Test-Driving Paper.li

As you may already be aware, I’ve recently transitioned this blog from the name StickyFigure to my updated identity, Connection Agent.

The major reason is that I’m intent on exploring new ways to connect people and networks, and build new business structures based on Networked Communications.

As part of that effort, The Connection Agent blog and Twitter account (@ConnectionAgent) will be places where we experiment with stuff. New technologies and approaches to tie people together.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been test-driving paper.li, which automagically curates a daily newspaper based on the items shared by a Twitter list you create. Ross Dawson just wrote a helpful overview, and an explanation of how curated news apps work (and why they’re becoming so popular). Louis Gray also put up a helpful post on the broader topic of information curation.

I’ve created multiple papers for two types of audience: thematic interest (pharma/healthcare), and local interest (social media folks in a given geographical area), to see if this is a helpful tool in promoting people and exposing them to their peers:

http://bit.ly/PharmaNewsDaily (pharma news drawn from links shared on Twitter)

http://bit.ly/PharmaNetworkersDaily (drawn from top links shared by pharma’s influential social media types on Twitter)

http://bit.ly/HealthcareDaily (healthcare news drawn from Twitter, with a bit of focus on digital/eHealthcare)

http://bit.ly/ePatientsDaily (links and news shared by influential ePatients and advocates on Twitter)

http://bit.ly/BostonDaily (links and news shared by influential Boston-area folks on Twitter)

http://bit.ly/ConnecticutDaily (links and news shared by influential CT folks on Twitter)

http://bit.ly/NJDaily (links and news shared by influential NJ folks on Twitter)

http://bit.ly/Chicago_Daily (links and news shared by influential Chicago-area folks on Twitter)

Paper.li is cool in that it auto-tweets when a new daily edition is out, AND features in that tweet a few of the Twitter handles that are included – thereby increasing exposure. And yes, it does provide regular exposure for the creator of the paper – a nice benefit if you’re a network-builder. If you subscribe to a Daily (using Alert Me button), it sends an e-mail to you with a link each day when the edition is ready – very handy.

Two major upsides:

- Automated curation in a build-once leave-alone format. You set it up once, and it just runs.

- It brings together a group of resources/links into one place at one time, in easy to read format. Many of these are links you might have missed in your standard tweetstream.

Here are two downsides I see thus far:

- The paper roughly comes out each day at about the time of day you originally created it. The creator should be able to specify a delivery time.

- If you create multiple papers, as I have (and I’m probably an exception), and people subscribe to your Twitter feed, they may feel that they are getting “spammed” by paper.li links on a daily basis ->

My experience with the tool and approach has been mostly positive so far. But that’s me – what matters is you, the readers.

So, now I want to hand the microphone over to you. What do you think of paper.li? Are you getting any papers from others, or have you created your own? Does it help in network-building? Do you see downsides? Let’s discuss this – the whole approach is not going away, so let’s start brainstorming together how it can be refined and improved.

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Networked Communications (part 6): The New Digital Neighborhoods

Your community used to be your extended family, your neighbors, your schoolmates and members of various community groups.

The ties were physical and, by and large, local.

They still are – but now we take part in whole new neighborhoods. Communities built around shared interests and common causes, all brought together with digital tools.

The new neighborhoods are found on digital networks. They’re local, global, temporary, permanent, rooted in the past or purpose-built for the present and the future.

And businesses that don’t recognize this sea change – people who remain rooted in legacy thinking about communities – will lose a wealth of opportunities. People are fed up with being bombarded with one-way, manipulative marketing messages. They want to hear from people like themselves. People in the communities they choose (or even create themselves).

And just as neighbors always have, they have a powerful influence on each others’ buying decisions. Not in the game? Not part of the discussion? You lose.

Involvement in social media is not a difficult decision, when this larger context is understood. We want to be where customers are. We want to influence communities, generate neighborhood referrals, and build tribes. The fastest growing businesses will be where the most efficient networked communications occur. Social media is crucial to any strategy of reaching people “where they are” now. Because where many of them are gathering, and talking, and influencing, is on-line.

If your co-workers or clients have cold feet about social media, simply ask if they have a smart phone. If they use the Internet. If they are on Facebook. If they use these tools and more to…connect with people. If they’re influenced by ratings on Amazon, if they’ve used Yelp to find a good restaurant, if they’ve used LinkedIn Answers – all of that is taking a dip into the pool of on-line neighborhoods.

Customers are swimming in those pools, some in the shallow end, but increasingly, many in the deep end. Seems counter-productive to sit on the sidelines when buyers and influencers are already in the game…

[This post is part of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and the summary post - Social Media: Start Here]

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Networked Communications (part 5): Someone Took Down the Fences

Brief technical lesson:

If computers are linked via a central computer, that’s a client-server setup.

If they are linked directly, that’s peer-to-peer.

OK, lesson over.

The Internet runs on thousands of servers, lashed together to provide information. Businesses have run on client-server architecture for a long time. And throughout many years, there were many walls and fences between free access to people and information.

No more.

Social media is all about peer-to-peer communications – that is, people directly having access to one another. Unmediated.

LinkedIn lets you reach into a company and contact connections at every level. In 140 characters on Twitter, we can interact directly with a famous author. Facebook lets us share a picture with anyone we want, anytime we want. Smartphones increasingly tie us directly together with text, voice, video…you name it. Here’s the big picture trend: immediate, personal access.

It’s a networked world, and a peer-to-peer world. When a business person resists the idea that networked communications/social media is re-shaping how we do business, we need to explain this much larger trend. People nowadays are far less interested in monolithic, top-down pronouncements – the old one-way messaging, and reach/frequency approaches are become passe. Now, in this peer-to-peer world, we’re liberated from that, and free to engage more directly.

Resist social media? That’s spitting into the wind. It’s a peer-to-peer world now.

And really – what’s not to like about that?

[This post is part of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and the summary post - Social Media: Start Here]

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Someone Please Make This

Backstory: A lot of what we do in social networking really ends up NOT being conversation.

So…here’s the real-time, conversational social networking platform I want:

- I can be inside a wide open area (the Lounge), or grab a Room with a few friends for a more private chat.

- I can lurk quietly and observe, or make my presence known and interact.

- In the Rooms, I can engage using text/chat, audio, or video. With 1-10 people.

- I can classify my contacts by level of intimacy, so that I can more quickly and easily connect to closer friends (knowing when they are present)

- I can set up my own fixed “Room” for scheduled meetings

- I can use geolocation (mobile) or zip code entry to go to “local” sections of the Lounge and see who is actually close-by in the real world

- I can archive threaded chat, audio, and/or video conversations (this would become the killer interview platform!)

A lot of this has been done in bits and pieces – Second Life, FourSquare, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, TinyChat, Stickam, etc. etc. But no-one has pulled all the pieces together to make a flexible, intuitive, real-time conversational social platform.

Google, are you listening? You’ve just announced Gmail phone calling, with a tie-in to Google Voice. You’ve got so many of the pieces and this is your chance to finally launch a social platform that rocks the house…

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Networked Communications (part 4): The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman

Disintermediation (Wikipedia link).

That’s what we’re talking about. When the people and processes and barriers between point A and point B shrink or disappear. Making things faster, cheaper, more direct.

This week, Seth Godin announced that he was “done” with publishing traditional books. This was actually a logical progression – the book industry has been undergoing disintermediation for years, and the fact is, we can now reach audiences without all the overhead (and cost) of the traditional publishing and distribution process.

Digital technology, including social media/networked communications, shrinks the middleman.

Just this past week, Chris Brogan wrote about how he purchased a new car, sight unseen, via the Internet. Traditional local dealers weren’t cutting the mustard.

So, with the cultural and technological advances making various walls crumble, and causing middlemen to disappear, how do we talk to clients and colleagues about social media?

We tie the use of networked communications to this inexorable trend of disintermediation. Digital networked communications are removing (or radically changing) all the traditional methods of distributing information and reaching people. Social media is not a blip on the radar screen. It’s a component of something that is re-shaping culture globally – disintermediation.

The distribution of multi-media messages; the ability to touch customers directly; the bypassing of newspapers and magazines and billboards and TV in order to interact in a non-mediated fashion – this is both the present and the future.

I mean, you don’t write too many letters on paper anymore, putting them in an envelope, using a stamp, and entrusting them to the Post Office for several days in order to communicate – right? Disintermediation is written all over our increasingly digital and networked communications. It’s not a fad. It’s a fact.

[This post is part of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and the summary post - Social Media: Start Here]

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Networked Communications (part 3): The Microphone is Mine Now

(This brief series is an effort to help us make the reasons for using social networking for business clearer to the skeptic, by rooting usage in overall cultural/technical trends that are…well, inevitable! See also part 1, the introductory post; and part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal)

Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote a couple of years ago for the book Age of Conversation 2:

We are hardwired to communicate. We think, we share, we listen, we pass along information. We are storytellers and story-listeners.

However, as we’ve moved to a more modern society, with means of mass communication, a funny thing began to happen. Designated storytellers began to take over the place. And the rest of us were supposed to just listen.

The microphone was given to newscasters. Journalists. Professors. Authors. Experts. Marketers. The vast majority of people became listeners. Recipients. Consumers.

The tide has now turned. With social media tools, we have the microphone now. All we have to do is turn it on, and begin speaking. And we’re not giving it back!

The barriers to the average person having a “public” voice used to be pretty high. Influencers became such through a long (and usually expensive) process. No more. Ideas can flow, through social media tools, into the public marketplace within minutes. At virtually no cost.

This cultural and technical trend utterly upends the communications apple cart. A digital camera and a blog can expose wrongdoing at lightning speed. A musical talent can be uncovered overnight. Shoddy journalists and crummy businesses can be upstaged by mere citizens with an array of digital “microphones.”

Which is why we don’t want to talk about social media in isolation. The issue is digitally empowered expression. That train has left the station, and is hurtling comfortably down the track. Even if the details about Facebook and Twitter and “social media” aren’t well understood, any business that wants to remain relevant can understand this one Trend Current:

The customer has the microphone now. And s/he is not giving it back.

[This post is part of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and the summary post - Social Media: Start Here]

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The Rebirth of Conversation

I really enjoyed Mitch Joel’s recent post (The End of Conversation in Social Media), and a few other posts touching on the same theme (by Dave Winer, Leo Laporte, and Joseph Jaffe).

Instead of just spinning our wheels about whether or not we’re really having solid conversational engagement on blogs, Twitter, etc., it seems to me that we could better spend our energy fixing the problem.

I’m betting some smart little start-up could pull off a cool alpha version in 8 weeks.

What we need is a platform that overcomes the asynchronous aspect of blogs/Twitter/Facebook etc., AND allows us to have smaller, more intimate conversations with a select few. Here’s how it could work.

Your Twitter (or Facebook, or LinkedIn….) contacts are imported. The user is able to classify each contact into one of say, 4 categories (Intimate; Friend; Acquaintance; Waved-at-your-avatar-in-passing-once-or-twice).

Let’s say you have 1/2 hour one night that you’d like to devote to REAL, real-time conversation. When you login, the platform detects who is on-line, sorting them by your levels of familiarity. You can choose to be in the lounge (wide-open room, like Twitter or a tweetchat), or in a private room. If you choose to have a conversation with one or a few friends (pre-planned or spontaneous), you take it into a room, which can then remain open for others, or closed off.

So, I might login, and see that my friend Lisa Petrilli is having a conversation with Liz Strauss and Tom Martin. All of these are already close friends of mine (Intimates), and I see that the link shows that the door is “open” – so I join in. But if this was a private session for just those three, I wouldn’t even see it.

A conversation struck up in the lounge could easily move to a private room, of course – and people hanging out in the lounge can be privately invited to a smaller-scale conversation in a side room when the participants see that this friend has logged in.

I guess you could also have a setting where a group could conduct a conversation/interview and others could “lurk” but not participate.

We wouldn’t go to this platform to promote blog posts or share links (primarily). It’s for conversation. A tie-in to video and/or audio Skype would be a huge bonus.

Really, this is not new technology. It’s a marriage of existing capabilities we already have. But it’s a scalable and controllable way to bring real-time interaction back to social networking.

What do you think?

(Update 1: Jaffe points out that much of what is described above is built into the design of Second Life. True – but what we need [in my opinion] is that approach without the confusing overhead of the 3-D interface. Simple, fast, mobile-friendly.)

(Update 2: here’s an interesting new app under development that does part of this, AND includes a “local” aspect – nice!)

(Update 3: Mike Sansone picks up the theme that blogging is still very much alive at the center of networking – a perspective with which I agree)

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Networked Communications (part 2): The New Normal is The Old Normal

(see part 1, the introductory post, here)

When two people catch up on neighborhood news across the backyard fence, what is it called? Networked Communications (some might call it gossip, but we’ll leave that out for the moment…!)

It’s just people communicating with other people in some form of connected network. Like – what we’ve always done. And do now.

Water cooler talk? Networked Communications.

Telegraph? Hard-wired phones? Cell phones? Networked Communications.

E-mail? IM? Social gatherings? All of it is Networked Communications.

So what is Social Media? What about blogs, Twitter, Facebook, on-line video, and the next new shiny thing that pops up? You guessed it. Networked Communications. People are sharing, connecting, communicating (as we have always done), with the enhancement of a digital web.

Each technological advance over the centuries has simply made communicating/networking faster and easier. Today’s social media is not to be thought of as some radically new thing. It’s Networked Communications, turbocharged. Nothing more, nothing less.

So here’s the point – when we talk about these approaches with our clients and colleagues, we need to de-mystify the whole thing by discussing the broader context. What we’re doing with digital social networking tools is simply accelerating something we’ve always done – build and participate in networks, and communicate within them.

All this newfangled social media stuff can be discussed as facilitation tools for communicating. Like a cell phone once was (now, of course, it’s an assumed appendage). In very short order, what we now call “social media” will be like the combustion engine or a cell phone. A given.

Whether it’s marketing, or PR, or internal silo-busting communications, or whatever, it’s all Networked Communications. It’s an inevitable progression, not some exotic new fad. When we talk to clients and colleagues, we should talk about inexorable trends. It’s the New Normal.

And the New Normal is the Old Normal. On steroids.

[This post is part of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and the summary post - Social Media: Start Here]

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Networked Communications (part 1): The New Normal

When trying to make the case for using social networking approaches in business, advocates often make a fundamental mistake.

We talk about social media.

Social media/social networking is often presented in isolation. In fact, to properly evaluate these approaches, it all needs to be seen in a much broader context:

You can debate the utility of using this or that social media approach for a given objective or audience. But you cannot debate the inexorable nature of a tidal wave. And when having these discussions, we need to move away from “social media” or “Twitter” or “Facebook” and put a spotlight on much bigger issues. Tidal wave issues.

Remember when people debated about whether or not we’d use personal computers (let alone the distant dream of “smartphones”)? We don’t have that discussion anymore, do we? The INEXORABLE movement of computing power into smaller and cheaper packages made it inevitable that the argument would eventually end with one, and only one, outcome.

Social media – social networking – networked communications – is like that. Except, any debate will end faster!

So, it’s time to look at the bigger trends shaping society, where the real case is made for using these new tools and approaches.

What are these bigger trends?

Social media is actually part of a larger category (Networked Communications), which is itself  being shaped by large scale cultural and technical trends. Let’s call it the Trend Current – whereas “current trends” has the connotation of temporary shallowness, the Trend Current is deep, broad, and inexorable.

Trend Currents make the case for us that this “social media” thing is not some fad, and is definitely not some add-on to a marketing plan. In fact, there are at least 5 Trend Currents that demonstrate how social networking already does, and increasingly will, pervade the landscape of business and life.

We will look at each of these trends in separate posts this week. Here’s the bullet point overview:

  1. Networked Communications: The New Normal is the Old Normal
  2. Self-Expression: The Microphone is Mine Now
  3. Disintermediation: The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman
  4. Peer-to-Peer Engagement: Someone Took Down the Fences
  5. Communities: The New Digital Neighborhoods

That’s a lot of words, but here’s the point: when business stakeholders realize that the river is flowing downhill and will only get wider and faster, that makes the argument for using a boat much easier. If you think that social media is a fad, or may dry up, or isn’t woven into the fabric of unstoppable Trend Currents, then the battle to get engaged is an uphill one. Which is why we have to focus more on the river than on the boat.

Make sense? Tune in this week as we open up each of these trends. Perhaps by Friday it’ll be easier to make the case for networked communications!

[This post is part of a series of posts, each covering a certain aspect of the topic: see part 1, The New Normal; part 2, The New Normal is the Old Normal; part 3, The Microphone is Mine Now; part 4, The Incredibly Shrinking Middleman; part 5, Someone Took Down the Fences, part 6, The New Digital Neighborhood; and the summary post - Social Media: Start Here]

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StickyFigure is now Connection Agent

You may notice a new look around here.

For almost 4 years, I’ve blogged on marketing, branding, and social media themes under the “StickyFigure” blog identity. And it has been immensely fulfilling!

However, as time has gone on and I have evolved, my interests have sharpened. I still love all that marketing stuff, but my deepest mission is to connect people, and to try to create new business structures based on the reality of our increasingly-networked world.

In short, I’ve become what I can only describe as a Connection Agent (with a due hat tip to Valeria Maltoni, who is the one and only Conversation Agent, and to Chris Brogan/Julien Smith, who wrote the book Trust Agents). These people and many others are “super-connectors” who continually blaze the trail regarding the use of social networking in our day. It is my hope that many more of us will, during the decline of the “corporation,” build the new “co-operation” by creating more successful business through a connected network.

And since that is my mission, that is now the name of this blog. There’s even a new Twitter account (@ConnectionAgent), in addition to the long-standing account @swoodruff (the 3-D view of my life and thinking), which will continue on as usual.

Let’s build new stuff together!

(P.S. – all RSS feeds, URLs, etc. remain the same)

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Going Beyond

I’m not even going to add any commentary. If you’re active in social networking, but feel that there must be a deeper level, then simply read these 4 posts – especially the last one. You’ll be glad you did…

Put Down that Mouse and Go Meet Someone (part 1 | part 2) by Tom Martin

6 Tips for Building an Off-line Network by Deb Ng

Random Acts of Kindness – Social Media Style by Robyn Flach

Now, let’s get off our chairs, and go and do likewise…!

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The Question I’ll Never Ask You

“Will you be my virtual friend?”

My kids accuse me of having a host of virtual friends. Wrong, kiddos.

I have a network of very real people – friends, acquaintances, colleagues, clients – some of whom I just haven’t met face-to-face yet.

They’re no less real than anyone else. The fact the we “pre-met” and communicate via virtual platforms doesn’t change that.

By all means, let’s connect. But there’s no virtual person in the relationship. Perhaps we should stop talking about “real-life” and “on-line” friends and just be…friends.

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Live on Blog Talk Radio Today

Steve Woodruff: Pharma’s Connection Agent. 2 pm ET. All the details right here!

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The One Who Dies with the Most Clicks Wins

Vote for my panel to be accepted at SXSW 2010!!!

Click here so I can advance in the Influencer Project!!!

LIKE this post!!! Please!!!

The fleeting notice of an eyeball, the transient acquisition of a vote, the nano-commitment of a click – these faux measures of significance and influence trick us into thinking that our star is rising.

Popularity is all about reach and frequency and, to some extent, manipulation. But, as Brian Solis puts it so well, influence is not the same as popularity.

But what have we done today to look someone else in the eye and listen? To build a better character? To pay it forward?

Just wondering if “clickfluence” is all that important. You?

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That Personal Brand Thing – it’s Baaack!!!!

Every few months, we get to revisit an old chestnut here on the intewebz, the personal brand question. Is there such a thing? Is it any different from reputation? How does one’s personal brand interact with a corporate (employer) brand?

This time, the discussion was renewed by the hack piece in Fortune written about Scott Monty and Ford – in which Josh Hyatt, the author, takes a well-deserved beating in the comments. Here’s a good follow-up piece on the broader topic by Rohit Bhargava.

People get all bent out of shape by two things, primarily, when “personal branding” comes up:

> 1. “It’s just wrong to build a personal brand that might detract from an employer’s brand.”

> 2. “All attempts at branding oneself are false.”

I “get” where these concerns are coming from – but we can also argue that all business is bad because some of it is done unscrupulously.

Instead, let’s just look at what personal branding is. Two words, really:

You – Projected.

That’s it. The real you, accurately projected outward for others to see. Your brand is authentic when your expressed message and person reflect who you really are. Not sure I see a problem here.

What’s my brand? I’m a Connection Agent. That reflects who I am and what I do. I am also a husband, a father, a healthcare/pharma guy, a social networking person, a wine drinker, a griller, a dog owner, a photographer – and all of that gets projected in my various platforms of expression (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, etc.)

I happen to work on my own, but like Scott Monty and many others, that personal brand could be harnessed to do good for an employer, and an employer’s brand can reflect well on an individual. Strong, authentic brands working together can be mutually beneficial.

When Scott Monty or anyone else projects their personality, interests, reputation, and skills out into the marketplace, that’s not some cause for suspicion. It’s actually part of the new economy. Let’s get used to it…and find creative ways to succeed with it!

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