When and How Businesses Should Use Blogs

Forrester Research has an excellent free article titled “Blogging: Bubble Or Big Deal? When And How Businesses Should Use Blogs”:http://www.forrester.com/Research/Document/0,7211,35000,00.html Registration is required, but it is, as mentioned, blessedly free.

This is an excellent sales tool for the designer or marketer interested in pitching a blog to your clients. Coming from “Forrester Research”:http://www.forrester.com this longish scholarly piece has the benefit of instant crediblity with your likely less than techy audience.

The bottom line is that blogs are good, blogs are here to stay, and your company should probably have one. Needless to say, this is not earth-shattering news. I believe pretty strongly that blogs will (and have) changed the way many of us gather information. They have also begun to dramatically flatten the corporate structure, giving joe-schmoes like you and me access to the inner workings of large corporations (see “GM’s”:http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/ blog as an example).

Even more importantly, I believe blogs will force companies, both large and small, to be more accountable for their statements and actions. How? Let’s take the example of the “Wikipedia”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page. This open-source project is *self-healing*. That is, if incorrect info is posted, the user base can correct it. In the same way, blogs, through comments, trackbacks and quotes in posts, offer their own form of self-healing information.

From a social standpoint, this has me very excited. In truth, an orgainization doesn’t need to participate in the blogosphere to suffer to consequences of self-healing information. Witness Rather, Lott, et al. By taking a pre-emptive position, and embracing the blog, organizations open themselves up to scrutiny (albeit in a narrow way), and ultimately gain trust.

This is a rather fractured post I’m afraid; there are about 5 really good ideas here I’d like to explore in more detail, but the coffee flowing through my blood stream (or is that blood flowing through my coffee stream?) is preventing me from sitting still for long enough to string a cohesive argument together.

More on this soon…

omniOutliner + iCal = my wicked work flow.

I’m a recent “GTD”:http://audible.com/adbl/store/product.jsp?BV_SessionID=@@@@1513996876.1111432591@@@@&BV_EngineID=ccciaddeegihfemcefecegedfhfdhfl.0&uniqueKey=1111432644312&pageType=preliminaryResults&productID=BK_SANS_000347 convert – all in the name of getting more done, and possibly even seeing my kids. I’ve tried a bunch of systems and methods; pretty well everything short of tatooing to-dos on my forehead (hmmm….). I’ve found that “OmniOutliner3”:http://www.omnigroup.com/applications/omnioutliner/ best suits my ‘brain dump’ approach to managing both workflow and idea generation. I use OO3 in conjunction with “iCal”:http://www.apple.com/ical/ to keep track of a) what I’m supposed to be doing, and b) when tasks are due.

I’ve got a couple of OO3 docs open in the background at any one moment:

!/images/56.gif (omniOutliner screen shot)!

*Projects* is a list of all the various things going on. This has columns for status (in progress, pending, finished, invoiced… OO3 allows you to assign predefined phrases to a column that can be chosen from a drop down menu), priority (most important to least important – this column is kept sorted so the hot items appear at the top), and owner (me, a team member, etc).

!/images/55.gif (omniOutliner screen shot)!

[project name] Brain Dump is for the particular project I’m working on at the moment. This contains all my thoughts about the project, from estimate to due dates to brainstorming notes, meeting notes, etc. The expandable/collapsable folders in OO make this doc very easy to manage. OO3 also allows you to link files directly into your document, making the brain dump doc a launcher of sorts as well.

You can see in the screen shot above that I’ve added a column for *hours*. This is how I go about estimating a project and setting milestones and due dates. The key here is knowing how long it will take you to perform a certain task. I’ve learned that I always estimate low, so I’ve gotten into the habit of adding a couple of hours at the bottom as a slush-fund.

My next step is to fire up iCal. I’ve used a bunch of calendar programs to varying degrees of success. I was using the Palm desktop, since I’ve got a palm device, but the program is just so damned ugly, that I didn’t like to even look at it. iCal to the rescue.

The beauty of iCal is its multiple calendar function. With a single click, you can create a new calendar. I use one calendar for each active project. Each calendar uses a specific colour, and can be turned on or off in the main view window by clicking its check box.

!/images/57.jpg (iCal screen shot)!

This allows me to get both a global view of my work week, which is crucial in the next phase. At this point, I’ve got iCal open on half my screen, and OO3 on the other. Going back and forth between the two, I go through my time estimate and set up events on the calendar, setting aside blocks of time for each task. I’m working at max capacity at the moment, so this allows me to make realistic deadlines.

This is an incredibly simple and powerful system. iCal has a handy to-do list feature, and you can assign to-dos to a particluar calendar. OmniOutliner is ridiculously configurable. It feels more like an extension of my brain than a piece of software (not sure if that speaks well for OO, or poorly for me).

You can get a free 30 day demo of OO3, but it’s limited to the number of items you can add to your list. If you bought an apple in the past year, OO2 may have come pre-installed. It’s very handy, but lacks some of the features that make OO3 the killer app that it is.

Changes at Almost Cool

Dear reader,

The times they are a changin’. Almost Cool is about to tap into its potential, and become, well, Almost Cooler. There are ideas afoot. Ideas that require a proper home. One unsullied by the theoretical quasi-existential rantings of an overly enthusiastic man-boy.

*Aside*: I do love my adjectives, don’t I?

In order to facilitate this change, I’ve created a new personal site. It’s an _anonymous_ personal site. One totally unconnected to my name and potential reputation. Since it is an _anonymous_ site, I will not be sharing the url with you. Sorry.

So, if I strip Almost Cool of the personal, what does that leave? Not much, dear reader, not much. But that will change. Effective now.

The orginal Almost Cool concept can best be summed up with this graphic:

I inhabit the power position on this chart. Not due to skill. Not due to ability. Due only to luck, personal interests, and a desire to keep my eyes open.

It’s this eyes open approach that leads me to _appreciate_ being in the power position. There is a massive change coming. Odds are, if you’re reading this, you’re part of that change. The ideas I’ll be writing about in the coming days and weeks are not new. You will have read about them before. What I will be attempting to do with this site is explain my efforts to take the one-to-one, intimate nature of blogs and expand that relationship to a broader market for the sake of increasing profits, increasing social accountability, and increasing loyalty.

My goal is to approach this subject from a wholistic standpoint. To talk about the technology, the strategy, and the personal. Blogging is about the heart _at least as much as the head_, and this is *exactly* why I think it is such a powerful force.

As I said, there’s nothing new here; at least its not new if you’re one of the first hundred monkees. My gut tells me that this is the next insanely great thing. If you’re reading this, like me, you’re in the right place at the right time. Let’s talk about how we’re going to explore this opportunity, and how we’re going to help reshape the business world.

As a final note, I’ll be taking some of the “fluff” articles from earlier offline. This is not in an attempt to avoid current or future embarassment (things said online live forever, after all). Rather it’s an attempt to focus the scope and quallity of the site.

Oh My God Flickr Rocks!

How is it possible I didn’t know about this? Hit reload to get a new picture. *These aren’t hosted here!* I realize I’m probably just about the last person on the internet who knows about this…

Actually… See that big 97 up in the corner there? This blog is about being the *97th monkey*. Just about the last one of the ‘lead group’ of 100 monkeys. See, the theory goes that once a certain percentage of a population learn a _thing_ (concept, method, discovery, idea, etc), the entire population *gets it*. So, to follow my own logic, if I’m clueing into “Flickr”:http://www.flickr.com just after all the really cool people, get ready to hear about it on the evening news.

I said it here first.

Book Reviews

By now you’ve heard all the buzz about “The Zen of CSS Design”:http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0321303474/qid=1111004597/sr=2-1/ref=sr_2_3_1/702-7084773-9502400. This is a rare case of the item living up to its reputation. This is a lovely book to look at, fun and easy to read, and chock-full of tips, tricks, and more.

“WebRedesign 2.0”:http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0735714339/qid=1111004149/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl/702-7084773-9502400, by Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler. First of all, how could someone with the last name Goto _not_ be involved with code? I know, I know, she’s probably heard it a million times… In the three weeks I’ve had this book, I’ve made more of a profit, had happier clients, and felt more relaxed and in control of my work. Can anything be more worthwhile? GO BUY IT NOW!

“Defensive Design for the Web”:http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/073571410X/qid%3D1111004637/702-7084773-9502400 by the guys at “37 Signals”:http://www.37signals.com/ is a useful, if *very dry* look at how to make it easier for your users when something inevitably goes wrong. To be fair, the subject itself is, to me, the least interesting aspect of web design. Yes, I get it. I know how important it is (I bought the damn book, didn’t I?). This is the cod liver oil of the trio. It’s good for you, so you’d better read it.

The problem with weeny beards

I am the proud owner of a weeny beard. I’ve been proudly stubby chinned since ’91 or there abouts. There have been a few weeks in the intervening years that I’ve been totally baby faced, but they are few and far between. Sure, I’ve had brushes with the much maligned goatee. I’ve even had a full beard a couple of time (damned itchy thing). But I like a clean lip (better for necking), so the hair has stayed down below, so to speak.

The reasons for my bushy button are many and varied:

* I have big cheeks (don’t laugh, I do!), and the dark patch draws the eye down nicely, giving me a more manly square jaw.

* My chin seems to be receeding into my neck.

* I’ve had it so long my wife can’t stand me without it.

* I foolishly think it makes me look classy and stylish.

* It offers (offered?) a touch of the ‘fuck you’ to the corporate standard.

* It makes me a bit unique.

Or so I thought. Today, via “css beauty”:http://www.cssbeauty.com, I discovered “Self Portrait Day”:http://www.selfportraitday.com/, a beautifully designed, if unfortunately retro site. The idea is that readers answers a couple of standard questions, and upload a – wait for it – self portrait.

Of the 5 males on the first page, 4 have beards. That’s 80% people! Worse, click on the archives, visit last week’s post and scroll down a bit, and you see “this”:http://www.sike9.com/port/index.shtml guy. *That could be me – except for the whole second coming of christ part.*

Back when I first started this site, I wrote about my attempt to grow a “pirate moustache”:/index.php?id=14 Little did I know that I soon be returning to the scraggly subject of hairy kissers.

I find that I’m facing an unexpected _crise d’identit√©_ (does anyone here speak ‘real’ french, god I hope not). I’m rather attached to my soul patch, but I’m afraid it screams “look at me, I’m a non-conformist designer. Just like all the other guys.”

Such is the pettiness of life…

ps: My Zen Garden book came today. Woo hoo!

Lovebirds

All I want to do is go to bed. I’ve worked all day, and worked all night. But I feel like making something.

These next two months will be a challenge: *lots* of work to do. It’s getting easier though. The techniques are starting to get refined. The css and xhtml are flowing. It’s starting to _make sense_.

That growing pile of books beside my bed ain’t going to be getting any smaller any time soon.

This illo, like the last, is the result of 10 mins of mucking with illustrator before sleep…

Good night.

Subtraction Action

I knew this was going to come up eventually. I had considered mentioning it right in the “about”:/index.php?s=colophon article. But I suppose I was hoping no one would bring it up, so I didn’t.

Well it has come up, and I suppose I’m relieved. See I *know* this design looks very similar to “this”:http://www.subtraction.com/ site. I have them both open side by side at the moment.

I did the “comp”:/images/home-page-comp-AC.jpg for this in late December, then played with it a bit in early January. As you know, if you’ve read any of my earlier posts, I started a new job Jan 3rd, and have been too busy to maintain this site.

I first saw Subtraction last week, when it was mentioned on one of the blogs I follow. “Shit!” I immediately thought. “Holy crap this is good” was my second thought.

You know that feeling, where for just a second, you thought you had an original thought? Where you’re so wound up you’re practically on tip toes with what a fantastic-never-before-seen idea you have, when before a breath can blast past your lips you overhear your now ex-best friend telling someone about what a wicked idea they’ve just had, *and it’s just like yours, _only better_*?

Fuck shit damn fuck.

That was pretty much how I felt.

Well, seeing as I only had 2 days between jobs to work on my site, see my family, do some shopping, etc, it was either go what I had just designed, or live with the old site. There was no living with that drab old thing, so I decided to move ahead.

Still, I had to do something about the site’s old tagline: *”a derivative web site”*. It was cutting it a little close to home.

Hearing the comments a couple of you have made, I’m glad I did decided to go ahead. I don’t have the time or the talent to design a site like Subtraction. I can only hope that experience will help me get to that level of design.

Thanks again for the comments.