Sunday, December 27, 2009

Is it time to panic yet? Five reality checks on social media

Today, we got a new reason to panic about social media. According to sources, the snake oil salesmen are swarming like locusts. As Mashable reported, there are now a whopping 15,740 people on Twitter calling themselves a social media expert, guru, consultant, or other such title. The post cites broadstuff, which claims to have calculated that Twitter will be made up almost entirely of social media experts by 2012. The number is derived from a growth rate of 3.5x every six months--thus, 30 million in the next three years. Attention getting stuff, and I have no doubt this post will be retweeted hundreds of times.

OK, enough of that. Let's get real.

Reality check #1: The geometrical progression model is not the proper one to use in this case. Any statistician worth her or his salt will tell you that. This is because we're in a particularly intense time in which social media is spreading like wildfire. As I've pointed out in an earlier post, we are in the center of what Gartner calls the "hype cycle." The hype will die down well before we get to 30 million, believe me.

Reality check #2: There is a real demand, and need for social media expertise. Altimeter Group's Jeremiah Owyang writes in Forbes that companies tightening their belts in the recession began to recognize the power of social media. "Social marketing promises lower costs and bigger returns." 

As social media observer and consultant Louis Gray points out in his recent look-back post on 2009: "In 2009, the majority of businesses woke up to social media. While there are no doubt many holdouts, and even a bigger number doing a poor job, 2009 was the year that companies realized you could get business done on Facebook, Twitter and other networks." (Italics added for emphasis.)

Another way of looking at this--social media will be integrated into overall marketing and PR strategies in the coming year for a number of businesses. This is simply the new reality we're in, and some companies are legitimately concerned their approach may not be working. They are possibly getting slammed by customer complaints that spread out of control across the web. Or, they may not able to rise above the noise due to a lack of understanding of how to get noticed in the socially-networked community. This is a radical departure from traditional, "push" marketing, and many are realizing they could use an insider to show them the ropes for some period of time.

Reality check #3: Most companies aren't going to find their social media consultants by searching Twitter. Those consultants who have a real and valuable service to offer will (for the most part) float to the top--in fact, this is already happening. Their reputations will precede them; satisfied clients will refer them. Those who are all hot air will soon flutter off into the distance, in search of the next big thing. It was like this during the dot com boom in the late 1990s. Every company knew it needed a web site, and so for a period of time, everyone was calling themselves a web designer--even those whose "skills" consisted of an afternoon of training in MS FrontPage. This too shall pass.

Reality check #4: We're just getting started with this social media thing. In that sense, no one is an expert... yet. And as you might notice, those who have the most to offer are usually the ones who shy away from titles like "expert" and "guru." After all, it's only been in the past year that its true power and potential has become apparent. How could anyone have gained true expertise in such a short period of time?

Twitter became a part of mainstream conversation really just in the last year, with celebs like Oprah and Ellen jumping on the bandwagon, and major news sources setting up accounts. And as Louis Gray points out in the above-referenced post, "real-time ended up being the word of the year in 2009." Google and Bing are now offering real-time search, and for the most part, it's improving the quality of the results. But it's really just the beginning--and anyone who claims to know for certain what's next is NOT the person you want to hire as your consultant.

Reality check #5: Because we're all learning, there is fun and adventure to be had. Rapid change can be unsettling. Frightening, even. But the truth is that there is immense potential in social media--for making more money, doing more creative work, and (best of all) being oneself in a way that was never possible. Social media is a place where dreams really can come true. No need to worship a guru--false or not. Find your own path.

OK folks, back to your regularly scheduled fear-mongering programming...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Avatar - A Review

This blog is mainly focused on social media. In that sense, a movie review is something of a departure. Then again, the new James Cameron filmstravanganza Avatar is by far the most talked-about flick on social networks. Proof of this: just about every one of my Twitter friends had already seen it by the time I checked in on Gowalla at the Metreon IMAX theater in downtown San Francisco Christmas Day. It could be argued, however, that this movie would be a hit no matter what. It was that spectacular.

Having said that, I came away from the movie with mixed feelings. What was right about it: it was Hollywood entertainment in the best sense of the word. I was carried away by the special effects, which, on the giant IMAX screen in 3-D were so masterful that there were times I forgot myself entirely. I can't recall being so absorbed in a movie since I saw Star Wars as a ten-year-old. The flying scenes were particularly wondrous.  

Avatar presents us with a complete world--a feat that few if any moviemakers can claim. Or really, two different worlds within the same planet. The aptly-named planet of Pandora is a treasure trove of natural wonders--a box that once opened, continues to marvel and entrance. Nature thrums with animal and plant life, shining a light on the often ignored beauty that surrounds us here on earth. It also contains secrets and danger that explode onto the screen in terrifying ways--monstrous animals with claws and teeth, plants that spiral down into nothingness. My suspension of disbelief held even when I encountered a few cliches, such as the flying, saurian beasts that were reminiscent of many a Hollywood blockbuster--a combo of Potterian Hippogriff and a pterodactyl.

The army base inhabited by the earthlings is so familiar and realistic I could smell the dust that rose up in the heat. The technology the humans use for daily life--from the tanks of fluid where the avatars are grown to the computer screens to the walking robots and warships--is just far enough ahead of our own time to feel futuristic, but not enough to feel alien or overly fanciful.

Here's the irony: the movie itself is clearly a triumph of 21st Century movie-making. Cameron has taken 3-D CGI effects to the next level, and truly the rest of the industry had better figure out how to keep up with him. A mind bending 11 special effects studios were employed to make this movie. However, the story itself paints technology in an intensely negative light. The people of earth have devolved, in this scenario, into war-mongering capitalists who have so completely destroyed their own planet that they must plunder others in order to keep going. As the main character clearly states, they have nothing to offer the Pandorans. They can only take.

This desolate view made me depressed and not a little frustrated.  Boiled down to its essence, the message of the movie is that there's absolutely nothing in our culture worth salvaging. This is what Cameron has to say to our children? All of our progress is for naught--and our only hope is to somehow recapture a lost Eden such as the indigenous people have? This isn't just a downer--it seems an odd point of view from someone who has so successfully used high technology in order to further his own creative vision.

As I watched the action unfold, I found myself wishing someone would walk onstage and offer the two opposing cultures a third, and sane middle option. Someone to point out that they really don't need to set at each other with all the weapons in their respective arsenals. Having watched quite a lot of "Doctor Who" recently, I began to fervently wish for David Tennant to land his TARDIS in the sacred tree and come stumbling out, pushing up his glasses and offering a completely different vision than the one being served up by the folks on the screen.

"What all of you need," I can hear him say in his sweet, reasonable voice, "Is to realize that in fact you do have quite a lot to offer one another. If you lay down your weapons, you'll start to see what that could look like. Pandorans, these earth people need you, because their planet is dying. And you need them to help you learn how to fly out into the stars and come into contact with other people--to expand your world and your vision."

Why not? There's something patronizing about the idea that there is nothing--absolutely nothing--that the Pandorans might want to know, see, do or have that's different from what they have now. There's also something bizarrely oversimplistic to say that the people of earth have not created anything worthwhile with their technology. They can create avatars of other beings, for chrissakes. Imagine the possiblities for medicine, for diplomacy, not to mention fun and adventure.

The Doctor always gives us earth folks due respect for our endless optimism and curiosity--even when it's clear that these qualities are getting us into trouble. The earthlings in Avatar are nothing if not survivors. Their planet has been laid to waste, but they don't give up. They get out there and try to find something that will work. You can call them colonial plunderers, and clearly they have a lot to learn from others about how to act humanely and fairly. But they're also doing their darndest to take care of those back on earth who are in trouble. Why paint them in such a terrible light?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Podcast Rising

My three panelists:

What would drive a woman blogger to pretend to be a man? Do men in tech make better mentors than women? These and many other questions were hashed out in the first ever TechnoGirlTalk podcast, which is now posted for your listening enjoyment.

What blew me away--not one of my guests said anything predictable. I kept waiting for the stereotypical responses to come out--the bitching and complaining about sexism in the workplace, the disgust at the concept of booth babes at shows... in short, the litany of gripes that many of my male  friends assume must be on every woman in tech's list. But it never came.

I even tried prodding them into it. For example, the latest Motorola Droid "princess" ad, which quite frankly offended me with its macho imagery and suggestion that technology is a man's game and that anything feminine in a phone should be crushed like so many tiny worms under the feet of a Cyberman. But my guests weren't willing to go where I was pointing them. Instead, they raised much more interesting questions. In true girl geek style, the discussion morphed into a debate about what makes a robot beautiful--or even date-able.

But lest I give too much away, I leave it to you to decide what you think of the discussion. Here's hoping you enjoy the podcast. We want to hear your responses. And if you have suggestions for guests for upcoming shows, please do not hesitate to let me know in the comments field here, or via Twitter, @TechnoGirlTalk. And please do follow us there! We promise to follow you back if you're not a pornspambot or other such offensive Twitter leech.

Happy holidays!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Louis Gray Video - Part 2

The more social media becomes a buzz phrase, the more overwhelming and confusing it can become--particularly for businesses. Should they set up a Facebook fan page? Go on Twitter? Blog? All of the above? And what about communities?

In this video, social media consultant Louis Gray breaks it down to a simple, three-stage process for rising above the noise and reaching customers through social media. He offers an antidote to the panic-mongering and hype that some so-called social media experts are peddling--instead offering clear, down-to-earth advice for real businesses in the real world.

Louis Gray on Participating in Social Media from Sunshine Mugrabi on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Louis Gray Interview, Part 1

If you're interested in Macs, RSS, or really anything to do with the social Web, you should know and read Louis Gray. He blogs daily at his site, offering a continual drip of commentary and information on all the latest and greatest tools of our social media age. What intrigued me about Louis is that he isn't a typical social media star. He has none of the brashness of a Scoble or an Arrington, nor is he a smooth operator like Kevin Rose or Pete Cashmore. Instead, he's a good-natured, even-tempered, shy and retiring type. He is as well known for his reliable takes on the latest Twitter app as he for his warm, friendly interactions on FriendFeed and his videos of his twins.

Louis is also a geek, in the best sense of the word. He never tires of testing out the tools and apps that litter the online/smartphone landscape these days--which means the rest of us don't have to. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Louis and ask him about what has made him so successful in social media. I also wanted to know what's up with his own "stealth" startup, Paladin Advisors Group, and some of the clients he serves--such as My6Sense, Emulex, and Kosmix.

Here are is the first of the two videos I made of our interview. Watching it, I was amazed at the amount of insight he packed into our relatively short conversation. I hope you enjoy it too.

Louis Gray on Advertising from Sunshine Mugrabi on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Media - Is it an industry, or a sinkhole?

Last night I went to a party sponsored by Media Bistro at 111 Minna St. in downtown San Francisco. The experience reminded me of that old joke series, that always started with the following question, "What's the definition of confusion?"

In this case, the punchline would be, "Going to a media party and asking people 'what do you do?'"

A few brave souls actually wrote "unemployed" on their name tags. Most did not. When I talked to them, they said things like, "I used to be at (name of major news organization or magazine), but now I'm freelancing." For whom? "Well, I have a blog..."

Some have found a (temporary) safe haven in corporate America. I met a woman who used to be at a leading business magazine located in Silicon Valley. As we know, most of those titles are gone. Replaced by the Gigaoms and Mashables and Techcrunches of the world we now inhabit.

She now contracts for ... get this... Walmart doing packaging. She has been scooping up friends and bringing them on board. These folks had all been top editors at other magazines. I admit it. This chilled me to the bone. The former editors of major mags are now working at, of all places, Walmart? And not even as staffers, but just on a contract basis. What could be more of a sign that the industry is headed for the discount bin?

Interesting side note -- she seemed happy.

"Walmart's a good employer," she confided.

And of course there were plenty of party goers who had taken the obvious route. That old safety zone, PR. For now, there are jobs in that realm that are reasonably easy to get. But how safe is it, really? How long will that last as a haven from the storm? This morning, I put the following tweet out:

This was retweeted by several, and a good discussion ensued. Most of us who are already on Twitter are aware that we need to get on the clue train and start manifesting some new business models. So I'm not surprised at the level of dialogue we created around this.

But I wonder about the rest. Many of the folks I met at the party were nervous about giving out their Twitter name so I could tweet about meeting them there. "I prefer Facebook," said one. "Twitter seems too techy to me."

"You want to put my picture on Twitter? Like, right now?"

"Oh, Twitter. I don't have an account. Do you think I need one?" Well, no, not unless you want people to find your blog...

Folks, we need to stop clinging to small pieces of the wreckage of the media world. Let's just admit it. The ship isn't going to come bobbing back up to the surface. It is going down.

And just like the guys in the movie Time Bandits, I would urge one and all to let go of that little scrap of wood that seems to be keeping you afloat. Give in to reality. We're headed somewhere new. Somewhere that might be quite magical and exciting, but not the same place we were before.

If we can't turn back, where are we going? And what are you doing to join the ride?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Twitter and Facebook - How Scared Should You Be?

Here's a frightening thought: for many companies and people, social media is no longer optional. It's a requirement of business and everyday life.

Meanwhile, there's more and more scary stuff out there about what will happen if you make a mistake on Twitter, Facebook, or some other social media platform. It's no coincidence that the most popular post on my blog has been the one that lists Ten Twitter mistakes you don't want to make. We're all terrified of making a move that will plummet us to the bottom of the social networking heap.

Fine, you say. I'll get help. I'll hire a consultant or advisor who will offer me a path through the social media wilderness. But wait! Fire up Twitter and you'll be sure to find yourself clicking on articles offering dire warnings about "snake oil salesmen"--so-called social media "gurus" who do nothing but send you into social media FAIL hell. Who wants to go there? What if you're involved in the social media strategy for your company? You've got customers, board members, VCs and--even more spine chillingly awful--stockholders to please!

Take a deep breath. Yes, there are horror stories. But they aren't anywhere near as common as the success stories. Something to keep in mind: we're descending into the so-called "trough of disillusionment" in the Gartner "hype cycle" for the newer social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter. What this means is that we're all, as a group heading into a state of anxiety. We fear demons lurking around every corner. Social media hucksters. Blood suckers. Sharks, circling around looking for fresh meat... But how realistic is all this fear-mongering?

My basic assumption when I work with companies is that they have not taken leave of their senses. In my experience, social media does not turn otherwise smart marketing and PR people into raving lunatics. Sure, there are stupid ideas, or ideas that seemed good at the time but in retrospect were unwise. But this kind of thing predates social media by decades. So Toyota laid an egg when it sent (ahem) harrassing emails to a customer recently. But don't forget that in 2007, a very low-tech attempt at publicity by the Cartoon Network led to a city-wide bomb scare in Boston. And does anyone remember the nightmare that was New Coke?

Even those who have been pilloried for their Twit-faux-pas, like former Ketchum consultant James Andrews, are finding that notoriety is working in their favor rather than against it. Andrews recently told Businessweek, "'It helps me today ... I use it as a case study. It creates authenticity.'" I agree. The more mistakes you make, the bolder you become--the more willing to stretch out and risk falling on your face. This is the only way to get better at anything.

I would much rather work with companies that have an open, curious, creative outlook than those who are hiring me because they are seeking ways to run for cover. One reason is that it's a lot more interesting for me. But another reason is that a proactive attitude leads to better results overall. Social media is just one part of a larger marketing and PR strategy, after all. So relax. Take heart. You'll probably live longer, and therefore live to see the day when someone tries to scare us about the next big thing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Girls Gone Tech Wild

Last night I was fortunate enough to attend the Girls in Tech holiday party. Held at the bar at 5A5 Steak Lounge (yes, that's what it's called, a "steak lounge") in downtown San Fran, the event was packed with folks who were there to flog their latest projects, see and be seen, and generally shmooz as only the SF tech crowd can.

Not to be left out, I was there talking up my latest venture, TechnoGirlTalk. Seemed like the perfect party to find potential interviewees for the podcast, which will feature women movers and shakers in high tech.

It was, and it wasn't. I did meet some women who had all manner of new and potentially successful startups. For example, I snapped this rather badly lit pic of Eileen Conway, co-founder of a new site, GroopSwoop, which offers coupons and special offers to local Bay Area merchant offerings such as massages, mani-pedis, and today's special, cupcakes. Yumm!

As is becoming increasingly common, this was an occasion for an offline meeting with someone I already felt I knew. I'd previously connected with Anna Anisin on Twitter, where we had chats about my new haircut and other such topics. We were also now Facebook friends. Sadly, when we met face to face, it quickly became clear that she had no idea who I was. But she was friendly enough, telling me all about her startup Baseball Beauties, which merges girly-girl stuff like fashion with a love of baseball. A novel concept and one that apparently pays her bills, as she told me that she is doing this full-time. Wow. I'm impressed. I also met a woman named Krystyl, who is known for her tech events calendar at and her frequently re-dyed blonde and purple locks. Here's the even blurrier and more badly lit pic I took of her:

Sadly, the folks I was hoping to meet--the developers and IT admininstrators and other hard-core geek girls who would make the best subjects for my podcast--were rather thin on the ground at the party. Understandable, of course, and the crowd was still a rockin' one. And overall, I was impressed by Girls in Tech as an organization. In addition to its own series of talks, it has its arms around a number of related events. For example, they're a sponsor of She's Geeky, a tech "unconference" that I am seriously looking forward to attending when it arrives in the Bay Area in late January 2010. Also, they were very helpful when I told them my hopes and dreams for the TechnoGirlTalk podcast. Especially Cass Phillipps, who gave me lots of advice about who I should talk to, and who even got in touch with me today to follow up with more thoughts and ideas!

Okay that's your tech gossip download for the day. Be good, provision or dev well as is your wont, and remember, whatever they dish out to you, rock on, dudettes.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Techno Girl Talk - A New Podcast

Watch this space for more news about Techno Girl Talk, a new podcast featuring female movers and shakers in high tech. Please also follow us on Twitter at @technogirltalk. The name "Techno Girl Talk" is thanks to my half-brother Sasha, a fellow geek and one cool 8-year-old. I'll be bringing onto the show women from all levels and positions across high tech--from sys admins to executives and beyond. We'll hear how they navigated their way through this exciting, innovative, yet male-dominated world--and get their views on the latest industry news.

Meanwhile, eat and drink well today. Give thanks. I know I do.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Would You Tune into a Bitch Session?

Soon, this blog will be much more than a bunch of words. It will be a multimedia extravanganza of sound and fury, signifying everything there is to say about tech, social media and other such important concerns. Today, I head to San Jose to do a video interview with mystery man number one, whose name will be revealed at a later date. Film at 11. (Or, actually, more likely, film at noon in a couple days as I work on editing the video...)

And watch out for a NEW podcast series featuring women in technology. The idea was inspired by an interview I did on Infosmack, a weekly podcast focused on storage and related tech on cool community site Storage Monkeys. In it, we dissected the question of "booth babes" at VMWorld and other tech trade shows. Greg Knieriemen brought me on along with two guys who were, at the time, jousting over the question, Stephen Foskett of Nirvanix and Kirby Wadsworth of F5. (Here are their respective posts on the topic: and

At the time, I pointed out what to me should be obvious--there are plenty of intelligent, interesting and yes, beautiful women in tech. What do we need to hire models for? My argument was further bolstered at a show just a few weeks later when Jay Livens of Sepaton tweeted that he went to Kirby's F5 booth at a storage conference and asked the booth babe who the head of marketing is for the company. Surprise, surprise, she didn't know the answer. Well, perhaps the problem was that her head was so full of debates about data migration and file virtualization that she didn't have the bandwidth for such unimportant questions.

Anyhow, the upshot is that I've had it with the stereotype of the unattractive geek woman who lacks social skills. And I'm out to prove it wrong, week after week. Here's the question, what should I call it?  

My first thought was to call it "Bitch Session." Funny, irreverent, and... um, maybe a little too irreverent? When I bounced the name off my husband, his first reaction was to laugh, but his second reaction was to say, "who would go on a show with that name?" So I ask you, dear readers. What would be a better way to sum up a podcast featuring some of the smartest and most engaging women in technology today? The name needs to be still hip and fun, but perhaps oughtn't invoke the oh-so-politically incorrect word above? Or, are you okay with it? Inquiring bitchy minds want to know....

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Twitprosal at Tech The Halls

The holiday season kicked off with a bang this past week as tech mag Technologizer threw a major bash, "Tech The Halls," at Varnish Gallery in San Fran's hip SoMa district. It being the first party of its kind of the season, the goodwill was flowing and the energy high. There was nary a "bah humbug" heard.

The highlight of the evening? A surprise proposal. We had all quieted down for the raffle pick when a guy named Dale stepped up, taking his girlfriend Laura by the hand. To everyone's surprise and amazement, he read her the following tweet:

@dalelarson Dearest @lauralagassa, will you marry me?

Here's the pic I tried to take while it was happening:

OK, so this shot won't win the photo of the year award, but can't you feel the excitement in the room? We held our collective breath as Dale got on one knee, and looked up hopefully at the utterly flabbergasted Laura. Would she accept? What if she ... gasp... turned him down in front of 600 of SF's most media- and tech-savvy? To everyone's relief, she said "yes." The room exploded with applause. Wonder what their wedding will be like. Guess I'll have to look out for #DaleLauraGetHitched on Twitter.

The party rollicked on. Have fun reading the hashtag #TechTheHalls while it lasts. A guy with a Yahoo blog hung up my coat for me, because he was tall and I wasn't. He friended me the next day but I think that was out of guilt because he wasn't there at the end of the evening to get it down for me. Note to the folks at Varnish--think you might want to lower your coat rack to accommodate those under 6'2"? Or is this just one more way to weed out the less than perfectly beautiful?

But really, it was a fantastic, buzzy, crowded bash. The hosts, Harry McCracken and Marie Domingo warmly welcomed all and sundry. Don Clark, SF deputy bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal was clad in a very fetching beret and mobbed by PR folks the whole evening. He sent me an email the next day, but I got the sense it was a form letter he was sending out to everyone who put a card in his hand. Not sure how to respond. Suggestions welcome--how about "Hey Don, can you stop Murdoch from killing the Journal more dead than it already is?" Or would that be too harsh?

Also in attendance, A list blogger Robert Scoble, who did NOT have a video camera with him, and instead mingled smilingly in the crowd. As I took his picture, a couple guys muscled in, saying "We LOVE Scoble and his tweets! We want people to think we know him!" Now that's celebrity. Los Angeles, eat your heart out.

Social Media Club founder Chris Heuer -- who seems to be able to be in several places at one time -- introduced me to guy named Todd Tate. This guy had chops like Sha Na Na and is running some kind of tech music extravaganza thingy. Who else was there? Adam Helweh, who I recently met at Louis Gray's social media breakfast and who knew more about my name than I did (see my earlier post). Sam and Christy Whitmore of Media Survey. With the wine flowing freely (did I mention the open bar?!! Nice touch!) I found myself saying some rather ill-advised things to Christy about my prior employer, Red Herring, which I will not repeat here. Besides, what could possibly be said about that once-great pub that hasn't already been spewed on Valleywag?

OK folks, that's your gossip download for the day. Feel free to add your own tidbits from the event to the comments field below.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Party Time! A Tech Gossip Column

I've been having way too much fun lately. And by that I mean going to parties and calling that "work." Wednesday and Thursday of last week were taken up with many a drink- and talk-fest for Tech Field Day. I was on the organizing committee for that event, which brought together bloggers and other influencers from around the world for two days of tech deep dives at Silicon Valley companies. (See my earlier post for background.)

Here's a pic I took when first arriving Wednesday evening of two of the Tech Field Day attendees, Devang Panchigar ("StorageNerve") and Chris Evans ("The Storage Architect") in the lobby of the San Jose Airport Doubletree. In the background, Tech Field Day organizer and Gestalt IT publisher Stephen Foskett is getting help from the desk about his lost luggage--just one of the many snafus that threatened to derail things (but which somehow never did).

The Field Day itself was a blast, but much has already been written about that, so I'll leave that to the experts. Suffice it to say, this was a group of smart people. In fact, they were so smart that I found it hard to keep up with the conversation, even when it wasn't about tech! That's just sad if you think about it. (Starting to consider going back to school in order to prep for future Field Days...) Here's the list of all the attendees--which is also posted on Flickr with face mapping here:

Greg Knieriemen (Storage Monkeys/Infosmack), John Obeto (Absolutely Windows), Carlo Costanzo (VMWare Info), Rod Haywood (Musings of Rodos), Rick Vanover (Virtualization Review, TechRepublic, Rick Vanover's blog), Stephen Foskett (Gestalt IT, Packrat, Enterprise Storage Strategies), Nigel Poulton (Ruptured Monkey), Bas Raayman (Renegade's Technical Diatribe), Ed Saipetch (Breathing Data, Gestalt IT), Simon Seagrave (TechHead), Chris Evans (The Storage Architect), Devang Panchigar (StorageNerve, Gestalt IT), Greg Ferro (Ethereal Mind, Gestalt IT), John Hickson (Studio Sysadmins), Robin Harris (Storage Mojo), Rich Brambley (VM/ETC/Gestalt IT).

Luckily for me, Field Day event planner Claire Chaplais and I got to have a little girl time to balance out the XY intensity of the thing. I'm just gonna spill it--while the boys were over at 3Par learning everything there is to know about thin provisioning, chunklets and Symantec storage, Claire and I were getting pedicures at a place on Santana Row. A much needed little break!

Thursday night was Tech Field Day's big bash at the Computer History Museum. True, there were a few other tech-related parties that night, which posed some competition. I was tasked with sending out last-minute invites, and I have to admit I began to panic as person after person told me they were already booked. But as it turned out, our party had just the right mix of folks.  So for those who instead headed to the annual Ubergizmo awards night, Uber10, or the Outcast CEO bash in Menlo Park, all I can say to you is, what could possibly compete with a party that included a video of storage rapper 3P and me shopping for computer junk at Weird Stuff?

The party was quite the who's who of the storage/virtualization/networking industry of Silicon Valley: TechValidate CEO Brad O'Neill (who also sponsored the party); from 3Par: raptastic blogger Marc Farley and marketing guy Craig Nunes; Bhava Communications folks Liz Zaborowska (founder and principal), Aaron Quinones and Dana Loberg; John Mark Troyer, the social media guy at VMware; Jim Sherhart of Data Robotics; Karriem Adams from MDS Micro; Jon Toor from Xsigo; a guy from Intel wearing a vintage black leather jacket, Georgiana Comsa of Silicon Valley PR, two people from HP--one of whom was Erin Collopy, who accepted an award for creating the whole "Field Day" concept--and many others. A crew from my client Ocarina Networks were there as well, including Mike Davis and CEO Murli Thirumale, who seemed to be getting along great with the participants--chatting amiably with Gestalt writers Edsai (Ed Saipetch) and StorageNerve (Devang Panchigar).

By Monday morning, I had recovered sufficiently from the craziness of Tech Field Day to attend a breakfast sponsored by
Louis Gray (if you don't know who this is, you might want to find out) for a startup he's working with, My6Sense. Louis has a new consulting company that is shaping up to be very interesting looking, Paladin Advisors. It was quite an honor to be invited, and I couldn't help but look around the room at all the social media heavies in attendance, like Chris Heuer, founder of Social Media Club and Adam Helweh of Secret Sushi, and wonder just what in the heck I was doing there.
But Louis, Adam and Chris were all very friendly. Turned out Adam even knew more about my last name than I do. Apparently, Mugrabi can mean "from Morocco." I was wrong and you were right, Adam, wherever you are. The my6sense guys were really cool, as well. They were both Israeli and so I was able to throw around the fact that as a spouse of an Israeli, I've actually been there and stuff. I've even hit the Tel Aviv club scene.

I got chatting afterwards with the CEO, a serial entrepreneur named Avinoam Rubinstein. He was suprisingly down-to-earth, and bore a striking resemblance to the singer Lyle Lovett. He didn't like that I referred to his company as a "filter" -- with an infrastructure based on artificial intelligence, this app is far more than just a content cheesecloth. Yet in essence that is what it does, taking the firehose of information and serving up a trickle of content that suits one's own reading habits. The difference: It has the eerie ability to figure out your interests before you know you have them. As Louis put it while introducing the company, "my6sense knows me better than I know myself."

The founder, Barak Hachamov was extremely articulate about the potential of the service they offer. His vision--to offer something as useful to a mobile audience as Google has been for search. Here's the pic I snapped of him:

Notice that big basket of toast? No one touched a single slice. Oh, and did I mention that the breakfast took place at the Ritz Carlton SF? Yes, a fancy spot, but one that required I climb a hill and some steps in order to get there from BART. Good thing I didn't wear heels.

And... as I just discovered today, Stephen Foskett and I will be speaking about social media and what we learned from Tech Field Day at an upcoming storage industry conference, The BD Event in San Francisco January 26-28. VaNessa Duplessie, the event organizer will also be part of that panel. If you're in any way connected to the storage industry, I suggest you attend this event. They had an extremely successful one in Boston, and now we're lucky enough to have one in Bay Area.

That's the tech gossip update for today. Be well, do good work, and party on, dude.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Traveling at the Speed of Social Media

I expect to have a lot more to say about what to do--and what not to do--as a blogger after next week. That's because this Thursday and Friday are Tech Field Day, a new experiment in social media organizing. Sponsored by online publication Gestalt IT, the event brings together influential tech bloggers from around the world for two days of talking, blogging, tweeting and hands-on demonstrations at storage, networking and virtualization companies in Silicon Valley.

The event has been the talk of town among storage and virtualization bloggers. On Twitter, the hashtag #TechFieldDay has been active for weeks. In many ways, it's looking to be a model for how to do a viral campaign. Let the participants themselves talk about it, adding in their own thoughts and questions in whatever ways they see fit. And this is exactly how it's been going. Everyone involved is talking about it on Twitter--not to mention their own blogs. This in turn leads to even more chatter and interest. It's a positive upward spiral.

Perhaps most astounding: the event took just over five weeks' time to plan and execute--a lesson in how fast-moving the social web can allow one to operate. But boy has this been an intense month.

The powerhouse behind this is Stephen Foskett, publisher of Gestalt IT. In early October, he had recently returned from HP Tech Day in Colorado Springs and was determined to do something about it. The event in Colorado had electrified the storage blogging community--a select group of whom were brought in for a day and half of demos, tours, and talks about the company's latest and greatest storage offerings.

Until then, many of them thought HP was all over the place when it came to storage. As one skeptical invitee, Nigel Poulton of Ruptured Monkey put it, he arrived believing that HP just didn't "get" storage. He viewed their storage portfolio as "bloated" and "chaotic."

It could've been a disaster, but then again HP really had nowhere to go but up with these guys. And HP had its act together. It recognized that generating a whole lot of marketing "buzz" with slick presentations and PR wasn't going to wash with these hard-nosed, skeptical bloggers. So instead, the participants were given what looked to be carte blanche to poke around the HP site. They gathered around terminals and tried out HP LeftHand, setting up the cluster and getting a chance to see what happened if a cable was pulled out. In short, the crew at HP let them to do what geeks love to do--mess around with stuff in an attempt to break it.

They were allowed to video whatever they liked, including a tour through the data center, where there was much drooling over the newest EVAs. These videos then popped up on their blogs. Great advertising for HP. All through the two days, many of us were glued to the #HPTechDay hashtag on Twitter, watching the photos and comments pop up in real time. In the end, even the curmudgeonly Nigel wrote that he'd decided HP "do get storage." High cotton.

A week or so later, Stephen was effusing on the phone to me about the potential of such an event for all manner of tech companies. He suggested I talk to some of my clients about bringing bloggers in and hosting them for something similar. "Hey," he suddenly asked. "What about having one single event, where several smaller companies could pool their resources and bring the bloggers into town together? What do you think?"

What did I think? I thought it was one of the best ideas I'd ever heard. At that moment, we both realized he had hit on a winner. If he could pull it off--and from what I knew of him, I was certain he could--it could be a chance for a whole lot of smaller companies to get the kind of exposure and understanding of their technology that I as a blogger and social media consultant was yearning for them to achieve. We both began to hoot and holler at once. "Yes. You really ought to do this!" I shouted. "I think I will. This really could work!" he answered. After we got off the phone, I half wondered if he would really make it happen. So many great brainstorming conversations go nowhere.

I found out just a few days later when tuning into the weekly VMWorld community podcast. The host, John Troyer said he had Stephen on the line with an announcement to make. Gestalt IT would be sponsoring and hosting something Stephen had dubbed Tech Field Day-- an "open blogger day" where influential people would come to San Francisco and learn about new products in storage, virtualization, security and networking. The date of the event? November 12-13. This was just over a month away. I gulped. Had it been me, I would've picked, I dunno, December. Maybe even January. Hell, February. Was he sure about that? I asked him when I got him on the phone. He was. "I work best on tight deadlines. And everyone can make it on those dates."

This was one heck of a chance to take, because at the time he announced it, he didn't actually have any companies signed up to sponsor the event. Without sponsors, there would be nothing to show the attendees. And the presenting companies were also going to have to foot the bill for the bloggers' travel expenses--costs that would run into the tens of thousands in all.

I knew that if anyone could pull the rabbit out of the hat on this, he could. What for most of us would be a recipe for ulcers and sleepless nights seems to have the opposite effect on Stephen Foskett. Ideas were pouring out of him.  It would be a "field day" like they have in schools. Three-legged races. Prizes. Contests. A sense of fun.

But would it come together? As a member of what had now become an ad hoc volunteer committee for the event, I was feeling the stress. He had commitments from three companies. But we needed at least five and ideally more like seven or eight to make it work. He confessed that he was experiencing a roller coaster of emotions. One moment he was sure there would be no problem getting the sponsors. The next he was panicked that the whole thing would fall through.

The event was less than a month away, and despite immense interest from several more potential sponsors, only a handful had signed on the dotted line. I reassured him as best I could that it would all work out, but in the back of my mind, I couldn't help but fear the worst. What if, when push came to shove, not enough companies were willing to pony up the money? This is a recession, after all.

In the end, he signed up seven sponsors: Xsigo, MDS Micro, Ocarina, Data Robotics, 3Par, Nirvanix and Symantec Storage. The beauty was that most of these companies were already in some kind of partnership, and so there were natural pairings that allowed companies to share sessions. In practical terms, this means that the bloggers will only have to be taken around to four locations--a morning and afternoon session on each of the two days.

As we were to find out, there would be many more ups and downs in the ensuing weeks. As of this writing, many details are still in process. We need name plate holders. Who will pick up the attendees from the airport as they arrive from Australia, London, Boston, Ohio and the many other far-flung locations this Wednesday? Two of my clients are presenting sponsors, Xsigo and Ocarina. Next week I'll be there to watch each one do a dry run of their tech demo--the success of which will make or break them in the eyes of the participants.

Still, it's hard not to be caught up in the euphoria as the day nears. Whatever happens, this is going to be a social media experiment for the history books. Throughout what has been something of an ordeal, Stephen has kept up the energy in all kinds of creative ways.

For the past week, Gestalt IT has been running a contest, "Do You Know..." that tests people's knowledge of the companies that are presenting at the event. The winner will receive an iPod nano with video. (How I wish I could enter that contest!)

The time between our first conversation about it and the actual event date? A mere 35 days. This, my friends, is the speed of our new social world. To me, this shows that there is a world of opportunity out there, recession or no recession. What will you do with it?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Schoolyard Rules of Social Media

Ever found yourself wondering why some folks seem to rise to the top of the social media heap? These are the people who have no trouble garnering thousands of high quality Twitter followers, and consistently get invited to speak at the hottest industry conferences. They don't even seem to have look for a job--their stature ensures that offers roll in! But what if such success weren't as far out of reach as it looks?

Looked at in a certain way, the social media world is one big schoolyard. To crack the code, all you really have to do is close your eyes, lean back, and travel back to your elementary school days. Who got noticed? What did they do that no one else did? Below are a few I've identified. Feel free to add more in the comments field.

1. Pick fights. If there is one thing that makes everyone drop their jump ropes and tether balls to come running, it's a fight. At my elementary school, the fighters almost never got beyond a few half-assed punches before some teacher rushed in and broke it up, but by then there was a circle of 50 kids, all yelling "Fight, Fight, Fight!" at the top of their lungs. 

Both of the kids involved with the brawl were treated as heroes for at least a day after that. If they were boys, girls would start leaving candy bracelets and cootie-catchers on their desks. If girls, the boys would stand around in awe, and then make sure to pick them first for dodgeball at PE. 

So it is with social media. The trick here is to choose the right kinds of fights to start. You can try arguing politics or religion if you like. Most likely, you'll be ignored. But those who bait some other high profile social media maven about, say, whether Google Reader is dead and should properly be replaced by Twitter search get plenty of clicks and comments.

2. Be brash and opinionated. It worked for my arch-nemesis David Brooks when I was in the fifth grade, and it's working now too for a whole lot of folks, from TechCrunch titan Michael Arrington to EMC blogger Storagezilla. These are the types who get noticed because they're not afraid to speak their minds, even though it sometimes gets them in deep shit. Just as David Brooks used to tell our teacher things like, "I think all Jane Austen really needed was to find a real man," so too can you say the type of stuff that's sure to piss someone else off--or maybe a whole lot of people.

3. Get everyone under the big tent.
Okay, so by now you might be getting alarmed. I don't have the kind of personality to pick fights or be brash, you're saying to yourself. In fact, the whole idea of controversy makes me break out in a cold sweat. Well, remember that student who was voted Class President every damn year? This was also the same kid who invited each and every classmate to his swim party at the end of the year--even Ivan Ackerman, the guy with the wandering eye that no one would sit next to in the cafeteria at lunch.

Those with a sense of community are some of the best known and successful bloggers/tweeters out there. I'm not talking about mindless retweeting or "helpful" links that are actually just plugs for you or your clients' product or service. That kind of thing is perfectly fine, but it's not the same. 

What I'm talking about is a real and consistent effort to bring people together. These are the folks like Stephen Foskett of Gestalt IT and Peter Shankman of HARO. They're the ones who you know will organize a Tweetup, and who are always on the lookout for a great new blog so they can talk it up online. In short, they're the people you look to for advice and connections--in fact, they fit the term coined by Malcolm Gladwell, "connectors" to a tee.

4. Be the class clown. What is the most talked about social media phenomenon right now? How about "ShitMyDadSays"--the Twitter feed with 616,000 dedicated, enthusiastic followers. This guy's even got a book deal. It's irreverent, hilarious, and very much like that kid at the back of the classroom who made all those fart sounds with his armpit.

5. Be a motor mouth. Remember that freckly-haired girl in the third grade whose hand shot up every time the teacher asked a question? You do? Well, you remember her because she made herself known again and again. Sure, she could be annoying sometimes (especially if she always had the wrong answer). But on the days she was out sick, the classroom seemed eerily quiet.

Again, this is not a recommendation to turn into a link-spewing machine on Twitter. I'm talking about conversations--the real kind, that involve more than one person, and some semblance of listening and interaction. Or be a provider of consistently amusing and useful links that people want to read and retweet. Social media star Guy Kawasaki has raised this to an art form. If you're already a bit of a chatty Cathy, why not use this to your advantage? I have.

So there you have it. All the tools you need to start rising above the babble. See you on the playground!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ten Mistakes You Don't Want to Make on Twitter

I'm writing this post on the top 10 Twitter mistakes because I have made almost all of them at one time or another. Social media is one big learning experience at this point, so if you see yourself in these, it's probably a sign you're out there falling on your face like the rest of the pioneers. Nothing to be ashamed of. However, here's hoping that you can use this list to prevent yourself from having to curl up in a ball and hide under your desk in a state of Twitter-induced shame and agony. Plus, you'll save time on having to hit the "trash" button on those ill-advised tweets.

Mistake 1: Sending canned DMs. Autofollow DMs are getting to be an annoyance. Stop them now before someone blocks you for being a spammer. Use DM to communicate with real friends, or to authentically thank a new follower. Other than that, say it all in public. That's what Twitter is all about anyway.

Mistake 2: Posting Twitpics of others without their explicit consent. You see a cute girl at your local java joint. You snap a pic of her with your iPhone, and post it to the world with a map link and the tweet "Hottie at table next to me." The next thing you know, it turns out that (lo and behold!) she herself is on Twitter and is using your @ to tell everyone she knows what a sleazo you are. Watch your follower count drop like a block of cement in Lake Michigan.

Mistake 3: Talking out of turn on a company Twitter account. If you work at a company, or act as a PR or other consultant for them and have permission to tweet on their behalf, it's only too tempting to forget that this is the voice of the entire company. Would the CEO really have retweeted that link to a Balloon Boy cartoon? If so, great. But if not, don't do it. Keep it light and professional, and think more in terms of offering an inside look into the goings on of your company (in whatever way is appropriate) than a chance to put out your personal style. Also, if you're an outsider and you don't know something about a company, don't try to fake it. Just leave it alone.

Mistake 4: Overtweeting. I don't mean tweeting too often. If you're in the flow and there's plenty of conversation bopping around you, tweet away. You do risk being dubbed Twittus Maximus, but apparently this is a title that can be taken away. No, what I'm talking about is tweeting too much. Link after link with no context. Bragging so badly you're a candidate for "Tweeting Too Hard." In short, acting like you're on a stage and speaking to a captive audience. No they're not. That's what the "block" option is for.

Mistake 5: Thinking that people might be interested in ways to make money from Twitter. Probably there are plenty of people that would like to transform their biggest time waster into some kind of cash machine. But here's the thing--you don't want to tell your Twitter followers about that. Just keep it a secret. If you're really making all that money, why share? Because you're actually pushing some stupid ponzi scheme, perhaps?

Mistake 6: Sending out a public tweet that you meant to be a DM. I'm happy to say that almost everyone I know on Twitter has done this at least once--happy, of course, because this means I'm not the only one. There are all kinds of reasons for this, and I think it happens most often when people are using a Blackberry or iPhone to send out their DMs. Too often, it's hard to tell. It is a most horrific experience for the tweeter. Here's one rule I've found useful: don't say anything in a DM that would be seriously compromising for yourself or your business. It's just too risky.

Mistake 7: Being an unpleasant bore. The truth about Twitter is that it's a chance to be funny in front of large groups of people. Just check out Favrd. But way too often, people think it's just the opposite. In the past, your long-suffering spouse and cowering kids were the only ones who had to listen to you blow smoke about what's wrong with Congress or why no one understands that HAM radio isn't just about old guys chatting to one another but rather is an important network that can be used in emergency situations blah blah blah. Now, with Twitter you can bore the entire world. But guess what? If you keep doing it, pretty soon the only people who will follow you are a bunch of boring old farts like yourself.

Mistake 8: Retweeting something that has already come and gone. Nothing says "out of the conversation" like tweeting to the world that Marge Simpson dropped trou in Playboy or that the Balloon Boy was a hoax. We already know, okay. Check those trending topics before posting a stale update. Just a helpful hint to prevent you from looking like a doof.

Mistake 9: Arguing religion on Twitter. Free speech is all well and good, but we are a community with diverse views, which to me means practicing tolerance wherever and however possible. Not long ago, a brave soul within the tech community admitted that he believes in intelligent design. The pile-on was not fun to watch. It's fine to link to your favorite site on Darwin, but do you need to go on the offense if someone says they're of a different belief system? Kinda cringeworthy IMHO.

Mistake 10: And the tenth mistake on Twitter is... Tweeting from one handle when you meant to tweet from another. Can you say "busted"? 

Mistake 11: Okay, I lied. These go to 11. The final mistake is to use Twitter as a place to offer inspirational quotes. "What?" You say! "I love the inspirational quotes. They pick up my day." Let me ask you this: do you like reading those quotes as they choke up your tweetstream, or do you like tracking them down online and then tweeting them so the whole world will know how deep and literate you are? Yeah, I thought so.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pumpkins and Geeks

I've lived on the coastside of the Bay Area for over three years now, but only recently have I begun to connect with the many Silicon Valley types that have snuck off and started living the good life by the sea. Turns out there are a whole lot of us here. Perhaps our most famous resident--from a geek perspective--is Robert Scoble, who makes Half Moon Bay his home.

It's pumpkin season--a bigger holiday out here than Christmas. In a few weeks, the highway that connects us to our beloved valley, Route 92, will be clogged with SUVs bringing the kiddies to pick out future jack-o-lanterns, get lost in hay mazes, and stuff themselves with too much cider and doughnuts. In advance of the expected deluge, the aforementioned Scobleizer organized a photo walk among the pumpkin farms along Route 92. I took a few snaps with my iPhone, and my husband took a whole lot of much better ones with his Canon EOS 20D.

Here is a small sampling.
See if you can guess which goes with which photographer and camera! (This should NOT be a challenge.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How I Flunked Blogging 101

My first foray into social media was about as inauspicious as you can get. It still amazes me that I went from there to making it the basis of my livelihood. The year was 2005, and I was one of a small handful of Columbia journalism students who sat in on a 3-hour session about "new media" with Dean Sree Sreenivasan. (That seminar is now a full-on, semester-long course.) Dean Sree covered a number of topics, but none caught my attention so much as the one about how to start your own blog.

He showed us the Blogger template on his laptop, going over the features and then pointing with his mouse at the rather conspicuous, orange button that read "PUBLISH POST."

"You see, it's really easy. You write your post, then press the 'Preview' button to look it over," he said, his brown eyes twinkling with upbeat humor. "After that, you hit 'Publish' and there it is, live on the Internet. It's that simple. The real trick with blogging is to stop thinking in the old way, with a long cycle of edits and fact-checking. Just jump right in."

That's the trick? Write something and publish it, just like that? No editors? No copy desk? No... deadlines? It made my mouth go dry just thinking about it. Yet a little voice in my head whispered that this could be something akin to freedom.

Later that afternoon my classmate Adrienne and I made a bold plan. We would start a blog together about life in J school. The thought of doing it all by myself was too terrifying to contemplate. But with her joining me I sensed I could handle it.

She and I had heard that some bloggers -- in their crusade against the "MSM" (mainstream media) -- had dubbed Columbia Journalism School "the cathedral." This meant that it was the central training ground "priests" of the media who went out and pronounced mightily on the goings-on of the world. We decided to name our blog "Inside the Cathedral" as a way of thumbing our noses at this whole thing. But the sarcastic retorts I imagined I'd be putting up on this blog of ours never happened. In fact, nothing at all happened. I was unable to bring myself to write a single word.

I did try. On several evenings I sat in my tiny dorm room, sweating over the possible posts I could write. I was housed in the Theological Seminary building--a giant stone behemoth which while majestic from the outside, was a maze of tiny winding corridors and parapet-like windows on the inside. The interior courtyard and hallways were used frequently by the show "Law and Order." The atmosphere clearly lent itself to a sense of mystery and death. My room was the size and character of a monk's cell. The room was so small that if I lay down on the floor, my feet would hit the bed and my head, the door.

There I'd sit at my fake wood desk, which was covered in scratches and ballpoint ink stains left by previous grad students. I'd fire up my HP laptop and logon to the page. For several minutes, I'd sit in a state of intense concentration, staring at the screen in the hopes it would give me some idea as to what I was supposed to write. But it uncooperatively stared right back at me. The ridiculous irony of this is that I was writing upwards of 1,200 words a week for various freelance projects and grad school papers. Yet the idea of plunking out 150 for this little blog made me freeze up like nothing else.

I asked Adrienne to contribute. At first, she agreed, saying she would "get us started" by putting up a few posts when she "had a few spare minutes." I secretly wished I had her confidence and resolve. Time went by and no posts every appeared. We were both busy, I told myself. Still, it seemed to me that between the two of us, one of us should be able to clear out 20 minutes to write a few lines.

Pretty soon, she wasn't even trying to pretend she was still interested. "Yeah, well, if I do find the time I'll let you know," she'd say, and then vanish into the crowd of backpack-laden students who were heading for the monthly wine and cheese hour in the lobby.

The semester came and went. Then winter break. Still the blog sat, postless, unfindable on Google or anywhere else. By the time of graduation, I took one last stab. I opened the screen, looking at the now familiar orange and blue interface. I knew a little HTML and so told myself it might be more amusing and challenging to work from that screen. Perhaps I would get the  nerve and gumption to write one long post that summarized all I'd done and learned at my year at Columbia Journalism School.

I began to type.

Well, it's been quite a ...

That's as far as I got. I never did hit the "PUBLISH POST" button.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How To Blog Without Fear

In my last post, "The Top Five Ways to Succeed in Social Media," I addressed the members of the population who are hungry for more ways to make social media work to their best advantage. These are the folks who are already "out there." You know who you are. The phrase "Weekend Update" makes you think of Facebook (not television), and you have two different Twitter apps on your iPhone--one that's not too CPU intensive and one that enables retweets and twitpic uploads. 

Today I'd like to talk to the rest of you, who might put on a brave face at times, but deep down are still pretty spooked by this whole trend. Sure, you're a fan of a couple of the more ironic Facebook pages, and technically you have a Twitter account--though you're pretty sure that one follower of yours isn't pretty as her picture (and you're even starting to suspect that "Peaches" might not be her real name). You may have even been known to put an (anonymous) comment on a particularly vexing TechCrunch Zune review. But there's a part of you that wants to run and hide at the mere mention of a coordinated social media plan, especially if it relates to your career or business.

In my work, I meet people like this all the time. They are certainly smart and savvy enough to make a social media program work. But something in them isn't allowing them to take full advantage of it. In short, they're suffering from a new syndrome that I will now dub social media phobia. There may need to be a new scientific term for this: something along the lines of "blogotweetoupdateophobia" perhaps? (Not as good as my personal all-time favorite, coulrophobia, but I digress...)

So you've dipped a toe into social media, but something stops you from diving into the deep end and splashing around.
Maybe you're afraid of making a mistake, and so hide in the shadows. Or maybe you're so overwhelmed by all of the possibilities that you find yourself paralyzed. Or hey, perhaps you're remembering that time in the seventh grade when Dougie Marcus told everyone to aim their spitballs at the back of your head, and all you want to do is duck out of the way.

Whatever the reason, your response is to play it safe. You keep your involvement to a minimum. And, what's wrong with that? You ask. There's no rule that says I've got to be some kind of web 2.0 maven. True, but the sad thing is that you're missing out on a rare opportunity at a remarkable time in history. Whatever you are trying to achieve in this life--meet new friends, get a better job, promote your home jewelry making business--chances are social media can help make it easier.

And I'm here to tell you that you can make it into a game that you can enjoy playing. Step one is to take a step. Lean out into the unknown. Start a blog. That's right, just go ahead and start one. You'll be surprised at how much it motivates you once you see the traffic start to build. Before you know it, your devious mind will start to wonder, how can I get more people interested in reading this brilliant, witty, wonderful blog of mine?

At which point, you'll suddenly remember Twitter. You laughed at it before--maybe even made a few "it's all about what people had for breakfast" quips. But now you're seeing it in a new light. You're noticing that a lot of people use it as a way to talk about blog posts they've read that they've enjoyed. That means they might talk about your blog post. But first you have to get to know these people--get into the flow of conversation. As you take each of the next steps that naturally lead from one to the other, you'll see results.

But wait, you say. I'm a busy person. How much time and energy will I really have to expend in order to have an effective presence online? Isn't this for slackers or people who blog for a living? (And what's really the difference?) Actually, you can put in as little as two hours a week and still see rewards for your social media efforts. Part of how to do this is to learn how to get people's attention, find a niche or target audience, and a few other tricks of the trade that I'll save for a later post.

The main thing is to break through your resistance and start experimenting. Let go of your need to do it perfectly the first time. Take note of the fact that everyone around you is also figuring this out as they go along. You may even enjoy yourself. And if nothing else, you finally got back at that Dougie Marcus guy--you've got 200 more Twitter followers than he does!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Top Five Ways to Succeed in Social Media

There have been so many posts that claim to teach you how to be a social media "star," gaining thousands of Twitter followers, becoming the next Scoble overnight, and so on and so forth. I prefer to think of Twitter followers the way I think of any other aspect of my business. I don't want 10,000 clients. I want a handful that I feel a real connection with, and who I can serve in meaningful ways.

With that, here are the top 5 ways of approaching social media that I believe will lead to success in it. By success, I mean that you are able to enrich your business and personal life, getting a greater sense of meaning and purpose, having interesting new experiences, and meeting folks you might never have been able to before the advent of social media. The icing on the cake--you'll probably end up making more money and expanding your career options.

1. Approach social media as a way of being of service. I've discovered something interesting about how to be a savvy social media user. You need to take yourself out of the equation, and put your focus on others. In an odd way, more of your personality will come through if you stop trying to have one. Thus, I find that I want to read the tweets from those who use it as a way to promote others (not themselves), to provide useful information, and to ask for and/or provide advice.

2. Interact. The joy of platforms like Twitter is that they provide a unique opportunity to have multiple conversations with others. Why have only a small percentage of the people who use these tools (particularly Twitter) learned this? Connecting involves more than just you--that's the whole "social" part of the equation. All of this is obvious, of course, but it's strange how difficult it seems to be for so many. Try this exercise: after typing a tweet, read it out loud, all the while imagining that you're at a cocktail party surrounded by a bunch of people you'd really like to get to know better. Still want to hit the "update" button?

3. Cultivate an attitude of curiosity. You're learning as you go through life, and now you have a whole crowd that's sourcing information on your behalf. Isn't that exciting and amazing? It is to me. I can hardly believe that all I have to do is turn on my iPhone or open my laptop and I'm sure to learn something new about business, technology ... and of course the latest celebrity gossip. This is one of the greatest secrets of success: treat everything in life as a learning experience.

4. Don't be boring. Before hitting the publish button on a blog post (or comment on FriendFeed/Facebook), ask yourself these questions,"Why would anyone care about this?" "What's the point?" "Does this add to (or detract from) the sum of human knowledge?" These are questions I've learned from editors over the years, and they have served me in all kinds of ways. It also doesn't hurt to have a sense of humor.

5. Stick with it. Those who are really successful in the realm of blogging, tagging, Tweeting and the like are the ones who fire up their machines and dive into the conversation all day, every day. I recently got a tweet from one of the people I follow that said "off for 3 days, see you all when I get back." Think about the level of engagement this represents. And I honestly would've noticed he was gone if he hadn't sent that out. While this may be too much of a time commitment for the average person, it's something to aim for. And of course this is someone who lives by all the rules above.

Friday, September 4, 2009

VMWorld Wrap-Up

I don't know who I thought I was kidding when I wrote in my last post that I'd be blogging live from VMWorld. It was a nonstop experience. And while there's been much talk about the number of "booth babes" in nurses' uniforms, catsuits, and the like (and debates as to whether they were cute or scary), in fact there was plenty to be excited about on a purely technological level.

As I wrote on my client blog, Online Storage Optimization, one thing that struck me about the conference was that this wasn't just for industry heavyweights like EMC. There were a number of start-ups there, and walking the expo floor was an amazing way to get to know many of these niche players.

Many--indeed I'd even go so far as to say most-- of the offerings could be described as a clean-up crew running along behind the giant VMWare garbage truck. For all its immense power, one obvious effect of virtualization is that it has made IT immensely more complicated. Many companies and consultancies have sprung up to deal with this--offering myriad ways to "simplify" what has become a nightmare of "server sprawl."

Storage companies have also benefited from virtualization in a number of ways, as Marc Farley's cartoon so astutely summarizes on his StorageRap blog.

The fact remains that no matter how many virtual servers you have in place, there's still gotta be some spinning rust to hold the actual data that's there. Although players like my client Ocarina greatly reduce the amount of space needed to store that data, data growth remains a real and pressing issue.

The other key problem is that virtualization creates complexity on an as yet unheard of scale. The so-called server sprawl that many companies discussed is no small issue. Combine that with the fact that all these virtual servers need to talk to the storage--understanding how best to allocate space and so on--and you can imagine the tangle this can create. Indeed, there was a lot of buzz at this year's show at the launch party for EvoStor, which is storage designed from the ground up to integrate with VMWare. Paul Maritz even made an appearance--a sign they're taking this seriously and recognize the need for software that integrates.

So, this is my very top level, birds-eye view of the thing. I'll leave it to others to get down in the trenches and start sorting out the exact wheat kernals from the particular chaff that each company is providing.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Off to VMWorld

This week, I'll be blogging live from VMWorld. The conference, which kicked off today and runs through Thursday at the Moscone Center in downtown San Fran, has gone from a niche offering to a major event that draws folks from all corners of the IT and storage industries. And no wonder, considering the transformative power of virtualization. Stay tuned for updates throughout the week. You might also want to follow me on Twitter. (Please do!) Or watch the endless scrolling #VMWorld hashtag on Twitter for everyone's take on this year's conference.

And if you're wondering where to go and mingle in the evening, there will be a Tweetup for storage folks Tuesday (Sept. 1) at B Restaurant and Bar in downtown San Francisco. To attend, RSVP here. There will also of course be plenty of other events--including, of course, some virtual ones. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Frankly My Dear ... Another Aptonym!

A video clip of a certain congressman has been making the rounds today that is a perfect illustration of an aptonym. An aptonym is a name that is all too appropriate for its holder. As readers of this blog know, I am a particular aficionado of this phenomenon, which is also known as "nominative determinism." I have posted on it several times, offering such examples as New York Times reporter Louise Story and Bernard Madoff who "made off" with billions in others' money.

But today's coverage of U.S. Representative Barney Frank being, well, completely frank with a member of the audience really takes the biscuit as far as I'm concerned.