The old web is dying and I’m not sure I like the new one

BlogPulse has no pulse

So I was playing around with dashboards and the like yesterday  – as one does – and noticed that BlogPulse has disappeared. BlogPulse was not the greatest blog search engine around, but it was the only one offering anything like useable charts. So, given that Technorati charts disappeared years ago (although they still have a page claiming they’ll be back soon), and other solutions such as IceRocket don’t enable you to pass keywords to create live charts, it would appear there is no longer any blog charting widget out there.

Is this the final nail in the coffin of blogging? Are we really so uninterested in blogging activity that charts are no longer considered viable? It would seem that way, and the ‘blogging is dead’ meme is very much alive right now.

Charting generally seems to be suffering

Recently, tweetcloud.com disappeared, without even a whimper. It just vanished. I seemed to be the only person who noticed, but tweetcloud.com was, like BlogPulse, the only solution that did something incredibly useful: it would create a tweetcloud for a search term on the fly. In other words, you typed in what you were looking for, and it created a tweetcloud for that search (not a tweetcloud of your own timeline, which really isn’t that much use but I suspect a lot less processor-intensive). Plus it did it quickly, and there was a widget for it, which enabled you to build dashboards giving an instant overview of the latest terms associated with any topic. It was great. And then it wasn’t. There are sort-of alternatives still such as Visible Tweets, Cloud.li and Twendz, but, while they’re very pretty, you can’t build them into dashboards.

And today, Trendistic, the only (again) solution for live charting of Twitter trends, is down. It was down yesterday too. Look for it on Twitter search and there are just a load of weird Polish references to it (who knows, maybe Trendistic is a Polish pop group). Surely – sssssurely – Trendistic can’t have disappeared too? And surely, again, it can’t just be me who thought it was an absolutely brilliant idea?

RSS is dying

If you’re detecting a pattern here, you’re not alone. It does seem that really great ideas are failing as the web grows bigger and faster. They just cannot keep up, it seems – or, at least, not until/unless they’re snapped up by one of the walled gardens such as Facebook. Free information – as in, really free, readily available, easily manipulated and shared across the entire web – is disappearing.

RSS was supposed to be the great hope of free information. Peel the content away from the format, and hey presto, you can share pretty much anything across any platform. But therein lies the problem: something free is not something you can fence off and charge for. It is free in every sense of the word.

So it seems RSS is suffering too. Google Reader used to be a really nice way to bring feeds together and create a static web page of the results as well as a newly aggregated feed. Not since its recent revamp however. All the sharing features have been ported across to Google+, presumably because Google+ is a neat, walled garden whereas RSS was messy and free. Yahoo Pipes was the ultimate RSS aggregator/mash-up tool but suffered from underinvestment by Yahoo. Even after a supposed major overhaul, it’s flaky and too slow to power a dashboard (unless you’re prepared to wait for a minute or so while the results load up). Another RSS mashup tool, XFruits, died a couple of years back. Do a search for RSS aggregator tools and it’s like a graveyard. The only viable tool that I can see is called FeedRinse which, while it offers aggregation and filtering (the two most useful features of Pipes), also feels a bit overloaded and slow. And, as with TweetCloud and BlogPulse, it’s the only game in town, which leads me to believe it won’t be for much longer.

RSS from search has been abandoned by major players too. Such as the bookmarking platform Delicious. You used to be able to search across the Delicious database and pull an RSS feed from that. Stunningly useful, as it showed you what other people considered important for any topic. Not any longer. Twitter has also demoted RSS from search: you can still do it, but you have to look around to find out how. It’s another candidate for the cull, I believe.

Mash-ups are harder

So where does this leave us if we want to create our own mash-ups or dashboards? Well we can dive into the APIs if we fancy it, and learn a smattering of HTML and javascript. But we still need reliable platforms to base our dashboards on. The familiar theme of ‘only game in town’ is revisited here, in that the only solution offering public dashboards – that is, pages that you can show to anyone without them needing to log in – is Netvibes. And every time I create a dashboard in Netvibes, I find I have to spend quite some time figuring out what works still and what doesn’t. Quite apart from discovering over the past few months that third-party sites have disappeared, I’m finding that third-party widgets in Netvibes are broken, or even that Netvibes itself is cranky. So for example, my attempts to create a dashboard yesterday were frustrated by HTML widgets only displaying the top portions of any image or javascript output, widgets generally not staying in the same place when I refreshed the page, RSS feeds not being imported correctly, and on recourse to their support forum, finding it full of spam.

It seems the free tools that were once so useful are now decaying or falling apart. I don’t know what ‘Web 2.0′ really meant, but I have a sense of something dying, something that was slower and smaller than the web today, that shared more freely but was doing so with less immediacy and monetary return. Whatever we’re moving towards, if it’s Web 3.0, then it’s becoming more consolidated, monetised, bigger, faster, noisier.

So the ‘roll your own’ approach is going to get harder. The smaller, innovative sites that did one thing, and one thing well, just cannot survive the double onslaught of vastly increased traffic and expectations of real-time delivery unless they can make money from  it.  The old, fluid, free web that comprised many islands of activity is solidifying into separate continents of influence. The game is so much harder now, that it’s only the really big players that can make sense – and money – out of it.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

Me? I preferred the more innovative, dynamic environment. I liked the way that RSS could be readily shared, and smaller enterprises could create neat tools that let you do things with it, without really needing to be a developer. I guess those days are gone. Nostalgia certainly ain’t what it used to be.

Postscript: … and no sooner do I file this post then I read this Observer piece by John Naughton, entitled “Has the Internet run out of ideas already?”, on the progression of information technologies: “from somebody’s hobby to somebody’s industry; from jury-rigged contraption to slick production marvel; from a freely accessible channel to one strictly controlled by a single corporation or cartel – from open to closed system.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. In fact, I didn’t.

New Delicious – sweet eye candy but a bitter aftertaste

As if by magic, Delicious has relaunched. I had that sinking feeling when I powered up my laptop this morning and noticed that the Delicious add-on that I use to navigate the web wasn’t loading properly.

It didn’t take long to figure out that there are some fairly radical changes going on. Superficially it looks like a more user-friendly site, but I think there are deep changes afoot that mean they’ve switched off some of the most useful features. Here’s my take on the changes.

They’ve made Delicious much more of a front-end. I said this a while back, on this very blog: that Delicious kind of had a similar problem to Twitter, in that a lot of it worked in the background without any screen estate to hand over to advertising or social networking. So Twitter is finding ways to fix this, including acquiring Tweetdeck. It might seem strange that Twitter buys a client-side application (ie not a cloud-based app such as Hootsuite) but I’m thinking this could be a smart move designed to keep the strain off its servers. Delicious probably doesn’t have the massive bandwidth demands of Twitter, so it’s opted for its own web-based front end (note: this is just my theory). It looks nice, and you can see a good summary of these Delicious changes over at GigaOM which, at the time of writing, seems to be one of the first posts about new Delicious.

They’ve switched off some of the back-end features and broken others. This probably doesn’t bother most people, and I do appreciate that they need to address the fat end of the long tail and concentrate on core features, but I just spent all morning doing the following:

  • Rebuilding my local bookmarks because the add-on no longer works. I used the add-on Bundles view to access my work-related pages, resource pages, and so on. It was great because if I changed something on one machine or browser, I could just work on any of my others and see those changes reflected. Now, I have to store them all manually, per-browser, per-machine. What a pain.
  • Figuring out that RSS no longer works. This was, for me, the single most useful feature of Delicious after bookmarking. You could pull an RSS feed off a tag, or off a tag search. Today, you cannot. So this means I can’t pump this RSS feed out to, say, Google Reader for aggregating, or Netvibes for aggregating and displaying, or Feedburner for daily email delivery of feeds. In other words, I’ve suddenly lost a lot of flexibility and power. So could it be that Delicious is joining the effort to kill RSS because it’s so useful but earns them no money? Seems that way right now.
  • Logging in several times. The bookmarklet still works – praise be – but I, and several of my clients, have had to log in several times to get this to work.
  • Noticing strange anomalies with tags. If I look at my Delicious home page, I see that the counts are missing next to tags, so I don’t know which are the most popular. Whenever I bookmark something now, the tag does not auto-complete so I’m going to start getting inconsistent with them. Sometimes I know I’ve only saved a bookmark once, but it says ‘2 saves’ next to it, which gives me no confidence. And I’m pretty much certain that when I list some tags, all I’m seeing is the first page of them without any ‘next’ or ‘previous’ pagination, so now I can’t actually get to see the vast majority of my bookmarks any more. Unless, of course, they’ve been deleted?
  • Noticing other random stuff. No more bundles, now we have stacks. Why change the name? And bundles were really useful, so why remove them? If they’re going to change the name, why not just change the name but keep the functionality instead of replacing it with something that seems virtually identical but doesn’t use the same mechanism? Also, we need to call these things ‘Links’ now, rather than bookmarks. And we follow people now, rather than have them in our community. Links and follows – sounds very like Likes and, well, followers, right?
  • Advising clients on the changes. I have clients who love Delicious too, and I’ve had to flag this to them. Facebook is annoying enough when it changes on the spur of the moment, and Delicious has done the same.

It does seem to me that whenever something becomes massively useful, it disappears. Yahoo Pipes is a similar case in point, supposedly recently fixed but within minutes it broke again in its old inimitable way, so I just forgot all about it once more.

Could it be that Avos, the new proprietors of Delicious, are joining in the effort to kill the freedom of information that Tim Berners-Lee held so dear?

I said, years ago, that the social web would change radically when big money moved in. If it’s freedom out, money in, then that would account for a lot of these changes.

Of course, it could also be that Avos plan to reintroduce these features as they roll out a wonderful new solution that everyone loves. Problem is, we already loved it.

2011 social media predictions

So while I have my blogging head on – hot off the news that Delicious is disappearing and Facebook has undergone yet another redesign – I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the state of the social media nation for the coming year. It’s not all good. Here we go…

Confidence will go down

Social media lives in the cloud (or ‘online’ as we used to say). This is good, in that the cloud is a wonderful thing where you can pool computing resources and readily share information. But its fluidity is a problem. I’ve already written about my dislike of the state of ‘permanent beta’ of such services, and with the recent make-over of Facebook, I remain annoyed. The bigger a site gets, the more we depend on it. The more it changes, the less we like it – not just because we have to relearn it, but strategists have to go back to the blueprints, trainers have to re-do all their materials, and so on. And that’s nothing compared to what happens when sites like Delicious just disappear. How can you invest time and effort, how can you plan, when you don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months, let alone the next year?

Monetisation will continue to be a problem

Yahoo owns the biggest bookmarking service around, and it cannot make money off it. Twitter, as far as I’m aware, still doesn’t have a monetisation strategy. I don’t quite understand how Mark Zuckerberg can be so rich off the back of Facebook. Anyone remember the dotcom boom and bust? Social media feels horribly similar, in that I believe the people who make money off social media right now are the ones who get paid to assess its value. It’s very like the old gold rushes – the ones who got rich were the ones who sold the spades to dig for the gold, not the poor fools actually looking for it.

PR still won’t ‘get it’

I still feel my temples throb when I meet up with digital colleagues at PR agencies, who recount phrases they continue to come across such as “Let’s do some blogging stuff” or “Maybe we should send some tweets out.” Social media is still new, but it’s gone from burbling helplessly in the cot to at least toddling. Four-plus years is enough for PR people to have understood the basics, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that PR people, while they are completely brilliant at issues, are unrivalled organisers and demon communicators, are completely at sea when it comes to the high-level strategy and the low-level nuts and bolts of getting through to people online. I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Freelancers will find it an increasingly tough gig

I admit I haven’t found the past year easy by any means. People rightly want the confidence of an agency behind their programmes in case I get run over by a bus. And if/when you do finally get a client who’s prepared to work with you in the longer term, again they quite rightly want to know your ‘secret sauce’ – and then do it for themselves.

Digital agencies will rise

While I find PR people don’t ‘get’ digital, I do find digital ‘gets’ PR. My prediction here is that, far from PR subsuming digital, it will eventually be the other way around. Digital agencies have the heft of a professional outfit, with a proper team structure and a wealth of expertise that, I think, will be the umbrella model for the future.

Social media curves will continue to go up, but results will continue to disappoint

I still find it astonishing that, for example, in 2010 there was more social media traffic than all years combined (trust me, it’s a valid statistic, but I cannot find the source for that right now). At the same time, broadcast and mainstream media just has those huge exposure figures that social media simply cannot compete with. Dan Sabbagh of The Guardian recently showed us this (and this time I do have a link): of the recent Alan Partridge Fosters YouTube videos he says: “The first episode has racked up 492,000 plays on YouTube at the time of writing, and while the latest episode, 5, has dropped to 135,000, [Henry Normal, the man who “minds the shop” at Partridge actor Steve Coogan’s production company Baby Cow] claims the results are a success, even though a new comedy on Channel 4 would expect to be seen by 1.5m to 2m viewers.” OK, so 15-minute YouTube clips are cheaper to disseminate but 135,000 views is NOTHING compared to 2 million viewers – regardless of trendy notions of ‘engagement’, ‘dialogue’ or ‘the network effect’.

Facebook will continue to dominate

Facebook is a juggernaut and it’s not going to slow down any time soon. This is a pity because the web was never meant to be a single-application platform. It was supposed to be a resilient, open resource through which information could freely – which also means anonymously – pass. One day Facebook will break and then we’ll all be sorry.

Dashboarding and curating will grow

I truly believe that every company should be monitoring what people are saying about it, its issues and its competitors, on a daily basis. Even if they don’t then engage, there is simply no excuse for not listening, especially when marvellous sites such as Netvibes make dashboarding easy as cake, a piece of pie. Set up an internal dashboard monitoring your competitors and what people are saying about them. That’s research. And have an external one showcasing what you say and the areas you want to ‘own’. That’s marketing. Where’s the harm in that?

Social media will only provably work for big companies that have stuff to sell

This is possibly the most controversial point here. Social media only works when it scales up. If you don’t have enough followers/members/contacts, it won’t work. People are the fuel that drives the social media engine. So smaller companies that genuinely want to engage will not see the benefit. However, larger companies that can command a large amount of interest online will see the benefit – and that will primarily be through selling. Take Dell, for example. It has sales that have grown, year on year, from 1 million dollars, to 3, to 6, to 18 million. That’s a steep curve, and whereas it’s peanuts for a company that size, I can see that they can totally point to an ROI that means they will continue to invest in it. Meanwhile your smaller enterprises will give up. This is a real pity because, in the same way the web isn’t meant to be one big application (see my Facebook point above), social media was supposed to give the little man a voice. Again, terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘dialogue’ are nice, but only if you can afford to invest in them without necessarily pointing to an ROI. ‘Selling’, on the other hand, is what the CEO is interested in, and will shell out money for, and you can only do this effectively if you’re big.

So, there you go. What will I do next year? Don’t know really. Maybe I’ll continue ploughing my furrow and see what transpires. Maybe I’ll close shop and go and work for a digital agency. Maybe I’ll set my own up. Maybe I’ll get out of social media altogether (again) and focus on something nice and comfortable, like copywriting.

And you? What will you do? Here’s my advice if you’re thinking about using social media next year:

  • Make sure you’re doing other forms of marketing too. Social media on its own will not cut it.
  • Make sure whoever you work with in social media knows what a strategy is. If they say “We’re all about tactics”, walk away.
  • Really think about monitoring. It doesn’t take long to set up and you will be amazed at what you find out.
  • Be prepared to work in the dark to an extent – you may never really know how much money you make off the back of your investment.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for changes and closures. No social media site/channel/platform is too big to go under.

That about wraps it up for 2010. I’m going to finish my cup of tea and then work on thawing my toes out, then I’m going to sit by the log fire and stare into the distance for the next two weeks. Toodle pip.

Goodbye Delicious, hello… what?

So the news is out. Yahoo have screwed up. They’re closing Delicious. I don’t even need to include a link here – just go out and look for mentions of it right now and you’ll see the news.

This is A Big Thing. It throws up all sorts of substantial issues, not least among which is, if the social web is such a big thing, then how come the biggest bookmarking service is about to go belly up? If a major company like Yahoo is experiencing difficulties monetising Delicious, then what does this mean for other cloud-based services? And, from that, how confident can we be when we store things in the cloud? At what point do we need to back things up locally, or – shock horror – actually have to start paying for this kind of service?

These are all important topics for debate that I’m sure will be covered over the next few weeks. But right here, right now, this is bad news for me, because I rely on Delicious for several important activities.

  • Distributed information gathering. Ever wanted to harness the collective effort of a team to gather knowledge as they go about their daily activities, quickly bookmarking something and slowly building up an incredibly useful, dedicated database? I have. In fact, I did, before I got into Delicious. I set up a team with Google Reader, where every member subscribed to every other member’s shared items, so that we could all see what each other had shared. It was a very useful way for us all to be clued up – maximum returns, minimal effort required. But the Delicious solution was much more elegant, in that you could install the toolbar to bookmark pages quickly and easily, add notes explaining why you’d bookmarked them, and so on.
  • News feed creation. From that same Google Reader-based project, in turn, the shared items could generate a branded page and an RSS feed, so we could pump information out to clients. They could then see what we were sharing with them, as a feed that we created based on our judgement of what was important, rather than search engines.
  • Monitoring. You can (in the near future, change that to ‘could’) search Delicious without needing to sign in. You can (could) create an RSS feed off that search. This is (was) a wonderful facility, meaning you can (could) see not just what people are (were) saying about a brand, but what they consider (considered) important enough to bookmark. Its human-based nature complements (complemented) machine-based searches extremely well.
  • Measurement. If bookmarking is a form of engagement – that is, actually taking action rather than passively reading – then you could use Delicious as a form of engagement metric. If more people are bookmarking you, then they’re engaged with what they’re reading about you.
  • Auto-publishing. Delicious has (had – ok, I’ll stop this now) a great feature whereby you could get it to post automatically to your blog at the end of each day with the bookmarks you’d created that day. You get two quality outputs for one input. Fabulous.

That’s just five reasons I have had big plans for Delicious. I have one client that I was imminently going to: install the Delicious toolbar on each member’s machine; create a set of core tags for them to use on web pages; create RSS feeds from searches for those tags; bring those searches into a dashboard for monitoring; share them with clients as a news feed; and occasionally measure the number of hits across Delicious to gauge engagement.

Now, suddenly, I have to think of a viable alternative.

There are some out there, and it seems to me the frontrunners are Diigo and StumbleUpon (which I have heard of before and used briefly before realising Delicious was far superior), and Xmarks, which I haven’t heard of before and need to look into. There is also, I guess, Google Bookmarks, but I don’t know how that’s faring nowadays given Google discontinued support for Notes some time ago.

But as far as I can tell, none of them offer the ability to create an RSS feed off a search without having to sign in. So I can still conceivably create shared knowledge systems and use metrics to a degree, but I cannot monitor or create filtered news feeds for clients. Bum.

Meanwhile I also have the major headache of figuring out where else to store the 1,107 bookmarks I have on Delicious, which I use for my own research and even for navigation using the toolbar. Double bum.

There’s a huge amount of hue and cry about this online right now, so I’m probably going to get lost in the noise here with this post. But, if anyone can point me in the right direction to get this sort of feature, please let me know. Otherwise I may need to go back to basics – Google Reader, which some people find fiddly and is not as elegant, as open, as ubiquitous, as plain old useful and great, dammit – as Delicious. Bum bum bum bum bum.

Bookmark, tweet and blog at the same time with only two hands and one head

One issue I keep coming across lately is how to save money using social media.

This is a big topic, one that relates to so many others from measuring social media through to monetising it. But every little helps, as they say, and through the miracle of RSS you can make your content work harder by setting up mechanisms that mean you just have to do one thing, and the automation does two more on your behalf, or even three.

Key to this is the marvellous Twitterfeed. This very simple but incredibly useful resource takes any RSS feed and issues a tweet when it’s updated. You need to exercise care in how you use it – you don’t want to inundate people with useless tweets – but if you make sure you prepend different feeds with a small description explaining where each tweet is from, and tell Twitterfeed how often to tweet from each RSS feed and how many times on each occasion, it works.

Some people disagree. They say it’s necessary to customise all content all the time. This is an ideal I guess, but I’ve had pretty good results from just hooking everything up and letting it work. For example, people have said I provide nice links through Twitter, and that’s down to bookmarking for myself but using Twitterfeed to advertise these bookmarks to other people. But if you disagree then tell me – look , you don’t even have to comment, you can vote in the poll below right.

So, if you’re bookmarking, blogging or tweeting, here’s to make them all work off each other:

  • Blog and bookmark/tag at the same time. Delicious can post to your blog with a summary of everything you’ve bookmarked/tagged over the past 24 hours, via the Delicious blog posting feature. These are the ‘links for…’ posts you’ll see appear on here most days. The danger with this is that your blog could end up becoming a link-blog – that is, stuffed full of links with very little of your own thoughts in it – but you can still make this useful and informative through the ‘comments’ feature on Delicious, by explaining to someone why it’s useful. Let’s face it, that ‘someone’ is in fact you in about six months’ time when you can’t remember actually tagging it. I think it’s a really cool feature, enabling you not only to increase your library of bookmarks, but to tell people about it through your blog in one go. Heck, Steve Rubel uses it too so it must be cool, right?
  • Blog and tweet at the same time. This is how Twitterfeed markets itself. You blog, it tweets. And, of course, this takes the posts generated by Delicious too, so people will see a tweet entitled ‘New post: Links for…‘, and you never know, they might find it interesting.
  • Bookmark and tweet at the same time. Although Twitterfeed tells you to feed your blog to Twitter, what it really does is feed any RSS into Twitter. So, take your Delicious feed and plug that into Twitterfeed, give it the prefix ‘Shared’ or ‘Bookmarked’ and every time you bookmark an item, it tweets. This is for each and every bookmark you make as you make it, not just the summary, once-a-day blog post feature on Delicious. You could do the same with the RSS coming out of Google Reader’s shared feature too, maybe prefix that in Twitterfeed with ‘Google’. You could also be selective in what you share, by just taking the RSS from one tag rather than everything you bookmark. I’ve used the tag ‘forblog’, for example, so that I could control what went onto the blog and what did not.
  • ‘Like’ things on Friendfeed and tweet at the same time. You’re probably getting the message – yes, if you ‘like’ something in Friendfeed, that creates an RSS feed. So, you can plug that into Twitterfeed too, and prepend it with  ‘I like’ or some such thing before the tweet. (btw the example I’ve given doesn’t currently give any results because I haven’t ‘liked’ anything in Friendfeed for a while, but I’m still surprised Twitter search couldn’t find anything.)
  • Automatically tweet. This is probably the least ‘tailored content’ approach, but if you’re away from Twitter you can use Twitterfeed to tweet on your behalf completely automatically. I have a ‘Must Read’ RSS feed which comprises only the very best content from people who, over the years, I’ve come to trust to reliably post good, quality content. So, I pluck something from that once a day, prepend it with ‘MustReadFeed’, and out it goes. The counter to the argument that it’s not really tailored content is that, given I’ve made my ‘Must read’ feed available online, what’s wrong with highlighting one part of it? And you could also say I’m tweeting other people’s stuff, but how is that different from retweeting? I’m publicising these people, for free. I probably wouldn’t get much credence for doing just this and nothing else, but as part of the mix of the rest of my activities I think it’s acceptable.
  • Do it all with Yammer at the same time. I found out recently that Yammer now takes in RSS feeds, in exactly the same way as Twitterfeed. So you can do all of the above and post into Yammer at the same time.

You can probably do more than this. I know Ping.FM will post to multiple systems so there may be ways to get that to work. Facebook is also opening up more so I’d expect there to be much more content you can share across platforms using RSS. And in fact the more widgets and APIs become available, the more you’ll be able to share everything everywhere.

The more you can do, however, the greater the danger that you’re going to wind up with a load of automated content that is really not suitable in whatever form for whatever audience. You just have to be careful about how you use it. The way I see it, I’m just waving a little flag on each of these systems to alert people when I’ve done something. And if that’s not lifestreaming, I don’t know what is.

So, you want to get into social media?

I’ve been asked more than once recently “How did you get into social media – because I want to.”

A wallaby

A wallaby

If you’re a wannabe (see right), my topline answer would just be “Do it”. I mean, it’s all out there, most of it’s free, accessible and ubiquitous by definition. But that would be rude.

So, off the top of my head, my recent answers have included – in the order that I did them myself…

Write about social media: set up a blog about it

You don’t have to do this – and plenty of social media peeps don’t – but I’ve found it incredibly useful, not just to find out about this stuff but also as a repository of my previous thoughts/opinions/work. I often jump into the blog and fish something out to throw at people.

The blog gives you a place to think about stuff, crystallise your own opinions, get noticed, become part of the community.

But have a good old think about what you really want to write about though. It’s best to be associated with something specific, for example KD Paine is a measurement guru, Neville Hobson likes his tech, Steve Rubel annoys the heck out of everyone by being smart, etc

Personally, I recommend WordPress.com because it’s easy to use and secure, while Blogger seems quite spammy (and possibly dangerous), and I’ve found Typepad a bit fiddly.

And it’s free.

Read about social media: become an RSS ninja

Subscribe to the RSS feed for any and all PR/social media related blogs you can find. If you don’t know what RSS is, then find out.

If I may be so bold, you could start with my own PR Friendly Index for PR sites, and I might put something together for social media at some point.

I use Google Reader for handling RSS subscriptions, it’s just so great not only for managing subscriptions but archival and analysis too.

And it’s free.

Listen about social media: subscribe to podcasts

Does that heading make sense?

Wwwhadevur, what I’m trying to say is, there are some great podcasts out there which you can subscribe to, using Google Reader or iTunes for example, and spend at least half an hour in the company of someone who knows tons about this stuff and who would normally charge you large amounts of money for their time.

The behemoth of social media/PR podcasts is For Immediate Release, the most recent (and worthy) addition is the Tiger Two Tiger podcast, but there are others. Hey, I just remembered, I have a Podcast feed – check it out.

And they’re free.

Read more about social media: buy books

They are ridiculously old-fashioned but are great for getting the quality, well-researched, strategic thinking about where we are and where we’re going to.

My personal library contains tomes such as Wikinomics, Small World, Naked Conversations, The Wisdom of Crowds, Tipping Point – that sort of thing. If you look them up on Amazon I’m sure you’ll get other great recommendations.

Books, alas, aren’t free (yet) but they’re worth it. Think of them as an investment. You can impress people with phrases such as ‘democratisation of the internet’ and ‘disintermediation of the web’ until each of the theories is blown out of the water (one – Tipping Point – by one – Long Tail) then you can buy a whole new load of books again.

Join the buzz about social media: start using Twitter

Follow people in the PR/social media world to see what they’re talking about.

Best way to do this is to follow someone in this field (not necessarily me, although I am on Twitter), then you’ll get to see who they follow and you can start following them too.

Don’t use Twitter’s site though, use a client instead. I like twhirl because it has a nice enough interface and handles other platforms such as Friendfeed and identi.ca.

Twitter’s free. It doesn’t work very well though, so keep one eye on alternatives such as Jaiku or identi.ca

Share in social media: start using Friendfeed

Again through twhirl. In this way you’ll get to see what loads of people are talking in all sorts of other social media too because Friendfeed grabs feeds from other places such as Facebook etc.

In the same way as Twitter, subscribe to someone you think may be a good starting point, then see who they subscribe to, and subscribe to those people too.

It is also free.

Play with social media: immerse yourself

Find out about social networks such as Facebook, social video sites such as YouTube, social photo sites such as Flickr, social bookmarking sites such as del.icio.us.

There’s no harm in setting up accounts for everything and having a play around with them. Not only will you broaden your knowledge, you might actually have some fun along the way.

And most of them are free, too.

Is that it?

Pretty much.

In this way you get to contribute your joined-up, thought leadership ideas on your blog, read other people’s joined-up, thought leadership ideas through RSS, participate in mid-size conversations on Friendfeed, put out your sudden thoughts on Twitter, and likewise follow other people’s mid-size conversations and sudden thoughts.

After a while you’ll start to notice that people will comment on your blog (it’s very exciting when it happens), follow you on Twitter and Friendfeed and slowly, slowly, you’ll start to ‘know’ these people, even if virtually. More importantly, they’ll get to know you, and you start to gain credibility in the social mediasphere.

Meantime, you just learn a lot of fascinating stuff about communications of all kinds whether online or offline. For example, did you know that everyone is currently saying PR is crap, and/or that it’s not needed any more? No? Then get involved in the social mediasphere and find out. It’s been said before, it’ll be said again.

So it’s not something you can just jump into overnight. You need to take the time to cultivate relationships, get to know people in the industry or the particular part of it you want to be in, share, contribute, become involved.

All I would add is: always try and think about how this can all help you be a better PR practitioner. Put yourself in the position of the people you’re listening to and conversing with. Ask yourself: what do they need? What are their concerns? What are they trying to achieve and how can I help? If you start to think in this way, PR as a whole will be, well, less crap.

Basically you just need to do your own PR. Good luck Mr. Gorsky.

PR Fail – a collection of bad things :(

How did we live before PR Fail?

A Tumblr blog, it takes Twitter postings or del.icio.us bookmarks tagged with “prfail” or “uselesspr” in an attempt it says here, “to help PR people be better and give journalists and bloggers a way of sharing their bad experiences. As well as just collecting examples of bad PR in one handy place for case studies and things.”

That’s nice.

I’m sure that the dedicated PR people I work with day in day out need to have their bars raised. I’m certain that the people I left behind at Fleishman-Hillard tonight, as I clocked off at 6:45pm, will appreciate being told they can ‘be better’. And I’m almost – but not quite – unshaken in my belief that bad experiences are most definitely the best way to learn.*

Still, it’s a laugh, right?

It would be even funnier if I could actually see who set it up. I can’t be certain, but I have a feeling it could be the first person to have posted on it. Perhaps someone should mail and ask.

So, just to add to the mirth, and for total transparency, I now have it displayed in an RSS widget to the right of this page. Oh, how my sides will ache as the floodgates open. Look, it’s already had, ummm, two posts… four days ago (at time of posting)…

* irony

No more deli.cio.us linkblogging from me

I recently noticed, with horror, that most of my posting of late – in fact, the vast majority – has been simply stuff I’ve bookmarked on del.icio.us, pumped across into my blog.

I’ve decided this is not what my blog is for. So, I now just have a nice, unobtrusive feed to the right of this page with items I’ve specifically tagged ‘forblog’. That is, if I find it interesting, and I think other people who read this blog might find it interesting, then it’ll appear. Not otherwise.

I’ve decided the blog’s the place for properly considered, joined-up thinking, not the occasional quick fix.

I know, I know, this is a very weak post but I felt the need to say it. There, I feel better already.

Google’s new search will be the best of both worlds

Which do you trust more, humans or machines?

Which do you trust more, humans or machines?

Google has released a video showing a Digg-like interface to its search. I think it’s going to change everything.

A casual glance at Friendfeed picked up a link from Chris Brogan: entitled ‘Is this the future of search?’ Given that I’m currently scratching my head a lot and figuring out how best to pull together searches across social media, this sounded interesting. It pointed to this Techcrunch post featuring a video of a new feature that enables you to tailor how your Google results come in.

Essentially you can vote on results in a very Digg-like way. You can add comments to results, and link to your Google profile so people know who voted, how and why. To my mind, this is going to be incredibly powerful.

Google is the ultimate machine-based search, pointing you towards pages that are likely to be what you’re after, not necessarily because that page talks about it, but because other pages reference it. The more pages point to a page, the more likely it is to be relevant. At base, it’s crude, but you can’t deny Google works well enough.

This new ‘voting mode’ points the way to human-based search. It pretty much is actually going around and asking people what they think, to get the best result. It replaces the machine algorithm with sentiment – the ‘human algorithm’ if you like. In so doing, the new Google Search mode turns every node into a social object. It enables people to comment and vote on a result that they care enough about to do so.

Comments on Todd’s Friendfeed has been interesting. Most agree it’s highly significant, but some feel that it’s in some way scary – it’s ‘mob rule’, ‘it leaves quality content as the mercy of conventional wisdom’, ‘monumentally stupid idea’, ‘I don’t want marketers telling me the best search result’.

My take on it is that if – as I assume to be the case – you can switch between these two modes, then you can compare and contrast. It just depends on what you value, or how you want to search.  I don’t see why this is so scary – it offers the best of both worlds, both the machine-based election for what you’re searching on, and the human-based.

And would it be so easy to game? Can you really game Google? As in, something that large? And if so, how does that make it lesser than Digg – assuming that is also gameable – or indeed current Google? (note: these comments, including mine, have been copied directly from Chris’s Friendfeed comments).

OK, so sites like Digg, del.icio.us etc already do this. The real difference, as far as I can see, is that, if you ask people in the street about Digg or del.icio.us or Wangwack or Biffo or whatever’s coming along next, you’ll more likely than not get a blank look. But almost everyone knows about Google. Heck, even my parents have heard of Google. Even the cat looks up when I mention it.

So look out for this emerging from Google Labs at some point. It’s going to be intriguing to say the least.