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June 2011

The Google Calendar Gets a New Look

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If you’ve opened up your Google Calendar today, then most likely you noticed a new look.  I use my calendar for scheduling blog posts, meetings, phone calls and life in general- but that’s for another post.

This is the first in a series of changes that you’ll see over time. Why the change? Google says it’s in order “to make our products more consistent and intuitive so your experience is more enjoyable and productive.”

None of the changes have affected the way the calendar works. They’re all just cosmetic changes. Here’s a quick summary of the changes:

  • The Quick add function is now under the down arrow next to the Create button
  • Calendars selected for viewing in your My calendars and Other calendars lists will no longer display with a colored background; instead, only the arrows next to them will be colored.
  • The Print and Refresh buttons are now icons rather than text links. The Print button shows a printer, and the Refresh icon is a circular arrow.
  • Visual indicator icons (alarm clock icon for events with reminders, person icon for events with guests, etc.) will only show when the event is hovered over.
  • The My calendars and Other calendars lists on the left are now collapsed by default and may be expanded using the small gray arrow. Once expanded, they will remain expanded on refresh or open.
  • The mini month view calendar under the Create button is collapsible using the small gray arrow.
  • The Save and Discard buttons and Back to calendar link are only available at the top of the event page, not the bottom.

Google wants to provide us with “a more seamless and consistent online experience” and is founded on three key design principles: Focus, Elasticity and Effortlessness.

If you have anything to share about the changes, they have provided a feedback form.

It looks like Google is preparing us for the Google+ Project. Thoughts?

StumbleUpon Launches New Widget

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StumbleUpon wants to know “Have you ever thought to yourself, man, I’ve got some pretty awesome taste in stuff?”. Why yes, yes I have. If you have as well, then you’ll be happy to hear about the new widget they have launched. Your friends have been able to follow your favorites on StumbleUpon and now, we can all share our favorites on a broader scale.

Introducing, The Widget Creator.

By using the Widget Creator, you can insert one line of code into your blog or website that includes either your favorites or sites that are rated the highest within an interest and/or domain. You can choose from three different sizes including square-ish (300×250), wide rectangle (600×250) and tall rectangle (160×600).

Let’s say you have several domains and you would like to cross promote. The new Widget Creator would allow you to do that. And as Mashable points out, this could also be used as a more polished version of a blogroll.

Will you add the new StumbleUpon Widget to your site? Are there other ways you could see it being used?

 

Guest Posting 101: An Introduction

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I get a lot of questions to my inbox about guest posts. I actually do a lot of guest posting on behalf of a client of mine – I’ve help him build a great blog, and now I’m helping him spread the word through guest posts. Guest posting is a way to get some major traffic to your blog – if you do it correctly.

So, I wanted to write a short series here at BlogWorld about guest posting based on the success I’ve had in this area. This post is an introduction to guest posting – but scroll to the end to find other posts on writing, pitching, and promotion.

There are two main goals with guest posts:

  1. Gaining traffic through readers who enjoyed your post and want to read more from you.
  2. Gaining traffic through SEO by linking good keywords back to your site.

In my opinion, a good guest post considers both elements. If you write an awesome guest post, but don’t consider SEO at all, you’re missing out on traffic that you could have had without compromising the integrity of the guest post. On the other hand, if you write a crap guest post just for SEO purposes, not only will you have a hard time placing it, but you’re also losing traffic because potential readers won’t click through to your site. If you’re going to the trouble of writing and pitching guest posts, make sure they’re optimized for both types of traffic!

There’s a third benefit to guest post that is somewhat hidden and there’s no way to measure the benefits, at least not in terms of traffic numbers. I can tell you from my own experiences that it exists, though! The advantages I’m talking about is name recognition. As you begin to guest post other places, even if people don’t click through to your site, they start to recognize your name. If you want to be an authority in your niche, people have to know your name. Maybe they don’t check out your site after reading this guest post or that guest post…but if your name keeps popping up with blogs they do read, it is only a matter of time before their curiosity gets the best of them and they become a reader.

Don’t forget that guest posting, at the very least, puts you on the radar of the blogger who posts your work. Sometimes, this is the best way to make an a-list aware that you exist. They otherwise might not realize that your blog is awesome – but if you propose a guest post that is a good fit, they’ll head to your site to check out your other work.

I’ve even gotten jobs this way. People needing writing done in a certain area sometimes peruse the big-name blogs to look for contractors. It’s actually an ingenious strategy for finding up-and-comers to write for your projects.

I hope you’ll give guest posting a try. If you’re new it the idea, stick around – in the next post, I’m going to talk about penning the perfect guest post. When all of the posts in this series are live, you’ll be able to see them at the follow links:

Amazon Warns CA Affiliates – It May Pull the Plug on Their Accounts

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Well, I got a nice email in my inbox this afternoon from Amazon, saying that they will have terminate my affiliate account if the new sales tax measure passes in California. Yes, I am set to lose a huge monetization strategy for some of my blogs because I live in sunny Southern Cali. *sighs*

This isn’t the first time Amazon has had to cut out affiliate programs in states. They’ve already shut down those residing in Illinois, Hawaii, Connecticut and North Carolina because they passed legislature similar to California.

The legislature involves a sales tax measure that will ultimately treat Amazon Affiliates the same as retailers with brick and mortar stores – thus requiring them to pay a sales tax.

The email read as follows:

Hello,
For well over a decade, the Amazon Associates Program has worked with thousands of California residents. Unfortunately, a potential new law that may be signed by Governor Brown compels us to terminate this program for California-based participants. It specifically imposes the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers – including but not limited to those referred by California-based marketing affiliates like you – even if those retailers have no physical presence in the state.

We oppose this bill because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive. It is supported by big-box retailers, most of which are based outside California, that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors. Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue. We deeply regret that we must take this action.

As a result, we will terminate contracts with all California residents that are participants in the Amazon Associates Program as of the date (if any) that the California law becomes effective. We will send a follow-up notice to you confirming the termination date if the California law is enacted. In the event that the California law does not become effective before September 30, 2011, we withdraw this notice. As of the termination date, California residents will no longer receive advertising fees for sales referred to Amazon.com, Endless.com, MYHABIT.COM or SmallParts.com. Please be assured that all qualifying advertising fees earned on or before the termination date will be processed and paid in full in accordance with the regular payment schedule.

You are receiving this email because our records indicate that you are a resident of California. If you are not currently a resident of California, or if you are relocating to another state in the near future, you can manage the details of your Associates account here. And if you relocate to another state in the near future please contact us for reinstatement into the Amazon Associates Program.

To avoid confusion, we would like to clarify that this development will only impact our ability to offer the Associates Program to California residents and will not affect their ability to purchase from Amazon.com, Endless.com, MYHABIT.COM or SmallParts.com.

We have enjoyed working with you and other California-based participants in the Amazon Associates Program and, if this situation is rectified, would very much welcome the opportunity to re-open our Associates Program to California residents. We are also working on alternative ways to help California residents monetize their websites and we will be sure to contact you when these become available.

Regards,

The Amazon Associates Team

I’m still kind of shaking my head. And looking for ways to get involved. Have sales tax laws impacted you in any way?

How Journalists Can Make the Most of Facebook

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… by Andrea Vahl

I had a wonderful time at BlogWorld NY. It was a bit of a whirlwind with meeting people I had known on Twitter for years as well as making new friends, attending great talks, and trying to see a few NY sites while learning the art of walking with nine blisters on my feet.

I also was honored to speak at BlogWorld on How Journalists Can Make the Most of Facebook.

Twitter has been a little more of the social media darling for journalists because of its open and very searchable format. But according to a recent Pew Research Center study, Facebook is becoming increasingly important for journalists. Many of the large news sites are getting a significant amount of their traffic from Facebook.

But how else can it be leveraged? In my session I covered the four C’s that journalists needed to give to their Facebook audience to make the most of it:

  1. Content. It needs to be relevant to the audience to encourage sharing and interaction.
  2. Conversation. You need to be there. People want to talk to people, not a news site. Let people know who is doing the posting. Have a signature with the post or tag the journalist’s page when they are presenting the information.
  3. Consistency. Make sure you show up regularly. Have a schedule of the types of posts or stories that will go up at certain times. Have a question of the day that appears regularly if you decide to incorporate that into your posting mix.
  4. Community. Make your Facebook Page a safe place to be. Moderate the posts so that people aren’t attacking each other within the threads. It’s ok for people to disagree, just have some rules of engagement. If people are attacked, they won’t participate again.

Those are the things your audience wants from you. But what do you get? If you use Facebook well, you also get four C’s:

  1. Connection. Facebook gives you the opportunity to appear in people’s News Feeds over and over. You get the opportunity to reach people where they are hanging out and remind them of your site. You also build a loyal following that will turn to you for the news rather than one of the many other places they can get it.
  2. Check your sources. You can search Facebook through www.Facebook.com/search or use http://www.fbinstant.net/. People will also share tips on your Page.
  3. Clicks. Yes, if you do Facebook right you will get traffic. But it’s not only a broadcast platform. You have to talk to people and get a conversation started to reap the rewards.
  4. Credibility. When you participate regularly and let people get to know you, you will receive the trust of your audience.

When you give your audience what they want, you will get what you want. But you have to give to receive. Facebook is a powerful force when it’s used right.

Andrea Vahl is a Social Media Coach, Speaker and Strategist. She is a co-author of Facebook Marketing All-in-One for Dummies. She uses her improv comedy skills to blog as an entertaining character named Grandma Mary – Social Media Edutainer. She is also the Facebook Community Manager for Social Media Examiner, an online magazine with more than 45,000 Facebook Fans. You can find more information at http://www.AndreaVahl.com

Google Announces the Google+ Project

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Google says that online sharing is “awkward” and even “broken” in a new blog post today and they aim to fix it. They announced the Google+ Project, which will make Google even better by “including you, your relationships, and your interests”.

Here’s a quick look at the Google+ Project.

The Google+ Project includes:

  • +Circles: share what matters, with the people who matter most
  • +Sparks: strike up a conversation, about pretty much anything
  • +Hangouts: stop by and say hello, face-to-face-to-face
  • +Mobile: share what’s around, right now, without any hassle
  • +You: putting you first, all across Google

Google +Circles really peaked my interest. Google found that people share selectively. What you share with your friends, you may not want to share with your family, which I couldn’t agree with more. The +Circles project allows you to share precisely with just the right people. Google says to “just make a circle, add your people, and share what’s new—just like any other day”.

For more in depth explanations and some entertaining videos, visit their blog post here. And of course, we would love to hear what you think about this new project!

Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone Moving on to Other Projects

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Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, announced on his blog today that he is leaving the micro-blogging site to pursue other projects. The title of his blog post was “It’s So Obvious” which hints at what he’ll be spending the majority of his day on.

From his blog post he said:

As for the bulk of my time day-to-day, I’m thrilled to announce that Evan Williams, Jason Goldman and myself will be relaunching The Obvious Corporation as co-founders. Our plan is to develop new projects and work on solving big problems aligned along a simple mission statement: The Obvious Corporation develops systems that help people work together to improve the world. This is a dream come true!

Stone has been with Twitter since it’s start 5 years ago and noted in his blog post that he is not completely cutting ties. He said he will still “commit part of my time to hands on help with Twitter wherever and whenever I can be of assistance.”

We wish him the best on his next endeavor!

What Bloggers can Learn from the Fraggles

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I was totally not watching cartoons today. Fraggle Rock is technically live action, since they’re muppets. But just in case that still sounds a little lame, let’s just call it research for this blog post. Yeah, that’s it. It was a necessity for work.

In all honesty, I can’t resist watching Fraggle Rock anytime I see it on TV because I’m a sucker for nostalgia and loved that show as a toddler. But as I was watching it today, I did notice a few parallels I could draw in a blog post here at BlogWorld. Here are a few things that bloggers can learn from the fraggles:

Dance Your Cares Away

The fraggles’ theme song is pretty inspiring to me. Dance your cares away/Worries for another day/Let the music play/Down on Fraggle Rock. Of course, the fraggles are for kids, and as adults we have to actually face problems, at least sometimes, but I think the lyrics still have something to teach us as bloggers. We often spend a lot of time upset, worrying about this and that, and so much effort goes into that worry that we can’t give our blogs the effort it really deserves. Sometimes, you just need to let your worries go so you can turn your attention on what’s really important. Don’t get caught up in the small stuff!

I guess that’s good general life advice, not just blogging advice, hm?

It Takes All Kinds

The main characters of Fraggle Rock are Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, Boober, and Red. They’re all friends, but if you’ve watched the show at all, you know that each fraggle has a very distinct personality. They’re stronger as a group because they complement one another well. Think about your niche the same way. It’s stronger for readers because there are tons of different personalities all working together to populate the web with information about your topic of choice. This also means that you shouldn’t try to fit into a mold. It’s okay to be Boober in a niche full of Reds.

There’s Always Someone Bigger…and Always Someone Smaller

The fraggles aren’t the only ones who live in their little world. There are also the doozers, who are small workers, constantly building intricate structures made of candy that the fraggles love to eat, as well as gorgs, huge creatures who consider the fraggles to be pests, much like we’d regard mice. It’s a good reminder to us that no matter how small we feel, there are other bloggers who are smaller, and no matter how popular we get, there are other bloggers who are more popular. Don’t get discouraged…and don’t get a big head!

Good Advice Comes from Weird Places

The fraggles get sage advice from Marjory. Marjory? Oh, she’s the trash head. That’s right, they get advice from a pile of garbage. The lesson in that is you should never close off yourself to good advice. Advice for your blog or your specific niche can come from a blogger your dislike or someone who is new to blogging or…from Fraggle Rock! Don’t be too caught up in what you think is “right” that you miss out on some great information from unexpected places.

 

Custody Order Requires Father to Take Down Blog

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Last week a judge in Bucks County, PA required a father to take down a blog under threat of incarceration and/or risking losing custody of his children.

The blog, ThePsychoExWife.com (which is currently down), was created in 2007 to attract others going through difficult divorces and custody situations – offering support and information via forums, news, and articles. A portion of the site IS dedicated to telling a story, based on true events, regarding a very contentious divorce and custody battle with the father’s ex-wife. But the father claims no ownership of the blog.

Judge Diana E. Gibbons issued the following order:

Father shall take down that website and shall never on any public media make any reference to the mother at all, nor any reference to the relationship between mother and children, nor any reference to his children other than “happy birthday” or other significant school events.

The father – who chose to remain, and continues to remain, anonymous through the entire process so as not to involve his children – plans to file an appeal on the grounds that his civil rights (including the 1st Amendment) have been violated. And the results of this appeal will be crucial to the future of parenting, divorces, custody, and children. It could impact your social media usage as a parent – pictures, Twitter updates, blog posts, everything.

Whether or not you agree with the father telling the particular stories on the blog, this does bring up a larger issue of what you can and cannot post on social media sites and forums.

As Save ThePsychoExWife.com says: We must win this appeal in order to protect our freedom of speech – just because you are divorced doesn’t mean you give up your civil rights … We must stand up to this violation of the First Amendment. We must protect our freedom of speech and not allow family judges to use our rights against us when deciding custody.

You can learn more, read the judge’s orders, and offer your help at Save ThePsychoExWife.com.

Twitter Launches #TfN, Twitter for Newsrooms

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Journalism has changed drastically. Both the way we receive our news and the way journalists find news and information to report on has evolved. The obvious reason for the change is social media.

As we told you last week, social media is quickly becoming the leading way to communicate during a national disaster. Both news agencies and the public have realized what an invaluable tool Twitter can be.

Twitter gets that.

That’s why they’ve launched #TfN or Twitter for Newsrooms. It’s a resource for journalists in order to find facts, verify facts, promote their work and more – all faster.

Twitter acknowledges that the world of journalism and the people in it are a diverse group. They acknowledge that they come from different backgrounds and began their careers in the different fields of media. But here’s what they hope #TfN will be for all journalists:

While this group is diverse, we think Twitter and #TfN can be a kind of common ground—and we know Twitter is a tool all journalists can use to find sources faster, tell stories better, and build a bigger audience for their work.

Do you think most journalists will embrace and use this guide to their benefit?

 

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