March 26, 2010

Ask and you shall receive?

Someone will want to give me something today.

They almost always do because I play FarmVille, the hottest game on Facebook, where sending virtual gifts back and forth is a part of the game. I have more then 100 neighbors so the likelihood of something popping up in my mailbox/inbox is pretty good.

For me, FarmVille is good for two things: Thinking and change.

Game keeps asking, asking, asking

You get a lot of questions in FarmVille - What do you think will be in this? What will your neighbors think? Questions are posed when a farmer is about to share a bonus or news with others.

I use that open space for mini-blogging. It started as a way to make the posts interesting for those not into FarmVille,. That way even if you didn't want a golden egg you might be interested in seeing what thoughts the word gold or golden inspired. On Feb. 21, an egg inspired me to write about friendship in two posts:

Imagine my surprise when one Facebook follower who is into FarmVille wrote she got so enthralled with what I wrote she forgot to click and get her bonus.

The instant responses and comments also are rewarding. It is encouraging that so many worry when I just share a bonus and leave off the thoughts. So FarmVille makes me think. The game stops me, delivers a prompt and I go with it.

Change is normal

FarmVille also is constant change: New gimmick, new gift, new way of socializing or just tweaks such as a new number of rewards attached to a bonus.The regularity of those changes - updates tend to come Tuesday and Thursday nights - keep the hard-core crew interested and has spawned blogs that actually are making money on the Internet.

Right now, the most competitive farmers are chasing after "spring eggs" to put in a basket and trade for prizes. (We, of course, can't call them Easter eggs because that would not be politically correct. I hate that. Really.)

You need to ask

One of the newer tools is the ability to put your wish out there - telling your neighbors what you want, what you need.

I find it harder to ask for things. In real life. In FarmVille. In life.

Ask for pay for your work? Ask for virtual building supplies for a farm? Ask for forgiveness for unkind words? Or, as you can do in Mafia Wars, ask for respect? (Yes, I finally gave in and played Mafia Wars so I could buy a bigger, better, badder tractor, harvester and feeder so I could do nine plots at once. Sad, I know.)

In real life, part of me that needs to know why you follow me but another part can't carry the burden of an answer yet. There's a part that screams to know more about your strategy and a part that won't put that much effort into any game. There's a part that wants to know what happened and a part that is OK with the comfort delivered by a nothingness.

Wish upon a star?

So we're back to thinking and FarmVille, inspired by a new wish list tool.

I know that little ditty you say when you see a falling star. I know there was a time when I made lists of things I wanted - a gift under the Christmas tree, red meat that wasn't hamburger, and clothes that came directly from the store.

Sometimes, I did lists as an adult, lists with far more expensive things. But I still feel awkward making lists.

This put yourself out there stuff? Lay bare your secret wishes? I find it hard to do at Amazon, in FarmVille, and a million other places. Count my mind as one of those places as the mushiness of dreams, hopes and ideals get crushed by insane questions, fuzzy loopholes and imagined obstacles.

I'll try

So on FarmVille, I suggest that even though there are a lot of things I'm wishing for right now I will settle for a gold bear to put in the pot at the end of my rainbow. Or an egg for the newly acquired spring basket.

In real life, I'm going to work on knowing what my wishes are and how to express them so I ask for what I want, need and deserve.

But, this idea of believing the good of the universe prevails in the long run. Well, that's asking a lot some days. Today is one of those days.

Read some more

Yes, I have shared some of the FarmVille-inspired blogging before and I will again. Remember reading posts by others how Twitter and FriendFeed was replacing their need for blogging? Well, sometimes playing FarmVille and sharing my thoughts and reactions there was my blogging. It took me a while to recognize that, to make sure the blogging made it into this grand central station.

March 25, 2010

No time to blog? Presentation shows how to fit it in

Updated 3-26-10
Two browsers, a few minutes every hour, and multitasking are just three ideas you can glean from this Louis Gray presentation. But you'll find many more ideas no matter what subject you blog in.
Perhaps, the most important takeaway is the example Gray provides of sharing what he knows fairly, frequently and fast (He shared the presentation before presenting, allowing feedback in multiple streams. Oh yes, multiple streams is another tip.)

You Every blogger can glean enough from the presentation to make it worth your time. There are a few slides that make me wish I had been at the presentation (made to HP bloggers) so I'll send off my questions and share the replies.

(I added this after the initial posting)
Also, read the comments on Gray's post and you'll learn he considers conversation a key statistic indicating success.

Keeping track: FBML first, promoting camp, outdoors

Launched March 20 is GSSEM Camps The Facebook site is devoted to camps owned by Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan. Big plans under way but for now the focus is on filling 39 programs offered in June and July for girls 5 to 17 years old.

There's a text version of the programs under Summer Camp. Two photo galleries also feature the programs, with links to registration of the individual programs. Rounding out the content are interviews  with three camp staffers, the 4-1-1 on Camp and Paying for Camp. Two discussion boards are set up to discuss favorite camp experiences and tips for the first-time camper.

Most of the pages link back to the Girl Scout council's web site, which is designed to be its communication hub.


The big picture goal is to get more girls camping and enjoying the outdoors.

A more immediate goal is to fill every one of the 1,274 residential camping spots by May 1.

The strategy is make girls want to camp through the right programming and ensuring the girls and the decision makers know what is available.

Also playing into this is
  • moving from an emphasis on camp as a place to camp as a program so that loyalty is to what is done as opposed to where.
  • helping people to connect the Girl Scout leadership components with the outdoors, especially camping.

National problem

Girl Scouts across the nation are faced with too much camping space for the number of girls who camp. That is leading to the closing of camps, which upsets alumni with fond memories. When the camp properties are sold, the council also loses the opportunity to use the property differently in the future.

This Michigan council, formed in January 2009 from a nationally directed merger of  parts of five councils, also finds it spends 25 percent of its budget on 5 percent of the girls who do summer residential camp. However, commercial property, including camps, is not selling in Michigan, a state with high unemployment.

The challenge is getting more girls to camp. A long-range properties planning team of staff and volunteers spent eight months looking at the best use of all of the council's facilities, including camp. The Girl Scout community will hear those findings and the recommendation at town hall meetings that start March 29.

But staff and volunteers started taking some ideas from the group immediately. That has led to some new camp programs and services, such as a geocache searching trip, adding more times for troops to camp together, and the formation of an advocacy team.

Attract through comfort

One effort focuses on making the decision makers and the girls feel comfortable going to camp. That can be done by offering information, showcasing stories of people who camp, providing photos and schedules of typcal camp stays.

Looking at the demographics of Facebook explains why a Girl Scout council should consider a Facebook fan page for its camps and programs. Facebook is where the moms, and to some extent, the girls are.

Avoiding overload

GSSEM wanted its camps separate from its main Facebook site but wanted the camps launched from one Facebook site, the "mother ship." It took less then 24 hours to grab enough fans to get an easy to remember name ( It took three days to get to 95 fans.

A quick search uncovered at least 15 pages and groups set up for the current properties: The Timbers, Camp O'FairWinds, Hawthorn Hollow, Camp Innisfree, Playfair, and Camp Metamora. That search provides a good reason why the organization should have jumped in early. For instance, some of the sites were started by employees who have moved on and there's no way for the council to recover the access.

Using FBML

This is the first time I used Static FBML, the Facebook version of html. That led to uncovering some great resources and a reminder of how much  Jessie Stay of Stay N'ALive and SocialToo knows about Facebook and FBML. (He wrote FBML Essentials and I'm On Facebook, Now What?)

The first place to stop is the fan page for Static FBML, with a look at the discussions.

Then, I went to Stay's post: How to create the perfect fan page 

Also helpful:
Plus, I looked at a lot of fan pages to see what people responded too.

I'm pleased with the start of this Facebook effort. I'm hoping to add more interviews with staff and more details on the programs. I'd like videos of girls who are passionate about camp.

I think it would be fun to have photos posted during actual camp sessions.

Another idea would be to let a team of girls armed with Flips roam the camps and produce same day videos, much like the effort I helped with at the national Girl Scout convention in 2008.

I didn't find any other Girl Scout camp on Facebook.

NYT, others remember 'Collector of scoops'

`Nice headline - A" collector of scoops steps down -  on a New York Times article about Patrick McCarthy, who is leaving the Advance Publications umbrella.

McCarthy's leaving also prompted Aaron Gell to recall working for McCarthy on March 17. His  Snakes chase out St. Patrick (McCarthy) is worth your time. Says Gell:

"I spent four years as an editor at W, despite knowing next to nothing at all about fashion or society, and the biggest lesson I drew from working with Patrick—or tried to draw, anyway—was that great magazines exude swagger. They’re confident and sure-footed and they don’t look around for approval."
Gell recalls the one time that McCarthy prompted him to change plans for a magazine and reminds us of Charlie Rose quoting McCarthy as saying:
“The magazines have power, newspapers have power. It’s not individuals.”
People forget that when they get hung up on titles and positions. Or, let's be real, you don't even need the title or position. Many folks who once worked for news organizations find that people forget your name when the press boots you.

But back to the New York Times, where reporter Eric Wilson writes:
"As the editorial director of WWD, the (fashion) industry newspaper, and W, its glossy sister magazine for consumers, Mr. McCarthy always considered his publications to be the singular powerhouse for scoops, whether a designer was changing jobs or a retailer was headed for bankruptcy. In fact, his reign was so great that it was called “the McCarthy era” in a 1997 profile in New York magazine."

In 1997, he became chairman and editorial director of Fairchild Publications, now called the Fairchild Fashion Group and part of the Advance group. Last week, his departure was announced.

More from Wilson:
"Mr. McCarthy had risen through the ranks, from a reporter in the Washington bureau in the ’70s to London correspondent to Paris bureau chief to the helm of WWD in New York, where, in 1993 he remade W, which Mr. Fairchild had started as a society broadsheet in 1972, into the monthly glossy that it is today. (On Tuesday, Stefano Tonchi, the editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, was named the new editor of W, which will be split from Fairchild and folded into the glossy magazine portfolio of Condé Nast and Advance Publications, which acquired Fairchild in 1999.)"
 and there's this:
“It was all about the story,” Mr. McCarthy said on Wednesday. “Get the story. It doesn’t matter what it is: a fashion show, a party, a movie star or a celebrity. If you can get it first, it’s even better.”
McCarthy is staying until the end of the year, but doesn't say what's next.

March 24, 2010

Hire for skill or hire for passion?

A blog post, Product managers should know how to write code, got me thinking about non-profits and their employees. Is it enough to have the right skill set or does an employee need to believe deeply in the organization's mission to succeed? How much background is needed if you are part of a group that is charged with creating a new organization.

Jake Kuramoto, who blogs over on AppsLabs, says that product managers knowing code was one of the themes he discovered at SXSWi  (He describes the interactive part of the festival as including "very bright people in web design and development, emerging technologies, entrepreneurship, and game development and design.")

He explains why knowing code helps:
"The ability to understand what’s possible leads to better design, and this becomes much easier if you get dirty with the code, at least at the enough-to-be-dangerous level."
So, a PM must understand both the user and what s/he needs the product to do and what the product can actually do.
You have to be passionate, which leads to breaking, modifying, hacking and bending product to your will. You can’t do any of this without getting dirty with code."
 That's where I'm at with non-profits and employees. Is the skill set useful if there is a basic lack of respect for the organization? Can you promote an organization if you don't understand the principles behind the movement?

Can an employee adapt, quickly embedding the mission once hired? What does an organization need to provide to get an employee there?

As a lifetime Girl Scout, I am surprised (still) to discover people employed by Girl Scouts who don't know the basics. Since the organization requires its volunteers to go through an orientation, I expected that also was required of staff members. But as I work with different councils, I am discovering that most staff orientations don't include a grounding in Girl Scout basics.

Even more scary to me is when people who don't know the organization are involved with creating a new organization to better serve the community.

Without knowing that a Brownie is a Girl Scout or cookies sales are more then a fund-raiser, how can someone be "breaking, modifying, hacking and bending product" (in this case, organization) to create something better?

Huntsville Times getting new design director

Paul Wallen, who took a break from journalism to become a foster parent, will head up design efforts at The Huntsville Times, an Advance Publication in Alabama.

Charles Apple reminds us in a blog post, "Easily amused?" that Paul Wallen becomes design director at the Huntsville Times the week of March 29.

Apple, who often blogs about design journalists, played off one of Wallen's Tweets on house hunting, reminding us that he told us of the job switch earlier. Read that post from Apple for examples of Wallen's work.
(The tweet: "So excited about being the first state on all those Web pulldown menus!")

Wallen, who was laid off in March 2009 from the Florida Sun-Sentinel and just weeks later became  the assistant managing editor for design and sports at the Kerrville (Texas) Daily Times, turned to running a foster home in Texas.

He told Apple in October he and his wife were becoming "full time foster parents at Boysville, a non-profit program northeast of San Antonio that specializes in providing safe, family-like homes for children who can not live with their real families for various reasons (illness, poverty, abuse, neglect, etc.)"

The foster care gig was his first outside of journalism for 22 years, including 17 years in daily newspapers. Wallen wrote to Apple:
"That’s pretty much my entire adult life and it’s really all I’ve ever known. So to say that I’m nervous about trying something so different would be one heck of an understatement."
Wallen replaces Tim Ball, who left in October for the Washington Post.

I have written about The Huntsville Times before, including several posts about ex-publisher Howard Bronson, including his lawsuit, "retirement" and some speculation about his leaving.  

Don't forget Advance addiction fed by Alabama lawsuit.  (Sept. 21, 2009)

I also talk about The Huntsville Times in: