Thursday, January 21, 2010

Foursquare generates an ecosystem

Twitter has an open API that is making the service more relevant to users by spawning a whole ecosystem supporting its use and making the experience richer for all participants. By one estimate, there are now 50,000 twitter apps and there is 20 times the volume of requests to the twitter API as there is to the web server. Similarly, the facebook API is distributing facebook data on the web and throwing off its own ecosystem - sometimes interlinked with twitter, sometimes not.

Are any other services similarly spawning partner apps to enliven the core experience? One social networking app I've been using recently is Foursquare, and I just found which can generate a heatmap of your activity using the Google App Engine for its mashup. Seems like I'm basically a Northsider.

The appearance of is a strong indicator to me that Foursquare is going to have a strong set of partner apps in 2010, justifying some of the hype going around that foursquare is the next darling of the internet cognoscenti. And this differentiates foursquare from services like Gowalla, which seem to lack that developing series of partner apps.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rascal's Fun Zone

I took a friend recently out to Rascal's Fun Zone in Whiteland and realized that although I've been chatting the place up to friends for years, I've never posted a review on them anywhere. So, I wrote up one and listed the review on Google and a review on Yelp. And here it is too -

Each of my kids has had a birthday party at Rascal's and the staff makes a great fuss over them - not just a half-hearted bit of singing over cake, but the whole time they're playing the staff makes them feel special by letting the birthday kid have the pick of go-karts, first pick at ice-cream, etc. I've also seen the staff work with a reluctant kid to get him started racing and he had a blast once he got over his initial fear. Finally they don't nickel and dime you - if there isn't a line they run the races longer, and will let a kid bowl an extra game. Note also that they are very safety conscious - if the kid is not tall enough he will not ride the rides, they make sure you are buckled in properly on every ride and if someone on track is reckless or aggressive they will get prohibited from the track. However - they have separate tracks for kids 45" tall to slow race and for adults & kids 60" tall for fast racing. Don't hassle the staff about this, because their safety-mindedness really does make it a better time for all. Finally, the staff hustles - if someone's stuck on track, they run out to resolve the issue.  Check their website for coupons too.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wikipedia and Reputation Management

Go on, search for your company. I dare you not to find a wikipedia entry in the first page of results, if you're a company of a certain size or significance. Now be honest -  are you engaged at all in that wikipedia article? Or, when you are googling your paid search terms and your organization name, is the wikipedia article on the topic one that your eyes carelessly slide past? What are you thinking?

Wikipedia entries consistently rank in the top 10 results for any query (see: A Survival Guide to SEO & Wikipedia). In comparisons with traditional shelved references, wikipedia is generally found to be more inclusive and no less reliable (see Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica and Errors in the Encyclopædia Britannica that have been corrected in Wikipedia).  I'm not saying Wikipedia is perfectly reliable, as it absolutely isn't. But neither are the traditional reference books. Caveat lector.

If you decide to include wikipedia in your web strategy, proceed carefully. Here's some points to consider:
  • First, understand the editorial policies of wikipedia. Especially review the Wikipedia: Conflict of Interest Policies and make sure you can operate within these guidelines.
  • Understand that you are giving away your writing when you write for wikipedia. Note the text shown below any article's edit box: "You irrevocably agree to release your contributions under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 License and the GFDL. You agree that a hyperlink or URL is sufficient attribution under the Creative Commons license. See the Terms of Use for details."
  • Be aware that your contributions may be flagged for potential bias as well. The following text may be appended to your articles: "A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject. It may require cleanup to comply with Wikipedia's content policies, particularly neutral point of view." This is good. This means that you're not trying to obscure your connection to the topic, and the wikipedia community favors honest disclosure.
  • There is no undo. Once you submit the article, it is public content. It can be edited, reduced, refined, expanded, but it is there. So don't go publishing your quarterly earnings on wikipedia ahead of the release to the street.
  • There is no "done" with a wikipedia article. Articles evolve and change. Make monitoring and occasional review of your wikipedia article part of your ongoing social media strategy.
How to get started? First, before you write the articles that you care deeply about, familiarize yourself with the process:
  • Read the Community Portal for Wikipedia, and edit a few articles that are calling out for it. (The Typo team is a great place to start.)
  • Make a wikipedia profile, and make note of any potential sources of bias.
  • Review existing articles on topics that are similar to any you are seeking to create.
  • Before editing any article, read the talk page to understand any existing edit-wars. You don't want to walk into a fight without doing some reconnaissance.
  • "Please do not bite the newcomers" is a real wikipedia policy. Understand that you might be barked at, but participation is intended to occur civilly and recourse is available if it isn't.
  • If a wikipedia article is defaming something you care about, has factual errors, or is offending you - first, fix it. If this is a recurring problem then dispute resolution help is available.
Following these steps should assure you of a fairly decent first article on Wikipedia. But they're hardly sufficient. A Wikipedia article will need care and feeding over time, so plan to revisit the article occasionally. A good option for reminders is to set up a watchlist, and subscribe to the RSS feed of that watchlist.

I wish I could tell you to sit back and relax once the article is done but, sadly, resting on your laurels is not an option. But when is it ever an option nowadays? Remember: updating Wikipedia is not a one-and-done exercise. You'll need to plan for some time to stay engaged with the pages you create going forward. To keep yourself motivated, check your analytic tool afterward--when done properly, you'll likely see some high-quality, lengthy visits showing up on your sites from Wikipedia.  And that can be motivation enough to stay connected to the Wikipedia process, and can provide a significant ROI for the time spent on the article.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010


My sons are really into shoot-em games lately, and I'm struggling to find games that are as fun and interesting but don't involve violence. My 9 year old picked deBlob out and is really delighted with it, and my 7 year old loves it too. The basic game interaction is to collect colors from roaming color wells and then use the color to restore the city from black and white inflicted upon it by the invading Inky Army. The storyline of the game provides for a heroic and satisfying defeat of the army once the game is played through, and yet playing through doesn't make it stale - the kids still like the other game elements. My kids get really physical and active jumping around and playing the game, and they like the artistic component about it. Are we creating a future generation of Banksy style artists who think graffiti should not be a crime? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hey IMA – I Wanna Blog

Taking a risk and putting myself out there as a self-nominated blogger for the IMA. Why? Well, let me tell you... the IMA asked: Tell us a story. We want to know how good your yarn-spinning skills are, so give your best anecdote involving an experience you've had at the museum. And my response:

I went on a date once to see a temporary exhibit of La Fornarina by Raphael, and coincidentally that day there was a meeting of the Red Hat Society at the IMA. I felt somewhat rushed trying to keep up with my date as we headed to the exhibit - he was hopeful to beat the millinery crowd to the scene. We got there too late, and waited for the gaggle of grannies to thin out so we could get a clear view. But it seemed they had staked out that room as a gathering spot; eventually we moved on to see some John Wesley Hardrick paintings I'm fond of. Again, the red-hatted ladies beat us there, purple dresses swirling. I thought it was somewhat cheerful to see friends together but my date didn't appreciate it. We next went to see the Seurat that I like (I spent hours as a kid staring at La Grande Jatte at the Art Institute in Chicago, so seeing it is like meeting an old friend for me). Keeping up with my date's long stride was getting to be ridiculous. And the red hats surrounded us again. I suggested that if he wanted to walk for exercise, maybe we could go to the outdoor paths?

Out we went and again, the walking resumed with my date setting a fast pace. Everywhere we went, there were families out, red-hatted ladies, and other couples. The US Grand Prix race had brought in a lot of people and I'd never seen the museum so busy before. Finally I called for a halt on the forced march, claimed a surprisingly empty bench and tried to recover from gallivanting about. And then he brought out a small box, and asked me to be his wife. I was happy to accept, and years later we stop by that bench sometimes with the kids. But never since have I had to try and keep up with a nervous man's pace.  

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Quasi-feral cat

Where I work, there's been a shaggy orange cat hanging around the docks - he's called Dock Cat or "D. C." (see photo below). He's a mellow and friendly cat, fairly nondescript and he looks pretty much like any cat. Things got pretty cold recently, and his 6 month existence at the docks seemed to be in peril.

In generosity, the folks who I work with gathered some money and supplies for him and I contacted Indy Feral to see what might be done. I was able to arrange for the cat to be seen at the low-cast spay and neuter clinic in Noblesville. They have a feral cat package, and for $20 they offered a flea and worm treatment and surgical sterilization. They do an amazing amount of surgeries there so I assume with such practice they are good at it and certainly the cost is far less than usual.

The poor cat had tapeworms and fleas (no surprise) but he also had a burst abscess that had infected. So for an additional $31, I had the wound cleaned (and his side shaved to do so) and got some antibiotics to help him recover. They were kind enough to keep him for a few days post-recovery (also to make sure the worms and fleas were gone). Now he's hanging out in the laundry room at my house, mellow and quiet and hopefully, a survivor. The beagles are not happy with the arrangement; so he's just a temporary resident here. When he's recovered I'll see about returning him to his existence at the docks. He's a good mouser (and chipmunk-er). I thought about trying to keep him as an outdoor cat at my house, but I fear the local fox wouldn't be any friendlier to him than are my beagles.  So the plan at this point is to try and give him the best shot we can at living at the docks where he was previously making his home. He's getting food and water from my co-workers, and has a little dog house (or, cat house, more accurately) with a heating pad. And while he recovers from surgery, he's hanging out at Chez Beagle. If you have or know someone who might want to give him a home inside, I'm sure he'd be happy to find one.

A friend of mine has this quote in her sig line:
You never lose by loving. You always lose by holding back. (Barbara De Angelis)
And my corollary is: no good deed goes unpunished. For now I've got to thoroughly clean that laundry room to make sure the parasites are dead and gone. I suppose it needed cleaning anyway. For such a rough existence, I'm impressed that this cat is so calm. He takes his meds like a champ (though clearly he finds them yucky) and although he's got fierce looking nails I have nary a scratch. We suspect that the cat was dumped off at the property last summer. Whomever you are, I wish you an equal number of cold, lonely nights to what you've given this blameless cat.