Friday, June 22, 2007

Sites that are essential to my day

Bryan Person asks: Which 5 sites are most essential to your daily workflow?

For work, the key sites for me are:

  • Gmail. Always the first one to be opened on my browser. I start and end every day with a 'mail run' but I don't have it up all the time.
  • 30boxes. I usually have the mobile version loaded because the view defaults to today's activities and it's easy enough to add new events to my calendar. I only switch to the web version when I'm moving things around because the drag-and-drop feature is perfect for that.
  • Google Search. I typically use the search toolbar in Firefox, and rarely does a day go by without me performing at least one search.
  • I do a lot of writing and editing in my job, so having ready access to an online dictionary is absolutely necessary.
  • TwitBin. For the times when I just want to clear my head, I keep TwitBin, a Firefox extension for Twitter, open on my browser.
Once I'm done with my work day, my focus shifts to sites that are more in line with my personal hobbies and interests:
  • Blogger. My blogging platform of choice, simply because it's easy and I'd much rather leave the management of the whole blogging infrastructure to Google.
  • Google Reader. An indispensable tool for keeping up with conversations all over the web. When I'm on the road and stuck somewhere with nothing to do, I can also fire up the browser on my Treo phone and read my feeds using the mobile version.
I expect to eventually reclassify Google Reader as a work-related site because I'm starting to find feeds that are directly relevant to my work -- a trend that is quite gratifying to see.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Out of Character

I did something a bit out of character today.

I contacted a total stranger because I felt he was making really spot-on observations and comments in a public mailing list. For once, I let curiosity get the better of me and I fired off an email because this guy was like a lone voice in the wilderness on that mailing list, and there was real meat in his insights.

The happy result after a quick flurry of e-mail exchanges? We're now contacts on LinkedIn.

* * *

For most of this evening, I've been trying to figure out why I feel really pleased about the way things turned out. I guess hovering at the back of my mind was the possibility that my first email would be perceived as intrusive; after all, it was unsolicited and I'd not had any interactions with that person before (we both mostly lurk in the list). I honestly did not imagine that we'd end up swapping virtual business cards.

There's also the fact that I rarely initiate conversations with strangers online, especially when I have no clue as to who they are. It's just not in my nature.

After some reflection, I attribute my out-of-character behavior to the fact that I've been more actively participating in conversations in the blogosphere over the past few months. I really think that my frequent participation in other blogs has re-conditioned my online interaction style enough that sending that initial email almost seemed like the natural thing to do.

* * *

I am suddenly remembering very strongly why I so much enjoyed BBSing during my college days. This new interaction is giving off pretty much the same kind of vibe as those old Fidonet bulletin boards.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Why I Use Google Reader in 2 Modes

I started using Google Reader four months ago, and haven't looked back since.

Now that I've had a few months of usage under my belt, I've learned that I get the most out of this application when I use it in two distinct modes, and always in the same order.

First, I go through my 'Must Read' feeds

There are two dozen or so feeds that I make a point of reading every time I log into Google Reader because they're either written by people I find interesting, or they focus on topics that I find interesting.

Although these feeds cover a broad range of topics, I tag them all as 'Cool Stuff' so they're all next to each other in my subscription tree and I can go through them quickly.

After going through the 'Cool Stuff,' I then go through the personal blogs (all tagged 'Personal') of both real-world friends and people I follow online. These are blogs or feeds that would probably not interest most people, but the content is relevant to me either because of friendships or because of the personalities involved.

Then I Switch to 'River of News' Mode

Once I've covered the feeds that I consider high priority, I click on the "All Items" link in the upper left corner of Google Reader, and that switches me into a mode which Dave Winer has aptly named 'river of news.'

I first learned of this mode of reading from Robert Scoble and I can see why it works if you follow a lot of feeds.

In this mode, Google Reader lists all the news items chronologically, regardless of the origin of the feed. It makes for some really strange topic jumps as you move from item to item, but since these items are of lower priority and I'm sure I've already read the 'must read' items, I can swim through the river quickly. It's when I'm reading in this mode that effective headlines and opening paragraphs determine whether or not the post gets read.

Every now and then, a feed in the 'river of news' proves itself to be consistently interesting. When that happens, I simply promote the feed to 'Cool Stuff.' Google Reader makes it easy to change the tags on feeds, so it literally takes only a second or two to update and reclassify.

A final note: I wrote this entry because Bryan Person recently asked people to share tips about their use of Google Reader.

* * *

Creative Commons License This specific entry (Why I Use Google Reader in 2 Modes) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Building Up v. Tearing Down

Conference Manager Barbara Gavin shares:

Over and over again, maybe it is being in the city and not the suburbs, I am reminded of how easy it is to be kind, to be friendly, to make someone smile. To not be an asshole. To maybe throw some good energy in there to balance the other day-killers. [Full post]
Her blogpost made me stop and think... and come to the realization that the whole "building up v. tearing down" mentality is literally everywhere:
  • In our homes. Anyone who has tried helping a 3-year-old build a tower using those little multi-color plastic building blocks can immediately relate to this: it takes several minutes of effort and focus to stack the blocks and build a multi-storey tower, but all you need is a second or two to send the whole pile tumbling down. And kids much prefer to have you build the tower so they can crash it. Same goes for making sand castles at the beach.
  • In our workplace. It's so easy to criticize co-workers or teammates, especially in large organizations: he's always late, she's unprofessional, they're ineffective, she's ignorant, he's unethical... the litany can be endless. It's so much harder to do the contrary, i.e., figure out how we can help our colleagues become more effective.
  • In society at large. I've lost track of the times when periods of growth and stability in the Philippines are interrupted by coups or rumors of coups, political posturing, bomb threats and bombings, rebel activities, and terrorist attacks. It takes months, even years, to raise our country's economic rating and for our stock markets to recover each time these selfish and destructive elements come to the fore. Months of work can literally be reversed overnight.
It's so easy to give into human nature by griping and complaining about problems, especially when everyone around you is doing it. Heck, I do this all too often! In contrast, it takes genuine dedication and effort to brainstorm and implement effective solutions.

The world would certainly be a better place for our children if we spent more time building up rather than tearing down. Thank you, Barbara, for the reminder.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

New: Blogger in Draft

Via Jason Goldman: Blogger's got a new playpen called Blogger in Draft

It's a special version of Blogger where they try out new features before releasing them to everyone. Think of it as a sandbox, or laboratory, or just “Blogger + new things.” [FAQ here]

The very first thing I noticed -- it changed my language preferences! I literally did a double-take when I found myself reading text and instructions in Tagalog! haha! That was just way too funny. A bit strange, too, since the language option is available even in the production version of Blogger, but it only "asserted" itself in the draft version.

Obviously, I switched right back to English as soon as I figured out how (hint: there's a drop-down for languages in your dashboard's sidebar).

Will definitely explore this later, when I have more time.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Every Dot *Does* Connect

Last week, I found two new blogs to follow: Problogger and Writing Thoughts.

I wouldn't have found these blogs were it not for Twitter.

Here are the actual series of connections that led me to these blogs:

  1. I follow Connie Reece on Twitter. She is founder of Every Dot Connects, a social media consortium that provides new media services. On June 2, she sent a tweet asking "How do you drive traffic to your blog?" and shared her own answer through a blogpost.
  2. I read her blog post and learned it was inspired by a question from Darren Rowse, the Problogger. He had asked his readers: When was your biggest day of traffic and how did it happen?
  3. I followed that link and started skimming through the comments on the Problogger post. I don't know what it was that made me stop and read comment #81, but it was a comment left by freelance writer Laura Spencer. I clicked on her name and ended up on her blog, Writing Thoughts.
So thanks to connecting these dots, I've got two new RSS subscriptions in my Google Reader.

Now if only I can remember who or what led me to Connie's Twitter account in the first place... :-P

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Fighting tunnel vision

Have you ever had those moments when you're surprised by how much your way of working is determined by the culture of your company?

I get that feeling a lot, usually when I meet someone who's straight out of school or when I chat with a friend who comes from a completely different line of work.

There are many things about our respective corporate cultures that we take for granted as being 'right' or 'correct' when in reality it's just the way we happen to work. If you go to another firm, chances are you'll find a different but equally (if not more) effective way of doing things.

It's so easy to fall victim to tunnel vision! If we don't make the effort to mingle with folks from other companies or professions, or to read up on topics that are not related to our careers, we stagnate.

How about you? How do you stop yourself from becoming too entrenched in your way of working? How do you nourish the ability to appreciate new ideas? How do you nurture an open, inquiring mind? Please share.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Voice of the Customer, via Twitter

Marketing (and maybe even PR) folks who don't get Twitter should check out a recent blogpost by Christopher S. Penn, where he compiles feedback from the Twitterati about Podshow's new campaign.

If your product, service, company, or event happens to be targeted at the type of people who Twitter, then you've got to be crazy to not explore using it as a channel for collecting timely customer feedback.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Gen Y's in the Workplace

I'm really enjoying all the recent coverage about Generation Y (technically defined as people born between 1977 and 1995).

My favorite headline so far comes from Fortune Magazine's recent feature: You Raised Them, Now Manage Them by Nadira A. Hira. Some excerpts:

Nearly every businessperson over 30 has done it: sat in his office after a staff meeting and - reflecting upon the 25-year-old colleague with two tattoos, a piercing, no watch and a shameless propensity for chatting up the boss - wondered, What is with that guy?!

As the baby-boomers begin to retire, triggering a ballyhooed worker shortage, businesses are realizing that they may have no choice but to accommodate these curious Gen Y creatures. Especially because if they don't, the creatures will simply go home to their parents, who in all likelihood will welcome them back.

This is the most high maintenance workforce in the history of the world. The good news is they're also going to be the most high-performing.

"If we don't like a job, we quit, because the worst thing that can happen is that we move back home. There's no stigma."
Tom Ashbrook's NPR Onpoint, one of my regular iTunes subscriptions, recently covered this same topic in an episode entitled Generation Y at Work. From his show notes:
The early line on Generation Y? Ambitious, demanding, questioning everything, self-absorbed, multi-tasking, optimistic, and very-well pierced and tattooed. They change jobs like their parents changed clothes. They bring their own rules.

Some managers don't know what to do with them. Others say they may end up the highest-performing workforce in history.
I find the whole thing fascinating because their mentality is so different from my own; I can't help but agree that Gen Y'ers really do sometimes feel like a different creature altogether.

I've lost track of the times I've told my parents that they don't understand my generation. Guess it will soon be time to pass the baton on to the next batch.

Other related resources:

Friday, June 01, 2007

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

I'm currently reading Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins and must confess that I don't quite know what to make of it yet.

It's a damaging and damning book. Given its contents, I'm frankly surprised that the author is still alive and not in hiding.

Excerpts from the back cover:

'Economic Hit Men are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder.

John Perkins should know -- he was an economic hit man for an international consulting firm that worked to convince poorer countries to accept enormous development loans -- and to make sure that such projects were contracted to U.S. companies. Once these countries were saddled with huge debts, the American government would request their "pound of flesh" in favours, including access to national resources, military cooperation, and political support.
The book itself reads a lot like a spy novel, which makes the book accessible and easy to read. However, the conversational tone also reduces the book's believability. I almost wish it had been written in a dry, matter of fact tone, i.e., with a lot less sensationalism.

While I was in line at the bookstore paying for this book, I noticed a poster that was promoting yet another 'economic hit man'-type book that is due to be released soon; this new one will be focused on events in the Philippines during the Marcos presidency.

I would have bought a copy if it were already in stock; it's apparently on order right now. It should make for interesting reading, especially if the contents are anything like this Executive Intelligence Review article on George Schultz and the Philippines.