So How Did They Decide to Allocate the Recovery Funds to the States?

 This post is a bit different from the usual on The Bivings Report.  But I’m a big believer in transparency in government, and watch with interest what ProPublica, a new non-profit investigative newsroom, is up to.  It’s an important experiment in contemporary journalism.  ProPublica has been keeping tabs on the stimulus funds; yesterday they posted a database of allocations to the 50 states and DC.  You can find it here.  As they asserted, there seems to be little connection between a state’s unemployment rate and the amount of funds it receives.  You can see it by staring at the numbers, but it’s a little easier to catch it when plotted graphically.  Here’s a graph showing per capita fund allocation by unemployment rates.

image

To reiterate there doesn’t seem to be any relationship between unemployment and per capita funding.  The state with the lowest unemployment, North Dakota at 4.2%, received $534 per head, significantly more than Michigan at $366 per capita and an unemployment rate of 15.2% (the highest of all). 

Alaska stands out all by itself.  It received $1,024 per person which is more than 4 times as much as New Jersey’s allotment of $247 per head (the lowest of all). And their unemployment rates aren’t that different at 8.4% and 9.2% respectively.

So if it’s not unemployment, which would seem a plausibly fair and objective way to divvy up the funds, what criteria or formula was used to allocate these funds?

ESPN Releases New Twitter/Facebook Policy, Tries to Control Reporter Socnet Content

bucher

Late yesterday, ESPN basketball reporter Ric Bucher sent out the tweet above in response to a set of social networking guidelines put out by the network.  The new guidelines prohibit reporters from maintaining personal websites or blogs containing sports content, require that employees get permission from a supervisor prior to participating in socnets and calls for social networking content to fall under the same editorial guidelines as other ESPN media.

The online reaction to the news has mostly focused on the idea that ESPN is a clueless giant that is needlessly limiting the freedom of its reporters.   To me, the story is much more complicated than that.

A few days ago, CNNSI reporter Peter King published an anecdote in one of his columns about the dilemma he faced in breaking some news about Michael Vick and the New England Patriots.  He ended up releasing the story on Twitter because he was afraid he would get scooped if he waited to post to CNNSI.

It’s a weird media world we’re in right now. My allegiance, obviously, is to SI.com, but I know if I take 10 minutes right now to dictate the item to someone on the news desk, the story will get up in 20 minutes, and we’ll probably be too late. So I decide to throw a couple of Tweets up, the first at 4:59 saying Vick wasn’t in Foxboro, and the second that the Pats don’t want Vick and like O’Connell. Sure enough, at 5:01 p.m., Adam Schefter Tweeted that Vick wasn’t in New England either. It’s a crazy media world. Forgive me, Time Warner.

If you are Time Warner (owner of CNNSI), in the situation above you are paying King to report for you and he releases breaking news on his personal Twitter account as opposed to on your website.  This means you have no opportunity to monetize the story, and that some users might just start following King’s Twitter account instead of reading him on CNNSI.  While it can certainly be argued that King building a large Twitter following is ultimately good for CNNSI, this kind of situation introduces complicated questions for both reporters and publishers.

I think the ESPN guidelines are an attempt to establish rules for situations like the one King faced.  However clumsy they my seem, from my reading the guidelines are an effort by ESPN to exercise some editorial control over social media content, and not simply a clueless attempt to stifle their reporters.  Indeed, another portion of the ESPN memo hints that ESPN has plans for fully integrating Twitter and Facebook into all its efforts, undoubtedly with an eye towards monetizing the content produced on socnets:

ESPN Digital Media is currently building and testing modules designed to publish Twitter and Facebook entries simultaneously on ESPN.com, SportsCenter.com, Page 2, ESPN Profile pages and other similar pages across our web site and mobile platforms. The plan is to fully deploy these modules this fall.

Media organizations are facing some really complicated questions here.  I think in this case we are sort of watching ESPN struggle to make up the rules as they go.

Twitter and Disclosure

Yesterday, IZEA launched a service called Sponsored Tweets, which allows advertiser to pay well followed Twitter users, such as reality show star Kendra Wilkinson, comedian Carrot Top and web celebrity Chris Pirillo, to send sponsored tweets out about their product or service.  In a lesson undoubtedly learned from the controversy around another IZEA product, PayPerPost, IZEA is requiring that all tweets sent through their network be clearly marked as sponsored.

Undoubtedly Sponsored Tweets, and other similar services, will cause a lot of hand ringing in the Twittosphere.  Since the service requires clear disclosure, I really have trouble getting that worked up about it. 

However, I do think the service highlights some murkiness about what does and does not need to be disclosed on Twitter.  I see tweets every day from people promoting their work/employer/client without a disclosure.  Indeed, I’ve sent tweets myself where I haven’t clearly disclosed my involvement in the topic I’m tweeting about.  Twitter’s immediacy and brevity make it really difficult to know when and what you should disclose.

Here are a couple of scenarios I might face, where I’m honestly not sure whether to disclose or not:

(1) If you retweet content from an employer or client blog, should you disclose the relationship?  I occasionally do this and never disclose it, and neither does anyway else from what I can tell.  Should I?

(2) If you send a promotional tweet about an employer or client initiative, should you make a disclosure?  For me the example might be a tweet I send from my personal Twitter account about a client website I launch.  I typically disclose the client relationship, but I have no doubt I haven’t been consistent in doing.  Every day I see examples of consultants using there personal Twitter accounts to promote client work with no disclosure.  Is this wrong? 

(3) If I state a personal opinion about an issue or subject that I have some financial interest in, should I disclose the relationship?  This one doesn’t really come up for me that often as I tend to avoid sharing my opinion about client related topics on my personal Twitter account, but I see others walk this tightrope all the time.  Joe Trippi recently got in trouble for vocally  supporting New York Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney without disclosing that she was a client.  When should and shouldn’t you disclose?

With blogging, I think we all eventually figured things out and now most of us  instinctively know when we need to disclose and when we don’t.  Blogging is also fundamentally different, as when you read a blog post in the context of a website you can quickly click to an About page or a disclosure policy.  Tweets don’t provide people with the same kind of context as a blog post does.  More importantly, the 140 character limit on Twitter simply doesn’t provide you with the space to do a proper disclosure many times.  Note: some have called for a disclosure character as a way of addressing this problem. 

At this point Twitter is the Wild West and no one of really knows what the rules are when it comes to disclosure.  I personally think we need some as I struggle to walk the tight rope myself.

What do you think?  Has someone developed a set of rules that I’m missing?

Network Solutions Embraces Mystery with New Product Names

When putting together navigation elements on the sites we build, our number one priority is presenting users with clear choices so they can quickly find what they are looking for.  On the web, usability is branding.  John Graham-Cumming points to a great example from Network Solutions of how not to name the options on your site.  You can see the full list of recent changes made by Network Solutions below.  As Graham-Cumming points out, going from “Domain” to “nsWebAddress” and from “SSL Certificates” to “nsProtect” seems like a pretty big step backwards from a clarity and usability standpoint.

 ns

Buying a Website. The Seven Costly Questions That Are Often Overlooked.

The proposals are in.  They include some great designs; features that meet requirements; and maybe even some novel ideas.  Budgets get compared, references checked, and a selection is made.  Yet all is not well.  Several months down the road, after the new site’s public launch, problems arise that weren’t contemplated during the proposal process.

This year alone, we’ve had a half dozen or so organizations contact us expressing dismay with their current web development partner.  The complaints: deadlines are frequently missed; simple changes to the site aren’t made; and requests for new additions to the site seem way overpriced.  And they don’t know how to move the site to a new partner.

What’s going on?

Answer: the proposal process didn’t take into account two key factors, a) the platform on which the site was built, and b) the web partner’s experience with it and its dedication to client service.

So before throwing good money after bad in building a site, make sure you get solid and verified responses to these seven questions:

(1) Don’t get fooled by a great design.  Turning a mock-up into a real web site is where the rubber meets the road.  Demand that the potential web vendor demonstrate previous experience.  You don’t want to be a guinea pig.  This leads to the next question:

(2) What platform will the site be built on, i.e., is there going to be a robust content management system (CMS) housing the site’s content?  If not, you’ll be looking ahead to lots of slow, manual labor in making changes and additions to your site.

(3) Is the CMS well supported, with a growing list of new modules and refinements? In other words, are there lots of people behind the CMS, and is the CMS growing in popularity?  You want a CMS that’s successful, and that will grow with your evolving requirements. Make your prospective partner demonstrate that.

(4) Is the CMS easy to use? Most clients want to take charge of their content.  With a few hours training, a serious CMS will enable the client to do just that.  Make your prospective partner prove it.

FACT: There are a number of FREE (open source) CMS available today, such as Drupal and    Joomla.  They are powerful, easy for the client to employ, and used by all sizes of organizations and companies.  They enable basic changes to be made with little effort, and new site additions (blogs, video, social media) to be incorporated without costing an arm and a leg.  DEADLINES MET, BUDGETS KEPT.

(5) Just how adept is your web partner with the recommended CMS? You want a partner with thousands of hours on the CMS, a partner that knows every detail, no matter how small.  You want an expert, not a vendor who sees your project as a chance to build its own CMS – a disaster in waiting.

(6) What happens in the event that you need to end the relationship with the web partner? You need to make the break as seamless as possible.  The client owns the content and the transition is very simple with the right CMS – if the contract has provisions for this eventuality.  Web partners worth their salt will help with the move.

(7) What the web vendor’s record of client support? Research this carefully.  Ask lots of question from references.  How quick are they to respond?  Do they make simple changes as a matter of course?  How accurate are their time and budget estimates for site customizations? Do they keep their word?

So next time you’re in the market for a website, no matter its size, keep these questions in mind. You want to make management of the site as effortless as possible. And you want a web partner who knows what it’s doing and values your relationship.  You need both together otherwise you’ll be wasting money.  And not in a real party mood.

Twitter Suggestions for Your Company

THING While getting my much needed cup of coffee this morning, I overheard a lady behind me say something along the lines of, "What about this Twitter thing… how can we use it to market us?"

I didn’t listen to the rest of the conversation, as my focus was on coffee and waking up.  However, what was said struck a chord. Those of you who have been on twitter awhile, have noticed the influx of companies jumping on the bandwagon.  On my twitter profile the number of business accounts following me are starting to surpass actual people.

There are some fantastic examples of companies using Twitter to it’s full benefit.  However, many are not using it effectively. To be fair, they may not know how.

So, if your company is thinking about trying Twitter, here are some quick suggestions.

  • Don’t use Twitter as simply just another billboard to sell or promote you or your services.
  • Twitter is a digital handshake. The same principals and ethics the govern our offline relationships apply.
  • Do research. If you you are thinking of setting up a profile for your restaurant, what other restaurants are using Twitter? How are they using it? What are they doing that works? What isn’t working?
  • Target demographics do exist on Twitter, but that doesn’t mean you should treat your followers as such. Treat people as people, not demographics.
  • Before you start "tweeting" consider searching keywords using tools like Twitter Search, and listen to what people in your target demographic are talking about.
  • Step out from behind the curtain. Do your best to be personable. Respond and talk with your followers.
  • If at all possible, avoid the auto Direct Message. Taking the time to say hello pays off.
  • Build your content bubble. There is a wealth of information available on just about every niche. If your business is about photography, share what others are saying. Talk about the history of photography. Highlight local photographers. The point is, just don’t talk about you.
  • Ultimately the goal of your twitter profile should be to help people.
  • I repeat - help. Don’t sell or market. Help. Doing this will build trust and value which in turn can lead to customers.

Hopefully this helps and get’s you started in a good direction.

What did I miss? What advice would you add to this list?

Is Digg Losing Traction?

I’ve been visiting Digg.com for a long time, and recently I’ve noticed that the volume of diggs for frontpage stories seems to have dropped.  The last few months it has just seemed to me that there are a lot of stories on the homepage that have 200-300 diggs, where six months or a year ago I remember the vast majority of homepage stories having 500+ votes.  So I decided to take a look.

Digg’s homepage includes a featured called “Top in All Topics,” which lists the ten most popular stories on the site, presumably for the last twenty four hours (it doesn’t say).   Using the Wayback Machine, I went back and looked at how many diggs the top stories got on random days in the past compared to today.  The chart below shows the range.

Date Day of Week Diggs for #1 Story Diggs for #5 Story Diggs for #10 Story
Today Friday 2,186 833 571
4/1/2008 Tuesday 7,438 1,794 1,304
3/7/2008 Wednesday 2,344 1,360 870
7/12/2007 Friday 2,025 1,309 839
4/7/2007 Saturday 1,992 1,318 825
1/24/2007 Thursday 3,079 1,439 933

From my reading, this shows that the number of diggs for the very top story on Digg has remained fairly consistent the last two years, with the occasional blockbuster breaking the 5,000+ digg barrier.  However, as you’ll see the number of votes for the fifth and tenth most popular stories on the site are much lower than in the past. 

  • The average fifth place story for the days I looked at in 2007 and 2008 averaged 1,444 diggs.  Today’s fifth most popular story has 833 diggs.
  • The average tenth place story in 2007 and 2008 averaged 954 diggs.  Today’s fifth most popular story has 571 diggs.

While my quick study is certainly unscientific and there could be an explanation that I’m missing, I think these findings are a pretty good indication that people aren’t digging as many stories as they did in the past.  A drop in digging activity would be a pretty clear sign that the service is losing some traction. 

As to why, my guess would be Twitter

I personally have been using Digg  less the last six months as Twitter has become my primary method for discovering new content.  I suspect others are spending less time on Digg as well.

In addition, on many of the blogs and websites I work on (including this one) we’ve removed the “digg this” button we had traditionally used and replaced it with a retweet button.  In the past three years, our blog has been on the homepage of Digg twice.  Both times we got on the homepage due to a prominent Digg user finding our story - not because of our “digg this” button.  So we gave up, and decided to focus on the retweet button instead since we weren’t getting much of a return from the Digg button.  I suspect other designers are making similar decisions.

Do you buy my theory?