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Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 Tech Highlights To Come: Get Your Gear On

No, I'm not being real original with this topic.  But I wanted to add my two cents into what I see trending in the new year.  2010 was explosive in terms of technology and we saw some great things happen.  Even with the constant barrage of economic woes news, Apple managed to sell a ton of iPads at a minimum of $500 and opened the flood gates to upcoming tablet innovations.  Android phones became fierce competitors to the iPhone and smartphones are showing up in hands of practically everyone.  In fact, the flip-phone seems to become akin to the corded phone (yes, Virginia, there was a time we tethered to the wall to talk).  So what could possibly come out of 2011?  Here's what I see:
  1. Tablets will become a very hot item and topic.  The iPad opened flood gates in terms of demand for tablet style devices.  The two major contenders will be the iPad and Android OS versions.  The thing that is yet to be seen is which size will ultimately win out . . . 10" or the 7" display.  Having played around with both the 10" iPad and a 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab, I gotta say that I have to agree with Steve Jobs that 7" really isn't the way to go.  Motorola and Archos are definitely ones to watch over this next year as their 10" tablets (Archos also has a 5" and a 7" version) hit the streets.  Bye bye netbooks. 
  2. eBooks will continue to explode in growth as a format.  Print books aren't going away any time soon, but ebooks are definitely gaining traction. Not only are designated ereaders fueling the explosive growth, tablets and ereader apps are giving consumers amazing new options and choice.  The publishing world is wide open right now and poised to see some really exciting new enhancements for ebooks such as embedded video and animation in children's books.  For a taste of what is to come, check out the article from Mashable with Children's eBooks as apps.
  3. Expect more eReaders.  eReaders were very competitive in 2010 and eInk still provides the best reading experience but lacks in color and functionality due to the display type.  Hanvon is scheduled to release a 10" color eInk reader in China by March at a pricey $440, and it will be interesting to see if this device or the design is picked up by Amazon or Barnes and Noble (the two top contenders).  The Nookcolor is the only dedicated color ereader to date but uses a power-hungry LCD  active touch display that is a crossover between ereader and tablet.  eInk is preferred since it is viewable in direct sunlight and is a very low power consumption type of display.  Mirasol by Qualcomm is another display type which is likely to make an appearance at CES 2011.  This display type allows for direct sunlight readability plus video playback and low power consumption, and could be a definite contender to eInk.  Amazon boasts being a leader in the eReader arena, but they continue to insist on using their own own unique file format while the rest of the industry has adopted the .ePub format.  It will be interesting to see if they finally update their readers to use the ePub format which would provide the users with uses outside of Amazon.  Barnes and Noble Nooks are already usable with libraries lending ebooks and other ebook stores such as Google's eBook Store
  4. Microsoft has a tough year ahead.  Microsoft became it's own worst enemy and slow to change.  The company is showing signs of change but still lagging behind as it has tries once again to enter the mobile world with their Windows 7 phones in attempt to compete with the iPhone and Android phones.  I personally see them as a weak contender as the applications are the vital component to smartphones and developers are more focused on the iOS (iPhone) and Android operating systems.  Tablets and online software suites such as Google Apps will definitely put pressure on the expensive Office Suite from Microsoft.  Internet Explorer 9 is scheduled to debut in 2011 alongside Firefox 4.  If (and a big if) Microsoft can finally release a new browser that doesn't cause enormous compatibility issues and can execute the speeds they are boasting, it may become the preferred browser again.  With PC sales weakening to tablet devices, Microsoft won't have the hold on computing as it always has had. 
  5. Let the Browser wars begin.  Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox 4 are both poised to release in early 2011.  Google's Chrome 8 hit before year end.  All are boasting huge improvements in speed and reliability.  All three also have benefits.  The true winner in speed right now is Chrome, but it can be unusable for certain business related sites that are designed only around Internet Explorer's security.  My opinion is have all three and use them as you feel the need.  I primarily use Firefox, but often launch Chrome when I want to do things quickly.  Internet Explorer is always a last resort for me and only use it when necessary since it is very sluggish.  HTML5 and it's adoption by web developers is poised to create a far better web experience that is both richer and faster for users. 
  6. The Social ThingFacebook and Twitter will continue to dominate, but the real question is whether MySpace will actually survive 2011 or simply go away.  Since being bought up by News Corp. it has lost membership at a huge rate.  Quite honestly, I never really cared for it and found it more as a haven for malicious software.  News Corp. has put the company up for sale but there are no takers at this point.  Groupon on the other hand will definitely be one to watch.  This start-up company turned down a $6 billion buyout from Google recently. In any event, social tie-ins will continue to dominate everywhere on the web and in the mobile world. 
  7. Online News Overhaul.  The NY Times and other online News Sites have announced they will be launching 'pay walls'.  This means you can view so much and then you will have to pay to see more.  How this will play out is unknown.  The Wall Street Journal's site, for example, has been doing this for years and has been very successful.  But it is a niche type of news and whether general news sites will gain or lose viewers is yet to be determined.  USA Today on the other hand has made a huge commitment this past year to digital content.  Their efforts have recreated the newspaper in a great format on both the iPad, iPhones, Android devices, and Google's new Web Apps
  8. Internet TV will continue to struggle.  Although Google TV is one of the best entramces into the internet TV world, it has not performed as expected.  In fact the latest studies show that Internet-connected TV's comprised about 25% of TV sales in 2010, only about 45% of users actually use the features.  TV and internet connection has never done well and it really comes down to behavior and desired experience.  When we get in front of the TV, we want to watch.  We really don't want to do much like search.  Netflix and/or YouTube tie-ins are great features, but outside of that users are showing that full internet style capabilities are what they want to truly use.  Will that change?  Possibly, but I think 2011 will see similar performance for internet TV.  Consumers will take it if the feature is included but it will not be a deciding factor in the purchase decision especially with internet connected blu-ray players that provide streaming Netflix movies or Hulu shows. 
Also, check out Mashable's Pete Cashmore's tech predictions for 2011. 

    Saturday, December 25, 2010

    Get Your Head IN The Clouds: Cloud Computing and It's Benefits

    I love the new Microsoft ads with the line 'to the cloud'.  I keep saying that at work and when no one knows what I am talking about and look at me like I have two heads (actually that's common when I say most things), I realize not too many people watch commercials anymore do they?  Anyway, 'cloud computing' is becoming more and more common.  Most people are even using computers this way without even realizing it.  Take, for example, your email.  The invention of web mail was a major step towards 'cloud computing'.  In the early days email was always delivered to a computer and read through software on your computer.  In the mid 1990's email began being accessed and read by visiting a web page such as Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, Gmail, your Internet provider, etc..  The message is stored on a remote server and we access our messages from any computer connected to the Internet.  Today people are storing photographs, documents, files, etc. online more and more while realizing huge benefits for accessibility and sharing with others.  Let's take a look at some real world benefits to working 'in the cloud'.

    Over a year ago I began participating on our Church Parish Council.  Many of the topics we discussed and challenges we faced had one common theme . . . communication barriers and breakdowns.  When I began looking at this in detail, I began seeing that we relied heavily on a weekly bulletin to deliver information and found volunteer groups busily trying to track down documents or contacts someone else had for their group.  We had a website, but updates required contacting one person who has a busy full-time job and couldn't always get around to updating the information.  So we began seeking out a solution to 1) bringing everything back 'under one roof', 2) improving the efficiency of communication, and 3) reducing costs.  And, yes, we found all three . . . in 'the cloud'.

    Myself and our website designer took a serious look at Google Apps.  With the Standard version we were able to have 50 users (both staff and select ministries) and provide them with branded email and suite of online software such as calendars, contacts, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and website hosting.  All for about $10/year.  We get some huge benefits from this type of system and it's evolving all the time:
    1. Our 'Welcome Booklet' is stored online, is accessible by clicking a link on the website, and can be updated easily in the background without ever having to do anything to the website.  
    2. The website is actually updated by multiple people who know nothing about websites.  We use embedded calendars through Google Apps that volunteers access and update within the system as a user.
    3. With user accounts for specific ministries, we began storing documents and contacts for those groups online.  They can access from any internet connected computer all of this information without having to go looking for it.  Plus transition to new members is far easier as all they need to be given is the access information.  
    4. Volunteers can help from home.  I get website and prayer requests into my email box and can quickly make the necessary updates and changes within a few minutes. 
    5. And more is coming.  
    Click here to read about Cloud Computing
    from Google's '20 Things . . . ' online book.
    We are finding new ways to use this each and every day.  It's the same system I transitioned my wife's Real Estate business over to just before the Church.  We don't store all information for her business 'in the cloud', but core things we do which is a huge benefit in the case a computer goes down.  Plus it allows us to better collaborate on things.  I work a FT job as well and coordinating schedules isn't always easy.  So we share our calendars through this system and my existing Gmail account.  When either of us add something to our calendars whether through our computer or on our Android phones, it is immediately updated for the other person.  Enter-once-use-everywhere.  Love it.  This blog is also a 'cloud' collaboration.  I can start a post from any internet connected computer, and finish it on any other while collaborating on the topics through another 'cloud' based system.

    Security and reliability are always a concern.  A few years ago Yahoo was offering a great online photo storage service that was unlimited and allowed for easily ordering prints from a local Target or CVS store.  The problem came in when Yahoo shut the service down and getting all of those photos back.  So keep a backup and insure you can always get a copy of your information.

    2010 has definitely been a year for major advancements in mobile computing and online social networking.  2011 in my opinion is going to be a year for huge advancements in 'cloud' computing.

    Wednesday, December 22, 2010

    Flagler County Receives Mental Health Grant

    Governor Crist and George Sheldon
    Flagler County Administration received the good news from the State Department of Children and Families that a grant in the amount of of $455,295 was made available to the County over a three year period for a mental health support program.

    The grant is to establish a Mental Health Support Service Program that will focus on diverting those with mental illness disorders to treatment instead of the criminal justice system. It includes mental health assessment support for adults in the county so deputies do not have to transport to Volusia County.

    The program will be established in conjunction with Stewart Marchman – Act Behavioral Healthcare, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Department and Haven Recovery Center.

    George Sheldon, Secretary of the State Department of Children and Families wrote this in a letter to Flagler County:

    We appreciate your communities’ commitment to increasing public safety, averting increased spending on criminal justice and juvenile justice services.  Together we can help improve the lives of children and adults with substance abuse and mental health needs as well as improve the safety of our communities.

    The grant was only available to counties that were awarded and completed a previous assessment grant in 2007 and Flagler County was one of the counties that qualified.

    Sunday, December 19, 2010

    Can Chrome OS Take On Windows?

    Google just recently announced a laptop that runs solely on it's Chrome operating system.  That's right . . . no Microsoft Windows.  The concept is designed around the notion that people primarily live on the web when using PC's today.  So Google designed a laptop that is basically it's Chrome web browser.  For those that have used Google Chrome browser you can not deny that it's fast and simple.  But you can't buy this laptop (called the CR-48).  It's only available to reviewers that Google approves through an application process and they send one for free.  I applied, but haven't heard anything yet.

    So what's the big deal?  Well, first by stripping away all of the stuff that goes along with a normal operating system and breaking it down to simply a web browser you get a few added benefits:
    • Blazing fast startup which is said to be around 14 seconds.
    • Very simple user interface.  Just sign into your Google account and you are up and running.  There is a 'Guest' option too.
    • No need for expensive or problematic software installs.  
    • No need to worry about data loss if the computer crashes.  Everything is done and stored on the web.  So if the computer breaks, you just sign onto another one and away you go.  This is 'the cloud' you keep hearing about.  
    • Google Web Apps and extensions are also a nice feature.  The apps are designed around the mobile apps concept and provide for targeted uses and a more rich reading experience for news.  Extensions are add-ons to the browser itself which provide some great functionality such as easily sharing with others, screen captures, etc.
    • There is a 16GB solid-state hard-drive which I am assuming allows for offline viewing and work.
    • Outside of a laptop, this type of OS would be great on a tablet which Google has already been working on and it will be interesting to see if it ever becomes reality.
    So what's the downfall?  The biggest hurdle at this juncture in my opinion (and most others) is the comfort level of the masses to store all of their information online.  Granted I find myself doing this more and more all the time because the benefits are great.  I can leave off on one computer and access the same work on another by simply logging into my account whether it be a document, spreadsheet, or presentation with Google Docs.  The pitfall to this is, I have to have access to the Internet on the other computer or tablet which is usually not an issue.  And there are many that still need specialized software which will not run on this type of device.

    So will Chrome OS impact Windows?  If PC-makers begin offering this type of option it will definitely bite into Windows hold on the PC industry.  I don't see all users, or even a majority, moving from a Windows or Apple OS type of system.  But this will be another competitive option for users.  Windows and Apple OS computers still provide huge benefits for most users who need specialized software such as graphic artists and business users.  So Chrome OS will not be the proverbial "Windows-killer", but it will be competitive in the personal user arena in my opinion. 

    So who could benefit from this type of OS?   A few I can think of:
    • Students.  Students need low-cost computing that allows them access to the web and creating documents.  What a great device for schools too. 
    • Personal users that just want low-cost and quick computing. 
    • Non-profits such as churches that need to utilize collaboration amongst volunteers.  Providing this type of set up and equipment reduces a lot of costs and improves communication dramatically. 
    Take a look at the video below to see an overview of the Chrome OS system and benefits:

    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    Refashioning Sharing Through Social Networking

    At the core of all social networking is sharing.  This may be thoughts/ideas, photos, or links to information (i.e. news articles, blog posts, websites, etc.).  The problem that arises when you begin to use multiple social networking sites and services is sifting through all that.  Sure you can bring it all into one place with services like Hootsuite or TweetDeck, but the problem is you are still looking at a stream within columns that can easily becoming uninteresting.

    Recently, a few companies have begun to address the problem by reassembling these feeds into a much more engaging format.  They have taken the concept of the newspaper format and reconstruct social networking feeds to appear on screen in that manner.  The newspaper in terms of format has always been the best in assembling large amounts of news in a rich reading experience.  So the idea of reassembling social networking streams in this manner is perfect in my opinion.  Some of these new services are:
    1. - This is a free online service that connects with a Twitter account.  The user can create multiple online 'papers' that can be generated from one's Twitter feed, searches, topics, or user created Twitter lists.  I prefer the Twitter List means since it allows you to create very targeted themed 'papers' that you have more control over since you select the users for that list.  This can be great for personal as well as business/organization use.  For example, Kathleen's Real Estate Daily allows her to bring comprehensive Real Estate related news to others in a daily automated manner.  Some other examples are:
      1. The Palm-Coast-Flager-County Daily by Office Divvy.
      2. Kathleen's Palm Coast Daily by Kathleen West
      3. Kathleen's Real Estate Daily by Kathleen West
      4. The Catholic Daily by yours truly.
      5. The Google Daily by yours truly.
    2.  Flipboard - This free iPad app takes multiple social networking and social media feeds and reassembles them into flip-through 'boards' that display the feeds in a newspaper style.  
    3. PostPost -This free online service connects with one's Facebook account and displays it in the newspaper style.  I've  found this to be a great display but can be kind of 'buggy' and slow to respond.  
    It will be nice to see these services take on a better presence in the mobile arena. for example does not display very well on a small screen.  In any event, these are great ideas and it will be interesting to see how they take shape for social networking services over the coming year.

    Watch the Flipboard video below:


      Friday, December 10, 2010

      Flagler County to receive $1.7M from Florida DOT

      Flagler County School District and Flagler County government get $1.7 million dollars the State Department of Transportation, approved for four projects for area schools.

      Funds will be used for: 
      • Sidewalk along Old Kings Road from S.R. 100 to Old Kings Elementary School; 
      • Turn lanes on Old Kings Road going into Old Kings Elementary School, 
      • Sidewalk along S.R. 100 from Belle Terre Parkway to Bunnell, 
      • Sidewalk along Matanzas Woods Pkwy from US 1 to Old Kings Road.
      Flagler County Engineer Faith Alkhatib said design of the projects will begin in the next few months and construction will begin in the next year.
      This is great news, it will provide a safer route for school children and enhance the connectivity to our county-wide trail system.
      ~ County Administrator Craig Coffey

      The Flagler County School District does not provide bus service to students who live within two miles of the school they attend. The sidewalks and other improvements will provide a safer route to the schools. School officials also hope the sidewalks will lessen the traffic congestion at the school sites by students walking or bicycling to school rather than being dropped off by parents driving them to school.

      Thursday, December 9, 2010

      The Real Estate 'For Sale' Sign Just Got Better With QR Codes

      The 'For Sale' sign on the lawn of a property is still alive and well and continues to serve a purpose . . . letting others know the property is for sale.  In fact, buyers still continue to find properties of interest by these signs and continue to take drives to look for them in an area of interest.  But the sign has always had a huge barrier that has bothered my wife, Kathleen, and I . . . the lack of information.  You basically get three bits of information from the sign:
      1. That the property is for sale
      2. The company and agent the property is listed with
      3. A phone number to call

      So if the buyer does want to know more about the property they can either call the number on the sign or jot down the property address and look it up when they get home.  The buyer has really never been able to get any more information immediately other than maybe 'clunky' text message or 800-number requests . . . until now.

      Realtor, Kathleen West ( just launched scannable signs.  The lawn sign has a scannable QR Code (quick response code) which can be scanned with a smartphone and a scanning app such as Shop Savvy.  Once the code is scanned, the person is directed automatically to a site that contains the property information plus photos, local information such as schools, satellite maps, and more.  If the buyer wishes to schedule a showing or has more questions, simply click the 'Request More Information' button or touch the phone number on the screen to dial.  It's that easy. 
      An example of the rider is below which you can scan the QR code on the screen to see the result at 13 Pinelark Ln in Palm Coast, FL:

      The custom rider was created with help from Palm Coast Signs.  Fernando and his team have always done a wonderful job for us and provide quick turnaround.  

      Wednesday, December 8, 2010

      Palm Coast Construction Jobs Bleak But No Losses Over 2009

      Construction employment expanded in 29 states between September and October, while fewer people are working in construction compared to last year in 39 states. The new figures continue a nearly year-long trend of ups and downs in construction employment as the industry performs stimulus-funded work yet grapples with broad market uncertainty.

      Ken Simonson, the chief economist for Associated General Contractors of America says:
      Construction is no longer in free fall, but the industry remains fragile as improvements vary greatly by state and project type.

      Simonson noted 20 states plus the District of Columbia lost construction jobs, while construction employment remained unchanged in Rhode Island.   Minnesota (-2.7 percent, -2,300 jobs) lost the highest percent of construction jobs for the month while Florida lost the most jobs (-2.4 percent, -8,600 jobs).

      Nationally, more cities added construction jobs this year than in 2009, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, indicating “the worst of the industry’s job losses may be over.”

      There are no Florida cities which gained construction jobs over the past year. In Northeast Florida, Ocala and Jacksonville lost jobs — as did most Florida cities — while Gainesville and Palm Coast held steady, not losing any construction jobs over the year.

      City or Area 2009 Jobs* 2010 Jobs* Decline %
      Gainseville 4,700 4,700 0%
      Palm Coast 1,000 1,000 0%
      Jacksonville 31,400 29,800 -5%
      Daytona/Deltona/Ormond 8,600 8,200 -5%
      Ocala 7,300 6,500 -11%

      * Jobs may include Construction, mining, logging

      While the above figures represent the 12-month span from October 2009 through September 2010, construction unemployment rate jumped to 18.8% as industry lost another 5,000 jobs nationally between October and November.

      Construction unemployment rate is highest for any industry, roughly double overall rate as federal projects remain only bright spot for the hard-hit sector...

      source: Associated General Contractors of America & Labor Dept.

      Tuesday, December 7, 2010

      Purple Heart Recipient to lead the Palm Coast Holiday Parade

      A courageous hometown hero will ride at the front of the Holiday Starlight Parade as the Grand Marshall on December 11th.

      Sergeant Felix Garcia, who received three Purple Hearts for his bravery during combat operations in Fallujah and Al Karma in Iraq, will bring pride and honor to the Palm Coast community by serving as Grand Marshall for the annual parade event.

      Sgt. Garcia was wounded three times in armed combat from 2003-2004. He also received the prestigious Navy Commendation Medal W/Combat V Device for Valor. Felix is a member of the local Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter #808 and he lives in Palm Coast with his wife and three children.
      " I'm truly humbled by this honor, knowing that I'm representing the fine men and women who have served and continue to serve our nation in combat zones around the world.  I will proudly display my Purple Hearts in deference to these fine individuals.

      The City of Palm Coast's Annual Starlight Parade participants will begin their strut around Central Park in Town Center at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 11th.

      Along with the Grand Marshall, the Mayor and City Council will lead the 80-plus floats and marching bands representing community service and school organizations, clubs and businesses in Palm Coast/Flagler County. Central Park is located just north of Flagler Palm Coast High School at Bulldog Drive.
      Source: City of Palm Coast Press Release

      Monday, December 6, 2010

      Online Shopping: Men or Women?

      When it comes to shopping, we automatically think . . . women.  And shopping is serious business for women too.  Us guys seem to always do it wrong.  Then there is the ever-growing online shopping and the question is who does that form of shopping more?  Well studies (do a Google search . . . they're out there) show that men actually shop more online than women and spend more online too.  Ha!  Online shopping is our world!

      So the question becomes why?  I love data and information, but this answer is gonna be 'from the hip' and I think most will agree.  The 'why' is really simple . . . shopping for men is a mission and an event for women.  Us guys go to the store to get the thing (whatever it may be) for a reason.  We have the plan which includes the thing (or things if you give us a list), the place to get the thing (with GPS coordinates punched in), we get there and get out fast!  To lolly-gag around a store looking at different stuff and wait in line is a huge waste of time for us.  Plus, strategically, it's a poor defensive position to be in.  It leaves one open to 'running into someone else' and then having to waste more time actually listening to stuff they are going tell us while we pretend to be interested.  Or if we spend too much time out then we have to justify why when we get home and recall every thing did while out as well as everyone we spoke to and what they said.  It's a nightmare.  In fact, those ring-yourself-up checkouts were not put in stores for overall convenience and payroll savings . . . they were designed for men.  If you look into it far enough you'll find the brainstormer behind that one being a guy.  Thanks, dude whoever you are.

      So why do men like the internet for shopping?  Think about it, but only for about 30 seconds because there are other more important things to do like watch the game:
      1. Information - Guys love information and data . . . stats if you will.  We can turn shopping online into something along the lines of a watching a game.  Products have specifications and stats that we can use to make better decisions and justify our choices.  We can also use all of those charts, graphs, and stats to pretend we're closing some huge business deal when buying that $150 blu-ray player.  We're savvy like that.
      2. Multi-tasking - I can shop, watch the game, get stats on the game, and chat with others all at the same time.  And in my PJ's no less.  Try doing that out in a store (and in your pj's) and you'll find out it doesn't work out so well.  
      3. Efficiency - We are all about efficiency when it comes to shopping.  It's a mission and missions must be executed with extreme efficiency.  Find the target (the product), get the intel on the target, acquire the package, and get out.  It's that simple.  The internet allows us to do that and in a covert manner. 
      4. The use of equipment - If it doesn't involve equipment, it really is pointless to us.  There's a register, but the cashier won't let us touch it (except for the self-checkout, but really not that much fun).  They even have scanners in the store, but again . . . not allowed to use them.  Computers . . . now that's equipment.  Think about the things we buy . . . stuff we get to put together and can use our tools.  In fact, stuff is made so we can put it together.  It doesn't have to be made that way, but it is.  They could easily put certain parts on a product and easily package it, but they are left off so we can use our screwdriver or the ever-coveted allen wrench. 
      Again, for women, shopping is an event.  It is something that is prepped for by getting dressed up, being seen, and socializing while out.  It's competitive too for women.  The competition involves 2 things . . . 1. The number of bags, and 2. The biggest deals on the best stuff.  "Hi Janey.  How have you been?  Oh, all these bags?  I couldn't pass up the great deals I got on these things.  75% off these shoes!  Can you believe it?! Oh, you paid full retail?  You should take them back."  See how it goes?  It's about running into others and socializing.  It's about finding deals while sifting through racks and aisles.  It's about showing off the buys to others.  It's about talking about the whole event.  It's about being waited on.  That's shopping for women.  The internet just doesn't do that.  Sure, women will make a purchase here and there online for some deals and situations but it is not the preferred method of shopping.

      So what do you think? 

        Saturday, December 4, 2010

        My Christmas Book Suggestions

        This is one of my favorite times of year.  Since I was a kid it's always been a time of fun, magic, and possibilities.  There is a great deal of history and wonderful stories that make up what Christmas is today, but they are often over-looked.  Then there are years where life had gotten to be too much and it was tough to get 'in the spirit' of the season.  Some of these books really gave me a real eye-opening experience during those times.  So here's some of my top Christmas book picks:

        The Autobiography of Santa Claus (Click here for the ebook)

        The first time I saw this title, I couldn't help but open it and check it out.  Jeff Guinn blends actual history of the real St. Nicholas and the histories of many Christmas traditions today into a fun-filled adventure.    This is by far my favorite Christmas book and a great read for adults and young readers.

        Stories Behind The Best Loved Christmas Songs (Click here for the ebook)

        So many of the songs we sing during this time of year have amazing stories behind them.  'Silent Night' was originally written as a poem by Father Mohr in the 1800's in Austria.  Just hours before the midnight Mass at St. Nicholas Church, Father Mohr discovered that the organ was broken and would not play.  Repair efforts were futile and he refused to have such an important Mass without beautiful music.  He remembered a poem he wrote and quickly took it to Franz Gruber to put the poem to music for the choir.  'Silent Night' was born as one of the most widely recorded and sung songs of all times.  And that is just one of the many amazing stories behind the music of Christmas in this book.

        The Christmas Sweater (Click here for the ebook)

        Glenn Beck offers this wonderful tale that reminds us of the truly important things at Christmas.  Twelve year old Eddie wants nothing more than a bike for Christmas.  He and his Mother had lost his Father years before leaving his Mother struggling to provide.  But Christmas was important to her and her parents to spend with Eddie.  Eddie's simple gift of a sweater from his Mother was a disappointment and took him down a wildly twisting path challenging him to see the truly important things in life and Christmas.

        Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus

        In 1897 8-year old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote the famous question to the editor of New York's Sun newspaper because her Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'".  Francis Church was charged with responding to this very difficult question to answer especially responding to an 8 year old.  The response is timeless and was published this year as a children's picture book that is beautifully illustrated.  Click here to read the original article in New York's Sun Newspaper from 1897.

        'Twas The Night Before Christmas

        Clement C. Moore in 1822 originally wrote the famous poem to entertain his children.  A tradition of writing a Christmas poem each year that he almost forgot.  Submitted by a friend of Moore's to The Troy Sentinel, a local newspaper, the poem was published on December 23, 1823.  It has become perhaps the most popular Christmas poem ever written and the definitive source of many Christmas images today.

        What are your favorite Christmas books?

        Friday, December 3, 2010

        Generation Challenges With Tech In Business & Organizations

        As I get older and get involved with different groups, I began noticing barriers that seemed to be coming up with different generations when approaching various issues or projects. When they were questioning 'why?' I seemed to always be asking 'why not?' Or when direction is given, asking "Why are we doing that?"

        I've found is not always a question that is very welcomed from older generations. The response is usually, "Just do it." None of what I discuss here is meant to be negative either, but there are notable differences in attitudes and approaches from varying generations and many others are noticing this as well. In particular, the 'Baby Boomers' and Generation X'ers. This can often result in 'butting of heads', slow progress, and can cause real missed opportunities for businesses and organizations.

        The Generations
        1. Baby Boomers - This group is comprised of people born primarily between 1946 and 1964. This group grew up in a time of dramatic social change (but slow growth in technological and information innovation) and a time where questioning authority was not always very acceptable.
        2. Generation X - This group is where I fall in, and are primarily those born between 1965 to 1970'ish. We tend to question everything and we like to 'explore' things. We grew up with a great deal of technological advancements and tend to welcome new technologies and change.

        The Issues That Result

        It might not seem like much between the two generations in terms of differing perspectives, but when it comes to advancements you'll often find the the Boomers wanting to stick to 'the way it's always been' and the 'X'ers' proposing 'That doesn't make sense anymore. Why not try this?' This is where the dialogue often just crumbles to the floor and things go no where. If you don't believe me, try proposing the use of FourSquare to promote your business to your boss who is a 'Baby Boomer' and see how that goes over. You'll most likely get the response of "People aren't going to announce where they are at."  Or try suggesting the use of a Facebook Page in addition to your existing Call Center.  The response will most likely be something like, "Well, we have the Call Center and it works just fine."  

        The problem in both scenarios above is that real opportunities to improve and save are being missed.  Both are low-cost opportunities that can provide real payoffs.  Not trying is simply a missed opportunity with little or no risk.  The proverbial "Nothing to lose" scenarios.  Unfortunately, the conversations usually end and nothing happens.

        How To Overcome The Differing Views
        • Be empathetic.  Often times when you 'boil it down', the issue is empathy on both sides.  There is value from both perspectives. "What has always been" can have real weight to it, and just because it's 'traditional' doesn't mean it should be dismissed.  For example, abandoning print advertising that is still generating business and continues to be an investment for online only advertising would be pointless but many insist on this route.  Rather than proposing to 'fix what isn't broken', propose enhancing your ad efforts and adding an online effort that would open new channels and reach a wider customer base. 
        • Propose items in ways people already understand.  Everything that is done through technology is an enhancement to the way in which we have always done things.  Social networking efforts for a business are essentially like setting up a permanent booth in the largest 24/7 'convention center' ever imagined.
        • Get the facts and show the data.  Presenting Facebook Pages, use of FourSquare, Twitter, etc. just because others saw success or 'everyone's doing it' (sound familiar from school days?) will probably get you no where.  Show the value in data, the manner in which it would enhance your efforts, and the revenue opportunities.  Real world tests beforehand and showing the results are definitely worthwhile.
        • Know the barriers that presently exist and present the technology as the solution that it is. 
        • Be willing to compromise and willing to wait.  Some ideas with the use of tech can be so overwhelming that a 'wall' immediately goes up and the idea goes no where in terms of approval.  It doesn't mean it's 'dead'.  The solutions that the tech provides to the barriers that exist will continue which means as those barriers surface later it will provide an opportunity to revisit your original idea.
        What generation barriers have you encountered and how do you overcome them?

        by Brad West: Originally from Southern NJ and Central PA, Brad moved to Palm Coast in 2004 with his family. He has over 15 years of retail management and is currently a manager with Barnes & Noble in St. Augustine. He also assists his wife Kathleen (Realtor with Trademark Realty Group of PC) with her Real Estate business performing a variety of duties such as website design and maintenance for, as well as marketing and advertising, and operations.   You can find Brad on twitter: @bwest2

        Tuesday, November 30, 2010

        Behind-the-scenes at The Pirate Museum

        It’s 10 p.m. on a Thursday night and I’m down on my knees scraping errant splashes of paint from wooden floors.

        On the model ship’s deck, our director of sales and marketing is working the dry vac, sucking up scattered sawdust with an intensity that screams Virgo.

        “I have. To get. It All. Up,” Cindy pants.

        Out back in Shipwreck Island, I spot museum founder and head honcho Pat Croce sweeping up dust from the exhibit’s tabby-like floors. For this is how Pat is: A hands-on man; titles don’t matter when you’re working as a team.

        In fewer than 19 hours, city officials will descend on the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum for its soft launch—and we’ll be ready.

        For the past seven months, I’ve had the privilege of working with Pat and our burgeoning super team of museum, construction, creative and business experts to bring The Pirate Museum to life.

        We shut the doors of Pirate Soul Museum in Key West—opened by Pat in 2005 to share his extensive collection of authentic pirate artifacts—in August and made for St. Augustine.

        A year ago, I knew more about state government and Flagler County as a reporter than I knew about pirates, and public relations was an unlikely home. But Pat’s passion for pirates is viral.

        And here I am on a Thursday night on my knees, scraping errant splashes of paint from wooden floors—and loving every moment of it.

        The task of breaking down a museum in one city and moving it to new digs 800 miles north is not easy. From artifact shipping and storage and new exhibit design to local permits, rebranded promotional materials and temperamental creatives, it’s definitely a logistical challenge; one that we were charged by Pat to pull off in less than a year.

        Bring it.

        In the past several weeks as we’ve picked up speed, it’s been inspiring and gratifying to see the final pieces begin to fall into place, to see teammates clink glasses after heated words, to finally get a very real picture of what we’ve all been working toward: The most emotionally immersive, interactive and authentic pirate experience in the world, right here in St. Augustine.

        In a very real sense, we now all share Pat’s passion for pirates and excellence and it will be an exciting moment when we’re able to in turn share it with you all.

        I invite you to visit us at the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum next month and beyond to unleash your pirate soul. With hundreds of centuries-old artifacts, rarely-seen state shipwreck treasures, and dozens of interactives, it will blow you out of the water.

        I promise.

        Kari Cobham is a former staff writer at The Daytona Beach News-Journal. She now does public relations for Pat Croce & Co. projects. She's working on her first novel and doesn't watch CSI as often as she used to. Writing in third person is awkward and fun.

        Photo Credit: Florida Times-Union

        Sunday, November 21, 2010

        How did the Palm Coast Seafood Festival fare?

        When Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon mentioned the plans in late July for a Palm Coast Seafood Festival scheduled in November; Palm Coast and Flagler County residents mostly reacted positively:
        "Palm Coast Seafood Festival sounds like an OUTSTANDING idea!"

        "LOVE Seafood. Seems like another great event for our community."

        "I am all for good seafood. And love this idea."

        "Did someone say seafood? I'm in!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

        "Love the idea of a November Seafood Festival here!  Most are during the hot summer months and it is too hot to have an appetite to eat or walk around looking at the sites.  Kids activities? That's easy. The last Seafood Festival we went too was in Palatka, and they had rides and bounce houses for kids. I'm happy to see the county trying to hold events."

        "I love the idea of a seafood festival also. I think its something that people dont get around here."
         ...though some weren't as enthusiastic:
        "Not good for Palm Coast! We're not a seaside town and there are plenty of other seafood festivals that are very good close by each year that we won't be able to compete with." 

        "Oh, it best not be the same time as the Chowder Debate in St. Augustine."

        "Why? What qualifies us to have one when we can't even buy good seafood in Palm Coast."
        In the late July announcement Landon mentioned that the festival was just one of several special events as ways for the city to attract more visitors and help local businesses.

        Mayor Jon Netts was immediately on board with the idea, asking "If you sell spaghetti, what is the best thing government can do for you? Get you customers."

        But not every member of the council was convinced of the merits of the idea.  "I hate to see the city go into business," said Councilman Bill Lewis. "I would like to see our expenditures reduced down maybe to a minimum."

        Inaugural Palm Coast Seafood Festival came to life during the span of a weekend, on November 6 and 7, 2010, and visited by thousands of people.  But how did the first annual Palm Coast Seafood Festival fair?

        Here are some thoughts and reflections:
        On the positive side:
        • City pulled off the event successfully in a really short time from concept to materialization. 
        • Additional sponsors such as WNZF radio station came on board (helping to spread the word).
        • There were diverse activities from a Frisbee-dog-show, to rock-climbing, to children's fair grounds, music and entertainment, to hermit-crab races.
        • Weather was on the cool side but nice and sunny.
        • The venue, City Park (aka Central Park) in Town Center is a pretty setting.
        • There were decent participation from food vendors.

        On the negative side:

        • There was a $3 entry fee that cause some complaints. 
        • There was not enough seafood vendors.
        • There was no presence by local Seafood restaurants (i.e. Flagler Fish Market, JT's, Blue, Fisherman's Net did not attend).
        • People were complaining about the food prices.
        • The venue (City Park) is very pretty, but not compact enough to have a true Seafood Festival feeling. 
        • Whether intentional or by oversight, the Palm Coast Seafood Festival overlapped two other events: The 11th Annual Tommy Tant Memorial Surf Classic, as well as the another Seafood Festival in Palm Coast's northern neighbor, Great Chowder Debate in Saint Augustine.
        If you missed the event, here's is a video of the sights and sounds from the First Annual Palm Coast Seafood Festival:

        If you attended it, what are your thoughts?

        References and Resources:
        Daytona Beach News Journal, Palm Coast Facebook Page, Flagler Online, FlaglerChat

        Friday, November 19, 2010

        St. Augustine 17th Annual Nights of Lights

        The 17th annual St. Augustine Nights of Lights will begin on Saturday, November 20.  Be there at 6:30 PM to witness the illumination of the nation's oldest city’s historic district with the glow of more than two million tiny, white lights.

        St. Augustine was named last year by AAA as one of the 12 best places in the United States and Canada to experience holiday cheer. 

        A dazzling array of special events and activities await visitors. Nighttime tours of ancient buildings and inns led by storytellers in period clothing, rollicking train and trolley tours through the narrow brick streets, art walks featuring more than 30 galleries serving free holiday refreshments on the First Friday in December and January, special Saturday night antique shopping events, a dazzling regatta, Florida ice skating, luminaries in the town plaza, holiday concerts, and even a Christmas parade, are among the special events to be added to the memory books of visitors and residents alike.

        Enjoy the video below for a taste of this wonderful Holiday Event, which runs nightly from November 20th through January 31st, 2010. 

        For a complete list and schedule of events visit the calendar published by the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau. 

        Thursday, November 18, 2010

        Hands On With Barnes and Noble's Nookcolor

        Demos arrived two days ago for the Nookcolor in our store.  It was like Christmas morning for me ripping open the packaging to get my hands on the new device.  After powering it up, signing onto our account and playing around with all of the features I have only one phrase to explain it, "Very very very cool!" (sorry for the grade-school like description, but it is very fitting).

        The size and weight is very comfortable to hold and the full-color 7" touch screen display is perfect.  You can easily and comfortably hold the Nookcolor in one hand.  while using a fingerswipe to turn pages.  Setting up is simple and includes a video walk-through at startup, user manual and quick tour on the device.  Plus you can sign up for an account right on the device if you don't already have a account.  Then there are the other great features:
        • Change font size, margins, types and background colors within books
        • Place your books you want to access quickly right on any of the 3 'desktop' screens by dragging them and arrange them to your liking.
        • While reading touch a word and easily look up it's definition plus touch a button to get more information on Google or Wikipedia.  Or highlight a whole phrase and share it out on Facebook, Twitter, or your Gmail contacts (easy linking to these accounts in the settings). 
        • Add notes and highlights in books
        • Password protect the device itself or making purchases.  This is great for families that are concerned with kids waking purchases at will.  
        • Lending and borrowing.  This is a really cool feature.  You can designate which books to share with friends and family who can then easily see which books they can borrow from you for 14 days rather than simply waiting for you to initiate the lending.  
        • Magazines, newspapers, and kids books are in full color and have a great look and feel to them.  Kids picture books often have the read-to-me feature where a pre-recorded voice is overlayed in the book and kids can hear the words spoken to them as the follow along with the text.  
        • The web browser is very nice on the 7" screen and can be viewed in landscape or portrait.   And, yes, YouTube videos play too.
        • You can add music, .mp4 video, photos, PDF, Word documents, and Excel files for viewing.  
        • B&N's ebook (now called Nookbooks) is second to none.  With over 2 million titles that includes Google Books is an amazing selection.  And it's growing everyday.
        • And the list goes on.  
        This is already a highly talked about item and will definitely be one of the top gifts this season.  Stop by your local Barnes and Noble and check out the Nookcolor today!

        Is Technology and Online Social Networks Making us Less Social?

        I was scanning through a local forum the other day and came across a topic header which posed the question of whether technology was making us less social?  It's a great question to ask.  Some of the responses spoke of preferences for people to want to receive text messages rather than phone calls, reduced customer service, so forth an so on.  In all honesty, there really isn't a viable means to actually measure this question and the idea of 'less social' is purely speculative in my opinion.  The better questions are whether technology is increasing our interactions and how is that changing.

        The truth is that interactions online are actually measurable and there is very interesting data that is available.  Of the roughly 137 million users in US (roughly 500 million worldwide) on Facebook alone, statistics show that users typically stop by daily.  One of the biggest components to any of these services (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.) is the ability to 'share' information with others in real-time.  We are seeing this component built in more and more to things we use everyday such as smartphones (iPhone, Droids, Palm OS, etc.), ereaders (Kindle, Nookcolor), even our TV's and Blu-ray players.  If I see a news article on my phone, I can easily share that with others with a tap of the screen.  I can even share photos at Disney to others immediately while at the park which I actually did recently.  I can easily rate Netflix movies on my blu-ray player instantly letting others know my recommendations.  And the list goes on and on.  So, if anything, my 'interactions' have actually increased.  In the past, doing any of this would have required me to either get on the phone or tell the person the next time I saw them which would have most likely been forgotten by then.

        Then there is the business world.  This is the area where I see huge advances in improvements to serving customers through technology.  One of the things I hate to do is call the customer service line and tediously navigate through the labyrinth  of menus or wait on hold forever.  Now there are online chat options for support.  I love this when I need a question answered in most cases.  For technical support questions not only can I have a print out of the steps I might need to correct the issue, but I can share better detailed information for the support person.  There are usually far less delays in getting someone as well.  Likewise, support forums users provide their experiences, issues, and resolutions which provides a great way to find resolutions.  In these cases you've now taken the 'support' department and expanded it by empowering users to share their findings with others. 

        Are there 'pitfalls' in the way in which some use technology which reduces their physical interactions with others?  Absolutely.  One of the biggest problems I see being the reason is the lack of properly educating people on how to properly use these new tools.  We've all just been left to 'figure it out', and the most important places to incorporate these tools and teach young people which is schools; often shy away from these tools and incorporating them into daily education mostly due to fear of misuse and understanding at the educator level.  Take for example email.  Every student in school today will undoubtedly be using email within their jobs in the future.  Where do they learn to use email?  Either at home by just being given an account with little or no direction at all in proper use or nowhere.  Why don't students have school provided email accounts?  The benefits are enormous and better prepares students for the future by properly teaching them to use organization provided email.  You actually don't even need much today to put this in place.  If it is a financial issue and one had to choose between a TV and a computer (most have them) and internet (about $30/month), take the computer and internet.  The information and uses are far superior.  In fact, schools can provide this today for next near nothing through services like Google Apps for Education.  Ok, enough of my education rant.

        The other issue I often see is that we view the online world as something entirely different and over-consumption can in fact cause people to become 'disconnected'.  Take video games for example.  It's very cool that I can play a game with others all over the world at the same time.  But playing the same violent game for hours and days on end can cause people to become disconnected to the reality of the harm they can cause others.  So should parents monitor and place boundaries on video game play?  Absolutely, and they should also reinforce the values of treating others with respect. 

        Granted, just like any technology tool; people will use them improperly and inappropriately.  It's almost tradition around this time of year for someone to sit on the copy machine at the office party isn't it?  Someone will undoubtedly post something online that may hurt another, but haven't hand-passed notes done the same in the past?  The truth is that they have.  So the technology isn't the issue but rather just common breakdowns in making good social decisions.

        How is technology improving your interactions in personal or business life?

        Friday, November 5, 2010

        Food, Music and Fun Abound this month!

                     If you’re into food and music,  First off,  come down toFlagler Beach Friday evening for Live Music and Entertainment tonight (Friday, November 5) from 6-9 pm in Veteran’s Park.  You can also enjoy their 4th Annual Flagler Beach Chili Cook Off Contest along with crafts and vendors.  there is certainly something to capture your interest in the coming weeks. 

        Then on both Saturday and Sunday you have two great events to catch.  The 11th   Annual Tommy Tant Surf Classic at Flagler Beach featuring surf contests on both days at 7 a.m. and at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday evening, a Food Festival at  Veterans Park.   For a cost of $15 per adult and $10 for students, you can enjoy the seafood delicacies from over 14 local restaurants.

        And if seafood is really what you want,
        be sure to stop by this weekend at the Palm Coast Town Center for the First  annual Palm Coast Seafood Festival. The City along with their co-sponsors, WNZF/Beach 92.7 Radio, Rue & Ziffra, P.A., Geico, Intracoastal Bank, Daytona Beach News-Journal, United Way of Volusia/Flagler Counties, CPH Engineering, the Palm Coast Observer, Flagler Magazine, Cline Construction,  Hilton Garden Inn of Palm Coast and Yuengling Traditional Lager, promise delicious cuisine from favorite seafood restaurants. 
        Along with the delicacies from local restaurants,  Champion Chef Danny Veltri, of “Hell’s Kitchen” fame  will be sharing some of his favorite “Floribbean” dishes on the main stage in Central Park. His specialized cuisine combines fresh fish, flavors and cooking techniques indigenous to Florida and the Caribbean. And his flair for food and fun will delight audiences.
        The highlight on Saturday Night will be “Rockin’ Oldies Under the  featuring country/rock music. There will also be kids’ games, fishing, a car show, a K9 Frisbee dog exhibition, art show,  and food demos.
        Event hours are noon to 10:00pm on Saturday, November 6th and noon to 6:00pm on Sunday, November 7th. Admission is only $3 for the entire day, with kids under 12 and parking free of charge.
        Thanksgiving Celebration on Wednesday, November 24th
        Later in the month the entire community is invited to share in the second  Community Thanksgiving Celebration.  The event takes place at a variety of community centers and church facilities throughout Flagler County.  Donations and volunteers are needed to makes this year’s event as successful as last year’s. This is a true community event.  You can get involved in a variety of ways.  For more information about the event or to learn how to get involved, call Flagler Volunteer Services at 386-597-2950m, the Chamber at 386-437-0106, Flagler County at 386-313-4001 or the City of Palm Coast
        386-986-2341 (you can also email:  You may also visit any of their websites by clicking on the hyperlinks within this post.

        Upcoming Music Festival in December!!
        Watch for information about a great music festival at Gamble Rogers State Park in Flagler Beach in my next posting.  Be sure to visit my blog where I talk about all the different ways that we communicate!!

        Monday, November 1, 2010

        Keep Your Smartphone Safe With MyLookout

        Smartphones are great.  Plus they are expensive and vulnerable to viruses just like any computer.  So naturally you want to keep your investment safe.  So when I found an app that combines virus protection, phone locater, and backup protection all in one for free I had to check it out.  I'm talking about MyLookout.  This is an awesome free app available for Android phones, blackerry, and Windows 7 phones.  No, iPhone isn't in there because iPhone offers the MobileMe service.  Darn you Apple!

        Anyway, this free online service allows you the following benefits:
        1. Add multiple phones to one account.  Manage all your household phones in one spot.
        2. Virus protection.  Yes, viruses can invade smartphones.
        3. Phone Location.  Track phones over the web via the mobile network or GPS.  If GPS is turned on on the phone you will get better accuracy obviously but the mobile network option is pretty close.  Need to keep track of the kids?  What a great option . Also great if you lost your phone.
        4. Backup your data.  
        5. Stolen phone?  Two great features for this:
          1. Scream. Click the 'scream' button and no one will want to hold onto the phone.
          2. Wipe your data over the web. 
        You can't beat free for this type of functionality.  Check it out.  Only takes a few minutes to  set up and is well worth the time.

        Wednesday, October 27, 2010

        Barnes & Noble Changes The eReader/eBook Game Again With Nookcolor!

        Yesterday Barnes & Noble announced it's latest eReader option with Nookcolor.  This new device is a full 7" color touch screen focused on reading ebooks, newspapers, and magazines.  Since it is a color touch screen, it adds in the ability for full web browsing capabilities.  This new option now fills the gap for those who want easy access to a vast selection of ebooks, a good reading experience, and more functionality at an affordable price ($249.00). It's available for pre-order and plans to ship on 11/19/10.

        The device is WiFi only and comes loaded with 8GB of memory that can be expanded to 32GB.  That kind of storage can hold thousands of ebooks plus photos and music.  The WiFi only was a great decision to keep the cost down and since so many wifi locations are available these days, 3G isn't always necessary. The only downfall is battery life decreases to 8 hours and is not accessible like in Nook 3G and Nook Wifi.  Then again, the battery is also not accessible in the Kindle or iPad.

        So why is this a game changer in the world of eBooks?  First of all, you have to look at the availability of ebooks themselves for a device.  Barnes and Noble provides the largest and most powerful ebook store in the industry.  By using a standard format for the ebooks (epub) and a strong relationship with publishers, they are able to offer a huge selection (over 2 million and counting) plus other sources such as Google Books (which is fed right into the B&N ebook store).  All of which can be delivered to the device without the need to hook up to a computer using the wifi signal (or the 3G signal in the Nook 3G).

        Second, the Nookcolor option fills the gap for readers that has existed between eink displays and emerging tablets while still keeping the price affordable.  Currently, consumers wanting the ability to read ebooks and also want multi-function ability are looking at devices like the iPad which starts at $499.  Nookcolor provides similar functionality at a much lower price.

        Third, the tablet format of Nookcolor also provides new options for certain books that do not work well in the eink display such as children's picture books and newsstand magazines and newspapers.  Barnes and Noble is unleashing Nookbooks (B&N's new name for ebooks) for kids which will offer thousands of interactive children's titles.  They are also releasing Nooknewsstand which will provide readers with digital versions of newspapers and magazines in full color with a rich reading experience.

        If no one has noticed (which it seems many haven't); Amazon has been playing follow-the-leader with B&N over the past year with price drops, a new wifi version of the Kindle, and now a lending feature.  Amazon's biggest barrier is its insistence on using their own unique file format for ebooks (Kindle Books) and the blocking of the epub format which keeps their selection at a fraction of what B&N offers.  So the release of Nookcolor will definitely be interesting to see what Amazon does.  Likewise, B&N also announced that Nooks will now be the exclusive ereader devices sold in Books-a-Million's 229 stores as well as Best Buy and Wal-Mart.

        Tuesday, October 26, 2010

        Multiple Social Networking Accounts For Business & How do I Manage Them All?

        You're not alone if you're thinking that this world of online social networking has been moving at lightning pace around you.  New services pop up almost daily with others seeing success leaving you wondering how they are doing it.  You may have even signed up for several accounts and are wondering what to do next (and you'll need presence on multiple services).  It's pretty common, and here's some tips to get you on the right path.
        1. Know your business mission and customer base first.  With out knowing these two components, you are basically getting in the car and driving with no idea where you are going.  Your mission will tell you why you are engaging in social networking.  It will also direct you how to use the services.  Your customer base will tell where to be and which ones are the best for your business.  Utilize Quantcast for rough demographic and user trends for data on the various services you are exploring. 
        2. Set up a plan like any other marketing and advertising you do. The biggest difference here is that unlike traditional promotions that you put out over lengthier time frames, you'll want to be actively engaged on a more regular basis.  For example, Facebook fan pages should be updated routinely (daily).  
        3. Advertising is not so direct.  Although the foundation of using these systems is about promoting your business, it's not always about direct advertising.  For example, a blog is best used to convey your expertise or expert insight into your industry.  Facebook pages that ask questions and solicit responses from participants are a better strategy.  Mentioning your promotions or services within these mechanisms is ok, but it shouldn't be the main focus. 
        4. Don't be afraid to experiment.  These services are unlike anything most have ever engaged in before.  Who would of ever thought that telling others where you were through location-based services such as Foursquare would have ever been popular with people?  Who would have ever thought you could offer a benefit to people who do that a lot (i.e. the coveted Mayor badge)?  We didn't.  But people are using these services like crazy.  The great thing about services is that you can test them for free using personal accounts to see how they work and how others are using them.  Now you have real insight to develop the best plan for an effective launch.
        5. Look at what the competition is doing.  The easy thing to do is to look at the major competition which are often the ones doing the same or more business than you.  But don't disregard smaller competitors.  They may be building a good online strategy that can creep up and grab market share from you out of no where.  The benefit is you can learn from you competition and you can see what they are doing a lot easier than you ever could before.
        So now you are set up on all of these services and are probably thinking how one can actually maintain all of these without going crazy.  There are couple of stand-alone applications which allow you to manage multiple social networking accounts all in one spot.  My two favorite are:
        1. HootSuite - Not only can you manage mutliple accounts such as Twitter, Facebook (including Facebook Pages), Foursquare, and LinkedIn; this app adds in data for links you share through the service.  Plus it allows you to schedule tweets to be sent in advance.  And, yup, there's a mobile app for the service as well.
        2. Tweetdeck - Again, this standalone application allows you to manage multiple accounts all in one spot.  The layout is nice with customizable stream columns.  And, again, they have mobile applications for use as well.  
        Check out the above two applications and I guarantee you'll see a huge difference in trying manage an online social strategy.  In fact, what you thought was work, I'll bet you'll begin having a lot of fun with while also building a solid presence online.    

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