Events Social Media

Stephen Baker Keynote at Enzee Universe Conference, June 21, 2010

On June 21st, I had the privilege of attending a portion of the Enzee Universe Conference. The keynote speaker was Stephen Baker, the author of The Numerati.

First off, a special thanks goes out to the Social Media Club of Boston, which was able to finagle some tickets. Their blog post about the event includes the complete audio from the session. Chuck Tanowitz and Todd Van Hoosear were gracious hosts as always. Please be sure to vote for them as one of the best up and coming blogs.

Mr. Baker started off by asking the audience how many zeroes they thought grace the number of storage units in an exobyte. That is, it’s a one followed by how many zeroes? If you said eighteen, you’re right.

There is a coming avalanche of data, and we are all going to have to deal with it, process it, store it, synthesize it, analyze it and, on balance, triage it. It cannot possibly all fit into our heads.

An analogy was drawn between the eating habits of hunter-gatherer societies versus the effects of our current diet. Way back when, we could and did eat everything we came across, because food was scarce and you quite literally didn’t know where your next meal was coming from. Evolution favored gluttony.

But times have changed and we can no longer just grab everything out there. Ours is a far more sedentary lifestyle, to be sure, but the issue is also one of exceptional plenty. Our cave ancestors would have happily dined on our table scraps. But now we have buffet banquets virtually every night, or we can. We cannot — if we wish to safeguard our health — consume it all.

And the same is true of data. We cannot get it all in, and it’s no good for us if we even try.

Next the talk turned to understanding data and making sense of it. We have all heard the tired expression (and probably used it), garbage in, garbage out. And while that is still essentially true, when you are dealing with a tidal wave of data, it may be enough to understand just a little tiny piece of the puzzle. Understanding what is true today is vital, even if all you get is an inkling.

You can create and elicit detail, but don’t overdo it. The detail still needs to be useful, e. g. just because you can get some detail or a particular metric, does not mean you need it or that it can produce any value for you whatsoever.

Then the talk turned to Mr. Baker’s main interest, which is privacy and data mining/metrics. There are two areas which are getting rather exciting.

The first is human sensors. Imagine, for example, that you have elderly parents, and you don’t live near them (which may very well be true). Would you want the peace of mind that could come with knowing more about their whereabouts at any given time? Wouldn’t you wish to know if, one day, they failed to get out of bed? For example, there is a British insurance company, Norwich Union, which is offering black boxes for automobiles. Would you accept one if your elderly parents’ driving could be monitored?

What if you’ve got teenagers? Would you accept a sensor to monitor whether they went to school or work? Would you leap at the chance to get a black box in the car they drive so as to enhance their safety? And, not coincidentally, reduce your liability rates?

Now, what about you? Would you allow such sensors to be tracking and tagging you?

The audience’s answers were understandable — they’d accept a sensor to assure more peace of mind and, hopefully, more security for their aging parents. And they would tag their children with sensors if it meant enhanced safety and reduced premiums. As for themselves, they were more reluctant to volunteer, but the promise of a reduction in auto insurance rates made the offer more tempting to some.

Essentially, we are willing to impose this technology on the people we’re responsible for. And, when the time comes, the younger generation may very well impose it upon us. By that time, if we have been monitoring them, they will see it as normal, and a longstanding tradition of privacy, which goes back to the Bible, could be wiped out in a generation or two.

But there’s more. Sense Networks is a company which analyzes cel phone data and aggregates people into tribes based upon their behaviors. For example, there might be a group which regularly goes to a nightclub or restaurant, so the marketing possibilities leap out. However, there is some misinterpretation of the data (or at least the data does not necessarily lend itself to easy observations) — that nightspot visited at 2 AM every night by one tribe might be a hospital. Are they doctors? Patients? Visitors? Brawlers? It’s hard to determine that without context.

Context led to the next subject, which was Watson. Watson is an IBM computer being taught how to compete at Jeopardy! and, not coincidentally, it is the subject of Mr. Baker’s next book.

Jeopardy! is particularly challenging because the questions are often multipartite and rather convoluted. Watson, like any human contestant, would be expected to parse what seem to be unrelated pieces of information and synthesize them into a whole. Here’s a somewhat more straightforward clue (it’s the Clue of the Day from June 22, 2010): the category is 12-letter words: an archaeologist who specializes in the land of the pharaohs and its artifacts. If Watson (or any other contestant) spots the key words (in this case, they’re archaeologist and pharaohs), the answer comes fairly readily: egyptologist.

But Watson doesn’t always get that, and can have trouble making linkages. Human language, which was the real subject being covered, has elements that are huge stumbling blocks for computers, namely, the aforementioned context and intonation.

A typical sentence might be: I didn’t say she stole my money. This simple seven-word sentence has seven possible meanings and they are solely based upon intonation:

  • I didn’t say she stole my money. – It wasn’t me who said it, it was him.
  • I didn’t say she stole my money. – A denial.
  • I didn’t say she stole my money. – I wrote it down.
  • I didn’t say she stole my money. – It was her brother.
  • I didn’t say she stole my money. – She just borrowed it.
  • I didn’t say she stole my money. – It was your money.
  • I didn’t say she stole my money. – It was my car.

We understand this things readily. Watson, on the other hand, has a lot of trouble. As data consumers, we need to figure out how to get value from sensors, and Watson the computer needs to figure out how to get value from the nuances of language.

Finally, what do we humans need to know, as the computers that surround us become smarter and smarter, and store more and more material? Our personal internal question must be: how can we best optimize the torrent of data that is swirling about our ears?

I’ve got his book on my Amazon wish list now.

Events SEO

Boston SEO Meetup Group Meeting, June 7, 2010

On June 7, 2010, I attended a meetup held by the Arlington/Boston/Cambridge SEO group. I brought a DyIO with me and got to show it off.

The speaker was Eric Covino, who is a Search Engine Optimization expert. The first topic of conversation was the Google May Day update. Essentially what the Mayday update did was, it tamped down the numbers for companies which had been using their main pages as sources of good SEO numbers for their more obscure and deeper pages.

For example, a housewares site might have excellent SEO for its main page but not much for its page where it sells rakes. Under the old system, the rakes page benefited from being associated with the main page. Now, that is no longer the case, and the rakes page (in our hypothetical) must beef up its SEO on its own. It stands or falls, SEO-wise, based upon its own merits, and not on those of the main page. This is an advantage for smaller companies and companies with fewer deep pages (which, generally, is going to define smaller companies anyway). Stagnant sites show this (and all Google updates) much more readily than more actively updated sites, so in those instances, a change like this loomed large. However, companies with robust and actively updated sites may not have noticed too much of a difference, except in the sense that their rankings may have improved.

The real question, as always is: are we in a market where we can compete? That should be the question asked by every company. Focus on links and get onto directories, such as DMOZ (the Open Directory Project), Best of the Web and Interacting where your users (or potential users) are is also very helpful. This means forums, blogs, etc. It’s all about content and calls to action. Keep adding and promoting content, blog about it, invite in guest bloggers and look to guest blog on others’ sites.

There was a lively discussion on keyword domains. That is, these are domains whereby the domain name is a precise match to the keywords used to search for it. An example, would be There is a known bonus for having keywords that match one’s domain name. However, since individual words are pretty much all taken, there was a question as to whether separating keywords in a domain name, such as by using hyphens, would help or hinder a site’s rankings. The consensus was that the hyphens would probably not help.

Eric recommended SEO Book for information. For tracking, research and backlinks, he recommended checking out Open Site Explorer, which is free.

More recommendations were: Advanced Link Manager and Advanced Web Ranking. He also liked Raven SEO Tools, which has a link toolbar that’s $19/month. There’s also Majestic SEO but it does not seem to be updated on a timely basis.

Getting back to SEO Book, Eric noted that they have a free rank checker. He also recommended SEO Moz.

Personalization is key. Don’t just focus on rankings. Try local links, such as you can get from newspapers. Get listed on Universal Business Listings, Google Places (it was particularly recommended), CitySearch and Yelp.

The discussion then turned to Facebook ads. It was anecdotally reported that one person had gotten an 85% clickthrough rate for his business. It was agreed that, even if that rate is not perfectly correct, Facebook is very good for very granular targeting. It can be very worthwhile and it is rather inexpensive. Another idea was to use Tweetworks.

Inside Facebook was recommended as a book to read about the ins and outs of advertising and running social media business fan pages on Facebook.

One more tip about Facebook: make sure to embed the code for the Like Button, as this adds to any liker’s Facebook stream.

Finally, the hashtag for the event was #BostonSEO. Their next meetup is August 2nd; I am considering attending.

Social Media Work

My New Job at Neuron Robotics …

… or, how Janet Met Bob.

I had been looking for work for a while. The same things had been working all right, but it was time to shake things up. I was in a rut!

I received a notification of a job fair at the Microsoft Nerd Center, to be held on Tuesday, April 13th, 2010. Great!.

Except for one thing.

The subject was robotics.

My knowledge of the subject spanned R2D2, Lost in Space, Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Star Trek.

In short, I was about as over my head as anyone could possibly ever be.

The event was free, and I figured, well, everybody needs social media marketing, right? So I decided to go anyway.

I got a haircut that morning (completely unrelated, I swear!) and prepared for the event by printing up business cards and generally doing pretty much everything but think about it. Onto the bus I went.

The space is interesting. It’s a two-level area, where there is a huge staircase in the middle, splitting up the lower level. Being that in a former life I was an insurance defense attorney, I always look at that big, beautiful staircase and think: someone’s gonna trip.

But I digress.

I walk in, and I am easily a good 20 – 25 years older than everyone in the room who isn’t an employer. I am one of very few females. And most of the job seekers are in corners or staring at their shoes. There are two skateboards in the room (fortunately, they are not being used — see tripping hazard, above).

I do not belong.

I do not belong.

I do not belong.

And that is all I can think of, but I plunge in anyway, and I talk to some people but, frankly, I can only reel off about five words before I’m done. I drop cards wherever I think I can.

And then I retreated to the sidelines, to an area where there was a large wall that showed information on all of the companies attending. I stare at the names, and I am having an existential crisis.

I do not belong.

I do not belong.

I do not belong.

Gawd, this is not good. I look up and I see this guy standing nearby. He is, perhaps, thinking some of the same things I am; I can’t tell of course (it turned out, he more or less was). He looks at me, I look at him, and perhaps there was a flash of recognition or sympathy or commiseration because he smiles, says, “What the hell!” and sticks out his hand.

He’s Bob Breznak. He owns a robotics company.

We chat, and I find myself becoming animated again. It is a free and easy discussion, on topic and off, and it is, above all else, easy. Hallelujah, saved from despair.

We part ways in order to mingle and network, but keep circling back. We are not there together, of course, but keep circling back anyway, you know like you do when you are at a party with a friend and comparing notes or taking a breather.

The evening ends and the next morning, I send a note. I hear nothing, and chalk it up to experience. I continue, as always, to go to networking events.

In late April, I get my reply. We start emailing, and agree to meet on May 10th. Coffee okay? Sure.

I get in early, and the coffee shop is playing The Smiths. This I consider to be auspicious. Bob arrives and we again chat easily. Finally it comes down to brass tacks. Do you want to help us out?

Sure. Details are discussed over the next few weeks, and I meet the rest of the team, and we hit it off, too. We agree on a shmancy title: Director of Social Media and Public Relations.

And I think to myself:

I belong.

I belong.

I belong.

The Name Side of my business card!
A bad scan of my Neuron Robotics business card! Meet me and you'll get a much nicer one.

Oh, and we make this:

Content Strategy

Content Strategy with Kristina Halvorson

Kristina Halvorson is the author of Content Strategy for the Web. I was excited to hear her speak to the Content Strategy New England Meet Up group on May 24, 2010.

What are the essential elements of content strategy?

  • Auditing and Assessment – what’s the available content? What are the skill sets of the persons in the organization? What is their work flow? What do their competitors do? What are the needs? What are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)?
  • Messaging/Substance – what are you trying to say? What should your readers leave with or act upon? Can you archive older, less vital material in order to retain it but also have it leave more room for content that is more in demand?
  • Structure – usability and design are key. Make it easy to browse for and search for content. Add a taxonomy and metadata.
  • Workflow and Governance – what are the tools to move content through an organization? What are the metrics, and how will they be analysed? How does the organization decide which content is going to go out there? Who makes the decisions?

Ms. Halvorson talked a lot about working with companies that simply do not seem to get it. She made it clear that these strategies need to be implemented by humans, not automated CMS systems.

Tips included:

  • Make and stick to an Editorial Calendar
  • Create a Governance Policy
  • Identify Standards and Goals
  • Create and adhere to Benchmarks
  • Establish Guidelines
  • Create a Content Inventory

She recommended not only her own book but also a blog post by Rachel Lovinger, The Philosophy of Data.

One final whimsical, yet still serious tip: When you find cool stuff, tweet about it.

And so we will.