Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's party time! You coming?

It doesn't happen very often, but I'm having a party. It skews slightly vampirish because I'm asking all my friends to bring their blood. It's a social media adventure started by @SWBlood on Twitter. They sent me a direct message asking if I would spearhead a drive. I gave them an enthusiastic yes and started pressing friends and strangers into service.

The online appointment scheduler has a couple of open spots, so get yourself signed up! We want to fill the day to keep the Puget Sound Blood Center-Vancouver busy. And while you're laying there saving lives you can think about all the presents you gave someone they never used.

I realize this gift costs you something—your gas, your time to get to the center, maybe a little anxiety, but what does it cost if we do nothing? It costs a life, maybe more, because your donation can save up to three lives.

And if you can't come to my party, I promise there'll be another one. The Blood-Mobile shows up at some of the finest places with juice and cookies, rockin' music and friendly smiles. But today, you'll get to party with me, and that doesn't happen very often.

Please come!
Carol's Save a Life Birthday Party

Puget Sound Blood Center - Vancouver
9320 NE Vancouver Mall Blvd
Suite 100, Vancouver, WA 98662

Follow the Schmap to the Blood Center
Follow Google map to the Blood Center

Make your appointment online:

Want to, but can’t on the 31st?
Call 360-567-4800 for an alternate date.
EACH DAY our community needs 900 people to donate blood.

1. Eligibility:

2. First Time Donors:

3. Donation FAQs:

If you would like to see the lives that are touched by blood donation visit the Puget Sound Blood Center patient videos page.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Nozzl Media: 360 Biz of the Month

The Nozzl Media dream team pictured left to right: Brian Hendrickson Visionary and Lead Developer, Greg Griffiths Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Steve Suo Executive Vice-President and Editor, Steve Woodward, Chief Executive Officer.

Formed in Portland, Oregon, Nozzl Media celebrates its anniversary today, March 21, and can add the distinction of 360 Biz of the Month to the festivities.

Nozzl Media resulted from the spontaneous combustion of journalists and programmers who answered the challenge to help news organizations survive. The rapidly changing media landscape has proven that people want information in real time, they want the opportunity to decide—at any given moment—what is important to them, and they want community media companies to ever more finely define: local, local, local.

Nozzl Media has given local a new definition and moved it into a real time stream of local news, local public records, and local social media conversations. Users of the Nozzl product can open up the flood gates and experience an onslaught of information as if rafting over whitewater. Or, the nozzl can be filtered to reduce the rapids to a steady drip of the desired mix of news and information.

At the first of the year, the beta version of the web widget (v1.0) was released into the wild for open testing. Jeff Bunch, web editor at The Columbian Newspaper was one of the first to beta test it. “I like the real-time aggregation and streaming of information, beyond Twitter, as their product's functionality extends to public databases.”

The team is focusing heavily on enhancing the features and usability of the web widget and mobile app. You can read more about the Nozzl Medai solution here, and sign up to try the real-time stream here.

Read our two part interview with Steve Woodward here and here.

Welcome to the Age of Robot Reporters ReadWriteWeb
Nozzl Media Corporate Web-site
Steve Suo Editor of Nozzl Media

February 2010 Moment of silence for bankrupt newspapers
January 2010 Gist

I receive no remuneration for the companies I recommend. Whenever possible, I do readily accept and heartily drink coffee with company representatives.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Recycled journalist reinvents news

This is part two of a two part story. Part I is here.

Steve Woodward was part of the Portland Business Journal startup and went after business stories before business stories were cool. He jaunted over to The Oregonian covered more b-happenings and dove into technology.

He wrote through the dot-com boom and dot-com crash. He kibitzed with politicians including Mayor Vera Katz, worked for solution-seeking editors such as Sandy Rowe, and built a solid reader base with support on the technology side from colleagues like Mark Friesen who added a Twitter stream to one of his top stories so readers could not only read about technology, but could also participate in it.

Woodward believed reporters should be feet on the street like cops, "fast, fiesty and first, and that advanced degrees may be not as important as advanced thinking.

He waded through 3D virtual worlds to conduct interviews of Oregonians in their virtual homes and advocated for higher awareness of technology in the newsroom. The newspaper industry stumbled into the era of Craig’s List and social media. Undaunted, Woodward championed for risk taking and saving the paper. He invested time in a work committee tasked with idea generation. It floundered, so Woodward moved his energy offline and collaborated with other pro-newspaper staffers over pizza and beer. Management tapped into their collective genius and moved to put select ideas into practice, not necessarily successfully, but then nobody’s really figured out the new newspaper model.

Then he was out of a job.

But not out of ideas.

Woodward's path crossed with this guy he used to say ‘hi’ to in the elevator. They both had been Oregonian reporters. They both were named Steve.

“A group had been meeting several months on Steve Suo’s idea,” Woodward said. “To extract public records through software, mash up with Google maps, and do an online newspaper of some type or create a non-profit to deliver the content to newspapers around the country.” Steve Suo is a superhero fighting to place public records into the hands of the public. “Steve was really wanting me to join his public records venture. I wasn’t really interested in that per se,” noted Woodward. “I wanted to go forward.” For Woodward that meant leaving the newspaper industry behind, but he got to talking with Suo’s software partner Brian Hendrickson, who among other things coached a boys tennis team at Grant High School in Portland, Oregon.

Hendrickson was researching how his tennis team could communicate with each other. He concluded they could openly microblog on Twitter or, or he could set up a private microblog.

The meeting between Hendrickson and Woodward lasted four hours—drinking Peet’s Coffee and drawing diagrams. “What if you took Steve’s public records and moved them into microblog that goes directly to users?” Woodward proposed. That idea was the spark, his avenue to impact journalism again. “I got excited.” Woodward said. “Now we have content and a delivery system and end users in real time.”

Suo’s group had loosely formed around the name ‘Info Liberator’ and had envisioned a technology company. When Woodward started kicking around his idea of combining Suo's public records concept with Hendrickson's microblog, the company concept morphed into a media company. “We did a lot of talking because it was a more ambitious than simply extracting public records,” Woodward confessed.

On March 21, 2009, almost exactly a year ago, group members shook hands and the venture—Nozzl Media emerged.

“We didn’t listen to our readers enough.” Woodward notes of newspapers who day in and day out choose what to present as news. The defining difference with Nozzl Media is offering consumers everything. “Everyone’s definition of news it different and changes from minute to minute, but no matter what little piece of it you want, you’re going to get.”

January 2010 Nozzl Media released its beta, a slightly altered course from Woodward's original concept. “I credit Jeff Bunch for this.” Jeff Bunch is the Web Editor for the largest daily newspaper in Southwest Washington, The Columbian. “We were thinking a fire hose, one per city, and sell this thing and the end user would simply type in keywords and get their version of the fire hose. Jeff asked, could you do a nozzl for this and a nozzl for that, separate specialty widgets, such as following the race for the Brian Baird seat.”

“This could be huge, when you think of it in those terms,” Woodward said.

Customizing for each customer means understanding the market, a vital component for a community's newspaper. “What makes the most sense? Charleston West Virginia might be different than Vancouver, Washington. The newspaper becomes the aggregator of relevant info and sources.”

No matter the market, to sustain a project advertising comes into play. Nozzl Media is a revenue center not a cost center. The newspaper ad staff sells ads into the stream itself. “As a reader you’re typing in ‘bank’ or ‘mortgage,’ each content item is tagged with a keyword, but also each ad is tagged with keywords.” Nozzl is building an ad dashboard for advertising staff so they can monitor ads and insert ads into the stream and a dashboard for advertisers is under discussion.

Next steps for Nozzl Media is revenue generation for the company. They have their first inked deal with Jeff Bunch’s company and more organizations lining up. “We’re all full time, non-salaried employees now,” Woodward said. “Except for Brian. He really can’t afford to work for free.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Convo with former journalist Steve Woodward

There’s that moment of hesitation before you hit the send key. It flashes so fast as if to be lightning, or it tugs and pulls you back. Your arrow-pointer hovers over the submit button. You consider. You choose.

I felt that tug. I paused. Then I said, “What the hay,” and fired off the blog post Change May Require Listening.

Thus, the newly born 360 Convos leapt into the hailstorm of the We Make the Media event aftermath.

Tweets, DM’s, blog posts, comments and snark pinged rapid fire as the attendees roared opinions about an event that stumbled and tripped between the old world and the new, an experience that brought a hodge-podge of journalists together to discover a 21st Century truth. When something discomforting happens, distressed people blast it via social media.

I almost didn’t attend, but random encouragement from a colleague as our paths crossed in the lunch trailer prodded my curiosity, and on that fateful Saturday I flopped into the fray. During a break I made a mad dash to make connections and introduced myself to a tall guy. He asked where I worked, I answered. He reached into his pocket and handed me his card. I tucked it away. He had that recycled newspaper man aura. It was later, when another friend explained what he was actually doing that I pulled his card back out and decided we should talk, preferably over coffee.

He had launched something interesting. Something that could affect my newspaper future.

Yes, Steve Woodward had been a newspaper man. He'd covered business and technology for The Oregonian, but he had escaped—layoff papers in hand and a generous severance package headed for automatic deposit. He’d be comfortable, he could relax for the short term, but that wasn’t exactly what he had in mind. The ‘what next’ part would be a brainteaser he looked forward to untangling.

“Y2K was one of my favorite things ever.” Woodward said, as we settled in with lattes and croissants. “In order to figure out how everything might fail, you had to figure out how everything worked.” He ticked off the potential points of failure including the electric grid system, how chemicals were stored, everything around the city of Portland, Oregon that computers ‘touched.’ It was an incredible amount of work to plot but it garnered him a good following.

He moved from business to features but kept covering technology, this time from a social point of view: technology in society, web stuff, art. “For me it really took off with that Twitter article I wrote for the Oregonian. I hung out with Rick Turoczy for a day at Back Space. I started getting into social media. My job was to try everything new that came up, make my readers aware of it.” He wrote about technology from inside technology. He embedded a live Twitter feed on OregonLive where people could tweet about the story. “We were using the technology to record the story about the technology. ” Some of what he covered was, “Kind of weird.” Doing all the freaky, edgy technology stories, but it made him aware of how much was going on in Portland, and “How totally unaware the newspaper was about it.”

Woodward noted that everyday the paper pumped out the same diet of state politics, crime, and standard news. He became convinced the newspaper product needed to evolve. “You can’t afford to be cautious, that’s the riskiest thing you can do these days, it’s a sure path to failure.” He sensed that his paper knew it needed to do something, but they didn’t quite know how.

The Oregonian launched a newsroom wide set of committees to brainstorm ideas, and even though each committee was given the charge to start with a blank slate, no rules, few took it at face value. But Steve Woodward did. “No rules? Okay! I started throwing out ideas.” His neuron zapping concepts met with immediate resistance. Editors responded, You can’t do that. You can’t have reporters choose who their editors are. “Why not?” Woodward asked. Reporters are lazy and want to slide by. “No,” Woodward said, “Reporters want to be better. They really want the best story possible and will choose the editor based on who will help them the most.”

The newsroom committees skipped down the path of least resistance. “You don’t innovate by committee,” Woodward commented, and shifted his energy into an offline group. They gathered around pizza and beer on their own time and brainstormed what they would do if charged with trying to save the paper. “I was convinced it was really almost too late, that advertising was going too drop off.” Woodward also projected the paper would experience staff reductions. “We wanted to have some alternative to take back to management.”

They played by the rules and told their respective bosses they were meeting and kept them informed. “It wasn’t intended to behind their backs.” The only restriction they worked with was that there had to be print product. They did research, interviews. “What started to emerge was perhaps a tabloid, once a week, younger readers, maybe we would do top stories you should know about today. We were in the brainstorming stages of it, far from done, still testing ideas, when the editor approached me. ‘I understand that you have this little group, I’m interested in hearing what you’ve come up with.’ At the same time the Newhouse family wanted to hear about new ideas for The Oregonian and all their papers. We made a presentation of our still unfinished ideas to the editor, Sandy Rowe.

“She was intrigued by some of the ideas. I wish we’d been allowed to go forward, but she asked us to stop and said, ‘We’ll take it from here.’ She and the department heads took our ideas and implemented one or two.”

The pizza and beer group disbanded, watched from the sidelines and sighed as their concepts were hashed through but not necessarily as the original group intended. “Readers don’t want more info they want less info, but they want that info to be more relevant.”

Woodward was frustrated. He needed to do something meaningful in journalism. Early retirements were offered. A year later a series of buyouts beckoned. “A lot of people passed it up because they didn’t know what they’d do. I’d had an impact on business and technology journalism when those departments were a dumping grounds for disgruntled reporters. Now, I had an opportunity to have another impact on journalism. I didn’t know what that would be, but the buyout gave me time to figure it out.”

Where did Steve Woodward focus his efforts to impact journalism next?

Stay tuned ...
Read Part II, Recycled journalist reinvents news.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Never come back here without money

One of my new staff members encountered a difficult client situation. Customer claimed they had not signed a contract for the new 'WebProfile' services which we added to their account in February. The new employee, let's call him Don, researched the situation, found a copy of the original contract, compared the signature with the one for new services and it was obvious the customer had authorized it. Plus, we had received payment for the February billing. So, they'd agreed to it at least once and confirmed with their payment.

There were two brothers involved in the family business running three restaurants and each deferred to the other as responsible for payment. The only way we were going to resolve it was to get the brothers together. Don set it up. I told him I'd go with him and we'd get to the bottom of it.

I knew it would be an interesting conversation.

It was.

At the conclusion of our client meeting I contacted the credit department and asked that the new services be cancelled. We were only five days into the month, I didn't think it would be a big deal. The credit department sent this email to the project coordinator, we'll call her Sista:

Please cancel WebProfile for this account---Carol and Don just met with them.  If it pro rates, we will need to adjust off. Thanks, The Credit Dept

Sista expressed her dismay to me in a curt email.

I canceled it. There is no prorating. They will owe $150 for March. What happened?  -Sista

I considered how to respond to Sista. I could craft a curt email back, I was afterall the manager, or I could demonstrate why it would not serve our purpose to pursue the $150. I decided on the later and sent out the following and copied all the personnel involved:

We were in a no win situation. Client had a Ferris wheel of reps in a short period of time: Rep A, Rep B, Rep C, and then Don.

Client had a print contract soon to expire, was sold 'WebProfile' by Rep A. Client believed he could give us a check each month. Then we told the reps if customer does not have a credit line, the client has to pay up-front for three months. The only other option we gave them was for the client to put a credit card on file. Brother who signed the contract did not have access to the credit card and referred us to the other brother, noting that the other brother who had the credit card needed to approve/sign the contract.

We set up their 'WebProfile' using pictures from a web-site they forgot they had. It had menu prices from five years ago. They felt we were stealing the other guy's work by nabbing pictures from the old web-site. They noted that they never approved our profile site. That is, the brother with the credit card never approved it. The brother who signed the contract saw it and noted Rep A came in took pictures of the restaurant and was very nice during her visit.

I noted we used pictures from their Web-site to help them get started and show them what their profile page could look like. From there they had full access to upload any information or picture they wanted, the program is completely self-serve. They replied with a barrage of complaints noting they didn't understand why every rep we sent  tried to sell them something different: one sold them the print product, another online, and the current rep, Don tried to get them to keep both.

I told them Rep A volunteered to call on them when their prior rep retired, and Rep A sold them 'WebProfile' because she was so excited about it. They must have approved it as they had paid for it in February.

The brother in control of the credit card noted he had given the credit card number to Rep A, but said he never approved the profile site. Which apparently was impossible to do because he became increasingly difficult to get ahold of—he has four kids, he has custody of his kids, he is going through a divorce and due to depression he stopped answering his phone. He told his employees to write down the name and number of each caller and noted that Rep A did try to get ahold of him, but he told his employees "If it's important they will call back." He noted that Rep A did call back.

(Are you enjoying this, yet?)

The first brother told me never to send Don back to his restaurant again because 'he pushed me.' (Definition of pushed me: Don showed him his signature on the contract he claimed he never signed).

He agreed to complete the current print contract, but after that he was done with us. Since Don was kicked out of the restaurant he said I could come in and pick up his check. He gave me two days during the month to do this, and if I'm late I'm toast. He said he was wiping his hands of advertising at that point his brother could handle it. He was happy not have to spend any more time on it.

I asked the other brother if we could call him about advertising the restaurants. He said yes, it was okay to have Don call him. I noted that I have another rep who handles the north county area where he is located and he said he had met the tall, skinny guy who covered that area. "Bob?" I asked. He nodded.

Then the first brother got riled up again and threw in that he was mad because once we raised our prices. I explained commodities—such as paper—have fluctuating costs, but I don't change their ad price every time my costs change (like at the gas station), I explained I hold prices steady for twelve months, but at some point they must change. I detailed that the WebProfile project is our company's way of helping small businesses, that small businesses no longer have to rely on web designers who set up their sites, get paid and disappear. WebProfile puts their online pages in their hands, they control it, they can put their menu on it whenever it changes. They told me that their menu prices didn't change that often, it's too expensive to reprint a menu.

I assured them that WebProfile is a good product and that I/we would talk to the brother (with the credit card) about it again, because it is THAT good. And they are nuts at the moment. I didn't actually tell them that they were nuts.

I told the first brother that at a future date I would be asking permission for Don to be welcome back into his  restaurant. He relented and said, "Don can come in, but ONLY if he's eating a meal." I tapped my pencil to on the table top to the tune of 'Never come back here without money,' and smirked. Some transactions continue to have value.

He asked me if I understood their situation. I sai, "I am trying." I also explained that it was I who instructed Don to push him, and he said, "I'm not mad at you."

That I did not understand as I was pretty relentless to get to the bottom of their insanity and I'm surprised they didn't kick me out.

After I left, and I could speak again, I called credit and asked what was on the books for WebProfile and instructed them to cancel it. If the charge goes through we will need to adjust it off.

Just saying,


So, that's my conversation and email recap. What was the most interesting conversation you had this week?