The e-traveller hits the road again

This time I’m heading to the US for a holiday … no conferences, no presentations, just fun. I’m very keen to have the opportunity to join in the celebrations following Barack Obama’s inauguration; I imagine the place will be bursting with bonhomie and pride. It deserves to be.

I’ll be tweeting and blogging and uploading to Flickr as I go … all the fun that’s fit to report, and I hope that’s a-plenty. I’m getting cannier as I go these days.  A card reader and a small point and shoot Nikon L16 (rechargeable AA batteries) do service in the still photography department, whilst MarsEdit is my offline blogging app of choice. The trusty, small G4 Powerbook is the computer that’s tagged along with me faithfully for 4-5 years. I really can’t leave it behind any more, and it’s size and power give me all the grunt I need.

This time I am being joined by a new toy which I’m picking up in the US. I’ve wanted an ultra-portable-put-in-your-pocket-no-fuss HD video camera, and thanks to Amazon, will have a Creative Labs Vado HD waiting for me. You can read the pros and cons in this comparative review by Chris Pirillo.  I’ll post the first experiments edited via iMovie to Vimeo. Phew … must remember to just do some touristy lollygagging along the way.

Stay tuned ….

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Twitter … a whale of a tale

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Perhaps it’s only me, but has anyone else noticed the sudden ‘arrival’ of Twitter as the mainstage social media player in the past week or so? It’s a must-have app it seems. There has been a flurry of activity and chatter which has included the creation of a niche blog called TwiTip. Problogger Darren Rowse, TwiTip’s creator is getting out the word on how to use the app to newcomer and power-user alike. The potential of what once was considered a limited application … scorned as a time waster and useless by some (ahem) … is only just beginning to make sense. These days the 140 character-limited little app is punching way outside its original class, and we’re taking notice.

Twitter’s gone beyond the social use for which it was first intended … telling the world what you’re doing … though you still can of course. It’s typical for a bunch of contacts to greet one another at the start of whatever day and in whatever time zone they’re in. Occasional posts on meals, links to news, and music shares are sprinkled amongst a stream of notifications on blog-posts, tips, and a string of ideas which are just floated out there for someone to pick up. If you’re a Twitter user and you work from home, it’s a substitute for the tearoom (or water cooler if you live up there) or a bit like the banter that goes on when a colleague sticks her head round the door and tosses in a joke, a bit of news, gossip, or asks for help.

Twitter first showed how powerful it could be as a serious communications contender when users kept one another up to date during the course of several natural disasters a year or more ago.  I wrote late last year that I found the constraints of 140 characters just too limiting to be of much use … I was thinking inside the blog-square of course.  My opinion was also coloured by the pain of having to log in to the website to leave a post;  I hate any unnecessary extra clicks to get to where I want to be.  As Twitter continued its development and millions took to using it, there were not infrequent server downtimes and crashes. The notorious ‘fail-whale’ emerged as an ongoing joke, and we fickle users ranted at Twitter’s inability to keep up with our demands.  How a year has changed things.

Twitter hits the deck occasionally, but still manages to get back up again. It’s no longer tethered to its website and that’s a good thing … it’s mobile via phone apps like Twitterific which I use on my iPhone, whilst a host of desktop clients like Tweetdeck and Twhirl mean that the messages keep flowing. You can in fact, appear never to sleep!

Academic colleagues shared the keynote sessions from a conference a week or so ago via tweets, and fielded questions from some of us out here to the presenters. The development of hashtags as a tagging device means that messages can be collated and searched later on … a great idea!

Twitter’s also gone all business-like, serving another kind of clientele. Any group or team can contact its clients and membership with the latest news, deals or advice and followers can hang out and receive the push messages that are sent.  I’m using Twitter this way as we grow our niche market consultancy business. We’re building business equity and at the same time making contacts; a dedicated Twitter account is one of our tools of choice. You can find us on our Twitter webpage or via a widget on our business webpage. We push a tip of the day, queued via Twuffer along with news of upcoming seminars and workshops.  Of course our contacts can choose to follow us via an RSS feed.

Developers of other apps have come up with nifty add-on helpers that use the Twitter platform; I line up and schedule the release of a series of posts with Twuffer, and send out automatic welcomes to my new followers with Tweetlater. This social media stuff is getting more and more sophisticated, and we’re getting more creative with their application to our particular needs.

I rarely if ever access my personal Twitter account via the website. I use Twhirl to keep me in touch with my contacts. I aggregate my social media via Friend Feed, which then pushes out a selection of my choice to Twitter. In this way I can push, pull and chat throughout the day. Is it distracting? Yes … and no. I love the flow of ideas that Twitter generates, and I can always switch it off if I need to work on something urgent.

I’m thinking that it has another use that it’s probably not been put to yet, and that is to provide the sort of social intercourse that shut-ins can miss out on. Like its video-chat cousin Seesmic, Twitter is proving to be a far more flexible tool than we first supposed. I mean, just look at the links below to just a few of the zillions of articles that are hitting the blogosphere right now. This little lightweight is here to stay.

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Utterli appropriate: tools for a new gen of citizen journalists

I’m impressed by the growing slew of portable device apps that make it possible for bloggers and social commentators to post their reports across platforms online or via their mobile phones. Enter Utterli (formerly Utterz) and now Seesmic for the Nokia N95.

Last month, I watched the Democratic National Convention via a feed that had been put together to aggregate all the reports coming in from the field from a small team of citizen journalists … boy wonders in my eyes. Yesterday Seesmic introduced a platform which enables video posts via the Nokia N95. Now that’s a great phone with a terrific on-board lens and camera, and the images are sensationally good.

The upcoming gen of journalists either those paid by media corporations, freelancers or the so-called ‘citizen journalists’ are going to be embarrassed for choice. But oh how I despair for the ‘heritage media.’ They need to get on board the digital communications and reporting train, and fast. My local print newspaper has no blogging capability, and I met a resouding silence when I emailed the editor recently (politely) to suggest it might be timely. Ironic really when the Fairfax group in Australia recently dumped 500 jobs.

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My Desktop Organising Hub

Who would have thought it! After all of my experimentation with productivity apps and services … my favourite is probably still the big-hitting and awfully smart Omnifocus … I’ve come to rely more and more on my Mail application. It’s now pretty much my organising hub. How did this happen?

Well, a couple of things. First I am no longer in full-time work for a single employer so the office organising hub which was Entourage is now gone from my life. Phew say I; there goes Outlook as well. Now it’s over to me to set up a system that works well and with a minimum of button pressing.

I tend to rely on the iWork suite of tools for word processing and spread sheeting, whilst the Mail app that comes standard on Macs is handily integrating my iCal, as well as my To Do lists and notes. I didn’t set out to do this deliberately either … but the smart design backend makes sure everything just clicks together … integrates in a way that suits my needs.

OK. I have an iPhone and a MobileMe account, so my mail accounts, calendars and contacts are constantly updated across my computers … an iMac and my trusty G4 Powerbook … which is still managing very nicely thank you very much. Mail is smart enough to know who’s who in my address book so typing a few letters of the name in the address panels bring will up a selection to choose from. Here’s the good bit though … if there are dates and names in the body or header of an email, a mouse-hover across these will provided a pop up menu so you can save to Contacts and/or iCal. Too easy. When it comes to creating a To Do or a Note, I can do this directly in Mail and it appears in the Calendar on all of my computers and my iPhone. Again a snap.

And just as always, Smart Mailboxes or ordinary ones created on my iMac or my iDisk can filter out clients or companies and pop them where they ought to be. Neat. These smart filters are very powerful and from my experience of groaning, email overwhelmed colleagues … vastly underrated and underused.

Yes I know this sounds like a bit of a commercial for Mac stuff, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t an Apple fan girl … I’ve been in the club since 1984. MobileMe is still buggy and the iPhone 3G is having growing pains, but by and large the suite of tools and apps just work … as they say, out of the box and that’s how I like it.

But getting back to Mail, sometimes it’s the more obvious tools that get overlooked … the one that does the job thoroughly in the easiest way will always get my vote.

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A (minor) rant on why good presentation design works …

Once again I’m reminded of the impact of good design. This morning I received an e-letter from SlideShare pointing me to the  World’s Best Presentation Contest winners.

Judged by some big-hitters in the web-design stakes (Garr Reynolds, Guy Kawasaki, Nancy Duarte, Bert Decker) here is the overall winner.

THIRST

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: design crisis)

Why did it win? Here is the judges’ feedback, but as far as I am concerned, Thirst is a winner as a presentation because

  • It’s not a slideument … i.e., a document pretending to be a slide show;
  • It’s short;
  • It’s visually appealing, with images that support and extend the message;
  • It’s memorable. If you’ve flicked through it even once, there is going to be an image that has told you a story that you’ll remember.

As the Heath brothers might say, it’s a sticky presentation that you’ll recall.

Oh how I wish more presenters would take a leaf from this book. I sat through a slideument last week … with quietly gnashing teeth!

Congratulations Jeff Brenman. Jeff is the talented young designer behind that other fantastically popular and sticky slide presentation Shift Happens.

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Commenting: challenges of another sort

It’s been a busy couple of days for me. Ignoring the beautiful weather outside, I’ve been engaged in video conversations with the Seesmic community.  My previous post outlined some of the challenges I faced at the outset.

I’ve been interested to see how others on Seesmic deal with video commenting. The style is eclectic; some are better on camera than others. Some of the conversations are light banter and chatter … a bit like real-life conversation. And then a post will come along that gets everyone going, and this is within seconds!

Cathy Brooks on Seesmic began a thread a couple of days back which simply asked ‘How will video conversation change the way you comment?’ I came in late with my 2c worth, and thought this was too good not to share with you. So below (and also on Cathy’s blog and using the new Seesmic embeddable thread player) you can read what has been said so far. At the time of posting, mine was the final comment in the thread.

Without in any way gazumping the commenters, and no you probably couldn’t anyway … the expression and nuance are the meaning in many if not all posts … here were some of the issues raised:

  • comment anxiety
  • authenticity and commenting
  • personal appearance
  • difference between writing and speaking
  • the implications of viral commenting
  • the courage to be bare-faced about it all

Sound familiar? Some of these emerged during the conversation recently in the 31 Day Comment Challenge.

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