April 13, 2009

Is Google Trying to Squash Twitter?

After hearing of the talks between Google and Twitter, I thought one of three things would happen: 1) Google makes an offer to buy Twitter; 2)Google buys, or re-develops Twitter Search; or 3) Google and Twitter work together, likely Google using a limitless Twitter API key to include real-time Twitter Search results. Well, I was very wrong. Google, being too big to fail and too powerful to care, decided to pick d) build an "enhanced" Twitter that gets Google even more data and control over the public. First the AdSense "enhanced" user tracking and targeting, then the "enhanced" local search results, and now:

Google Latitude - Twitter for Stalkers?

Google has released a service called Google Latitude that allows you to not only send "status messages" to your friends (sound familiar?) but also adds stalking - er, sorry, location-awareness capabilities:

Why does this bother me? Well, consider the sheer amount of your data that Google has - do you have a Gmail account? There's some. AdSense DoubleClick cookie? There's some more. And now, why not give them your cell phone number, location, picture, and directions to where you sleep? Even mainstream media is willing to admit that stalkers are a serious problem on Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook - how much better can it get when a stalker can use Google Latitude to get Google Maps and even directions to their target on their cell phone?

Also consider that Google's main moneymaker is advertising. They can already make certain types of ads "follow" you around the Internet with the new permanent AdSense cookies; Soon they will be able to change the billboards around you based on the number of people around that like Pepsi vs. Coke. Or worse. Google is clearly driven 100% by profit margin and the need to grow with no concern for privacy, safety, or freedom - just like our economy, our cars, and our egos.

How to UnGoogle Google:

  • Stop using Google services - no search, no maps, no AdWords, AdSense, Gmail, everything. Don't click or publish AdSense ads, get the anti-cookie. Whatever you do, avoid Google Latitude like the plague. Switch to competitors - yes, Google still has a few competitors left, and some of them make pretty good products. Start by giving some of these semantic search engines a try.

  • Talk and write about anything and everything you find about Google: blog, Tweet, text, email, write letters, call people - expose Google and what they are trying to do, and make people aware of the reasons to UnGoogle! (Hint: you can start by simply clicking the ShareThis button below!)

  • Start your own company - compete with Google! Especially in markets where Google is the only player. And this is the important part: Don't let Google buy you out! Google would never have gotten where it is without a lot of willing company builders that wanted a way to get rich and get out.

  • Finally - let Google know you are not happy! Tell Google technicians, sales reps, support people, executives, anyone - several people have left Google recently, and the company can only stand so much attrition before they lose power and control over the people.

Be careful out there - happy unGoogling!

"Is Google Trying to Squash Twitter?" continued here...

April 11, 2009

7 Features of Usable Apps

We use many applications these days, often simultaneously. No more web browser and email client, now we have multiple browsers, chat clients, social media widgets and toolbars and icons in the system tray - web apps and desktop apps and things in between, all pinging and chatting and tweeting and chirping. What makes an application practical, fun, and easy to use? Here are 7 features of a usable application:

Application Usability Tips

  1. Focus! What happens when you type the name of your favorite search engine into your address bar and press [Enter], then start typing? Input! Look at that! Put the first element on the page in focus to make your users happy. If you are developing a web application, here is a way to automatically put the first element in focus using jQuery.

  2. Labels. Be clear about what you expect from users and what they are getting in return. Data alone is meaningless without context - be sure to provide enough information to use the data presented, and make it clear what everything visible means.

  3. Icons. Don't assume your users know what the squiggly line with the hole in it means - use a standard set of icons, or at least explain what your icons do (use tooltips!).

  4. Tooltips. Again, at least some of your users might not know what "Reverse Proxy Address" means, so take a few minutes to add meaningful tooltips that pop up on mouseover for all of your form labels, icons, and anything else that may be even slightly ambiguous.

  5. Spacing. You may remember the days when all applications were presented as 80 (or 100) green characters on a black terminal. These days, your users may be using a screen size of a few inches or several feet, and you have hundreds of fonts to choose from. Keep the font readable, make sure elements are ordered and spaced in a logical manner, and keep the "eye flow" of the application in mind as you design to make your spacing user-friendly.

  6. Colors. What is the very first thing you notice about an application, or even a website? You may think it's the layout or the banner, but go to a website with bad colors and I think you will see what I mean. Choose a "soft" set of default colors, and maybe offer some wilder templates or skins.

  7. Choices. Users use applications to save time (whether they are successful is another story). Let them. I know this is tough, after all that thought about colors and spacing, but you have to let your users view their data how they choose. That means they can apply their favorite mauve/brown/khaki color scheme and make your pretty font so big it breaks your whole layout, then move all of the icons to the bottom right corner. Your application will not be "user-friendly" to all users, so let them change everything and avoid a lot of headaches down the road.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of application usability tips - and there are "recommended" features specific to web applications and desktop applications - but keeping these usability tips in mind as you design your next application will go a long way toward keeping your users happy!

"7 Features of Usable Apps" continued here...

April 9, 2009

5 Advanced Twitter Tips

I know, I should post more often - I've got requests for posts about RSS and some Twitter basics, but in true absurd human fashion, I will give you some juicy advanced Twitter tidbits (twidbits?) instead. If you need a basic overview of Twitter, please see Twitter Blog Marketing Tactics, leave a comment, or contact me directly. Please add your favorite advanced Twitter tips in the comments! Here are my top 5 Advanced Twitter Tips for Twitter Power Users, in no particular order:

  • Be retweetable. The best ways to do this are: 1) say something funny and somewhat random (keep it related to your "primary topic"), or b) bring the news - tweet breaking articles within a few hours of them being posted to get lots of retweets! Tip: leave really good tweets up overnight - remember how your latest tweet is in nice big attention-getting font? Great place to leave a joke, quote, tip or link to your awesome product/service for 6-12 hours (if you can stay away from Twitter that long).

  • Timing is everything. Morning in the US (or your local market) is a great time to Tweet, especially if you want people to act today. Based on some of my analytics, Twitter may be up to twice as "active" on weekends, so if you Tweet once a week, make it on Saturday.

  • Pay attention to your following. Try to follow most of the people you expect (want) to be your customers. Note things like tone (casual/professional), "style" (lots of RT's? Do they recommend or buy other products? What attracts them to people/products/companies?), what time of day their tweets are the most dense (hint: check the difference in timestamps of the first and last posts on your home page - closer together = good time to engage your followers).

  • Give stuff away, at the right time, to the right people. People are attracted to Twitter specials - try pre-releasing a product on Twitter, or giving a discount to your followers!

  • When you @reply, make at least some of your @replies such that anyone will benefit. An @reply can be a powerful recommendation for a product or service - just remember to add a description (e.g. Don't just say "This will work", say "Robo2112 widget will help you add that spark you need to your website")

  • DMs can help - or hurt - you significantly. DM's (and @replies) are the bread-and-butter of Twitter. Carefully crafted direct messages can create strong personal relationships and quickly convert a follower into a loyal follower, or even a paying client. I would recommend staying away from auto-DM's, at least until you are over, say, 100,000 followers. I do understand there is a point at which marketing this way makes sense, but while you have the ability to enjoy close reciprocal relationships with your most targeted followers, take that opportunity. Use the above tips to write powerful DM's that make your point in a concise and memorable way and you will be able to literally pick the clients you want to work with - a powerful edge in any industry!

  • Last but not least, timing is everything (paying attention?). By now you should have a target market of several specific niches and some understanding of your followers' Twitter habits (twabits). When they are online - DM them, @reply them, follow the people they are chatting with (who are also online and should follow you back), and follow some of their followers. Hint: Twitter followers are listed in chronological order by when they followed that user (most recent first). The first page of users, especially for popular users in your target niches, should be online currently - follow them to get more targeted followers.

Disclaimer: None of these techniques are likely to get you tens of thousands of followers in 90 days or whatever it is everyone is DM-ing around lately, nor will they shoot you to the top of the Twitter celebrities. These 5 advanced Twitter techniques may, however, help you use Twitter within your overall marketing strategy as an effective tool to build a community of close-knit, engaged followers who may become your best clients!

Bonus - Cool Free Twitter Tools!

  • Twitterator lets you follow a bunch of people at once

  • TweetCube lets you share files (<10MB) on Twitter for free! Remember the "give stuff away" tip? Here you go...

  • Twits Like Me helps you find people to follow who share some of your interests. Targeted marketing, and such.

  • If that's not enough Mashable has a list of over 140 Twitter tools

  • Last, there's the older Twitter Toolbox - some of these may no longer work, but there are still some good Twitter apps and tools there!

Happy Twittering and remember to Retweet!

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone tweeting this post!

@IgorFomichev @seanometer @MarjyMeechan @MonicaPortugfan @mabsmith @CodeSucker @zygbot @EdwinKersten @hsbcnews @julianpettit @TracyGazzard @twitme101 @AnthonyMcMurray @kdburnett @briankurtz @Marenda @foolsprogress @thewildjoker @Jan_Geronimo @fpalattao @mparent77772 @sillyaudrey @twitte_r_tips

Want to get even more Twitter followers? Just Tweet these 5 Twitter tips, and I will put your Twitter link on this page! Feel free to leave comments to remind me!

"5 Advanced Twitter Tips" continued here...