Let’s all take a look at the photo below, which is of the Chicago River one recent night at dusk.
The photo is of the river looking west and slightly south, as it flows away from Lake Michigan. To the left is the Hotel 71, the right is Trump Tower, and many corporate headquarters in between. I was impressed with this photo, which I took with my Nokia E7, in that I did not have to retouch the photo, as well as it fit well with something I have been thinking about – what I have been missing by not being on social media as much lately.
Over the last month, and for many reasons, I have not been using social media much. I may check and send a few tweets or Facebook posts and my blogging has been sporatic at best. The act of engaging with social media is not something I have missed at all, rather the interaction with friends and those I only know thru social media I have missed. Which is the way it should be, right?
It turns out I have missed more than I had thought, and looking more I have missed some things I wouldn’t want to miss – birth announcements. The fact that a new life has joined this planet is definitely something I want to know about, even from the most distant friend. However it was over a week after a friend’s kid was born that I learned of it, but not directly, rather from reading between the lines of a Facebook post. Upon going back in their Facebook wall stream, I saw photos an announcement made at a time when I was not the social media site at all. In the process of going back in time, I saw 2 other people I know have had kids within the last year that I wasn’t aware of.
Not to play high and mighty, but when my wife and I were blessed with our children, we did post it on Facebook, but we also emailed our friends and even sent a photo birth announcement to some. Not everybody we know is online, nor are members or active in social media. We did this not only to cover the bases of various forms of media, but wanted to make sure we got the word out, as we have found from recent experience that the most creative of messages can get lost (but I digress, as this is a topic for another time).
At first I felt bad – I never congratulated someone on the birth of their children – but I had more pressing things to act on so I let this thought go to the back of my head. It wasn’t until I got to the point between the Wrigley Building and the Michigan Avenue bridge, the point where I took the photo above, that all this made some sense to me.
The analogy of social media content streaming is nothing new, and it does flow like a river. Earlier that day there was surely more boat traffic and activity on the Chicago River, and by my viewing it at this point in time I missed it. Typically I wouldn’t do any research to see if I missed anything. If someone was on the river or wanted me to know about it, shouldn’t they make a point of letting me know? Blame is not the right word to use here – there was a missed connection. Nobody was hurt, and it is what it is (or water under the bridge?).
The very concept and usage of social media is surely not to blame, as I can count many more gains than losses with it. I have been able to reach out to people throughout the world and have had opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. To offer an example of missing and gaining with social media at the same time, it involves a company whose headquarters is in the middle of this photo, United Airlines. One day they tweeted they were at the Chicago Theatre a few blocks from me giving out theatre tickets. I missed their original tweet, but my good friend Glenn Letham in Vancouver, Canada retweeted it to me, just in time to get over there and claim tickets.
Overall, social media had been a positive part of my life. Has it for you? Please share any thoughts and insights in the comments below. In the meantime, I have some people to congratulate.
On Wednesday Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill repealing the death penalty in the state. The next day Quinn signs a bill into law creating a new death penalty, for Illinois Internet entrepreneurs.
House Bill 3659, what was commonly referred to as the Amazon tax bill, changed the definition of what is an out-of-state retailer. If a company has a physical presence in a state and someone from that state buys from them, they must collect taxes on that purchase. If someone from one state buys something from a company in another state, that company does not have to collect taxes on that sale, and – many people don’t know this – the purchaser must report to their home state what taxes they “should have” paid to their state on that purchase! As many people buy online from firms outside of their home state, they avoid paying sales tax.
The Amazon bill targeted Amazon.com and other companies who do not have a physical presence in the state, but do have affiliate marketers in the state. In the case of Illinois, someone like myself, and thousands of others who place links on their Web sites for products, now are considered a physical presence in Illinois for that company. As an Amazon Affiliate, by being in the Land of Lincoln, in the eyes of Pat Quinn, State Senate President John Cullerton and the rest of the short-sighted legislators who voted for this, Amazon IS in Illinois if someone buys from a link on my Web site.
Amazon, Overstock, other out-of-state retailers, myself and many others believe this is unconstitutional. It was pushed by in-state retailers as a way of “leveling the playing field.” But does it really? By canceling affiliate partnerships with Illinois businesses and residents, Amazon remains an out-of-state retailer. Illinois residents can still purchase from Amazon and others and not pay sales tax. Illinois businesses and residents who earned affiliate revenue previously no longer are – and those people were paying taxes on their earnings!
As a result, this is a true lose-lose situation for the fiscally unstable State of Illinois and its residents. But don’t try telling Pat Quinn this. This is the same person, in his budget for the state, had a line-item for repairs to the Governor’s Mansion. Meanwhile, the state is not paying its bills. A disaster if there ever was one.
For myself personally, I did not make a significant amount of money from Amazon. There are many out there whose sole income is from affiliate marketing, both individuals and businesses. There’s no wonder New Jersey, Wisconsin and Nevada have been trying to lure Illinois-based businesses to their states.
For well over a decade, the Amazon Associates Program has worked with thousands of Illinois residents. Unfortunately, a new state tax law signed by Governor Quinn compels us to terminate this program for Illinois-based participants. It specifically imposes the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers - including but not limited to those referred by Illinois-based affiliates like you - even if those retailers have no physical presence in the state.
We had opposed this new tax law because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive. It was supported by national retailing chains, most of which are based outside Illinois, that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors. Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue. We deeply regret that its enactment forces this action.
As a result of the new law, contracts with all Illinois affiliates of the Amazon Associates Program will be terminated and those Illinois residents will no longer receive advertising fees for sales referred to Amazon.com, Endless.com, or SmallParts.com. Please be assured that all qualifying advertising fees earned prior to April 15, 2011 will be processed and paid in full in accordance with the regular payment schedule. Based on your account closure date of April 15, 2011, any final payments will be paid by July 1, 2011.
You are receiving this email because our records indicate that you are a resident of Illinois. If you are not currently a permanent resident of Illinois, or if you are relocating to another state in the near future, you can manage the details of your Associates account here. And if you relocate to another state after April 15, please contact us for reinstatement into the Amazon Associates Program.
To be clear, this development will only impact our ability to continue the Associates Program in Illinois, and will not affect the ability of Illinois residents to purchase online at http://www.amazon.com from Amazon’s retail business.
We have enjoyed working with you and other Illinois-based participants in the Amazon Associates Program and, if this situation is rectified, would very much welcome the opportunity to re-open our Associates Program to Illinois residents.
Last week I received an email from Yahoo indicating it will be shutting down the service MyBlogLog on May 24, 2011. For some of you reading this, you may be saying, what the heck is MyBlogLog anyway? Allow me to explain.
MyBlogLog was a social community for blogs. Bloggers joined MyBlogLog and would put code into their theme or template pages to display a widget. If you were a member of MyBlogLog and visited the Web page of another blog who was also a member, your avatar would appear within the widget. This would show that you - and others - visited the blog site. The widget could be adjusted to show a small or large list of avatars, as well as the names of the person and blog behind the avatar. By clicking within the widget you could go to the MyBlogLog page for the blog itself or for the visitors.
For myself, MyBlogLog was more of a merit badge for how many different people would visit my blog more than a way to learn about my visitors. I rarely went to the MyBlogLog Web site itself. Overtime, the widget was slowly demoted on the sidebar of The Hot Iron and other blogs which I had signed up for it. Where it was something I would recommend for client blogs, eventually it was not. The accompanying image shows the latest status of the MyBlogLog widget for The Hot Iron as of this writing.
My guess is its popularity waned for others as well. Here’s the text of Yahoo’s email:
Dear MyBlogLog Customer,
You have been identified as a customer of Yahoo! MyBlogLog. We will officially discontinue Yahoo! MyBlogLog effective May 24, 2011. Your agreement with Yahoo!, to the extent that it applies to the Yahoo! MyBlogLog, will terminate on May 24, 2011.
After May 24, 2011 your credit card will no longer be charged for premium services on MyBlogLog. We will refund you the unused portion of your subscription, if any. The refund will appear as a credit via the billing method we have on file for you. To make sure that your billing information is correct and up to date, visit https://billing.yahoo.com.
If you have questions about these changes, please visit the Yahoo! MyBlogLog help pages.
We thank you for being a customer on Yahoo! MyBlogLog.
The Yahoo! My BlogLog Team
When I read this, my first reaction was, “people paid for this?” It was always free when I signed up for it, which pre-dated Yahoo’s acquisition of it. The link to the help pages originally linked to a MyBlogLog page which basically stated what was in the email. As I write this it links to a help page on Featured Listings, which looks like another soon-to-be discontinued service.
My guess is after May 24 the widget will not appear on Web pages, and soon I will remove it from The Hot Iron’s templates. This appears to be yet another change Yahoo is making to slim down its operations, including the shutdown of Geocities and using Microsoft Bing’s search marketing services instead of its own. With MyBlogLog, and the same can be said for Geocities, why didn’t they just spin it off and give this away to someone to let them continue with it? Perhaps they didn’t want to incur the cost of doing so, or perhaps it was easier to just shut it down. I don’t know, as the help topics don’t pertain to it.
So long MyBlogLog – it was fun while it lasted! What do you think about this latest decision by Yahoo? Should they have kept it going? Did it provide any value to you, even if only as eye candy? Please share your thoughts in the comments on this post. And perhaps you will see your avatar in the widget when you do so?
One of the great things about the proliferation of content management systems and blogging is the ability to publish whatever you want, including text and photos and images. One of the not so great things about this is that things can be published in a far from optimal format, leaving quality on the floor in the name of convenience. Specifically, I am writing with concern over how images and photos are often published and look fuzzy or are slow to load. This can be easily remedied with simply realizing the physical dimensions of an image to match the desired display dimensions.
Here’s an example to illustrate my point, literally, of what we at Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC advise to our clients all the time. As it’s a nice and cold day in Chicago as I write this, why not use a photo of Panama City Beach, Florida taken earlier this year, as shown below.
The dimensions of the photo below are 480 pixels wide by 318 pixels high. The original dimensions of the photo were 2,048 x 1,356 pixels, which is not only much too large to display within the layout of The Hot Iron but too large for most blog feed readers. Using the most basic features of PhotoShop, I reduced it to the size above. As a result, the physical dimensions of the photo match the display dimensions, not to mention the size of the file being much smaller as well.
The alternative to this would have been to add the photo to the blog post and resize its dimensions “logically” by adjusting the HTML display dimensions. This would have had 2 negative impacts on the beautiful picture. It would have appeared grainy or pixilated as I am simply squishing the image without altering its physical size. Also, it would have taken longer for it to appear, as the filesize would be 10 times larger than the physically resized image.
Larger images logically resized appear more than you would think, or now would like. I see it on blog posts, Web sites for businesses as well as email newsletters. The user experience is often where the entire page loads and the photo or image slowly appears, line-by-line, from top to bottom. Many times I have been tempted to contact the owner of the Web site or newsletter, however from past experience such submitted issues go unresponded to.
So how do you resize your images? Many of you may already have software to do this installed on your PC or Mac – some may come from the OS itself, or in the case of Windows it may be pre-installed software from the hardware vendor. Some digital camera software comes with basic editing tools. Some online photo sites may offer editing and resizing capabilities as well. You can also acquire a full copy of Adobe Creative Suite, or its lower-priced cousin PhotoShop Elements.
With a little bit of work, you can provide a greater experience to your readers with good looking photos and images displayed in an optimal way.
My 3 words for your Web site are – Measure, Function and Backup.
Measure – Any decision you make for your Web site (or for your business for that matter) should be the result of facts or planning. Whether these are successful or not are determined by the numbers, and you must measure them to ensure if you are on track, way off, or need an adjustment. Many people do not measure their Web site. This starts with the hits, which many people use Google Analytics to measure. It then continues with feed tracking (for blogs or RSS feeds), social media links, surveying and so forth. If you are not doing any measuring, do so. If you have no data to work with, start collecting it.
Function – As much as a Web site must have great content and look good, it must also work. Links should not be broken. Forms should submit properly and accurately process the information entered. Any unique functionality should not only work but also work in all browsers. Where you may think these examples should be a given, many times they are not. The simple thing is to test your Web site on multiple browsers – Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc. – and on multiple platforms – PC, Mac, Linux, mobile devices – and see how they look and perform. Ensuring your Web site works means it is working for your customers.
Backup – Do you have a backup strategy for your Web site? Or do you even have at least one, single backup copy of your Web site stored someplace secure? If not, then you should. Develop a plan of what to backup and how often. Backups can be as simple as a database dump or export of orders, blog posts or customer data. It should be done on an interval that works for you. One you create it, test the backup plan, as a backup is no good if you can’t restore from it. Fortunately your Web host more than likely has some form of backup procedures in place. But why wait until there’s a problem to fund out they don’t?
There are a lot of things to consider with regards to any Web site, as I have presented before with The State of Your Web Site. These are 3 core areas from which you can build the success of your Web site. If you have any questions or comments on any of these, please enter them in the comments area of this post below. If you need help to make these happen, please contact me personally.
Contaminated water tanks, oil leaking into water supplies, high levels of prescription medication found in drinking water, political corruption surrounding paying for water, water management agencies offices in high-rent areas, high taxes on bottled water…
…And all of these things are just in and around Chicago!
There’s no point in reiterating how important water is to all living creatures. Living in Chicago, where the entire eastern border of the city is surrounded by Lake Michigan, I am constantly reminded of it. Yet, for some reason, many tend to forget the real reason for all of what is done to get all the clean water we need. Today is Blog Action Day, a day where bloggers around the world write on a particular topic. This year, it is water.
Whenever conversations around a global concern take place, people tend to forget what is immediately around them, their backyard. As my Mom always said, charity begins at home. Keeping her great advice in mind, I propose not only thinking locally and acting globally, but acting on both.
Many people don’t know how the water gets to run out of their faucets. Here’s your opportunity to go out and find out what you don’t know. In Chicago, the city has a water management department and as well there is a regional water authority, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. I will be honest in that I don’t know too much about either of these departments, other than the latter has prime offices just off the Magnificent Mile and people buy billboards in their bid to be a commissioner of this organization. The also manage a system called “Deep Tunnel” to prevent overflows and flooding.
So why would you want to know this? Understanding the political ecosystem is usually as important as the environmental one, as the former has to do with how much you pay for your water, as well as the safety and purity of the supply. Though they should be straightforward systems, they tend not to be, and it can be summed up in 1 word – politics. I’ll leave it at that.
Knowledge is power, especially on the local level, and if you need to act – or react – you can be ahead of the game in knowing who is responsible.
Unless you’re planning on traveling the globe to do so, your options to help people’s water supplies around the world are limited. Here’s a great way to help such a cause while learning from great entrepreneurs – buy a copy of the Age of Conversation 3!
You may recall I talked about this great book, where myself and hundreds of people around the globe contributed to a truly collaborative story. The book is also a not-for-profit endeavor, and all proceeds from it go to Charity: Water an organization where all proceeds go to helping people around the globe, and they have the photos and geo-locations to prove it. Simply buy a copy of Age of Conversation 3 from Amazon or any other outlet and you have helped the cause. I’ll even autograph it for an extra donation!
We can all do our part to help – for the benefit of others as well as ourselves. So think before you take that drink of water today, all 8 glasses of it.
Recently I heard from a friend who had questions about starting a blog. As their questions were not personal in nature, and could benefit others as well as them, I have decided to respond in an appropriate manner, in an open blog post. Here are the questions and my responses.
Q – How did you come up with the name of your blog?
A – The name “The Hot Iron” is a play on the term “strike while the iron is hot” and is something I had thought of a few years before I actually started the blog. The idea for the name being I would write about not only topical items but would write while something was fresh in my mind.
I registered the domain name thehotiron.com right away, and it was ready for me to use when I decided to start blogging.
Q – What are the top 3 things I need to think about as a new blogger?
A – Audience, promotion and time.
Where you could be simply writing a personal journal out in the open, ideally you are writing for the benefit of others as well. Keeping in mind your audience, not only as you start but on-going, will help you focus on what topics to write and how to present the information.
If you write it, people may not necessarily come and read it. You will need to spend time to promote your blog. Whether it’s emailing all your friends, getting links to other sites or any other method, you will need to spend some time to do so.
And as you can guess, writing for and managing a blog take some time. However much you decide to spend on it is up to you, but keep this in mind with everything else you have going on.
Q – Are there any mistakes you made that you learned from when you were just starting out that you would pass on to a new blogger?
A – Are you asking about mistakes I made in the past, or continue to make?!
Whenever you start a blog, you have energy and excitement. Over time, this can change, and usually will decrease. You will need to motivate yourself to maintain a consistent blogging schedule.
You may also write something that will tick off someone, as I have done before. They may contact you offline to make a change to what you wrote. Don’t do it. I have made a couple of small tweaks to posts over time, showing goodwill to these people and in return asked them to comment on my posts, but they never did. A cease and desist letter form a lawyer is one thing, but in general your blog is your opinion, and you should be true to your convictions.
Q – Do you think there is a life span to a blog?
A – As someone said to me moments before he got married, “nothing is forever!” Everything has a lifecycle, and a blog could as well. When you get to the point where you think it’s over, you may have options to either shut it down or transfer or sell to someone else. But you’re just getting started now, so nothing to worry about regarding this now. Oh, and that guy has been married for almost 20 years now.
Q – What are your suggestions for evaluating hosts?
A – As I build blogs for a living, I recommend hiring my Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC to build your, including offering and managing your hosting! However, there are many options out there. You could have your own hosting and then manage your own installation of a blog platform, like WordPress or ExpressionEngine. Or you could go with a hosted platform, like WordPress.com or Blogger.com.
However you go, I strongly recommend you do 2 things. The first is use your own domain name for the blog, and not use the default URL that may come with the host or hosted solution. Also, use Google Feedburner to manage your blog feed and not the default feed URLs that come with either. By doing these, you have flexibility to move to a new platform or host and not lose users or feed subscribers with a new URL for each.
Q – What blogs do you read regularly and would send me to view as I begin this process?
A – I subscribe to the feeds of over 200 blogs. This does not mean I read all of them, in some cases I simply skim the headlines or titles. I recommend setting up a Google Reader account, and then begin subscribing to the RSS feeds of various blogs, from ones in the same vertical of which you are planning for your own blog, to news services or blogs in different categories. Some blogs do all things well, many do some a few things well, and some do most everything poorly.
One blog I will recommend is ProBlogger – it is a tremendous resource for blogging, whether for someone new like yourself or a seasoned blogger like myself.
Good luck with the launch of your blog! As I wrote these questions out in the open, I welcome anyone to comment on these, and make any recommendations they may have for getting started with blogging.
the3six5 is a story of the year 2010, told daily by a different person. It falls under the category of a crowdsourced piece. It is the mastermind of Daniel Honigman and Len Kendall, 2 people who work in social media and the Internet in Chicago with whom I have the honor to know.
Last Thursday, August 19, I contributed “my day” to the project. Below is what I submitted. If you are not following the3six5 I highly recommend you do. It is a unique perspective on the year told my a wide variety of people.
Taking my little girl to daycare every day allows me to somewhat recreate Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, where he plays out in his mind’s eye how his next moves will take place. Of course I say somewhat, for as much as I would like, the day of a Web consultant can sometimes be unpredictable. Then again, this is part of why I do what I do.
After I drop her off and watch her bounding into her class (and once again wondering how she does it without the 3 cups of coffee that didn’t allow me to keep up with her) I continue out my role as Holmes, but with a Patriots jersey on, as it’s a gameday. In between client calls, development and some blogging, my mind wanders back to the date – August 19.
When I chose this day to share my day with you, I knew it would fall on the date, 6 years later, when I arrived in the Windy City. I wasn’t quite sure if it would be a big day, or just another day, or where I would even be this day. I also wasn’t sure if I would be reminiscing about what’s transpired over the years. As it turns out, though there have been some lows, the highs have trumped them, and I am pretty positive about where I am right now. Ok, the photos of my family and pictures of some of the Web sites I have build which surround me may have some influence on that, not to mention not following the news today!
I am also looking ahead to the next few weeks – this weekend I was invited by Nokia to a beach house in Huntington Beach, CA to try out a new mobile device, which will be followed by some quality time-off with the family, followed by kicking off a great Web project. Some days the glass is half full and some days it isn’t half full, rather shattered on the floor and liquid splattered. Then again, I probably have followed the news too much those days.
A special hello to new readers of The Hot Iron, especially those who came here after reading the latest edition of the “Out of Date Newsletter” by Christopher S. Penn. I was mentioned in the newsletter which arrived in my inbox yesterday, and I appreciate the kind words!
Apparently I am returning the favor, as mentions from me in social media drove traffic to his newsletter. Of course you can only find out this information from analytics, which I have talked about quite a bit here. If you’re not already reading his newsletter or his blog, visit ChristopherSPenn.com and do so, not to mention the amazing marketing podcast Marketing Over Coffee he does with my good friend John Wall.
The Power Of The Last Post And Tweet
If you are new or a regular reader, you may have noticed I haven’t posted to The Hot Iron in a couple of weeks. I won’t get into any excuses as that is not important. But if you did subscribe, thank you, as many may not have found something relevant as of late and may not have chosen to. Also, if you read my Twitter stream yesterday, you may have seen more mentions of my wedding anniversary than anything business-related, as I took yesterday off. If you are following my tweets, again, thank you!
In a 24/7 world where attention spans are short, where we last left off is sometimes all people see from us. In social media and blogging, this is something to always be aware of. But then again, it is no different than a Web site with minimal or outdated content. You never know who will read, and when, and hopefully what they see is of interest to them. This is why on the Web pages of The Hot Iron I just have a link to my Twitter page, as sometimes the last one I leave is not always the best one.
Any Press Is Good Press
Despite this, I am thrilled to have the mention, especially as not everyone reads an email newsletter the day it is delivered. In my case, it was the next day – I was of course monitoring my email during the day and saw it in my inbox, but did not read it in full until today. Plus I subscribe to Donald Trump’s mantra that “any press is good press” as people are talking about you, and where you can’t control the message all the time, you can have an impact from what you say yourself.
Be on the watch for new thoughts and commentary coming from me here at The Hot Iron. Seriously.