Encouraging Community with Strategic Engagement

The Social Annie-versary Experiment

Today, my wife Annie and I celebrate 9 years of wedded bliss.  Okay, so it hasn’t been all bliss, but if I had it to do over, I wouldn’t change a thing.  And hey, that’s more than a lot of people can say these days (my wife included, I think).

Photo courtesy KC Brock

As the saying goes, opposites attract.  That’s certainly true in a lot of areas for us.  One of those areas is the internet and social media.  I’m heavily involved in both while my wife may occasionally send a friend an e-mail.  She could certainly do more in the space, she just chooses not to.

Still, sometimes I find myself wishing she’d stumbled upon my latest witty comment or random musing on her own instead of having to ask her to pause the DVR long enough so that I can read them to her out loud.  Sort of loses a bit of its magic that way, you know?

In comes the Social Annie-versary Experiment, an idea I came up with just yesterday (far be it from me to avoid last minute anniversary ideas now).

Watch the video for the whole scoop. And let me know your thoughts regarding social media and the experiment itself.  Is she better off staying away from Facebook and Twitter, et al?

You can help by commenting and/or spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter – use the hashtag #nothings – when you tweet/update ‘sweet nothings’ to your significant other.   I’ll peruse them throughout the day and may use my favorites on my honey (feel free to do the same).  Maybe before the day is over, you and I will have a crowd-sourced list of great ‘sweet nothings’ we can save for just the right moment.

Oh, and I may as well kick off the sweet nothings right here:

Honey, I love you more and more every day I’m alive.

The Portable Patriot: A Book Review

While Independence Day may be behind us, that doesn’t mean we have to put our patriotism on the shelf until next year.  A recent e-mail I received from a PR agent tipped me off to a new book from Thomas Nelson Publishers called The Portable Patriot: Documents, Speeches, and Sermons That Compose the American Soul and edited by Joel J. Miller and Kristen Parrish.  It is one I recommend highly.

If you, like me, are fascinated by stories of our country’s origins, especially when they come straight from those who lived them, then this is definitely a book you’ll want to consider reading.  From the first settlers in the early 1600s to our country’s founding, the stories recounted here are remarkable.

I found the book thought-provoking and a definite page-turner, especially when engaged in stories like the one early in the book from late 1600s settler Mary Rowlandson as she harrowingly recounts having been taken captive – a three-month ordeal – by Native Americans and the many losses suffered along the way.  Still, her faith gave her the strength to push on in the face of innumerable obstacles.

Faith is the common strand that threads these many stories together.  In each of them, you see what was once commonplace in our communities: a complete and natural reliance on God for our future.  Or, as our forefathers put it, “…a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.”

The Portable Patriot is my own “little library of foundational documents” and a welcome addition to my bookshelf.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Sneeze program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Organize and Find Everything in One Place with Springpad and Evernote

If you’re like most people, between shopping, eating, surfing the net, conversations with friends and basically just living your day-to-day life, you constantly come across products, web pages and ideas you want to remember.  However, if you’re like me – and I hope for your sake you’re not – it can be a real challenge as to how to organize it all.

Chances are you’ve at least heard of Evernote.  With Evernote, you can save just about anything you want to remember in the cloud.  I’ve been using it extensively the last few months, mostly to organize others’ blog posts I want to refer back to, though there’s a lot more to it than that.

Unfortunately, for me at least, Evernote has slowly become yet another place to store my bookmarks, along with my Firefox browser and Delicious, giving me as many as three places they might be (to be fair, I’ve been using Evernote mostly on my desktop and long before I acquired my first smartphone a few weeks ago).

Recently, though, I came across a similar, free service called Springpad.  While Springpad mirrors Evernote in many ways – helping you save ideas, things you see, things you like, etc. – it does add a couple of new dimensions that I find intriguing.

First, the similarities:

  1. Both allow you to save just about anything you come across.  This could be a photo you’ve taken, a website or article you come across, an idea, any number of things.  Let’s say you’re planning a wedding and want to have one place to save dress photos, venue options, guest lists, whatever.  Instead of lugging around that three-ring binder, access everything you need right from your smartphone.
  2. You can save items independently or tag and categorize them in folders.  Either way, finding them later is as easy as entering a keyword or selecting the folder (say, “XYZ Project) that contains the items you’re looking for.
  3. Both offer their own smartphone app.  Likewise, I use an Evernote Firefox add-on and a Springpad (Spring It!) bookmarklet when surfing the web.
  4. Both are free.  Evernote does offer a paid version, but I’ve found the monthly 40MB offered with the free version  to be more than enough for me.  For $5 a month, you’ll get a total of 500MB of space that starts over every month.

Beyond that, there are several key differences:

  1. When it comes to how you save what you find, Evernote adds the option of saving audio notes on your app-enabled smartphone.  This feature, on the surface at least, seems to be one of the few advantages Evernote has over Springpad.
  2. Conversely, Springpad enables you to barcode searches.  You can even “search nearby.”  This might come in handy when, say, you see a restaurant or store you want to remember to visit later.  Save it and Springpad automatically pulls in the phone number and address of the business, even a Yelp review if applicable.
  3. Snap a photo that includes handwritten or printed text and Evernote makes it searchable.  Very cool.
  4. One key difference is Springpad adds social sharing to the equation.  You can choose what items, or categories of items, you’d like to make public. Others can follow what you’re sharing and, likewise, you can follow others.  Want to know about great wines Gary Vaynerchuk is discovering?  Just follow his Springpad feed.
  5. The web interface also allows you to add apps to your Springpad experience.  For example, my Springpad includes a blog post and date night planner among others.  Last week when I had an idea for a new blog post I wanted to remember, I noted it in Springpad and was able to even set a reminder e-mail for the day I wanted to work on it.  One drawback though is interfacing with these apps does not appear to be an option within the Springpad smartphone app.
  6. Lastly, when you save something, Springpad automatically curates relevant links, notes and other media (as in #2 above).  Spring a movie you want to check out and Springpad will include a link to Fandango so you can buy tickets whenever you’re ready, or maybe even the latest Trailer, reviews, or a link to purchase the DVD at Amazon.

I’ve only being using Springpad for a short while.  I can say for sure that the lack of a desktop app (versus Evernote which offers both a web and desktop version) is a big deal for me.  I use the Evernote desktop app virtually everyday.  However, I really like the additional features, like social sharing, that Springpad offers.

For more on both services, check out the respective videos below.  And let me know in the comments section which one you use, how you use it, and what you do and/or don’t like about it.  Do you use both?  Which do you prefer?

Have I missed any features?  Differences?  Similarities?

Photo credit, Franck-Boston on iStockphoto.com

How I Got Two HTC Incredibles for Less Than $30 (and you can too)!

Today was the day.  The Verizon Droid Incredible made its debut on Verizon.  I went back and forth on whether or not I’d pull the proverbial trigger on this model, wait for the iPhone to make its way to the big V (after all, I’d already given up on the Google Nexus One), or jump ship to Sprint in June just in time for the HTC Evo 4G.

Last Friday, after a ton of research spread out over several months, I ordered two Incredibles from the Verizon website.  They arrived much to my glee and excitement – and that of my wife, it turns out – yesterday.  I won’t bore you here with unboxing videos and reviews.  You can get that info from a thousand other places.  However, I do want to pass along some tips that will help you save some dough, especially if you’re itching for a new smartphone.

First off, you surely know that if you’re at the end, or near the end of your contract with your carrier, you hold all the marbles.  The leverage is yours to do with what you will.  In our case that meant that, for several months now, we’ve qualified for the Verizon “new-every-two” discount ($100) as our contract expired earlier this year.

If you remain patient to make sure you get just the phone you want (re: hem and haw for weeks driving your spouse crazy as you struggle with what to do), you may even get a mailer from your carrier offering you $80 off your next bill, as we did (in our case, the equivalent of one month of voice service on our, then current, main phone).

Additionally, because we ordered our two Incredibles online, the rebates with Verizon were instant.  No paying full price up front, filling out long forms, mailing them in and waiting the customary 6 to 8 weeks to get your money back.  After this experience, I may never enter another Verizon store again (though I do need some cool accessories to trick out my phone).

Here’s the kicker: The same day I ordered our phones, I saw the Verizon TV ad offering one free 3G smartphone with the purchase of another.  So, yesterday, when my phones arrived, I gave the friendly folks at Verizon a call.  Five minutes later, my purchase looked something like this:

Incredible #1 – $299

Incredible #2 – $299

Total – $598

Minus Instant Rebates of $100 = $398 ($100/phone)

Minus new-every-two discount of $100 applied to Incredible #1 = Incredible #1 drops to $99 while Incredible #2 remains $199  for a total of $298.

Minus One Free 3G Phone (Incredible #2) previously valued at $199 = $99 total for the two phones (Note that the free phone is the more expensive one as my new-every-two discount applies to the phone I’m actually buying).

Minus One Bill Credit of $80 = $19

With tax, my wife and I are out less than $30.  Two Incredible phones (my wife and I are loving them in the first 24 hours), and one truly incredible price, wouldn’t you agree?

This isn’t hard at all, really.  The trick is bringing all these separate deals together into one.  None of the phone carriers present them that way, but they’re all out there, ready for the taking.

Remember, do the math then make your purchase.  Too often, we do it the other way around.  I think that’s what’s commonly referred to as “buyer’s remorse.”  I can assure you there’s none of that here.

Finally, I shot a quick video with the phone’s camera yesterday.  I think it looks pretty good.  How about you?

No Size Fits All: Video Book Review No. 2

I first became aware of this intriguing new book at Mark Ramsey’s blog Hear 2.0.  If you’re so inclined, I highly recommend you take some time to read his analysis of what the book has to offer.

If you’re in the business of figuring out your industry’s or company’s digital future, and are fascinated by the psychology behind the popularity of social networking – or for that matter, why some marketers are welcomed to otherwise closed communities with open arms while others aren’t – then I highly recommend you give it a go.

There’s a bit of nostalgia where this particular video is concerned.  It was shot at my parent’s home in the room I grew up in as a boy.  Unfortunately, the Farrah Fawcett posters are no longer a part of the room’s decor.  What a shame.

Changing Facebook’s News Feed Default Settings

It’s been a few weeks since Facebook launched its recent round of changes.  Those changes not only included a slight face lift (no pun intended), but some under-the-hood changes as well.  If you’re like many, you’re still getting used to them.

In fact, it you spend time on Facebook daily, you may have noticed that what you’re posting isn’t being commented on at the same level you’re used to.  Part of the reason for that, I believe, is due to the changes Facebook made to some of the personal profile default settings.

First, it’s important to note that this won’t change, necessarily, by making the simple adjustments I describe in the video below.  For that to happen, everyone else you’re connected with will need to do the same.  To put it simply, you need to spread the word.

However, if you feel – as I did – that you’re just not seeing near the activity in your Facebook stream that you once did, the simple adjustments outlined in this screencast should help change that.  I hope it helps.

Photo credit, Photos8.com

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