 format, and repost the files to SkyDrive.


All of the images can be clicked for a larger view.
  1. Download and install Format Converter X from the Windows App Store (you may also want the SkyDrive Client - which is a plug-in for Explorer).
  2. Convert non-MP3 files to MP3 – I did this using a fairly powerful laptop with dual monitors so that I could manage the Windows 8 applications and use the desktop version of Windows Explorer. Working on a small screen or on a tablet will take a lot more time.   

    1. Open the Format Converter X application (read and approve licensing)
    2. Click the blue “To MP3” tile
    3. Navigate (Go Up) to your music library
    4. Click the tile for the Artist - which brings up the album(s)
    5. Click the tile for the Album – which brings up the song(s) Click Select All (or click to select individually)
    6. Click “Open” in the bottom right corner, which will open the Format Converter X user interface.
    7. Verify the “From” song and file type
    8. Verify the “To” file type, Quality (I set all of mine to high) and path. I set mine to the local Music library on my laptop, but you can point the converted files to a specific directory. Since I had so many to convert it was easier for me to drag and drop the converted files into their final location, rather than editing the location, artist, and for each entry. 
    9. Click the Convert button, or right-click and Convert All. Format Converter X will do the conversion, and provide a pop-up message when complete. Individual songs take seconds, and an entire album just a couple of minutes.
    10. If you chose the SkyDrive folder for the artist and album, you can simply open the music app and verify that the songs arrived (you may have to wait for the sync process).
    11. If you directed Format Converter X to send the files to your local music file, then select, drag and drop the songs into the proper SkyDrive folder.
      1. Upload to SkyDrive (simple Drag and Drop from Windows Explorer view)
        1. Select Artist folders from My Music (local copy)
        2. Drag and Drop to the correct artist and album folder on SkyDrive
  3. Allow SkyDrive to Sync
  4. Open the Music App and allow the Music App to Sync - you can actually watch the albums as they load.
  5. Verify your MP3 files have completed the SYNC process (Green check mark)
  6. Look for music that is still under “Unknown Artist” – These are likely WMA or M4A files that have not been converted, or that have not been deleted from the Album folder. 
  7. In Windows Explorer - Highlight and delete (or Move off of SkyDrive) the M4A, WMA or other file formats (to save space). Most MP3 files are 20-25% smaller than WMA files, so you get more songs stored in exchange for the lesser sound quality. If you prefer the higher bit rates, or plan to use Media Player, I would suggest dropping the non-MP3 files back onto your local drive or to an USB drive.

What to look for during the process:

  1. What size is the MP3 file? (1 bit = fail, 500-900 bits = fail)
  2. Green check mark = Done with Sync
  3. Blue swirl = Waiting to Sync
  4. Red "X" = Problem (I ran out of space using WMA/M4A formats)
  5. You can correct spelling mistakes from the Explorer window
If you have no files under "Unknown Artist" you are done! Don't be surprised if there are a few stragglers. Many of my Punk rock imports and some of the compilation CDs just will not pull META data. But if you are listening to mainstream recent works, you'll be just fine. Album art is still a bit rough, but I'm only missing a couple from 34 albums, and most of the albums with compilations display album art for the individual songs.

For the old-timers in the crowd (or for those that like the excellent sound quality from a CD)-

Better music from a CD:

  1. Insert the CD into the disk drive
  2. Rip the CD to MP3 format (choose highest bit-rate for best sound)
    1. You can Rip a second time for other formats (WMA, etc.)
    2. Use “Move” command to transfer the album from local folder to SkyDrive
      1. Or, Drag and Drop from Windows Explorer to SkyDrive
  3. Wait for SkyDrive to sync
  4. Open Music App
  5. Wait for Music App to sync

Bottom Line

Ok, so this fix is not fast, but it is pretty easy, and when you are done, your music will all be in one accessible place, in one (or two) formats. Not quite Nirvana, maybe Manic Nirvana.


Monday, March 5, 2012

GasBuddy... Get the App, get Gas

Get the App, Get Gas

SmartMoney reports on the 10 Things Gas Stations Won't Tell You
"You can't actually buy gas online, but Web resources can help you find the cheapest fill-up in town. Among them, and help people track pump prices.
But the most comprehensive of the bunch is, which includes a network of 174 local sites, complete with maps and message boards that tally gas price by ZIP code. People are frustrated by the variation in the price of gas, says cofounder Jason Toews, and they are using the Internet to take control."
"It has worked wonders for Sue Foust. Every day, as she passes roughly 10 stations on her commute across Tucson, Ariz., Foust makes a mental note of their prices, then posts them on, a local affiliate of
Then every four days or so, when she needs to fill up, she checks the prices others have posted in her area. It turned out the Shell station she used to frequent is one of the most expensive in the city. Now she fills up elsewhere. I really do feel like I'm saving money, she says."

The Good

I have used both the Android and iOS versions of GasBuddy - both are free. The feature set is sparse - basic sorting by price, Octane, and proximity. At $3 a gallon I might not pay much attention, but at $4 a gallon, I'm going to take 2 minutes to save some money.

The Bottom Line

In Round Rock, Texas the price variation might be as high as 25 cents per gallon, or about $3.50 per 14 gallon tank... enough to buy a gallon of milk, or to feel less guilty at Starbucks. 


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rogers Diffusion of Innovation and YELP

Rogers Diffusion of Innovation and YELP!

YELP! has a simple mission statement "Our purpose: To connect people with great local businesses". The business model works because YELP! users value the opinions of strangers. 

Rogers describes five phases in the Innovation-Decision process: knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation, confirmation, (Rogers, Everett M. Diffusion of Innovations. 5th ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003, pages 169-216). 

Rogers establishes several disclaimers: some people may describe more than the five phases that he uses, that the phases may have overlap, and the the time within any phase might stretch to years. He is clear that they are sequential.

For a business, the number of phases and overlap may not be as crucial as the conversion from decision to implementation (essentially the steps to secure a new customer). And, of course, for a business that relies on repeat customers, the critical confirmation phase cannot be ignored. 

Rogers' Diffusion of Innovation Curve
Click for larger view.

I have previously written about YELP in my Macrotots blog "Why YELP? Three Austin Restaurants Close, More on the Way?". My relocation to Seattle, WA., Woodinville to be more precise, has led me to a new appreciation of YELP! and especially their "monocle" tool. I changed my physical location, leaving my physical network, and needed to connect to local resources. I had to leverage the early adopter position in order to get established in my new environment.

Rogers argues that information can be communicated via mass-media and via interpersonal communication. While the phases may start (knowledge) with mass-media exposure most will not move to subsequent phases without some interpersonal input. (See page 199, Table 5-1 is a fantastic resource). 

The early adopter, the person that runs to every new venue, restaurant and has all the latest gizmos, does not depend as heavily on this input. In fact, they exist one small step behind the inventor and often fit Rogers' definition of an innovator. As opinion leaders and trendsetters, they pave the road for early majority (fast-followers). Their feedback, both to the business, for re-invention, and to the public, drive the diffusion curve (from innovators to early majority then to late majority) 

Responsive businesses should incorporate suggestions from the early adopters in order to improve (reinvent) their offerings for the mainstream. 


YELP! has a business model that supports the feedback loop as it consolidates the interpersonal data that can help a business improve their adoption rate -- accelerating the awareness, decision and implementation steps. 

Where Rogers studied communities of similar adopters (generally, farmers that knew each other) the internet has changed the dynamics. Reviews on YELP! and Amazon and other sites act as an opinion catalyst. Reviewers can provide unusual perspective ranging from the general (I love all "widget co" products) to the specific (the on/off button on the "widget co 3000" is too small). This provides a treasure trove of data points for the company, and the potential consumer.

Opinions are like.... 

I am not an innovator, and usually not an early adopter. The opinions of strangers count to me - much more than the mass media or company sponsored media. Rogers provide detailed step by step discussion of the movement through the Innovation-Decision process. It is clear that YELP! provides a platform that moves the consumer from mass media input to interpersonal input. 

Geoffrey Moore's Technology Adoption Lifecycle

In my Stanford SAPM class we are studying an example of a modified Rogers' Curve. While the phases are the same, and adoption flows from left to right, then new curve introduces new terminology and suggests strategies to accelerate adoption. Geoffrey Moore (Twitter: @geoffreyamoore)  introduces the idea of a "chasm" or gap in the adoption cycle between the early market and rapid adoption. 

Moore argues that a company can extend the product or service time in "Main Street" by continuous differentiation of a product. Rogers clearly states that cycle time is indefinite.

So, what type of data would lead a company to simple product changes to improve satisfaction? How about a feedback channel directly from the customer?

New Questions

  • Do free products (or those funded by annoying advertisements) follow the same adoption rules? 
  • Do products heavily subsidized by a government entity follow the same adoption rules? 
  • If the consumer experiences no friction to adopt (or abandon) a product, does the Rogers curve apply?

In May of 2015 Yelp! announced that it is looking for a potential buyer. Chris O'Brien (Twitter: @obrien) writes a article that provides an overview of the transaction and provides key commentary about the failings of the Social Web. The model of "scale then monetize" or the "attract eyeballs and dollars will follow" does not seem to hold true. 

"But despite having a billion viewers, almost 10 years after its launch, YouTube still isn't profitable."
Yelp... "Founded in 2004 to allow users to comment and rate local businesses, the company went public in 2012 on the backs of the millions of reviewers it had attracted. Before that, Yelp raised $56 million in venture capital. At the IPO, it raised another $107 million. And then, with losses still mounting, the company raised another $250 million in a 2013 secondary stock offering.

That’s about $400 million raised from investors, for a company that today has a market value of $3.51 billion. Yelp did manage to make an annual profit for the first time in 2014, but it has also still reported total losses of $34 million over its history, according to its securities filings."
The ability to change from a "free" service offering to one that generates revenue appears to be a high hurdle. I'm leaving my "Bottom Line" in place from the original 2012 post - as Groupon does seem to have hit the wall.  Reviews on Amazon and Yelp! are still valuable, but monetizing the experience still seems elusive.

Bottom Line

Is it possible that Groupon (as a example of an knowledge stage mass-media play) may fizzle out as the interpersonal reviews on Amazon and YELP! flourish? Will Groupon struggle because most of us, by definition, are not innovators, or even early adopters? 

[Original Post: 3/4/2012, Updated 5/8/2015] 

Amazon Links: 
Diffusion of Innovation - E. M . Rogers
Dealing with Darwin - G. A. Moore

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Self-Promotion for Introverts - Aaaargh!

Self-Promotion for Introverts

Let's say that I read "Self-Promotion for Introverts" by an Nancy Ancowitz. And, let just say that it took a bit of perseverance to get past the first hundred pages. But, bit-by-bit Ancowitz weaves a reasonable strategy for getting ahead as an introvert.

First, Disclaimers

I'm an introvert, I score deep into the "I" of Myers-Briggs. Second, I have report to plenty of managerial extroverts. I am project manager leading teams of developer and engineering introverts. 

"Self-Promotion" is not a skill that I have on the top of my resume. 

Third, I only settled into my "OK, I get the point" appreciation of this work on page 213 where Susan Cain garners a couple pages of coverage. Susan Cain blogs "Quiet: The Power of Introverts" and Tweets as @SusanCain

Do You Focus on Your Strengths?

While reading Ancowitz I was reflecting on Cain. A subtle but important difference in style is that Cain seems more comfortable as an introvert and writes from a position of confidence, strength and authenticity. Ancowitz is described as an "outgoing introvert".

One of my deep felt values is to recognize the efforts of a team. When my team kicks-butt and takes names I make sure to push them forward on the stage. To me that is leadership. When my teams miss, or fail, the I shove them to the back and try to deflect the heat. Remember, my managers are extrovert, and my team is introvert. 

Self-promotion is not the same as leadership.

Do You Focus on Your Weaknesses?

Ancowitz coaches the introvert to jump out of their comfort zone, to consider actions wildly outside of their "box". Chapter 3 is where the reader is encouraged to "Pick the activities you like best -- or find the least objectionable". Where planning, designing, contemplating are identified as most comfortable, pod-casting, and quirky elevator speeches (p. 134) are clearly a high hurdle. Being an introvert does not automatically make you a good writer. If only Chapter 3 "Your Game Plan" was presented a little later in the book as the culmination of all of the other exercises in the book.

Recently, I had lunch with a nice-looking female friend that joined a high tech company from a non-high tech background. She mentioned that the engineers were really geeky. When walking towards her in the hallway they try to look as far down and away from her as possible. So of course, she says "hello" to all of them. A building full of introverts - successful introverts.

A Republican from San Francisco?

I moved to Columbus, OH after nearly 30 years growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. By chance I was invited to see a speech where Arnold Schwarzenegger was to introduce George Bush. Standing in line outside the Nationwide Arena, and eavesdropping on a few conversations, it was very clear that I wasn't a "real" Republican. At any moment I felt like they would pull me aside, ask me to show my gun and Bible, then confiscate my ticket as an impostor.

I wonder if an introvert from NYC is the same distance from the standard definition of "introvert" as is a Republican from San Francisco is from a Ohio Republican?

Bottom Line:

What is it that drives women with straight hair want curly hair, and vice versa? 

Would an author offering suggestions to Extroverts encourage them to spend time meditating, reading, and spending quality time sitting quietly with their spouse? 

If Ancowitz feels that the starting point for this conversation is "the staggering bias against introversion", even though we are "roughly half the population" maybe this is a straight/curly philosophical debate. And a final nit: if your work can quote conversations  with Chita Rivera, Bill Clinton, Warren Buffet, (and plenty of other high-powered people), then leave out the "let's call this friend, 'Steve'...". If "Steve" doesn't want to be identified, use another example.  

In the meantime, I'll work to make my box a little larger, and wait for the Jan 24th release of Susan Cain's "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking".

P.S. The correct answer to straight/curly: beware a third party actor with an agenda.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Winning at Work - You Own Your Career

Winning at Work - You Own Your Career

The title for Ken Blanchard's and Gary Ridge's "Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy Called 'Don't Mark My Paper, Help Me Get a A'" is more than a mouthful. Unfortunately it left me feeling less than satiated. 

Looking at the current WD 40 company profile on Yahoo Finance shows a total of 334 employees. Blanchard does a terrific job describing the processes and techniques that WD 40 employ:
  • Partnering to help virtually everyone succeed
  • Agreeing on what to evaluate and how to evaluate it
  • Coaching via Situational Leadership (r) II
  • Building a tribe, not just a team

The modern corporate mantra: "you own your career".

That is, HR are less involved with career tracking, professional development, or career development. Job families may have elaborate descriptions of the tasks, skills, and training required for each level but every employee is being asked to do more, to "stretch".  Employees are asked to plan their personal development amid a business environment that shifts frequently, leadership and managerial rotation, projects that fail despite strong effort, and the basic politics of the organization. 
Blanchard and Ridge argue that everyone should be able to be managed or coached to an "A" and that the standard distribution curve should not apply to individual reviews. This is widely different than the circumstances most employees will experience. The corporate HR argument is to boil down the distribution curve to simply A, B, or (get rid of this employee) C.
"Helping People Win at Work" is a prescription that may very well work with companies of a few hundred employees. But I found the suggestions to be slightly saccharin. Further, the book seemed to tell nearly identical stories from two view points - the second half of the book introducing a certain deja-vu feeling. Of course, there were differences, but is it really worth the time to do a compare/contrast within a single work? The two authors should have co-written each chapter to reduce the redundancy and sharpen their arguments. 

The reviews on Amazon praise the work, suggesting that it is a great work for managers to read. I would make the opposite argument.

Employees need to read this work. 

They need to take charge of their personal development plans. They need to create their own "test" and then grade it themselves. Is your organization chart stable? What happens if your VP, Director or Manager changes mid-year? What happens if they change several times mid-year? Are you taking on challenging projects and delivering -- does that merit a "C"? As teams change, as projects change and as roles and responsibilities change, is it possible that an employee might have an "off year"? 

Who is the best bowler on the team? 

We had a departmental outing to a bowling alley. As a bowler prepared for his/her turn, they read a 3x5 card with instructions. "Use your opposite hand". "Bowl between your legs". "Bowl from one knee". "Replace player #3 on the opposite team". Of course, chaos ensued (the process was a disaster) and the scores (outcomes) were meaningless.

After the first "game", teams were settled and we bowled like normal, rational teams (standard processes) - scores went up.

Who is the best bowler?

The one that has the best score in a standard process?
How do you study for, or pass a badly randomized test?
How doe you measure execution in chaos? 

Bottom Line:

This work was recently offered as a free download on the Amazon Kindle. After location 773 of 1648 the material feels repetitive. Skip the remainder of the book and read "The One Minute Manager". 

If you are a manager, consider the prescriptions. 

If you are an employee, understand that most managers and most company cultures are not (and will never be) as sweet as Blanchard and Ridge imagine. You own your career, and there is no final exam, only perpetual tests.


The Data Diet - Taxing the Rain

The Data Diet - Taxing the Rain

Kelli B. Grant writes an article "The Smartphone Data Diet: Ways to cut back usage to keep wireless bills from tipping the scales." on 

"Death, taxes and increases in your cellular bill are all things we can count on," says Brad Spirrison, managing editor for app review site Appolicious.

The SmartMoney recommendations are sound: 

  • Hunt for free Wi-Fi
  • Go off-grid (turn off apps)
  • Save video for bigger screens
  • Choose a less data-hungry phone
  • Set a limit
  • Monitor family use

Not that rising rates based on consumption was hard to predict. Xolotech posted on this very topic Taxing the Rain in July, 2011.

My Toshiba Thrive forces me to hunt for Wi-Fi 

The "Hunt for Wi-Fi" is the emerging problem. I don't carry a smartphone. In fact, my phone doesn't even have a camera. And for those that feel the urge to snicker, my phone bill last year was under $120 + tax - including the phone. My "dumb-phone" allows me to neatly ignore most of the tips above.  
However, at the end of last year I started to notice that some airports are only allowing free Wi-Fi for 30 or 45 minutes. Usually this is fine, but when your flight is cancelled or delayed this time limit is crippling.

Real World Example - Airport Wi-Fi Limits

In December I was traveling from SEATAC to AUS. and the plane had mechanical issues. Nearly four hours of mechanical issues. I always carry power, and have plenty of music and books on the Thrive. But the loss of email was harsh (texting on a dumb-phone is emotionally painful).

Bottom Line: 

As vendors push everything to mobile, consumers will continue to drive consumption and rates will continue to rise. Free Wi-Fi will evolve towards the airport model: free as a courtesy (15-30 minutes), but not free for normal consumption. Kelli Grant gives a good push in the right direction: we all need to start a data diet or at least we should prepare for the trade off between higher costs and data-starvation. 


Thursday, January 19, 2012

microMarketing Big - Small, Small - Big

 microMarketing: Big - Small, Small - Big

Greg Verdino has a great storytelling style that really makes "microMarketing: Getting Big Results by Thinking and Acting Small" work.

Quick Tip:

Go to the Amazon link and use the "Look Inside" feature to read the Preface. Verdino lays out his premise, disclaims the idea of "the next big thing", and cautions the reader to understand the concepts rather than focusing on the technology or platform.

If the preface doesn't convince you to spend time with the rest of the book you have only invested a few minutes. And you should be questioning any role that you have in Social Media.

microMarketing triggered many reflections about missed opportunities. A quote from Peter Drucker - updated by Shiv Singh made me sad and reflective (p. 168), more details below.

As a consumer I could feel my teeth clench during the overview of Henry Posner's role at B&H Photo (on page 100).  A concise set of stats about publishing (p. 182) forces me to reconsider my writing goals.

First, the Past

There are not many days of my life that I can recall where my life changed. Not that many times that I knew exactly where I was and what I was doing. Sure, the Loma Prieta earthquake, the Oakland Hills fires, 9-11, my wedding day, the birth of my two kids... those are easy.

In February 2007 its snowed in Texas. Actually, it snowed, then froze. I wasn't in Texas - I was in Columbus, OH on my way to Austin-Bergstrom airport and San Antonio for an interview with Avenue A|Razorfish. Flight is cancelled, dream job interview is cancelled... an EPIC FAIL.

Funny thing, two weeks later I'm on a plane to Austin. Overnight stay in a hotel, eight interviews in six hours, and back to the airport. The job offer got to Columbus before I landed. A job with Dell Computer.

Shiv Singh's Quote

"The purpose of business is to create a customer who creates customers" was not part of my job description. My teams were tasked with delivering software solutions deep in the bowels of the order management application, tax applications and compliance. I have no regrets about working at Dell, but the cool, cutting-edge role at Avenue A|Razorfish was off the hook, never to be re-caught.

Now, the Present

Last June I made a small purchase on Amazon from Jabra - a Halo Bluetooth wireless headset.  I cannot talk on the phone without walking, pacing, and gesturing. Over time, the single button on the right ear cup has come loose. Not "falling off" loose, just loose enough to rattle when my head moves. This really conflicts with my need to walk, pace, and gesture - since these are rattle inducing activities. If I am forced to sit, I have a perfectly good Plantronics 655 USB headset.

Verdino spends several pages describing the awesome evolution of customer service that Henry Posner infused into B&H Photo. My teeth clenched when comparing the simple, high touch, B&H Photo story with the 180 degree absence of dialogue from Jabra. I've waited more than one week for the answer to a simple question. I submitted the question via an online form because an 800#, chat session or email address were not readily discovered.

The Question: Is the Rattle Under Warranty?

Heck, I'm OK with a "no, it is not under warranty" answer. I just want an answer. If I'm not important enough for a simple answer, I'll be sure to shop with providers that are willing to be open, honest and communicative with me. A "no" would have been just fine.

Soon, the Future

Here is a quick summary of a pretty large "chunk" from page 182:

    Total books in print: ~1.2 million
    Average book sales: 500 copies
    Percentage of books selling over 5000 copies: 2%
    Percentage of books selling less than 100 copies: 79%

Verdino provides and overview of these statistics, (sobering statistics for an aspiring writer and which probably extends to singers, artists, etc.), by recounting the story of J.C. Hutchins and his effort to market "7th Son".

Where I struggle with microMarketing is my poor attempt to wrap a model around the premise of the work.

  • Does sand-pile modeling and the unseen network of connections apply?  
  • Does Rogers Diffusion of Innovation apply?
  • What causes viral-ality?
  • Can a video, quote, info-snipet, chunk of content move all the way across Rogers' curve, become widely recognized, then forgotten nearly as fast? Is that modern social media?
  •     At what point does our ability to lend attention to the myriad chunks of information does it all become noise?  
  •     Can you apply hard work to accomplish a little bit of luck, or are the blessings of cosmic-karma waiting for just the lucky few?

Reading is Not a Passive Activity

Greg Verdino does and excellent job executing his book. In each chapter several small stories are presented, then woven together to bind his premise. Most of the stories are familiar memes of social networking and social marketing. More than anything, Verdino's style allowed me to have a quiet inner-dialogue. He allowed me to match his stories to stories of my own. Verdino forces me to think, ponder, and reconsider - exactly what I think a good book should do -  and exactly what I feel that Twitter just cannot.

Bottom Line

Read the Preface, then read the book, then read your tea leaves.

Any recounting of success - after the fact - has pitfalls. Verdino reveals the past, highlights the current lessons and provides the engaged reader with solid pointers towards future success.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Zappos Hacked, Secure Your Passwords

Zappos Hacked, Secure Your Passwords

Sean Gallagher of Ars Technica reports: "Zappos gets hacked, resets customers' passwords".

On January 15, online retailer Zappos alerted customers to a security breach. In an e-mail to employees, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh said that a hacker had compromised one of the company's servers in Kentucky. As a result, the intruder was able to gain access to internal networks. While no credit card data or passwords were exposed in the attack—both were stored in encrypted form—the attack did expose other personal information—including names, shipping and billing addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. 
Over 24 million customer accounts were affected in the breach. As a precaution, Zappos has expired all customers' passwords, and alerted customers that they should change passwords on other sites that are similar to their old one on Zappos." [Emphasis added]

Admit it... you use the same user name and password at multiple sites... Zappos includes a note to warn their users because the hackers will try the same user name and passwords on multiple sites. 

How many sites have you stored/saved personal identifying information using the same User and password combination?

Consider LastPass

Consider a Password Management Tool:
I use a tool called LastPass. It syncs across multiple platforms - I use it on Windows, Android and iPhone. It is encrypted locally and at the service. It allows the user to set a password strength for randomly generated passwords. And, because I only have to remember a single password, I feel confident to let it manage my accounts. 

LastPass is not perfect - it is clunky on my Android tablet - forcing a lot of Copy/Past operations, but it works for me.  

Bottom Line:

Personal information should never be considered safe when it is online. Using the same user name and password combination exposes you to big risks. Consider a Password Management tool, if not LastPass, then Mashable provides a survey of 5 Password Management Tools. Pick one and get more secure.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

eTrolls: The Persistent Idiot

eTrolls: The Persistent Idiot

Patrick O'Keefe (@patrickokeefe)  has 54 Amazon reviews for his work "Managing Online Forums". 51 rate the book at 5 stars and the other three reviews are not substantial enough to diminish the work.

O'Keefe provides a sweeping survey of the most common problems, shows examples, and provides very tangible remedies (including templates).  

After skimming the entire book, I returned to deep dive and take notes on Chapter 3 "Developing Guidelines" and Chapter 6 "Banning Users and Dealing with Chaos". These 50 pages should be required reading for all Social Media experts. For the small blogger that just wants some discipline and control - these 50 pages are all you need to read. 

Most blogs will never grow a community large enough to have dedicated staff to deal with eTrolls. The ability to spot spam, "Introtisements and Adverquestions" (page 165), and other miscreants is very important to even the smallest community manager. 

Your site, community and content must be managed, or the eTrolls will manage it for you!

The MarketWatch Example:

MarketWatch provides an excellent forum for posts about money, finance and other economic topics. Their boards are frequently attacked by eTrolls - typically with obvious posts trying to sell retail goods. But they also suffer from "Persistent Idiots" (page 203). Not only are these users right about every opinion they post, but they are willing to provide correction to every other post in your community. 

A frequent problem is that some eTrolls may have enough "tenure" or points, or other community standing - that it is difficult to neutralize their acidic influence. In my opinion MarketWatch needs to assign this book to their Forum Moderators, then employ more of the strategies espoused by O'Keefe. 

O'Keefe calls the forum manager to create guidelines, manage users to those guidelines, then factually (and ruthlessly) starve the eTrolls. 

Bottom Line

"Managing Online Forums" is about managing your customer dialogue. Abdication of this critical role to the eTrolls is a sure route to failure. 


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Marketing to the Social Web - Book Review

Marketing to the Social Web - Book Review

Larry Weber captures several important themes in his 2007 book "Marketing to the Social Web". If the modern reader looks past some of the antiquated (in web time) companies and abstracts the essential ideas, this book still provides excellent insight into best practices for Understanding the Landscape of he Social Web (Chapters 1-4), Building Your Own Customer Community (Chapters 5-11) and Making Use of the four Online Conduit Strategies (Chapters 12-16). This is a professional discussion for large businesses. 

Chapter 13 and Chapter 16 cover the "conduits" of Blogging and Social Networks.  Five years after the the book was published it is clear that Weber was ahead of the curve with his recognition of these two conduits. After all, much of this work cites developments at MySpace and Friendster.

For those willing to ignore the references, the core ideas are as sound today as they were in 2007. For those willing to translate, the lessons of the early failures are readily reflected in the successes of Facebook and Google+ and might be leveraged into new solutions. Weber's rules for Employees that blog (pages 177,178) is ground-zero for most company compliance guidelines. 

Best observation: "Brand is a Conversation"

Bottom Line:

Probably not worth the full cover price, due to age, but a used copy or a library copy makes for simulating reading. 


Monday, January 9, 2012

Experiential Representation. Are We There Yet?

Experiential Representation. Are We There Yet?

Kevin Depew of Miyanville discusses the passing of a linear news cycle in his recurring post "5 Things You Need to Know".

"Newspapers are a form of linear storytelling. There is a crisply constructed uniform pattern to the content, which is why the rumored "death" of the newspaper is both startling and uncomfortable, especially for those of us who have grown up with newspapers and this form of storytelling. 
"That's why I've been thinking quite a bit about comments Google (GOOG) CEO Eric Schmidt made a couple of weeks ago to the Newspaper Association of America. 
"I love newspapers. I love of reading them -- that when you’re finished, you’re done, and you know what’s going on." 
"Indeed. Newspapers and the "news cycle" remain trapped in the linear world of manufacturing-based economies, time tables, clocks, and schedules. It's comforting to pick up the "news" and read it to completion. But this is not how we are increasingly experiencing the world. Further, I would argue that newspapers are but one small battleground of a larger war being fought over the very nature of experiential representation. Ultimately, I expect the non-linear to win at the expense of what we might now call "comfort media"; the newspaper, the televised newscast, almost all programmed "slots" for information and entertainment.
"A release from that world will be (already is in fact) painful but ultimately bullish. Even now there are economic efficiencies and ideas that remain locked in a world of scheduled and pre-programmed activities that are like vestigial organs, adapted and evolved for an economy that no longer exists.
The linear world is familiar and comfortable. Where Eric Schmidt errs is that the news is never done - the reader is charged with "understanding" the content. The continued fragmentation of the linear world will eventually become more and more uncomfortable. We can only watch CNN Headline News for so long before we must change to CNN for the rest of the story. (I only use that as an example, CNN is not on my trusted media list).

Why should we mourn the loss of the mediocre? Why should we mourn the inevitable thinning of the ranks? Kirk Bohls of the Austin-American Statesman made an interesting observation on Twitter. 

How many bowl games are needed to spotlight the best teams in the country? 

The answer is not 70.

How many restaurants have you been in that should have been closed a long time ago; departments stores, other businesses?

Larry Downs of Forbes describes "Why Best Buy is Going out of Business...Gradually." Is the slow death of poor performance and poor performers a reason to be sad?

And, contrary to Best Buy's responses, I would bet with Downs.

We had a dog that was very old and very sick. She couldn't get over the threshold of the sliding glass door to get to the back yard. The veterinarian says "we have drugs that can keep your dog alive for several more years". We decided that was not a good choice.

Bottom Line:

History will still be written, and news will still be delivered in a strong linear pattern. Quantity is not the same as quality. The reader has a duty to chase down truth. 

Yelp, Amazon (see my review of Paul Krugman's book  at Amazon), and many other sites allow you to post your reviews.

What is the proper course of action?
  • Post your comments to drive out the bad players
  • Post your comments to reward the good players  

Are we there yet? No, not by a long shot.