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Enabling social bookmarking and link sharing for your web content October 14, 2009

Posted by farshidk in Social media, Web 2.0.
Tags: ,
4 comments

In a previous post “Shall we bookmark?” I discussed social bookmarking and covered several of the social bookmarking sites such as Delicious, Reddit, Digg and StumbleUpon. In this post I briefly describe how you can easily add social bookmarking buttons to your web pages or blog posts so that a reader or visitor to your blog can use any of such sites to bookmark your blog post or page.

There are several services that have made this very easy by packaging up access to numerous social bookmarking sites into a dialog or pop-up window configured as a single button that can easily be added to your pages without any programming. I cover three such services here — AddThis, AddToAny and ShareThis — here.

AddThis (www.addthis.com)

This service provides pre-configured buttons and simple procedures for adding them to the services that they support out of the box (WordPress, Blogger, and MySpace) as well to a general website. For WordPress.com you simply add a widget to your template for this purpose. I have in fact used this service to add a social bookmarking button to this very blog on WordPress.com that you are reading. The pop-up box is shown in Figure 1 below.

AddThis Social bookmarking button popup

Figure 1: AddThis bookmarking & sharing button pop-up

Note however that applying the button takes you to a new page away from the blog  to a new page with the box below, instead of showing you the box in the same page, which is the intended and desired behavior of the button. The reason for this is that WordPress for security reasons does not allow any JavaScript which this button and its pop-up require to work properly. Even if you paste the button code with the JavaScript to the blog widget, WordPress.com automatically strips out its JavaScript.

AddThis also provides a toolbar so that you can add its bookmarking button to your browser toolbars.

AddToAny (www.addtoany.com)

The other service is AddToAny which provides you with a configurable button with access to a long list of sites for bookmarking and sharing. Figure 2 below the AddToAny pop-up box with this service. Note that this is an expandable box and once expanded it provides links to numerous other bookmarking and sharing services.

AddToAny bookmarking & sharing expnadable box

Figure 2: AddToAny bookmarking & sharing expandable button pop-up

This service however is different from AddThis in that you insert the widget into an individual post and not the blog container. So you need to add the button to every individual blog post. It does provide you with a button that can be added to your browser toolbar so that you can easily insert the button on any page you are working on.

As mentioned before AddToAny also provides a subscription service. This service allows you to enable your viewers to subscribe to your blog as a feed using one of the listed services as a host. See Figure 3 below.

AddToAny subscription box

Figure 3: AddToAny subscription button pop-up

ShareThis (www.sharethis.com)

This is yet another service that provides a similar service in addition to other services such as address book consolidation. The bookmarking and sharing service is available for publishers (such as bloggers) packaged for WordPress (your own installed instance of WordPress), Blogger, and TypePad, as well as a scripted button for any other web site. It is also available for developers through an API. Figure 4 below shows the default ShareThis pop-up box which can also be customized.

sharethis

Figure 4. Sharing pop-up box from ShareThis

ShareThis also offers a toolbar for the browser so that you can easily bookmark any site you visit through their service. Another interesting feature that ShareThis offers is the reporting and analytics service which enables you to view reports on page view and frequency of shares on your content pages.

Leveraging LinkedIn for business networking and career development September 28, 2009

Posted by farshidk in Social media.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

The economy is supposedly improving but people still continue to lose jobs. The unemployment rate being a lagging economic indicator is predicted to increase through the rest of the year and beyond even though it is decelerating. California with one of the highest unemployment rates (12.1%) as of the end of July 2009 among the US states, and higher than the average national unemployment rate, will probably continue to bleed more, longer. In certain counties in California the unemployment rate is even higher than the state average. For example, as of the end of July 2009, LA County is at 12.5% and there are counties where the rate is as high as 30%!

A friend after over five years at a chip company in Orange County lost her job last week. An acquaintance (electrical engineer) recently got laid off from his high-tech job in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are still hundreds being laid off from various companies. What is even worse is the thousands of state employees who have recently lost their jobs, especially in the education sector. And we thought that government jobs were safe! For a frequently updated statewide layoff statistics in California see http://www.sfgate.com/webdb/jobcuts/ by San Francisco Chronicle. For updates on job cuts in general on Twitter follow or see @jobcuts.

I remember my own surprise lay off back in February 2009 and the five months of tough unemployment that followed. During that time, while I was actively on a number of job sites and used the services of Right Management (www.right.com) which was useful, I spent most of my useful job search time on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com). And eventually I found my current job through LinkedIn; or rather my current employer found me on LinkedIn as they contacted me first through LinkedIn.

In the hope that my experience may help someone else out there land a job, here are a few suggestions on how to better leverage LinkedIn for business networking, job search, and professional development:

  1. Complete Profile — Make sure that your profile is as complete as it can be; preferably 100%. This includes many things such as education, experience, recommendations, groups and more. There is a status bar that shows you the percentage complete so you have a sense of how far along you are. Include any relevant websites such blogs or your Twitter account. Click throughs on those links will improve your Google rank. Consider signing up for LinkedIn premium services which provides you with extras such as send InMails to people you are not directly linked with.
  2. Customize Public Profile — Create a public link to your profile with your name. You have a public link by default with a unique account number, but no one will remember that. Customize it with your name. Mine is www.linkedin.com/in/farshidk. And expose as much as you can on your public profile page. Not everything is on by default. Include your public profile link in your resume and possibly in business-oriented emails as part of your signature. This customized link will also improve your search engine ranking. It should also come up when you google yourself.
  3. Write Summary & Specialties — Write good thorough “Summary” with “Specialties”. These two are important and you should spend some time polishing it, with focus on what you have experience in as well as where you want to go. These two may not always be the same. In my Summary I have focused on job titles such as product marketing and business development, while in specialties I have listed the technologies I have worked with such as BPM, SOA and eDiscovery.
  4. Expand your network — In addition to looking up individuals you know, search for people in your past employers (people search with a company name as the search term) and invite those you know to join your network. Explore beyond your first degree network by browsing looking at those who are 2nd degrees (linked with someone in your network but not with you). If you are indirectly linked with anyone (2nd degree or higher), LinkedIn will show you how you are connected to her so you can ask the people in between to be introduced.
  5. Give and get Recommendations — Request recommendations from people you have good professional experience with and trust. You should also recommend those who did good work when working together. Most employers don’t trust really these recommendations much. When you get close to getting a job offer you will still have to provide live references. But not having LinkedIn Recommendations in your profile is definitely a negative.
  6. Join Groups & Associations — Just about any career and industry you are in, there are lots of relevant groups on LinkedIn that you should join and actively participate in. These groups may be specific to a technology (e.g. SOA), profession (e.g. marketing), region, association (e.g. AIIM), alumni groups for universities or ex employers, and so on. Some are moderated and to join the group administrator must approve you. You can customize your membership in a group as what type of communication you prefer; e.g. receive individual emails or daily digest. You can choose to show individual groups in your Public Profile. But don’t just wear the label. Browse the discussions and news in the groups you are in once in a while, start a discussion, answer or comment on someone’s question to increase your exposure. I am a member of over 35 (too many) LinkedIn groups relating to BPM, SOA, ECM, eDiscovery, product marketing and management, social media and Twitter.
  7. Update your Status — If you are out of your last job, I suggest you update your employment history accordingly. But just like Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn also provides you with a status field which many do not utilize. Even if you keep your last employment current, use the status field to say that you are looking and update it regularly to show activities. The more updates and changes you make, the more exposure you will get. I update mine with my new blog posts, attendance in a conference or working on a big not so secret project. Nothing personal. That is for Facebook, not LinkedIn.
  8. Add Applications — Similar to Facebook and iPhone, LinkedIn provides you with a few useful pluggable applications that you can add to your profile. For example, if you have a good sample work such as a presentation you can add one of the presentation applications and then upload your presentation to it. If you have a professional blog on WordPress, there is an application for it that once added will show a summary of your blog as a widget in your profile page. In fact I use this application so if you go to my LinkedIn page you will see a window to this blog there. There are other useful applications such as ReadingList by Amazon where you can list the relevant books that you are reading, recommend, etc.
  9. Search and apply for Jobs— Actively search the job bank and apply for positions directly from LinkedIn. Certain jobs get posted only to LinkedIn and are not available elsewhere. If so they are marked as such. Experiment with search terms. You can search by title, company name, location and more. You may get a very long list in multiple pages, in which case you may want to narrow your search terms. Else, don’t give up before you get to the end of the list.
  10. Network while employed — I consider this the golden rule of networking. We’ve all heard it, but it is important enough to reiterate. You should be doing all these (except possibly #8) while you are employed and working. Networking should be done over time on an ongoing basis. Not after you have lost your job and are desperate for work. Networking is a give and take process — in that order. Before you ask people for help, reference, job, etc. you should be helping those you can so you build reputation and trusting relationships. People need to see value in networking and associating with you. It’s an age old wisdom: help people, and hopefully on a rainy day in the future those whom you’ve helped, will return the favor.

LinkedIn itself also provides tips for building a strong profile, that you may want to review. My guidelines above are inline and complementary to this list. Are there other items that you think belong to this list? Feel free to comment. Thanks.

On Etiquette and Math of “Follow” in Twitter September 5, 2009

Posted by farshidk in Social media.
Tags: ,
2 comments

TwitterWatchdog.com in a post recently had some advice on who to follow and not to follow on Twitter. See this. However among them there were the following:

  • “I follow everyone who follows me because I think that’s the cordial way to use Twitter.
  • If I’m following someone and they won’t follow me, then I’ll give them a few days but then I’ve got to unfollow them.”

There have been other posts on this topic claiming that if you don’t follow the people who follow you, you are a “Twitter snob”.

I disagree. I don’t have to follow everyone who follows me. And I certainly don’t expect everyone whom I follow, to follow me. Here is why.

Non-Twitter Social Networks

On social (or business) networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, there is a single simple relationship between two people: you are either “friends” (or linked), or you are not. LinkedIn also formalizes the notion of “degrees of separation”, but that is another topic for another day. For the sake of this discussion we are only concerned with first-degree relations, those whom you are directly linked with. The way this works is that typically you add a person to your network (e.g. send a friend request) and if that person accepts it then the two of you are linked or “friends”.

If you are mathematically inclined, in terms of graph theory, Facebook and LinkedIn networks result in undirected graphs, where each edge or link connecting two nodes is an unordered pair or set such as links {A, B} and {B, C} in the graph in Figure 1 below. In this graph A and B are linked (friends) and B and C are linked.

Figure 1: An undirected graph showing a Facebook network segment

Figure 1: Undirected graphs represent Facebook or LinkedIn networks

Twitter Social Networks

Unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, a relationship in Twitter is 2-way where each direction is independent of the other. You can follow someone, and by default you do not need her approval to follow her. Independently she may or may not decide to follow you. Twitter networks are directed graphs, where edges or links are ordered pairs and directed such as (A, B) and (B, A) in the graph in Figure 2 below. Here A follows B and B follows A. B follows C, but C does not follow B. Note that some refer to people who you are following as friends. So C is a friend of B in this example. But I prefer not to use “friends” in the context of Twitter and stick with Twitter’s own terminology “followers” and “following”.

Figure 2: Directed graphs show Twitter netoworks

Figure 2: Directed graphs represent Twitter networks

Of course you can make your Twitter profile protected so that you must approve anyone who wants to follow you. Or you can block a follower at any time. You may choose to follow that person or you may not. You do not have to reciprocate. And that is a very important concept in Twitter.

Who do I follow?

I follow many news and media channels from BBC, CNN, NPR, and NY Times among others such as (@bbcworld, @CNN_top@nprnews, and @nytimesarts). I also follow @TED_TALKS for updates on fascinating TED talks which I think are among the best things on the internet). But for obvious reasons I don’t expect them to follow me. In fact many of these accounts don’t follow anyone even though they have thousands (in some cases millions) of followers.

Among notable individuals, I follow Evan Williams, Twitter CEO (@EV), serial entrepreneur and billionaire Richard Branson (@richardbranson), well-known internet guru and evangelist Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki), the famed MIT linguist and political dissent Naom Chomsky (@noamchomskymit), and President Barack Obama (@BarackObama). Guy (and his team) is one of the most active accounts on Twitter with a lot of worthy and interesting tweets on regular basis. I don’t expect any of these people to follow me (though Guy is kind enough to follow me).

On the other hand, there are certain friends and strangers who follow me whom I don’t follow for various reasons. Maybe they are primarily readers and not contributors, or maybe I am just not interested in their tweets. And that should be just fine. This is not an ego trip, nor it is a popularity contest. Though a friend of mine thinks that it actually is for a lot of people!

How do I decide whom to follow?

The pool of potential candidates to be followed for me comes from those whom you run into browsing the net and reading blogs and news, those who are already following me, and recommendations  from various sources such as (Twitter suggested users, TweetDeck suggestions and directory, #FollowFriday tweets from those whom I am following already and Mashable lists (http://mashable.com/category/twitter-lists/) which has very interesting lists, such as authors, comics, and foodies on Twitter. But I still have my own criteria to apply as follows:

  • I look at her or his bio on the profile page. For me it is important that they say something interesting, informative (or funny) about themselves. Blank bios do not interest me, unless of course the subject is a well-known person who doesn’t need an intro.
  • I check the vital statistics — number of followers, number of people s/he follows and the number of tweets s/he has had. Generally the bigger the numbers it is, the better. But there are exceptions. I know famous tweeples (a Twitter user) with million+ followers and thousands of tweets, whom I’m not following. For me they have nothing interesting or relevant to say.
  • More important than the number of tweets, is the quality of tweets. Syntactically I generally value tweets that include hashtags and links. Unless I am particularly fond of someone (e.g. a real friend) I don’t care for tweets about one’s daily chores, or personal replies to others that probably should be direct messages. To get around this problem Guy Kawasaki has a separate reply account @GuysReplies that he uses to reply to followers. Semantically I like tweets that provide useful information or insight, that I can learn something from.
  • I do not follow spammers, but I don’t see any harm in them following me.
  • I don’t just blindly follow people in the hope that they will follow me. I am not in it to build a large following to sell them some goods or services. I go for quality over quantity.

Shall We Bookmark? July 11, 2009

Posted by farshidk in Social media.
Tags: , , , , ,
2 comments

So I am reading an article on ZDNet.com and on top of the article I come across a set of icons. See the image below. A couple of them are obvious. I can print the article or email it to someone. A more interesting one is the little rectangle with up/down thumbs along with a few numbers. This enables me to rate the article by giving it a thumbs up or down, which provides a metric on its worthiness. As you can see, this particular article has 71 votes with an overall score of +45.

soc-bkmrk3

The curious item in the set is the “share” icon which expands to many other items as shown above. A few are familiar household names such as Google, Yahoo! and Facebook. While others such as Digg (www.digg.com), Delicious (www.delicious.com), StumbleUpon (www.stumbleupon.com), Reddit (www.reddit.com) and Technorati (www.technorati.com) are lesser known.

Most news and media sites nowadays provide a few of these next to any article or news item. For example, The Wall Street Journal (www.wsj.com) lists Mixx (www.mixx.com) and NewsVine (www.newsvine.com) among others. While AIIM (www.aiim.org) includes Xanga (www.xanga.com), FriendFeed (www.friendfeed.com) and Propeller (www.propeller.com) in addition to the more common ones. So what exactly are these? What are they good for? And how do we use them?

A Bit of History and Lessons Learned

Back in 2005 a friend one day said that she had an idea for a new business: a web site for storing bookmarks on the internet. I smiled and said that it would be useful but I didn’t think that it was enough to sustain a business. I argued that a company like Yahoo! could easily add that feature. Secondly, it was technically very easy, so anyone could do it. It would be hard to build sustainable competitive advantage around it. More importantly I didn’t see how anyone could make money with it. Well, I had certain valid points. For one, Yahoo! did its own bookmarking site called Yahoo! Buzz. But I was wrong overall.

After the painful lessons of 2000-2001 in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was of the belief that a simple idea with no revenue potential cannot be a successful business, regardless of the hype and a catchy domain name. But the reality is that the web doesn’t follow the traditional business model. And the advent of the social web in the early to mid 2000s has once again redefined the norm, scale and the possibilities of what an internet-based business can be.

The power and success of a social networking site is not measured based on its revenue, which may be zero! It’s rather based on the size of its network. For an idea to become a successful internet-based business, you don’t need to build a space rocket. And you don’t necessarily need to make money with it. Youtube, Facebook and Twitter are good examples that support my point.

Social Bookmarking Sites

Today social bookmarking is a major topic in the Web 2.0 world, and there are over 20 social bookmarking sites with millions of users and 100s of millions of bookmarks. You can see the list of top 20 of them at: http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/social-bookmarking. These sites allow a registered user to bookmark a page; that is store a URL along with some additional information on the internet. But there is actually more to them than just that. So let’s look at this topic in more detail.

Problem with Browser-based Bookmarks

So why is this any better than just bookmarking a page on your browser; e.g. “favorites” in Internet Explorer (IE) or “bookmarks” in Firefox? The primary problem with this is that a browser based bookmark resides on the laptop or computer that you are using, where the browser is installed. So your stored bookmarks are in a physical file sitting on your computer file system. Now if I want to access my bookmarks from another computer, you are out of luck. The other drawback to browser based bookmarks is managing them and finding what you are looking for. In IE we can create bookmark folders and categorize them into these static folders. But then there may be links that we want to put in multiple folders, which cannot be done well. So as the number of bookmarks increase, their management becomes a serious problem. Firefox provides the means for tagging a bookmark which is a better approach than IE’s. This is also the approach used by some of the social networking sites.

Tagging in Social Bookmarking

Social bookmarking sites solve the bookmark management problem via tagging. When you bookmark a URL you define a set of tags along with it. You can define as many tags as you like. These tags can be anything that you want but many of these sites will actually make suggestions when tagging. You can define as many tags as you like. These tags define virtual folders that can be navigated later on. But since tagging is just a word association, a bookmark may belong to several of these virtual folders (each being a tag). When looking for a particular bookmark you can simply navigate your tags to quickly what you are looking for. Obviously good tagging practices becomes important here. If a bookmark is not properly tagged then it may be difficult to find it among a large number of bookmarks. These sites may also provide a tag cloud to help you navigate your bookmarks easily. In addition to tags, these sites may also allow you to define additional attributes such as description and comments for the bookmark.

On the Social in Social Bookmarking

More important than tagging in social bookmarking sites, is the social aspect to these sites. Just like other Web 2.0 wiki like sites, these are social, collaborative and networking sites where you can share information (profile, tags and bookmarks) with other users on the site. You can rate someone else’s bookmarks and comment on them.

Many of these sites such as Delicious and Digg  enable you to have a network by linking with other users and exchange messages with them. For example on Delicious every user has an inbox so that one can send a bookmark to another user or receive bookmarks. On Delicious I can also subscribe to tags so that if a bookmark with that tag is added I will be notified about it. Of course not all bookmarks need to be public. On Delicious I have the choice of making a bookmark private, a useful feature that is not offered by all other sites.

One of the interesting benefits of the social aspect of these sites is that at any given time you can see the hottest and most popular items because of the number of times it has been bookmarked, buzzed, digged, the ratings (like/dislike or thumbs up/down) and number of comments that a URL receives, are different metrics for how popular or important an item may be. So usually the home pages of these sites that are accessible by all without registering, make interesting sites to visit on a regular bases for the latest most popular and most interesting stories and news on the internet.

URL Sharing vs. Social Bookmarking

Though all of these so-called social bookmarking sites deal with storing and sharing URLs, there are key differences. Among the names that I have mentioned here there are at least two distinct types:

  • Post and Share a URL: Sites such as Facebook and Twitter are not really bookmarking sites. You simply post a link to them so that the people in your network can see it. For example in Facebook you send a link to specific people via a message or you share it by posting it to your “wall”. The same is true with Twitter. Many people use Twitter to share news (in the form of shortened URLs) with their followers. But note that these sites do not maintain a categorized URL repository. Depending on how active you are, before long the link that you post on Facebook or Twitter will be burried under more recent updates. It is not really practical to refer to that link later on (though you can do it as all past updates are maintained by these sites).
     
  • Bookmark, share, categorize and rank a URL: These are the actual social bookmarking sites where you post a URL and possibly classify and categorize it by defining your own tags (such as Delicious, Digg, and Google), or putting it in a pre-defined categoy (such as Reddit and StumbleUpon). These sites rank the URLs based on how many times a URL is bookmarked, favored, and commented on. When you go to these sites you can see the top bookmarks in various categories. Within these sites, there are some that are for link sharing with your network (e.g. Reddit, Yahoo! Buzz) while others such as Delicious and Google Bookmarks (www.google.com/bookmarks) are for saving your own bookmarks (which may be private) so you can refer to them later on.

Which Ones to Use?

The two sites that I personally use most often are Delicious and Digg. I specially like Delicious since it has flexible personalized tagging mechanism. I can define whatever tags I want in addition to the ones that Delicious suggests when bookmarking. It is more of a bookmarking site since it also allows private bookmarks. It also  provides convenient plug-ins for various browsers that make it easy to bookmark a page along with tags, and then easily access your bookmarks from its Sidebar, just as if they are the browser bookmarks.

StumbleUpon is another very popular social bookmarking site with close to 8 million users as of this writing. Like Delicious it also provides its own browser toolbar. It has pre-defined categories (e.g. photos, videos, business) that you can specify as the topics of interest.  You may either save a URL as a favorite or you can write a review for it. You can also blog right within this site. Similar to other sites you have a network of friends or subscribers.

Reddit is another popular social bookmarking site. It provides a way for ranking and sharing URLs. It has a set of pre-defined categories called “reddits” such as pics, politics, funny, and technology, which are essentially general tags. You can also define your own public or private reddit. On any bookmark on the site you can rate it (like or dislike) save it as your own, or comment on it.

If you don’t have a favorite one yet, you might want to try out a few. I believe different ones may appeal to different people. However I must say that I find some of them confusing and not as useful, intuitive and practical as others.