Boulder New Media Breakfast Notes: A Presentation by John Jantsch

I went to the second Boulder New Media Breakfast last week (this will be a monthly event, but this particular talk was delayed by a week due to weather).  It was interesting–a 15 minute networking session over bagels and coffee, then an hour presentation.  The catch is that it started at 7:45 in the morning–so you still had a full day left when you were done.

It was an interesting presentation and crowd and I think I’ll attend in the future.  It was a much smaller crowd (30-40 people) and  far more focused on marketing than the typical group I attend (New Tech, BJUG, CU Colloquia [which incidentally is having an interesting talk on “leveraging social networks in information systems” on Apr 7]).  I talked to a couple of people who were PR folks interested in technology, which isn’t my typical networking group.  I also talked to a fellow named Joe, who often asks hard questions, but always wears the great hat, at the Boulder Denver New Tech meetup.  I also got a chance to talk to Dave Taylor (of elm and Ask Dave Taylor fame [who answered a tough question well enough it got emailed around to me])–it was interesting to talk to him about his move from software developer to strategic business consultant.

After the networking, we all sat down for a presentation on reputation management by John Jantsch.  The following are my scrawled notes from that presentation (any sentences that start with I are my thoughts).

Notes:

Lots of people use the internet to do research for products and services.  36% of people think more positively of companies with a blog.  I don’t know how many people think less positively of such companies.

As a company, says John, you need to have a policy on digital conversations.  Such conversations with customers will happen, so you need a policy, and HR is the right department to produce one.  He discussed three types of conversation: person to person (like Dell customer service reps answering questions on forums), thought leaders (like a blog from a industry heavy weight who happens to be employed by IBM) and company communication (like an official blog from the USPS).

John also mentioned that it may make sense to, in the same way that sales folks sign non compete agreements, to have  customer service reps that interact through social media sign such agreements.  After all, if someone is the face of the company, and then they switch jobs, do they (and their new company) have a right to all the followers on twitter that were acquired through the original company’s hours?  Who owns the facebook profile?  I never have liked non competes, but the idea follows logically from the personalization of customer service on company time.

Another concept that is important is transparency.  Given the proliferation of digital communication, transparency into a company is here–now the question is, how can you influence it.  The best way to influence it is to host your conversations as much as possible.  In addition, be proactive in responding to issues (ie, customer complaints).

As a company, you need to have coherence in your branding across your internet presence.  Just as the website used to be ignored 10 years ago, facebook profiles are now often ignored and grow up from the ranks.  This leads to lack of message and branding consistency.

Now John moved on to cover some tools that are useful.  Most of the tools are free, but he did mention a few paid services.  The following are free alert services that help you search for keywords in various areas of the internet:

He referred to twitter as a “stream of sewage” and stated that tools to filter that stream were needed.  (As an aside, this video commentary on the twittersphere is hilarious.)   Twitter has a location specific search options (in advanced search) that you should definitely leverage for competitive analysis.

John also talked about making sure that your online presence is high quality.  This is not only done by making sure your website/blog/facebook profile/twitterstream/etc/etc are updated regularly and with good content, but also by taking advantage of tools that aggregators like search engines provide.  For example, if you have a local business that appears in Google’s local search, you can add update the entry using the local business center.  This lets you claim the listing, add pictures and verify other information.  Other search engines have analogous processes, and it is well worth your time to try to stand out.  I don’t quite know what will happen when everyone does this updating–the value of accurate content will remain, but having a picture won’t be enough to stand out.

Then we went into a question and answer period.  One person asked for examples of good corporate users of twitter. John gave these examples: Dell, radian6.

Another person asked about the personal/business divide: if you’re running a small business, do you want to provide info in your twitter stream (or other digital media) that identifies you as a person (“I like to tele ski”) or just have it focus on business issues.  John answered that the line is still blurry and being defined.  I personally try to keep my blog focused on business, but I think it depends on what you’re selling.  If I were selling socks, tales of adventures in my socks would be appropriate.  Since I’m selling software services, you probably don’t want to hear about the killer desert hike I went on last year.

End notes

I really enjoyed the breakfast and encourage anyone with an interest in digital media to try it out.  The next presentation (at the end of April) will be a presentation by Terry Morreale on personal digital security (I believe).

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Notes from Tom Malaher’s cloud computing presentation

A former colleague, Tom Malaher, did an online presentation about cloud computing on Mar 11 at the Calgary JUG.  You can view the recording of it now.  It was titled: Cloud Computing and Amazon Web services (AWS), and was a great survey of cloud computing and then a nice dive into AWS.  I used to work with Tom and always enjoy the depth and breadth of his presentations.

Below are some of my notes.

  • This was their first online meeting, due to cash flow issues (lack of sponsorship), and to make it easier for speakers out of the Calgary area.  It was put on using Elluminate.com.  (This client was installed using JNLP; very easy to install and setup).  You can use Elluminate for up to three participants for free (but you cannot record your session).
  • Definition of cloud computing is in tug of war in vendor land.  According to Infrastructure Executive Council, cloud computing is elastic, multi-tenant, on-demand, usage based metering (no long term contracts), self service

Tom outlined a number of variations on cloud computing

  • Infrastructure as a service (s3, ec2)
  • Platform as a service (Google app engine, Microsoft Azure)
  • Software as a service (Google docs, salesforce.com)
  • Grid computing–more homogenous, but lots of overlap

Diving into Amazon Web Services, he outlined all the webservices that Amazon provides.  I had already heard of a number of these, but two caught my eye:

  • DevPay–pass through payment for Amazon Web Services.
  • Public Data Sets–public domain data sets easily available for computation on the AWS platform

Composing AWS services makes sense, since there are no bandwidth charges between Amazon service calls within Amazon’s data centers (e.g. EC2->S3).

He had some interesting figures from the IEC: 70% surveyed are not using cloud computer (40% aren’t even considering it).  Only 10% are hosting an ‘app’ on the cloud (with no definition of an app).  I asked a question of Tom about what is considered an app.  I have a client who is hosting backups and images on s3, and friends who regularly back up servers to s3.  Is that an ‘app’?  I don’t think so, but Tom didn’t have a definition of ‘app’ for this survey.

Tom also did an interesting cost analysis when he was looking at pros and cons for AWS.

The 1and1.com high end hosting agreement: 1gb ram 50gb hd, 2000gb transfer: $59/month.

For a comparable AWS instance, with an ec2 image, 1.7 MB ram, 160gb hard drive (ephemeral), 2000 gb transfer, persistent 50gb hard drive: worst case $479.50/month, but for one day: ~$16.

In my opinion, this is the key con of AWS right now, at least for full fledged applications. It’s simply not cost competitive with some of the hosting you can find out there.

And with regular hosts, you don’t have to deal with as much infrastructure overhead. Tools like ElasticFox and S3Fox can help.  I’ve used S3Fox and love it.
The development model is suprisingly similar (Tom mentioned building his demo on his home machine and using some of the more exotic services, like SQS; then, when he was ready for the full cloud deployment, he just moved his war file to the appropriate image after some setup).

Then Tom demoed an app built by composing a number of Amazon web services.  Starting an an ec2 machine image (AMI) takes a long time (but still less than building a machine from scratch :).  During entire presentation and demo (1 hour, 3 instances, some messaging, he was only charged 50 cents.

Other interesting uses: The NY Times used it to build a bunch of web friendly pngs from tiffs of papers past.
You can use a regular RDBMS, with Elastic Block Storage.

Someone asked: where does AWS fit in larger organizations?  Tom thought it was a good fit for small organizations…  But he was not really sure about large organizations.

In my opinion, many of the technical decision makers I know are willing to use S3 as a storage mechanism, but they still want a backup solution, in case Amazon is unavailable (as it sometimes is).  This unavailability would be even more damning if you had an entire webapp running off ec2 and the other services.

Buying your own dedicated server has its own risks, but many people are still used to that paradigm.  But, for quickly scaling, or for a special one time project that needs a lot of firepower (like the NYTimes project above), it makes sense.

Stepping back from AWS, the idea of cloud computing seems to be continuing to make progress and attack the issues of network connectivity, security and cost that make it a hard sell at the present.  I love the delineation of the variations (infrastructure as a service, etc), and not all cloud computing will look like AWS.
Overall, a great presentation.  If you have the time (I stayed for some of the Q&A, and left at the 90 minute mark), it’s worth a listen. Go ahead, check it out.

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Advice for Attending Technical Conferences

I just got back from Google I/O.  This two day conference was the successor to Google Developer Day. There were a wide variety of topics covered.  I hope to get my notes written up, but for now, I just wanted to capture some advice on conference-going, mostly for my future reference.

  • Go to more conferences, at least one a year.  Sure, they take time and money away from real work, but they refresh you, expose you to new technologies and people, and recharge your batteries in a different manner than a typical vacation.  If you are not excited by the end of a technology conference, maybe you shouldn’t be in technology.
  • Realize that you probably won’t find a solution to a specific problem you have.  Why?  Because your problem is probably very specific to your current situation.  Talks at conferences tend to focus either on general introductory material, or very specific, in depth explanations of other people’s solutions to problems.  Chances are their problems weren’t yours.
  • That said, come with specific questions/areas of interest.  This lets you have focus when you are confronted with the vast feast of knowledge that most conferences display.  Make sure you read the schedule and note interesting talks.
  • Don’t eat all the snacks provided.  There’s a temptation to take advantage of all the ‘free’ food, but gorging yourself will make you sleepy.
  • Realize that you can’t see all the interesting sessions.  See if the conference is posting video later.  Google I/O is (supposedly by June 6).
  • Talk to people.  This is one of the hardest things for me to do–there are a ton of strangers at a conference, I’m not sure if they’ll have valuable information, and it’s so much easier to sit back and wait for someone else to talk to you.  But everyone I talked to at I/O had an interesting story to tell, and most everyone was interested in what I had to say.
  • Get people’s business cards.  It’s flattering to be asked for a card, and you never know when you might run across an article or project that might be of interest to someone you’ve met.
  • The informal meetings (Birds of a Feather, Fireside Chats) are worth far more than the organized talks.  There is a fantastic amount of formal and informal articles, blogs and videos about technology that you can consume at your leisure, in your bathrobe at home.  Far less common is interactive descriptions of problems and solutions, including face to face time.  While mailing lists and newsgroups take care of some of these needs, social time at conferences is an even easier way to have these kind of thought provoking and wide ranging discussions.  Also, it’s easier to talk to people when that is the purpose of the event.
  • Sit at the back of the session, and on the sides of the row of chairs. This lets you exit easily if you need to.  (Of course, not everyone can do this.)
  • Verify how feedback will be given to the speakers before you spend any of your precious time filling out feedback forms.  Conference organizers, this is a call for you to step up and tell attendees how their feedback will be delivered–I heard at least one speaker say that in ten years of attending conferences, he had never seen any feedback forms.
  • Keynotes are interesting, high level, and great places to finish breakfast.
  • Use a notepad, not a laptop.  For I/O, I took a laptop one day and a notepad the next.  I have a hard time taking notes on a laptop and not being distracted by email, searching for concepts/tools/projects that the speaker mentioned, and upcoming work.  (I’m not sure I’m NADD compatible.)  With a notepad, you can capture everything you feel is important, and if it is really important, you can revist it later.
  • Review your notes.  Perhaps for a blog post, but definitely review them and break out action items–projects to investigate, articles that you should read, information to pass on to colleagues.  Act on those action items.
  • Bring a water bottle.

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