links for 2009-08-28


Bing vs Google

The following is cross-posted from Philip Westerman’s new blog about personal reputation management.

De Leon Personal Reputation Management Ltd is involved in online personal reputation management (PRM). Unlike most reputation management companies on the Internet, we work almost entirely on promoting the positive – rather than taking the “defend your reputation” stance assumed by most other PRM companies.

Therefore, we spend most of our time releasing information on the Internet, on behalf of our clients, for the search engines to find and rank highly in relevant search responses.

Wrong Bing. Click image for source.

Wrong Bing. Click image for source.

The nature of our work is that we are looking to achieve high rankings with respect to web sites, profiles, articles, releases, presentations, videos, photographs and so on, in response to a personal name search on a client. As most of us do not have unique names, we then look at other additional “identifiers” that the searcher might add to produce more targeted results. Typically these will be things like the name of the company they work for, their job function, location, etc.

Yesterday, I happened to read something about the site. I went to the site and, as you do, I entered Philip Westerman De Leon.

The responses were very surprising.

Bing did not return one single response for any Philip Westerman (and there are quite a few of us) on their first page – whereas Google had me (specifically me at De Leon) in the first five responses.

In addition, Google showed details of other Philip Westermans after my entries. Looking at the results a little more closely, I could see that Bing had produced responses on all permutations of my search terms (i.e. Westerman De Leon, Westerman De, Westerman Leon, Philip Leon, etc) – but not one for the first two words i.e. Philip Westerman.

Wrong Google. Click image for source.

Wrong Google. Click image for source.

So, in response to a search on Philip Westerman De Leon, Bing didn’t find anything incorporating all four search terms. Google did.

On Bing, if I search Philip Westerman on its own, then it finds us all – but in no combination of all four words (i.e. Leon, De, Westerman and Philip) does it offer any Philip Westerman responses. Google does.

Of course, Google has been around a lot longer than Bing, and given that Bing has the Microsoft muscle behind it then we should be keeping one eye on it at least. But, while this very personal piece of research is clearly not a definitive answer to the question “How good is Bing compared to Google”, it does make you realise that Bing has a lot of catching up to do.

Will I ever be able to update the PR Friendly Index again?

The PR Friendly Index has been good to me. I initially compiled it as an ongoing experiment to see how I could ‘measure’ blogs, especially en masse, especially using forms of automation that would make it as easy as possible. The ultimate goal was something along the lines of the Power150, except I had visions of creating a blog ‘index’ akin to the FTSE-100, so we could see who was rising or falling in real-time.

This never came to be, not least because I had neither the time nor the expertise to make it so. But I got a fair way with canny combinations of Google Docs XML and ImportHTML calls, Technorati APIs, and good old-fashioned Word macros to format everything.

Since then, of course, we all know that this isn’t the right way to ‘measure’ a blog. It’s more qualitative than quantitative. But I still thought there was value in compiling it from time to time, provided I could do this regularly using proven processes and techniques. Not least because, as I said, it’s been good to me. My stats shot through the roof when I started it, and it’s helped me professionally in many ways.

However, the last PR Friendly index I compiled, in March 2009, was a right old pain in the arse. It seemed that the Google Docs calls weren’t reliable, even though they were doing things ‘properly’ using my Technorati API key. As a result I had to copy and paste many results manually, or estimate some results much in the same way scientists inserted frog DNA into dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

I’ve recently been toying with the idea of starting the index again, and took a quick look to see whether things were still intact. The bad news is that they most decidedly are not.

Take a look at the image below. It’s the result of the Technorati calls for the authority of the first few blogs in the PR Friendly Index:

Is it cream-crackered?

See that? Most of them don’t work. There’s nothing wrong with the calls. The blogs exist. If I look them up using the same API calls as in the Google Docs, but typed directly into the browser address bar, they work. Do the same through Google Docs, and they don’t. Mostly.

So I can only imagine there’s something going on with Google Docs calls. I get similar results when using ImportHTML to query Google Blog Searches. Hardly any of them work.

If none of them worked, I could start debugging this. But some of them, working some of the time? Nothing worse for debugging.

This leaves me with a problem. If I want to continue with the PR Friendly Index, I need to figure out yet another workaround because I simply cannot spend the best part of a day compiling these figures manually. Something’s gone wrong, and I need a fix, ideally a nice efficient way using API calls.

Can anyone help?

Well done badgerman!

Not badgerwatchingman

Not badgerman. Click image for source.

A friend of mine has received recognition for his wildlife blog, Tales from The Wood – The Diary of a Badger Watching Man.

It’s well deserved. The blog is very well written, giving unique and fresh insights into aspects of wildlife from a first-person perspective. ‘Badgerman’ – for that is his suitably anonymous online moniker – gets up at sunrise every Sunday to track animals, and ‘specializes’ in monitoring badgers at local setts. This passion, together with his evident flair for writing and observation, makes for a fascinating read.

It’s also very gratifying when someone you helped get into blogging really starts to ‘get it’. Badgerman – who shall remain anonymous – brought the subject up a year or so ago simply because he wanted to do some more freeform writing. It’s an admirable objective in itself, and one of the reasons I started blogging too. A blog is a perfect, self-contained little writing exercise, in which you learn how to be concise and effective. Plus, you learn stuff. And it’s free. What is there to lose?

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, so I told badgerman – whom I shall refer to as ‘bm’ because that name is too long for me to keep typing – all about WordPress, how easy it was, and how blogging can become not only an intriguing pastime but one that can lead off in all sorts of interesting new directions. So he did it. And now he’s being recognised for it.

Naturally (forgive the pun) he’s pretty excited about it, as you can see on his latest post. And so he should be. I anticipate that his stats will shoot up on the back of the publicity, and indeed all it takes is one opportunity like this to have quite a profound impact on one’s life. I truly believe this of blogging. Since I started, it’s opened many doors. Admittedly some of them should have had a red cross daubed on them, but others have led the way to new, exciting ventures.

I say. Ding dong. Click image for sauce.

I say. Ding dong. Click image for sauce.

I have to admit that originally I thought bm would do something more along the ‘pro’ route. Instead, he’s writing about his pastime, and now I think about it, this makes much more sense. In a way, you could say that’s how I started out. I still recall the excitement of seeing my blog post appear via RSS on Google Reader, and getting my first ever comment. For me, social media was just fun, and it ended up being my job. Who’s to say bm won’t find a position under Kate Humble? (pun intended this time).

So, well done bm, and to all those stuck-up sticky-beats who think blogging’s dead, think again.

From high ground to on-the-ground: is there a future for blogging?

Could be significant, its hard to tell, its in bits. Click image for source.

Could be significant, it

I’m probably embarrassingly late in discovering this, but Steve Rubel has canned blogging. He’s now using Posterous – yet another social media cool tool for expressing yourself online – together with Twitter and Facebook, with the intention that each channel has its own use.

For me, this is fairly seismic. Steve’s Micropersuasion blog regularly topped my PR Friendly Index by quite some way. As he himself acknowledges, some people might think him crazy for losing all that Google juice.

I think it’s an interesting move. Jeremiah Owyang did something similar a while back, by taking a Twitter sabbatical. I’m not sure what the upshot of that was, but when people like Owyang and Rubel do unusual things, it’s time to take notice.

Rubel’s contention is that blogging feels slow, and is becoming increasingly irrelevant. I can’t deny that I have long hiatuses in my blogging when, basically, I cannot be arsed to say anything or indeed have nothing to say. I also have to acknowledge that nowadays I hardly ever go through my feeds in Google Reader, and, to go back to the PR Friendly Index, I certainly have not summoned up the willpower to update that in a long while. Talk about losing Google juice.

So is Steve right? It’s a bogus question. The sometimes harsh reality of social media, or indeed any communications programme/tool/platform, is that there is no real right or wrong answer. Sometimes things work, sometimes not, and generally you can only take your best shot at it. I think disruptors such as Rubel are at the very edge of where social media is at – it’s his job, don’t forget – so what he’s doing is certainly interesting.

He’s right in that media is increasingly fragmented, so you need to fragment and distribute your content too. You need to get the right content in the right place. You need to weave what you produce into the way people consume – and that’s through fragmentation.

But what I’m increasingly finding, now that I’m freelance and talk directly to people who need to get a handle on this stuff, is that they get the web; they understand websites; they know about email marketing; and they know about Google. Most of all, they know about Google. Almost without exception their questions revolve around how they get onto Google, how can they be the top hit on Google, how can they appear on Google and get that phone to ring.

Admittedly these are smaller enterprises that are less ‘bloated’ than larger corporations, and who cannot afford to waste any money whatsoever on what ‘might’ work. But it’s a critical question.

So in one respect Steve’s ‘experiment’ could be judged on whether he gets his Google juice. That is, whether, by employing a similar strategy, his clients get the right recognition in the right places – which means quality placement as well as, I’ll say it again, Google placement.

But I see two problems.

The first is how to tell clients about this. As I’ve said, on the whole they can just about be convinced that blogging is ok. They tend to turn up their noses at Twitter (don’t forget, this is what I’m finding on the ground, for myself, day in day out as I work for clients in a social media capacity as well as copywriting). So I would find it an incredibly hard sell to say “Hey, you know what, forget about all that stuff, just lifestream instead.” I’d probably be shown the door fairly rapidly.

I’ve already given the counter-argument to this: that people like Rubel, Owyang et al are at the forefront, so in a Gartner hype-cycle kind of way they’re probably operating even before the peak of inflated expectation.

But there’s another problem. While I’ve acknowledged that blogging is playing less of a place in my life, I still think there’s a need to have a ‘dreadnought’ solution in your social media space. If you’re really going to put across joined-up, cogent arguments, you need a place in which to do that.

So while it’s interesting in a fleeting way to watch Rubel’s lifestream appear before your very eyes, I don’t get much of a sense of what he’s really thinking. I can’t see that he’s gathered up evidence, weighed up the pros and cons, talked to people, and produced something that we can all reference. The furthest that approach can go is ‘Interesting’ rather than, ‘Wow, read this’ or, ironically, ‘That’s pretty disruptive’.

If you’re a journalist working on a major piece to be published in the mainstream media, then you have that space. Online, your blog does the same. You could just about string something together on, say, a Facebook discussion, but if you want to put across real arguments you can certainly forget Twitter or even Friendfeed (before it was bought out by FB recently).

Rubel concedes that there are several ways blogging could go. It can evolve, or die out. My take is that it will stay, in its current form, because people understand it – at last – and it’s pretty much the only place you can make sense.

Blogs such as Mashable are doing fine, as are indivdual bloggers such as Neville Hobson. Jeremiah Owyang is still kicking everyone else into touch with his unmatched quality of blog posting. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

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De Leon: online reputation management matters

De Leon Personal Reputation Management. Click to see more.

De Leon Personal Reputation Management. Click to see more.

I know it’s an old phrase – right now people are talking about you, your brands, your products etc etc blah blah.

But what if they really are talking about you? I mean, you, the person reading this right now? More to the point, what if people are looking for information about you? To quote one of my father’s favourite phrases, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.*

I’ve written before about how we all need to be careful about what we share. If your online reputation means anything to you – and to some people, it’s critically important – then you’ll want to make sure what other people can see only improves that reputation.

Let’s start with LinkedIn. I used to think of it merely as an online CV system, one that you updated and then forgot about. It wasn’t until I went freelance that I realised how incredibly useful it is as a professional resource, and I’ve won business off the back of it since. I need to start  exploring LinkedIn more – for example, getting involved in their Q&As – but my experience really opened my eyes to how important it is.

You could probably add other ‘pro’ systems to this, such as Ecademy and Plaxo. I’ve got an account on Plaxo but haven’t used it. Thinking about it, this is probably a bad thing. If I want to appear truly professional, I should either update it or remove it. Hmmmmm…

But people don’t only look for you on LinkedIn. Type your name into Google, now. Are any of those hits about you? If so, are they ‘good’ hits, that you’d be proud of? Ideally all of them should be. Or is any of it about someone else with your name, but because you don’t have enough presence online, they come up first?

These are questions you need to think about if your reputation is important to your profession.

I’m a member of the team at  De Leon that practices personal reputation management, and the work so far has been fascinating.

Take the example of someone working for a major financial institution, who’s paid huge sums of money to win even more huge sums of money for the company. In their case they’ll want every possible competitive advantage so that a search for their name covers all the bases – good pictures, good videos, preferably all hung off their own website under their own name.

Alternatively, consider the self-employed individual – like me for instance – who needs as much exposure as possible to make the business work. In my case I’m fairly slack about this (if you check out my Facebook profile you’ll see a photo of me in a blonde wig, schoolboy uniform and belly-dancing skirt playing the bass guitar) but some people with real jobs – lawyers, accountants, doctors etc – might really need to make sure everything is right.

This is where my work at De Leon comes in.We’re packaging the work that goes into creating online profiles, so that they’re a neat set of processes that make sure we don’t forget anything, and we cover everything. I’m also interviewing the clients to tease out what their ‘brand’ should be – how they want to position themselves, what messages they want to put out, and so on. In this way we build up, maintain and, importantly, protect that person’s ‘brand’ online.

Is this a pitch for De Leon? Quite possibly. It’s my blog and I can do what I like with it. I’ve written about other companies of interest in the past, the difference is I happen to be on the De Leon team.

So if you find personal reputation management in any way interesting, pop over to De Leon and take a look. If it’s something you might want to go ahead with, then you never know, we could be working together before long. Then you’ll get to see how little I actually resemble my beautiful, clean, trendy avatar…

* Mind you, he’s also fond of saying “There’s light at the end of the tunnel – or is it an oncoming train?” It’s probably fair to say he’s not an optimist.

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It’s hell, but necessary hell. How to keep track of freelancing projects.

Hieronymus Bosch depicts bureaucrats, planners and administrators doing unspeakable things to each other. Im the one bottom right doing something unmentionable with a pig. Click image for source.

Hieronymus Bosch depicts bureaucrats, planners and administrators doing unspeakable things to each other in hell. I'm the one bottom right getting intimate with a pig. Click image for source.

Management. Administration. Bureaucracy. I hate it. But I have to do it. And actually, in a decidedly perverse way, Google Docs is helping me hate it a bit less every day.

I once worked for a time as a designer. I quite liked being protected from the hard-nosed business of, well, business. Our sales team used Salesforce and I found its complexities a bit bewildering.

Then, especially working in PR, I became more aware of the importance of keeping track of things. At any given time I would have several projects on the go. I became a whizz at Outlook then – unfortunately – at Lotus Notes.

Now however I’ve got to do the lot – account handling, new business, lead generation, the lot. Oh, and the actual work.

I also often need to do this wherever I may be, so I’ve set up a spreadsheet on Google Docs that does a very nice job of bringing all this together.

Now, I’m sure many of you have better ways of doing this, but some of you may not. So here’s how I do it:

  • Name – the name of the person I’m dealing with. This is often a real name – even if I’m dealing with a company, I prefer to think of people rather than brands. It really is personal.
  • Contact – having set up relational databases in the past I know this isn’t how it should be done (many people may have many contacts), but I do it this way anyway. It’s handy when you need to pick up the phone.
  • Tier – I haven’t actually used this in anger yet, but I do like to assign a tier – 1, 2 or 3 – to each prospect as it comes in. It’s usually related to the amount of work I expect I could get off them, so often an agency will be tier one, any other company will be tier two, and individuals are tier three. While I haven’t used this yet, I anticipate that at some point I’ll take a good hard look at where the bucks are coming from, or to spread my work across tiers to make my portfolio more robust.
  • Description – a brief description of the work. This is usually after the first call, and is firmed up as we go along.
  • Potential – usually a complete shot in the dark at how much the business could be worth. It just helps me get an idea of how my pipeline could look if the work turns out to be what I think it is, and if it actually happens.
  • Actual – when we’ve agreed on a quote, and we’re live, this is where the contract value goes. It’s as close as dammit to real money.
  • State – is how I keep track of whether we’re hot (1), warm (2), medium (3), cool (4) or frosty (5). Everyone starts at 3. If the next correspondence looks positive, you become a 2. If we’re live, you’re at 1. If, however, I get the feeling you’re not as keen as mustard – for example, if I’ve sent you an email or two and you haven’t come back to me – you go down to 4. When I’m sure you’ve dropped off the radar, just to mix the mustard/radar/flag metaphor up even more, you’re at 5. Notice I never delete you. I might ping you in future. But if I do, and you don’t want me to, I’ll remove you. In this way I get to see where I’m up to with live vs. not-quite-dead-yet vs. coughing-up-blood-last-night prospects. I’m happy to say that right now I’m looking at a lot of 1s and 2s, but naturally, given the fact that I’ve done a lot of groundwork to drum up business over the past few months, there are quite a few 5s too.
  • Last action – the last thing I did. It’s so easy to forget otherwise.
  • Last date – the last date I did it.
  • Next action – guess.
  • Next date – ditto.
  • Comment – is where I express purely personal opinions or observations. They can range from “Seriously exciting stuff”, “Great to do business with”, “Could be great, move heaven and earth to make it so” through to less enthusiastic comments when projects fall through.
  • Flag – uses Google Spreadsheet clever-dickery to show me how close the next date is. It tells me whether I need to take action tomorrow, ‘soon’ (ie within 4 days), or whether I’m late. This is all automatically colour coded too, so while tomorrow is a nice fragrant pink colour, today is red, and late is black. I use colour coding for the tiers and the flags too.

For me, the system works. Whenever I do anything – whether it’s a phone call or an email, invoice or chase payment from clients who have taken over 30 days to pay me (yes, they exist) – I add it. When prospects go cold, the flag goes down – but often with a ‘next date’ to ping them in a month or so to try and revive it.

So the spreadsheet tells me, at any time, who I’m working for, where we’re at, what happens next, when, and what the value of the work is or could be. It helps me warm up cold prospects, or balance workload when I think a tough week’s coming up. It also helps me get an instant view of how many tier 1 clients are live, say, or how many 3 flags I need to get moving up or down.

So there you have it. From slightly hippified designer in the corner to steely-eyed missile man. All it takes is a sudden realisation that you depend on yourself to keep everything organised, to make you do it.

And while this could probably be done with Post-its or sheer memory skills, given that I’ve got 55 rows – ie 55 separate ongoing prospects – and counting, I don’t think this would be feasible, or indeed desirable if I want to keep either the wallpaper intact, or my mind.

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Words that make you go ‘Grrrrr’

Watch out, you might me sesquipedalian. Click image for source.

Watch out, you might be sesquipedalian. Click image for source.

The communications world never ceases to amaze me. The very people who put together amazing programmes for clients seem unable to do this for themselves.

Perhaps this is why they get such a bad rap. The ‘PR is crap’ meme circulates the web every few months, as does the ‘Advertising is dead’ meme. Maybe they should make like the Magicicada and come around according to prime numbers to avoid hitting each other.

But they don’t help themselves by wrapping simplicity up in complexity. So, here is a list that I might start compiling – who knows, maybe even to replace the PR Friendly Index which I just cannot be arsed to maintain any more – of ‘word compression’ techniques. Or, to put it another way, why use three words when one word will do?

Here are three I prepared earlier:

  • In order to – to
  • Be able to – can
  • Multiplicity of – many

So instead of saying “We are able to leverage a multiplicity of skills in our stakeholder platform”, how about saying “We can leverage many skills in our stakeholder platform.”

I know what you’re thinking. Eek! He said leverage! And stakeholder! And platform!

For many PR/general comms people these are ‘the words you should use’. Fresh-faced graduates love using them because it makes them sound cool. Unfortunately they then grow up in PR still using these words which, let’s face it, hardly anyone else uses. When I started, I didn’t know what leverage meant. I wasn’t entirely sure what T. Blair meant when he talked about a stakeholder society (neither was he, I suspect). And I had great difficulty envisaging a message platform. Was it like an oil rig perhaps?

So, for PR/comms specifically, how about this:

  • Leverage – use
  • Platform – programme
  • Stakeholders – people

See what I mean? Now we can say “We can use many skills in our programme.” We don’t even need to use the word stakeholder here, right?

Like I said, this might become a PR/comms jargon-busting list. I’d love to know if anyone else has favourite ‘angry’ words – that is, words that make them angry just by their existence – especially if they have antidotes. If not, maybe I’ll be able to think of one. Let’s see.

Bad instructions are worse than none

Me, at work, yesterday. Click image for source.

Me, at work, yesterday. Click image for source.

I work in an annexe – not, as some people suspect, a cave.

This annexe has all mod cons. It has electricity, windows, a roof, even a toilet and shower. But it doesn’t have a telephone point, so my wireless network signal just about makes it through the several doors, walls and windows but is decidedly knackered by the time it gets here.

After a connection break too many I looked into my options and liked the look of the ‘NetGear 54 Mbps Wall-Plugged Wireless Range Extender Kit‘ (it says here). It looked simple. I just plug in my extender, and surf! It’s like Wash N’Go!

Except it isn’t if you follow the instructions. It’s all shite, but I quote the really bad bit:

Reconfigure your computer with:

  • NETGEAR as the Wireless Network Name (SSID)
  • A static IP address of and as the Subnet Mask.

Turns out that it really only works as plug n’play if you have a Netgear router running with its factory defaults. Otherwise, you have to piddle around as above.

Now, I know a fair amount about computers and stuff but I’m no network guru. That’s precisely why I opted for this solution. So I have no idea how to change my PC’s IP address, or what a Subnet Mask is, or where to change the SSID. The statement ‘Reconfigure your computer’ does not help at all.

But worse than that, it turns out to be a load of old rowlocks. After mucking about with various networking settings for about two hours, I just did this, by accident:

  1. Logged onto the NETGEAR network.
  2. Ran the WXG102 config utility.
  3. Typed in my router’s password.

And I was… in. On. I was back online. I didn’t have to reconfigure my PC with anything. I didn’t have to bother with static IP addresses. Subnet masks did not concern me.

So this is a rare instance in which I’m giving people real advice out there. If you buy this product, stop dicking around with the network settings now. Just plug it all in as per the diagrams, then, if you’re running Vista, go through those steps above, and you’ll save yourself several hours’ worth of frustration.

So, are tech manuals useful? Yes, at least when they’re not worse than useless. The rest of the manual is plainly written by a technical person with no insight into the kinds of people who will buy the product. It says things like “LAN and wirelessly connected computers must be configured to obtain an IP address automatically via DHCP” which, apart from being gobbledegook to me, and written in the passive voice (a big no-no in copywriting terms), it would appear on the surface to be a direct contradiction of the ‘static IP’ thing mentioned above.

The rest of it is more of the same. There’s absolutely no attempt made to simplify the process so that people who know what they’re talking about can feel smug, and those who don’t, like me, can just log on.

Even the software is dodgy. The config utility’s opening screen looks like this:


It looks bad (yes, it really looks like that, it isn’t a low JPEG quality setting). The sentence ‘The wireless setting of your computer must be set to NETGEAR for Wireless Network Name(SSID)” makes no sense. And there is a typo in “not have any wireless security enable.” How can any company allow thousands of copies of this software to pass QA?

I used to work in the publications department as the technical author at VideoLogic. We quickly realised that, given most products really worked as well as each other, the real differentiators were how attractively they were packaged, and how easy they were to install. Small things such as decent splashscreens, sophisticated CD front ends and decent documentation really did make a difference. How I wish I’d realised this at the time…