Tools I’m using: Chartbeat

I discovered Chartbeat by accident – it was an aside in a conversation about SocialFlow, another new tool we’re trying on NECN.com that I’ll write about later.

Chartbeat is a real-time dashboard for your website. Installing it is easy. It’s two bits of javascript that go in the header and footer of your site. What those scripts give you for information is stunning from an eye candy perspective.

Logging into your account on Chartbeat is like Disneyland for the stat-loving, information overload set. In a single dashboard you can see the number of visitors coming to your site, whether they are active or inactive, what they are looking at, where they came from, and how long it took the page they’re on to load. And it’s updating in real time. You see traffic spikes as they happen, and can see what stories are getting the traffic and where the visitors are coming from.

But after the eye candy phase wears off – what can you do with Chartbeat? The biggest thing may be to work at amplifying those already popular stories. Say you have a story that is showing a spike of interest on your site. If users coming to your site like it, it’s probably a clue that users on search or referral sites might be interested as well. My results on this have been uneven – some stories that showed minor spikes before I pushed them out elsewhere did catch on. Others, not so much. But where Google Analytics takes a couple of hours to tell you about traffic spikes, you know much more quickly here.

It’s a useful and pretty inexpensive tool for most sites (those under 1,000 simultaneous users, which is most of us out there). If nothing else, it gives you a more real-time look at what people are doing on your site, in a way that Google Analytics and other tools don’t allow. Plus, it’s mesmerizing in general. Give it a look.

Recession strikes the Globe 100 – and the Massachusetts image

So the biggest list of Massachusetts companies, the 2010 Globe 100 in the Boston Globe, has been bitten by the recession, too, this year.

It has just 82 companies on it.

The Globe explains that because of the recession only 82 of 212 eligible Massachusetts companies met the requirements for eligibility, which includes making a profit for the last two years. So rather than lower their standards, they shortened their list. A noble idea – and actually, I’m all in favor of keeping high the standards you have set in the past. (I love the high bar illustration by Thomas Fuchs, too)

But it comes at a cost – because it takes the air out of the list for just about everyone involved.

For those on the list – how would you like to be on the bottom of it? Instead of being #82 on the Globe 100, which sounds good, you can just consider yourself the worst profitable company in the state. Sorry, Aware. That doesn’t sound so good on the press release.

For those not on the list, it just highlights the troubles you’re having. ‘Gosh, we could have been number 83, if only we had turned a profit by laying off more staff, cutting expenses further and so on.’ Thus, four of the top 10 companies on the 2009 Globe 100 aren’t even on the list this year. You might not shed any tears for State Street, which was number two, but some of the others might be bummed to go from the top to off the list in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The third bid loser? How about the state of Massachusetts? We can’t even field enough solid companies to fill out a Top 100 list? That’s not exactly the slogan that the Bay State marketing folks are looking for.

Maybe “Massachusetts – looking for 18 good businesses” works?

Memo to employees: Social media is critical – just don’t use it

If you’ve decided your business is going to be saved by reaching out to people on social networks, you might want to note a new report that says more than half of American businesses have banned their employees from accessing networks like Twitter and Facebook while at work.

The survey from the IT firm Robert Half Technology finds that 54% of companies have banned worker access to social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace while at work. 19% say access is permitted for business use, 16% allow limited personal use and just 10% say they aren’t restrictive.

The survey isn’t necessarily a big surprise, but it is food for thought for companies that are trying to market to business people on social networks during the business day. In many cases – it might just show a poor link between a company’s marketing message and its internal policies. How many of these major companies say they are using social media as a critical part of their strategy, but telling their IT departments to block social media sites?
The problem then isn’t with the conduct – I get that people want their employees not to waste time on the web, but in the corporate message. If you want your people to use social media as an effective tool, then you need to get them comfortable with it – and expecting them to do that in their spare time (or sending the message that they shouldn’t do it at all) is not a smart business strategy.

Of course, while workplace use may be officially prohiited, people are still accessing sites during the day – and 46 percent of Facebook users is still about 150 million people – which beats the number you can get by working the phones or sending direct mail.

I also talked about a couple of other things this morning… in the video below.

A short time after Hotmail warned its users that a phishing scam tricked thousands of its users to give up their Hotmail passwords, Google’s GMail warns its customers that they aren’t safe from scammers, either. The company has released some gentle reminders that users need to protect their passwords and make them more secure.

And if you’re one of the millions of people who use Skype to make phone calls over the Internet, you can now get out that iPhone. AT&T is bowing to pressure and allowing access to Skype and other Voice over IP applications on its 3G network. Previously, you could use Skype, but only if you had a wifi connection.

Plus GMail warns its users that they aren’t immune from a phishing attack like the one that was able to access tens of thousands of Hotmail users’ passwords, and there’s some good news for the hundreds of thousands of people who want to access Skype or other VoIP carriers from their iPhones. AT&T is giving users access to those carriers – nice for iPhone users – who have ben limited to using Skype from their phones only if they have a wi-fi connection.

Don’t forget we have another edition of “Ask the Experts” coming online tomorrow at 12:30pm. This week, we’re sponsored by your New England Lincoln Mercury dealers, and the topic is innovation and technology in Lincoln Mercury, Ford and other cars. You can register at necn.com/asktheexperts, and then ask your questions in a safe environment about how all this new technology being packed into computers actually works – whether its Bluetooth, GPS, voice recognition or any other aspects of in-car technology you want to know more about. We’ve got a couple of top Lincoln Mercury tech experts to walk you through.

So I personally hope you’ll go to necn.com/asktheexperts, sign up and submit your questions.

Got twitter? There are apps for that

Always nice to feature local folks on my NECN gig – and today I gave a little shout to the soon-to-open apps store for Twitter at oneforty.com. The site oneforty.com will be your place to go for hundreds of Twitter applications – from desktop clients to productivity software and more. It’s still in Beta right now, but will open to the public very soon. The site is based in Cambridge, Mass. and Laura Fitton, who co-wrote the book “Twitter for Dummies” and is a Boston native, is the founder of the company.

I also mentioned short items on the Wii price cut and Mirosoft’s alleged new phones. But oneforty is the hit of the group. Yesterday it pointed me to unfollow, where my quest to trim down the dead weight from my following list ended with the discovery that many of my friends are the dead weight. Couldn’t pull the plug on most of them.

So, like, there’s tech stuff going on in Boston…

sparkfishEvery day I talk about things that are going on in the technology world, with an eye toward things that are a) consumer-oriented; b) relatively quick to explain (I have about 2 minutes total); and c) easy to comprehend, because hey, it’s early at 7:30am, and while I race to prepare beginning at 4:30am when I get up, I’m still not always fully caffeinated and/or coherent.

But I was struck that this week, there were three great New England stories to discuss, two of them involving New Englanders developing interesting apps for the iPhone.

The folks at Children’s Hospital and MIT who built HealthMap also released their iPhone app, with the admittedly not-so-catchy name “Outbreaks Near Me”. On the other hand, it does pretty well explain what the app does, which is more than a lot of iPhone apps can say. In any case, the location-based app has gotten a lot of attention and opens the door to crowdsourcing flu and other outbreaks – which may be the only way to illustrate the breadth of any outbreaks this fall.

Then this morning, I got to focus on the new app from Sparkfish Creative, a Cambridge, Mass. outfit that has created the first app which uses open data from the MBTA and other transit agencies to make it possible for commuters to download and use train, ferry and bus schedules from the MBTA. It’s called MassTransit. Sparkfish plans to improve the app over time, adding GPS-based information such as where the nearest bus stops might be, and adding information from other agencies.

But what we really hope is that the T finds a way to make real-time information available to use in apps like these. It’s nice to know when the next bus is scheduled, but it’s even better to know when it will actually arrive.

(The third story with a local bent was the latest Communication Workers of America report on download speeds. Turns out that while the fact that the CWA found that the U.S. is 28th in the world in bandwidth, I was more struck by the regional disparity. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut were in the Top 10 states for bandwidth – Vermont and Maine were in the Bottom 10. Got to do a follow-up on that.)

Mikeyy and Facebook put me on top

Well, I’m feeling the love this afternoon, since my little old AM segment is the most viewed video on NECN.com for the second time in my last seven segments.

So if you want to catch up with the excitement of Mikeyy the Twitter worm and the report that Facebook could lower your GPA – you can do that right here.

As for me, it’s been a busy day of little items – so I’ll try to reengage this evening.

The revolution will be tweeted…

The world is paying more attention to the former Soviet republic of Moldova – and they’re doing it 140 characters at a time.

Thousands of people in Moldova and its capital, Chisinau, have taken to the streets in protest the Communist government’s win in elections on Sunday – and they’ve used social media to power and raise awareness of the protests.

First, a little background – in elections on Sunday, the Communist party won about half of the votes, which is enough to give them control of Parliament and the ability to elect a new president, Communist Vladimir Voronin who is required by the Moldovan constitution to step down. The results were better than expected for the Communists, and there have been accusations of voter intimidation, harassment of opposition leaders and voter fraud. (Independent observers have preliminarily concluded the elections were fair, although they did cite a number of problems.

But the situation began getting worldwode attention once opposition groups began using Twitter, facebook and other social media to organize and draw attention to their concerns. The New York Times is among the worldwide media writing about this today. The small number of Moldovans (estimated at as few as 200 when the protests began) created a hashtag on Twitter – #pman, which is shorthand for the name of the central square in the capital of Chisinau, and have used the tool very effectively to generate worldwide interest.

(To see more images of the protests like this image above, visit Unimedia.info).

The protests inspired young people from across Moldova to come to the capital, and encouraged young Moldovan workers who were living in Romania and elsewhere in Europe, to come and join the protests.

And yesterday, those protests turned violent, with fires in the central square, rocks being thrown and riot police using water cannons to fight back. Romanian television and other media are sharing their images of the events on YouTube and elsewhere. By Wednesday morning, the square is quiet, but Twitter was still buzzing, being used to share stories of border closings, and accusations that government agents actually incited the violence in an effort to make the peaceful protests of the election look bad.

A great way to follow it all is on the application Twitterfall, which I have discussed before, to follow the #pman and Moldova streams.

Is this a “Twitter Revolution”, as Evgeny Morozov titled it in Foreign Policy? Hard to say whether protesters actually are using Twitter to communicate (especially once Internet service failed in Chisinau on Tuesday), and there are skeptics.

But there is no doubt that Twitter and Facebook are driving interest in a part of the world relegated to the back pages and the world briefs of many publications.

And we should be paying attention – noting not just where Moldova is on the map, but how what is happening there affects politics both there and worldwide. Right now, social media is helping to do that.

Not now dear, there’s this great White House livestream…

(NECN: Ted McEnroe) – So what were you doing at 5:20 ET this morning? You could have been watching President Obama live in Turkey on your own live White House feed.

The White House continued its determined effort to make its workings directly accessible on the Internet, with a livestream of the President’s Town hall meeting with about 100 university students, which in itself was a pretty impressive event – an American president taking live questions from an audience in one of the world’s most critical Muslim countries. White House bloggers spent much of last night promoting the event, and the White House live channel at whitehouse.gov/live.

The video channel is one thing, but the Obama administration is going one step further – taking a page from the YouTube (or NECN.com) book. The live feeds are now embeddable on any webpage or blog, via the embed code seen at the bottom of the player. All you have to do is copy the code, paste it onto your site or into a post, and you have your own White House channel – albeit at a lower quality than the one available on whitehouse.gov.

As I mentioned – this is something NECN.com has been doing for some time – when we do livestreaming you can also embed that stream on your site, as Matt Noyes has a number of times – and create your own NECN Live channel. The embed codes are also available for any stories we post on the site. Help yourself – we’ll keep serving it up.

But back to the White House – they’re also reaching out to social networks worldwide in an effort to engage young people – the Turkish event was publicized on yonja.com, the Turkish social networking site.

It’s a start, but there are still more opportunities for the White House to truly engage. The White House still picks and chooses what speech texts and transcripts are made available – and if there is any disagreement or discussion on policy within the White House, you wouldn’t know it from the site. There is a notable lack of critiquing possibilities, no independent analysis available and still fairly limited opportunities for user-generated feedback. In short, it is still a relatively one-way street.

But it’s a start for a White House that is trying to reach its audience – both with and without the media’s help.

It’s game time for Twitter at the ballpark

ballplayerthumb-029So Women’s Pro Soccer is going to start trying Twitter during soccer games. As a way to drum up some attention for the fledgling league, it’s an interesting idea, but soccer may not be the right sport to embrace the technology.

The sport that should? No question. Baseball.

Cover of "Bull Durham"
Cover of Bull Durham

Here’s my suggestion to anyone who wants to listen out there in the minors. At most levels, there is that player who is a little older, a little more savvy, and maybe just maybe, a little less likely to make their way to The Show. Sort of a Crash Davis-type from the movie “Bull Durham”, maybe without the good hair and hip 80s garb. He can read, he can write, and he’s the guy you’d name “Most Likely to Become a Manager” someday. Ideally, he’s a pitcher, so he has some time during games to share his wisdom. Give him a Blackberry or a laptop, sit him in the bullpen or dugout when he’s not pitching, and publicize his Twitter account – both during and between games.

Unlike soccer, where the game is constantly moving, baseball has the perfect tempo for Twitter. You have time in between pitches and in between hitters to discuss and explain strategy. It’s a living, breathing clinic for strategy and technique, and there is an audience that is tech-savvy, slightly nerdy and deeply into the game. We call them fantasy geeks. You could also try to use the platform to engage kids at the ballpark with their parents. Let them ask questions. Give them a chance to interact with their “stars”. Give them a taste of life on the road when you are on a 12-game road trip. It’s a great way to keep involved with a community you won’t see for two weeks.

And the strategy is flexible. One could argue that Facebook might be a better choice – since ballclubs could create a feed on their fan pages, and despite Twitter’s buzz, Facebook still has about 25 times the number of users. Maybe you limit it to a few innings as a way to engage people in the 4th-to-6th innings, when the game starts to drag. Let the radio/TV announcers read some items from the tweetstream, or even field some of the questions themselves (which could be especially great if the announcer is a well-known former player.)

I discussed the WPS idea and a good list of Twitter athletes on NECN this morning:

But let’s go back to baseball. What’s to stop the idea? Well, a few potential obstacles could be:

a) fear – What if the player says something negative? That’s the same fear that every company who embraces social media has to overcome. It’s called transparency, and it causes a little discomfort. But it also builds a great base of fans.

b) unions – Is asking someone to tweet a violation of their baseball contract, even if they volunteer? I have no idea – but I would like to think in my world of rose-colored glasses that we could work around that.

c) control – At some level, taking this on means giving up a little control. You’re working on a third-party platform outside of the MLB/league silo. Get over it. This is about building a new audience – and if you do it right, maybe engaging a young audience more dynamically. It’s something that everyone needs to do in this day and age.

And if you’re a New England team (I’m talking to YOU, Pawtucket Red Sox, Portland Sea Dogs and Lowell Spinners), I’m happy to consult.

What do you think, Twitterverse and blogosphere?

Fear and closings (and opportunity) in lost papers

As part of my segment today (after the obligatory iPhone update mention), I quickly discussed the online future of two more publications to stop the presses in the last three weeks. The demise of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in print today and that of the Rocky Mountain News on February 27th has cost hundreds of jobs and silenced a historic voice in each of those communities.

But they also provide two very interesting and divergent models for a possible future in online news. Both come to the table with relative strong numbers – the Rocky had a circulation advantage over the P-I, but the P-I has a notably larger online base – and with a century and a half of history in their cities.

But while the new seattlepi.com will apparently rely on an advertising-driven model (as evident in the fact they are keeping 20 news and 20 sales positions in the new P-I), a group of Rocky staffers are making a noble – and perhaps futile – effort to attract a paid subscriber base.

For as little as $4.99 per month, people can subscribe to the new In Denver Times, which will feature original content and probably not look all that much different than the new P-I. Both sites will presumably supplement their own content by linking out and by aggregating blog content. But for the Times to even see the light of day, it needs 50,000 subscriber commitments by April 23, which would be the 150th anniversary of the Rocky Mountain News.

But if the build it, will people come? Will fans of the old Rocky sign up for a monthly fee to get access to the new Times? If it was your town, and your former newspaper, would you? And more importantly, would your less-media savvy friends and neighbors? And will the seattlepi.com be able to retain the paper’s advertisers? (Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 says it’s hardly a guarantee).

I’d love to get your thoughts. And we can all sit back and see what happens in two major cities where publications are trying to make the switch.

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