Making government open, social and interesting: SMBTV 6

Last Friday was the sixth installment of Social Media Breakfast Tech Valley, an event that continues to grow and attract smart and interesting people from the area to gather, talk and tweet about social media. I invited Noel Hidalgo and Ken Zalewski from the New York State Senate CIO’s office to share how they’re pulling state government out of the DOS-ages and into the world of participative, open government.

I’m not remotely wonky (at least when it comes to politics), so I wasn’t even sure if I was going to find the breakfast interesting. But, seeing as how Albany is a government town and many of the attendees work in state government, talking about how technology and social media are transforming what’s often thought of (and is) as a slow, stodgy bureaucracy seemed like it might generate some good discussion.

Noel and Ken didn’t disappoint.

I was fascinated during the entire presentation, which was much more technical and talked a lot more about software code and technology policy and a lot less about Facebook and Twitter than previous SMBTV events (which I think is a good thing). Noel shared the three components of open government:

    • Transparent: Promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what government is doing.
    • Participatory: Should use innovative tools, methods and systems to cooperate among themselves. Should also solicit public input for how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation.
    • Collaborative: Actively engages New Yorkers in the work of their government.

    In the New York State Senate, Noel and his team are working to make sure that all legislators have access to the same tools and can use technology to engage in two-way dialogue with constituents about important issues. They are using open-source software like Drupal to rebuild constituent management systems and open up data so that citizens can create applications to access information about their government.

    The New York State Senate is the first state house to adopt Creative Commons license for all content it produces. Through the Open Legislation platform, all bills since 2009 are now online and searchable, and anyone can create applications that access information in this database – one resident developed an SMS short code app where anyone can text message a bill number and receive information back about the bill.

    The presentation, held in the very cool EMPAC at Rensselaer building in Troy, was recorded and livestreamed by Annemarie Lanesey of MZA Multimedia:

    If you’re even remotely interested in how governments can and are using technology to more effectively reach citizens, I’d encourage you to watch the presentation. If you’re not, watch it anyway – I didn’t think I would be interested either!

    Thanks again to Noel and Ken for speaking, and to EMPAC and their fantastic staff for hosting SMBTV 6.

    Why I’ll never use Delicious again

    I want to like Delicious, I really do. I’ve been using it to trap links of interest for a while now, and as someone who’s probably used 10 different computers regularly in the last few years, it seemed a handy way to store content I want to access again later, from anywhere. I installed the Delicious extension in Chrome recently and that made it easier and more likely that I’d share and tag links.

    But my days with Delicious are over.

    The social networks that have stood the test of time so far (“time” in Internet world meaning more than a year or two) have constantly added functionality, features and new design. Facebook does it every few months, it seems. Delicious, for whatever reason, never seemed to graduate into a really robust, useful platform for people to share and save content. It was hard (nearly impossible) to import and find friends, the interface was ugly and clumsy, and search was frustrating. It earned the moniker “Where links go to die” and that’s not too far from the truth, in my case.

    It’s too late for Delicious. Google Reader has completely lapped it.

    Google Reader started as a way to keep track of blog feeds, and I didn’t use it much beyond that. But then they began rolling out more useful features. You can tag and star items and organize feeds into folders. Then Google rolled out the “Share” function, which, with one click, allows you to post to your own public feed any item from your reader you wished. Google added the ability to find and follow friends via Google Reader and see, right from within your reader, what they are sharing. You can add notes and comments on items or send an item to someone via eMail. And let’s not forget the nifty ‘Trends’ stats feature (this is Google, after all) that shows you which feeds you’re most engaged with. (The official Google Reader blog is a great resource on all these features.)

    For a long time, the only thing that kept me saving items to Delicious was the concept of “discovery.” Anything I wanted to save, share or tag in Google Reader was limited to feeds I was already subscribed to. If I happened across something on the Web or clicked to a link from Twitter, I didn’t have a good way to get it into my reader. Plus, I often found a single post interesting and bookmark-worthy, but had no desire to subscribe to the entire blog.

    So, it was a two-party system for me: Google Reader to share and save the most interesting posts from among the feeds I already subscribed to, and Delicious for tagging and saving sites I randomly “found” out on the Web.

    But it doesn’t have to be this way!

    Google Reader has a “Note in Reader” bookmarklet! It does! And it has for two years! Drag the bookmarklet onto your browser’s toolbar, and wave goodbye to Delicious. The bookmarklet lets you save and/or share anything you find on the Web into your Google Reader. You can add notes and comments, just like you would on a blog post. I don’t know how I missed this feature, but to me, it pretty much means the end of Delicious.

    The “Note in Reader” feature completes the content consumption round trip for me. Using Google Reader I can:

    • Subscribe to a blog or Web site’s feed to receive all its content
    • Arrange and sort feeds into folders and bundles
    • Star, tag, like, annotate and share specific items from those feeds to my own public “shared items” feed
    • Find and follow friends via my GMail contacts or other social networks, or even search for people via keyword or location, and then see and subscribe to items they are sharing
    • View recommendations for new feeds that Google generates by comparing my interests with feeds of users similar to me
    • Share and save content into my Google Reader from anywhere on the Web I happen to find it

    I haven’t tinkered with Google Buzz much, but obviously Reader and Buzz are easily integrated so you can share items across that platform, too.

    (I’m not even going to get started on Google Reader Play, which is possibly the biggest time suck I’ve ever seen – it curates and presents fun and interesting information from the Web it thinks I may like into a visual slideshow type of format and lets you share, like and save right from the screen. I’m talking hours lost here discovering fun stuff.)

    So I’m sorry Delicious. I can’t even say that it was fun while it lasted, because it was always a bit cumbersome. It’s too bad we have to part ways, but with “Note in Reader” and all the other amazing options Google Reader offers, can you blame me?

    Check out what I’m reading, saving and sharing via Google Reader here.

    Age of Conversation 3: It’s Time to Get Busy

    If 2009 was the year we all sat around talking about social media, then 2010 is the year that we start doing it. It’s time to get busy! That’s the subtitle of the third installment of the Age of Conversation, a book that features the collaborative, crowdsourced effort of more than 200 authors, including yours truly.

    Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton headed up the project and have assembled quite a group of social media smarties. I’m not sure how I managed to be included with the likes of Joseph Jaffe, Amber Naslund, Jacob Morgan and Karen Swim, but I’m glad to be part of an effort where 100 percent of the profits will be donated to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

    The book is broken into several sections with each author contributing a short essay or chapter. My contribution is part of the “corporate conversations” chapter and is an adaptation of a post about enhancing internal communications with social media. Other sections include “conversational branding”, “in the boardroom”, and “innovation and execution”.

    Age of Conversation 3 will be available by mid-April in hardback, paperback, Kindle and iPad versions. Purchase details will be posted here.

    The book’s contributors span marketing, communications, PR, branding, measurement, HR and community management functions from across the globe and from a variety of different organizations. Check out the list below:

    Adam Joseph Priyanka Sachar Mark Earls
    Cory Coley-Christakos Stefan Erschwendner Paul Hebert
    Jeff De Cagna Thomas Clifford Phil Gerbyshak
    Jon Burg Toby Bloomberg Shambhu Neil Vineberg
    Joseph Jaffe Uwe Hook Steve Roesler
    Michael E. Rubin anibal casso Steve Woodruff
    Steve Sponder Becky Carroll Tim Tyler
    Chris Wilson Beth Harte Tinu Abayomi-Paul
    Dan Schawbel Carol Bodensteiner Trey Pennington
    David Weinfeld Dan Sitter Vanessa DiMauro
    Ed Brenegar David Zinger Brett T. T. Macfarlane
    Efrain Mendicuti Deb Brown Brian Reich
    Gaurav Mishra Dennis Deery C.B. Whittemore
    Gordon Whitehead Heather Rast Cam Beck
    Hajj E. Flemings Joan Endicott Cathryn Hrudicka
    Jeroen Verkroost Karen D. Swim Christopher Morris
    Joe Pulizzi Leah Otto Corentin Monot
    Karalee Evans Leigh Durst David Berkowitz
    Kevin Jessop Lesley Lambert Duane Brown
    Peter Korchnak Mark Price Dustin Jacobsen
    Piet Wulleman Mike Maddaloni Ernie Mosteller
    Scott Townsend Nick Burcher Frank Stiefler
    Steve Olenski Rich Nadworny John Rosen
    Tim Jackson Suzanne Hull Len Kendall
    Amber Naslund Wayne Buckhanan Mark McGuinness
    Caroline Melberg Andy Drish Oleksandr Skorokhod
    Claire Grinton Angela Maiers Paul Williams
    Gary Cohen Armando Alves Sam Ismail
    Gautam Ramdurai B.J. Smith Tamera Kremer
    Eaon Pritchard Brendan Tripp Adelino de Almeida
    Jacob Morgan Casey Hibbard Andy Hunter
    Julian Cole Debra Helwig Anjali Ramachandran
    Jye Smith Drew McLellan Craig Wilson
    Karin Hermans Emily Reed David Petherick
    Katie Harris Gavin Heaton Dennis Price
    Mark Levy George Jenkins Doug Mitchell
    Mark W. Schaefer Helge Tenno Douglas Hanna
    Marshall Sponder James Stevens Ian Lurie
    Ryan Hanser Jenny Meade Jeff Larche
    Sacha Tueni and Katherine Maher David Svet Jessica Hagy
    Simon Payn Joanne Austin-Olsen Mark Avnet
    Stanley Johnson Marilyn Pratt Mark Hancock
    Steve Kellogg Michelle Beckham-Corbin Michelle Chmielewski
    Amy Mengel Veronique Rabuteau Peter Komendowski
    Andrea Vascellari Timothy L Johnson Phil Osborne
    Beth Wampler Amy Jussel Rick Liebling
    Eric Brody Arun Rajagopal Dr Letitia Wright
    Hugh de Winton David Koopmans Aki Spicer
    Jeff Wallace Don Frederiksen Charles Sipe
    Katie McIntyre James G Lindberg & Sandra Renshaw David Reich
    Lynae Johnson Jasmin Tragas Deborah Chaddock Brown
    Mike O’Toole Jeanne Dininni Iqbal Mohammed
    Morriss M. Partee Katie Chatfield Jeff Cutler
    Pete Jones Riku Vassinen Jeff Garrison
    Kevin Dugan Tiphereth Gloria Mike Sansone
    Lori Magno Valerie Simon Nettie Hartsock
    Mark Goren Peter Salvitti

    A pretty impressive collection. Don’t miss out on your chance to own Age of Conversation 3 and support a great charity.

    Luring ‘Specialized’ candidates through social HR

    I’m really fortunate to be in a job that I love at a company that’s a great fit for me. But so many people in a variety of industries and careers are struggling right now to find a job — and they also want to make sure it’s the right job. Likewise, companies want to hire the best candidates who can get the work done but who also fit in with the company culture. Often this matchmaking is difficult because each side doesn’t effectively articulate what it’s looking for — especially on the company side.

    Sure, plenty of corporate sites have dry and bland “Careers” sections that give a few paragraphs on the company environment with (sometimes stock) photos of happy looking people in generic conference rooms. Then they dump the job seeker into a dizzying maze of job search queries (function, business unit, department, location, etc.).

    If finding the right talent is so important to companies, why are so few taking advantage of social media and other avenues to help them communicate to job seekers what they’re looking for? It’s fairly quick and easy these days to add context to a careers Web site and give candidates a lot more information about what to expect.

    One company that is doing it right is Specialized (Disclaimer 1: I’m a loyal Jamis rider. But the Tarmac is one sexy bike. Disclaimer 2: Team Saxo Bank rides Specialized and I love Frank Schleck). The most prominent feature on the Careers section of its Web site? Videos. Embedded from YouTube, these videos interview employees and describe some of the interesting benefits Specialized employees receive. You get a nice sense of not only what the company offers, but also what the people who work there are like.

    What’s most impressive is this video interview with Specialized’s director of HR. She tells candidates exactly what the company is looking for and what job seekers need to do to land a gig there:

    She answers the real questions that most job seekers want to know. What kind of people are you looking for? What do you want to see in a cover letter? What are the steps in the hiring process? How can I impress you in the interview?

    Specialized could have easily listed out this information on its site, but the video interview makes a much greater impact. What’s more, the videos on the site can be easily shared and linked to. Maybe a job seeker realizes that the company isn’t a good fit for him or her, but knows of someone who would be great at Specialized. A few clicks and that person can post a link to the YouTube video to a friend’s Facebook page.

    Companies don’t have to dive headlong into a social media strategy before they’re ready, but quick hits like this are a relatively easy way to connect with an audience in a more personal and engaging way.

    Media2010: Print, Web, blogs, ads, and The Wall

    On Wednesday I attended the “Media 2010 Summit” presented by the Albany Times Union. It featured a panel discussion with three of the TU bloggers and Greg Dahlmann, co-founder of popular local blog All Over Albany.

    It took a while to get to some meat in the discussion, and it felt like time ran out just as we arrived there. The Times Union runs about 155 blogs on its site. A handful of those are written by TU staffers; the rest by unpaid volunteers from the community. Topics range from food to politics to dogs to parenting to religion.

    I was most interested in hearing about how the TU is (or plans to) turning their stable of blogs into a revenue source for the paper — and what its plans are for more tightly integrating the news content on their site with blogs and being able to package and sell ads against all of their content.

    We didn’t quite get there.

    Panelist Kristi Gustafson, who writes the fashion/lifestyle blog for the TU, talked about “feeding the print product” and how they’re constantly trying to use blog content to drive people to the print newspaper. She repackages some of her most popular blog posts and features from the week for the Sunday print edition of the Times Union. To me, this seems backwards, as people continue to consume more content online and less in print.

    The topic of “The Wall” (the traditional partition between editorial and advertising) came up, and Steve Barnes, a senior writer at the TU and author of its popular food/restaurant blog, made one of the more interesting statements of the night:

    The revenue aspect completely not my concern. I build a brand because I know it brings more readers to the TU. I have no idea what they charge for ads. I don’t want to know. We have a department for that. We have people who go out and sell ads.

    Steve is an “old-school journalist” with a great respect for editorial and journalistic integrity (and I respect him for that). But his statement is a bit contradictory. He wants to use his blog to bring readers to the TU, but doesn’t want to take the full step to equate those readers with dollars and that what he writes impacts that. In the Web world, readers = traffic. Traffic = ad revenue. I don’t believe it’s as decoupled as Steve thinks.

    Journalists in the future, like it or not, are going to need to understand media business models better. While I’m certainly not suggesting that advertisers should directly impact content (be it “traditional” news content or blogs), driving traffic is what drives revenue (and let’s not get into that other Wall, the pay wall).

    Journalists and editors need to figure out how to make the content/traffic/revenue marriage work. It may mean that journalists DO need to think about the revenue side of the house when writing. The Huffington Post does real-time A/B testing of headlines in the first few minutes a story is live and then makes a decision on the most effective one.

    I certainly don’t want to see all news content devolve into keyword-optimized nonsense, but we can’t pretend that media companies can exist without revenue to support them. Consumers have so far shown that they’re unwilling to pay for news online. Advertising is, and always have been, what funds the editorial side of the house. I don’t think that one side of the house can afford to ignore the other.

    I’ve been noodling on this since the event on Wednesday. Let me know what you think in the comments.