Self Portrait in La Jolla

July 13, 2008
 

Self Portrait in La Jolla, originally uploaded by wesley.hein.

Okay. I’ve been very late to the Flickr party. I did use Flickr two years ago and it was a useful place to host photos that I dropped into blogs. But I didn’t see it for much more than that. I’ve recently come back because I want to see their integration tools and so far I’m pretty impressed. This is a test of one click to blog post.

Six Month Update; Knee Pain Leads to CEO Job and Swimming Focus

June 22, 2008

Ironman Arizona

Blogs are supposed to be updated far more frequently than every six months but this has been everything but a normal period for me. First off, I had more or less cleared off enough work responsibilities to be able to train as much as I wanted/needed for Ironman China. And that is exactly what I was starting to do. The runs were getting longer as were the rides. What I didn’t count on was a knee problem derailing the entire trip. Some time in November I got a twinge in my left knee, that twinge worsened and after several visits to several doctors (plus MRI and 2 months of Physical Therapy) I was officially out of the race.

Funny how things turn out however, especially when it comes to filling a void. First, in terms of athletics I had a huge void to fill because I can no longer run or bike (at least for the present). The good news is however is that 2008 seems to be the year that open water swimming is hitting stride. It has been easy for me to find open water races to do and people to train with them. I’ve even joined an open water swimming club on Facebook. Mind you that I still miss running but having a series of swimming races to train for has really helped soften what would otherwise be driving me crazy.

The other thing that happened is that I became CEO of SportsBuy.com (formerly Naxcom Exchange). I had been consulting for them for a few months and my friends know that one of the reasons I like to consult is so that I was able to swim/bike/run more or less as much as I liked. But once I crossed over to the dark side of having real responsibilities, it was no longer just a matter of getting a job done but of being in an office more or less full time. (Link to press release).

While LifeTwo.com is certainly a full-time job in itself, I have always been able to do that on nights and weekends and that will continue. I have benefited greatly from the hands-on work that I do with LifeTwo and that is especially relevant to my new gig which involves bringing social networking/web 2.0 to the sports collectibles industry. For example, check out the SportsBuy events blog that I just pulled together to help publicize the company’s autograph signings and trade show events.

Ironman China 2008 Here I Come; Thank you TriathleteMag.com

November 5, 2007

Dual announcements here. First I have signed up for Ironman China in April 2008. I now have 6 months to prepare for the 140 mile swim/bike/running race.

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The other thing is that Triathlete Magazine has invited me to blog for them. I will be posting twice a week on all things relating to my Ironman preparation. Here is a link to my section.

I want to thank my friend Doug Binns who moved to Asia a few years ago for helping me do research for my Triathlete articles. Doug blogs here.

It’s Happiness Week at LifeTwo.com

September 24, 2007

Greg and I have tried an experiment this week which has been to put a disproportionate amount of effort into one set of related posts and then to promote them. We certainly couldn’t do this on a regular basis but so far it looks like the effort is going to pay off.

This is common in television and they call them “stunts.” Not the kind where someone drives off a cliff, television stunts are when a network packages a group of shows into some kind of unified theme that can be promoted. For example, TNT having “Chuck Norris Week”. The theory is that one Chuck Norris movie won’t make much of an impact but one every night will. This is the same thinking that goes into “Leave it to Beaver” marathons and so forth.
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Tal Ben-Shahar 

We contacted his publisher who loved the idea, interviewed him and wrote out a week’s worth of posts that contain excerpts from his book and additional related resources. We kept up with the lessons/exercises theme. To avoid having it reflect our own biases, we approached a number of leading authors/columnists/bloggers in this and related fields and almost all of them said yes.

Please check out our “How To Be Happy” week both from the perspective of blog marketing but also because it might just help you be happier.

Blog Carnival Etiquette and Tips for Hosting Your Own Carnival

July 11, 2007

At my LifeTwo site, I decided to experiment with hosting a “blog carnival” (a collection of links pointing to different blogs on a related topic). There are basically two ways to host a carnival. One is two have the same group of contributors each carnival (a “closed” carnival) and the other is to open it up to any blog that wants to participate. The benefit of the latter approach is that it can be good for exposing your blog to new readers. But for an open carnival to work, bloggers need to know about it. Fortunately, where there is a need there is often an Internet company trying to build a business satisfying that need. In this case the company is BlogCarnival.com.

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BlogCarnival’s mission is to facilitate carnivals by bringing contributors and hosts together. For example, if you have a blog focused on personal finance, you can go to BlogCarnival and search for carnivals that are relevant to this topic and then submit your post to them. It is a pretty nifty idea. Unfortunately there are still a number of kinks to work out and the the most important question of whether blog carnivals are even useful for readers is still unanswered.

I decided to create a blog carnival based on middle age career issues. I did this because there wasn’t anyone doing a carnival on this topic. I thought by being so focused on a niche that I’d have a chance to discover some relevant blogs covering this area and with whom I could trade links, have a source for future posts, and so forth. After filling out the not-too-intuitive interface on BlogCarnival.com I looked forward to the relevant posts to start rolling in. I was in for a surprise. Yes, I did receive contributions, and a lot of them at that. However, I learned that my definition of “relevancy” and that of contributors was two wildly different things. Of the 20 or so contributions, only a few were really on topic, about 1/2 were only tangentially related to the topic, and the balance had pretty much nothing to do with it–something I’ll call “blog carnival submission spam.”

Because this was my first open carnival, I took the time to visit each blog that submitted a story to verify the relevancy. If the post wasn’t on target I would try and find something on their blog that was, and if I couldn’t find anything I emailed the submitter to ask them for something a little closer to the topic. The response? Almost nothing. I had just learned lesson #1 of blog carnivals: the majority of story submitters to blog carnival are “serial submitters” who submit stories to large numbers of carnivals and don’t particularly care about the relevancy to the topic. They aren’t interested in taking the time to actually craft a story to a specific topic nor do they give two hoots about the readers–they just want a link. It’s a classic shot-gun approach and BlogCarnival makes it possible.

As a carnival host experiencing submission spam, you have a choice. You can: 1) Give up; 2) Weed out everyone who isn’t relevant and have a smaller carnival post; or 3) Accept posts whether or not they are on target. Since the primary goal of hosting a carnival is to maximize links and traffic into your blog, #3 makes the most sense. But there is something unsettling about this choice because it feels like false advertising. A carnival post on a particular topic should only contain posts on that topic, if it doesn’t, you are essentially misleading your readers (a bad idea long-term) in order to get links/traffic (short-term gain). I decided to opt for #2 and tried to stay as close to the topic as possible but still have as many outside contributors as possible.

I then emailed everyone who had made the cut with the URL to my carnival post so that they could link to my blog. At this point I learned lesson #2 about blog carnivals. Hardly anyone (less than 10%) reciprocate with a link back to the carnival. I found this surprising and thought that linking was generally accepted quid pro quo of blog carnivals. I’ll include someone’s post in my carnival and they link back to the carnival. If everyone does this then many more people see the post and in the process everyone’s links. Everyone wins. Well, that’s a nice theory. In practice, serial blog carnival submitters don’t bother linking back to the post. They don’t have the time, interest or inclination for this step. In fact they won’t even respond to emails asking them why they didn’t link. (Note that there is a subset of bloggers who honestly forgot to link or weren’t sure how. I know about this small group because they did respond to my emails and then did subsequently put up a post.)

So why do an open carnival? To be honest, I ask myself this every time I do one since I end up weeding out the majority of submissions as either irrelevant or people who haven’t linked back in the past. But despite the work every time I do a carnival I discover at least one very good blog/blogger who is both on topic and a nice person. Because of the carnival, over the past several months I have developed some very good blog relationships with people doing the same thing as me–building an online business. This has been the primary benefit for me of the carnivals–much more than the tiny traffic boost and links in.

I’ve also developed a process to make hosting the blog carnival as efficient as possible and tipping the cost/benefit equation in my favor:

1. I make it very clear in the Blog Carnival listing that contributors will need to link back to the blog.

2. Before putting up the post, I email every submitter of a relevant story asking them to confirm that they will in fact be linking to the carnival post.

3. When I create the carnival post, I only link to those who’ve responded to my email that they will link.

4. I then email everyone with the link at which point most put up some sort of link.

5. By the way, I completely ignore the BlogCarnival feature that automatically builds the post. I find it buggy and more time consuming to use it than to do it from scratch.

Even with this there are a few scofflaws, but the vast majority who make it to this point are good, honest bloggers who are more than happy to do their part of the process. As I said before, every carnival I do ends up leading to the discovery of at least a few more good on-topic blogs and as long as this continues I’ll continue hosting the carnivals.

How to win a reader for life; the right way to respond to a “contact us” email

July 4, 2007

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Wired Science just won my readership for life (or at least a very long time).

They did it not by being right, but how they handed a situation where I felt they could have done better. I read somewhere that businesses win over customers by how they handle things that go wrong and I very much agree. Had I just read a very good post at Wired Science it probably wouldn’t have registered all that much. However I disagreed with one of their posts enough to write to them. I receive an almost instataneous response from a human (that is not automated) telling me that they had forwarded by email to the writer of the piece and suggested that I leave a comment. The way that the email was written seemed sincere and I didn’t feel like I was being given the brush off.

The next day, I was checking Technorati links into LifeTwo and saw that the writer at Wired Science had written an entire post responding to my criticisms, agreeing with my point of view, and then linking to my site. He did this on the 3rd of July when most people were already heading out for the holiday. From his post:

Responding to our coverage of a biological tweak that prevented highly stressed, junk food-eating mice from getting fat, Wired Science reader Wesley Hein gave me a well-deserved scolding for ignoring the context of the research:

If stress + junk food = obesity, then to reduce obesity we need to reduce one or both of the contributing factors. Yet none of the major media outlets covering this story (including Wired) made any mention of this. Instead it is all about the possibility of a pill that will apparently absolve us of any need to exercise, eat properly or reduce stress. […]

People today are dying today as the result of obesity-related diseases and they shouldn’t be told to wait for the promise of a wonder drug that will effortless melt fat away. It’s hard to imagine a worse message.

Wesley is absolutely right. The research isn’t any less valid for the points he raised, but they deserved to be mentioned — and we, along with other mainstream science journalists, generally failed to do this.

I was pleased, humbled, and impressed all at the same time and hope that I can be half as responsive the next time someone emails me with some constructive criticism regarding something that I write.

Using Wikipedia to announce your murder-suicide

June 28, 2007

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This story is just bizarre and reminds me how serial killers used to tease the police by sending tapes to the media. Evidentially with the advent of Web 2.0, traditional media is an unnecessary middle man effectively being distermediated (of course this has been going on for awhile with the all-too-common beheading videos from the middle east working their way around various web sites). In case you haven’t heard, someone modified Chris Benoit’s Wikipedia page about his wife’s death before the police found the body. From Wired:

By now I’m sure you’ve all heard about the double homicide and suicide of WWE pro wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife, and their seven-year old son. Well, a new twist has revealed itself, within the pages of Wikipedia.

According to FoxNews, someone updated Chris Benoit’s Wikipedia page, with an entry on his wife’s death. Problem is, it was posted 13 hours before the police found the three bodies in Atlanta.

An anonymous user operating a computer traced to Stamford, Conn. — home to World Wrestling Entertainment — posted an entry to pro wrestler Chris Benoit’s biography on Wikipedia.org announcing the death of his wife Nancy at least 13 hours before police in suburban Atlanta said they found her body along with her husband’s and that of their 7-year-old son, FOXNews.com has learned.Employees at Wikipedia.org said the posting went live on their site on Monday at 12:01 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. Police, however, said they found the bodies Monday at 2:30 p.m. EDT.

To make the whole situation even stranger, the entry was taken off an hour after it was posted requiring that the user site news sources. An hour later the entry was edited again, this time through an Australian wireless provider, “which according to several pro wrestling websites is attributed to the passing of Benoit’s wife, Nancy.” Again the entry was removed asking for a valid news source. This all happened hours before police even got to the house.

This brings up so many issues which I will refrain from musing on until more comes out on the story. Suffice to say if you are ever editing Wikipedia and come across something that hasn’t yet happened you should think twice before freezing it pending the source being cited. It’s possible that the “source” is the perpetrator.

Update: We’ll the simplest  answer is often the correct one as it was here. The Wikipedia poster has come forward and was nothing more than a fan posting a rumor he had been hearing. Story here. We’ll have to wait for another time to see if someone creates or modifies a Wikipedia entry to ensure that their act is presented in what they consider to be the proper manner.

Voice communication: Going, going, gone

May 29, 2007

Fred Wilson on what beats email

I’ve said it before on this blog. Spam has ruined email for the youth generation. They may adopt email at some point when they reach the workforce, but it will never be the messaging system of choice for them.

Site messaging (particularly in social networks) is incredibly popular among the younger crowd. The permissioning system is their social network and so they value the messages they get. They’ve been filtered. There’s no porn spam on facebook.

Instant messaging remains a popular option and at times its useful. But real time communication has its limits. It demands your attention and I think anything that demands permanent attention is suboptimal in this technology driven partial attention world we live in.

Blogging is a lot like social networking but without the permissioning filter of the social network. It’s useful and as many readers have found, one of the best ways to reach me is via a well articulated comment on this blog. Those rarely go unanswered. Funny enough the messaging system I prefer for those replies is email.

Notice the complete absence of even mentioning “voice” communications? It’s not that I disagree but instead how amazing how quickly voice communications has completely dropped off the radar so much so that it doesn’t even warrant inclusion in an article on communication. Meanwhile Twitter is referenced twice (in the full post that is).

Since you are reading this as a blog post (possibly in your RSS reader), I’ll count that as a vote for blogging as a communication tool. Also I view email combined with a Blackberry to be fundamentally different than email without. Email spam is indeed a continued issue but one that is largely under control–at least for me and at least now.

Off Topic: A Response to Whether I “Shelved” a Band 20 Years Ago and What Makes Bands Happy

May 28, 2007

Gardian 1980s

Blogs can be pretty amazing communication tools. Take in point a blog posting from someone I worked with over twenty years ago (and pictured above) surfacing an issue that was important enough to him that two decades later he is writing about it. Despite all of the other forms of communication, email, phones, faxes, IM, and Twitter to name a few, it is only blogging that has the delicate balance of introspective thought and public sharing.

The post in question is on a personal blog by a former rock and roll artist, David Bach. I signed David to my record label in the middle 80’s and we have remained friends ever since. Before I get into his post, I want to give a little aside about the music industry. Most people who consider themselves musical artists will never have the chance to record professionally. Of those that do, only a tiny percentage will get signed and of those it is only a minority that will have enough success on their first album to put out additional albums. Anyone that is able to have a career making music is an incredible success and the very use of the term “career artist” means that they beat the odds–probably by a combination of talent, luck and a lot of hard work. To use a basketball analogy, being a “journeyman” in the NBA might not seem like a compliment but it means that one is among the top .00001% of basketball players in the world.

Read the rest of this entry »

Blogging: The Importance of Doing Interviews

May 27, 2007

When building a blog, one of the important components is creating unique content and one of the best ways to do that is to interview leaders in your field. While they involve a little bit of work, the result is better SEO, links in, and brand awareness.

For LifeTwo good interviewees includes authors, scientists, radio hosts and many others and most of them are surprisingly easy to pitch and most will say yes to reasonable requests. This is because they often are looking to expose their brand, their book or their ideas. Even with this motivation it is important to be respectful of their time and to be as efficient as possible with it. We like to email questions that they can write responses at their convenience and then do a follow-up on any areas we want to delve a little deeper.

One other important note of caution is to make sure to do your homework before contacting someone for an interview and then even more research when crafting the questions. If they find your queries off the mark they’ll won’t put much time into the answers or will possibly just ignore them. On the other hand, if it is clear that you put time into drafting questions that get to the heart of their specific area, they might surprise you with how much detail you’ll get back.

An example of a good interview was a series of exchanges I had with Dan Mroczek —an Associate Professor of Developmental Studies at Purdue University. We came across Dan when researching a story about positive psychology and saw that he was a leader in this area and had produced several important studies on personality and happiness. Instead of just referencing these in a story, we tracked him down and asked if we could ask him a series of questions about these studies and how they might relate to the LifeTwo focus. He said yes, something I find most academics and authors agree to do.

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Dr. Daniel Mroczek
Thanks Dan! Here is a link to his interview.

More interviews:

Doreen Orion

On June 12th, 2008, I was fortunate enough to interview Doreen Orion.

 

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Gina Trapani

Interview update: On June 22, I published the interview I did with LifeHacker editor Gina Trapani for LifeTwo. (Photo Source: Will Pate). Here is a link to her interview.

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Peneloe Trunk
On June 21, I interviewed author/columnist Penelope Trunk about her new book “The Brazen Careerist”. Link to interview. Thanks Penelope.

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Marci Alboher

On October 18th, I published an interview with Marci Alboher about her book “One Person Multiple Careers”. Marci also blogs for the New York Times. Thanks Marci.

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Jennifer Niesslein

On July 25, I published an interview with Jennifer Niesslein about her new book “Practically Perfect”. Link to interview. Thanks Jennifer.

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Interview update: On June 4th, 2007, I interviewed author and advertising consulting Chuck Nyren. Thanks Chuck. Here is a link to his interview.