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Monday, December 31, 2012

Authentic voice: Is there enough you in your blog?

Catherine Connors rocked MBlog 2012. Her Bad Mother, Connors' much-fĂȘted mom blog, was one of TIME magazine's 25 best. Here she is on break during Winnipeg's first dedicated blogging conference at the University of Winnipeg.
Ok, it's New Year's Eve day and the big question on my mind is "what does authentic voice really mean?" Yeah, seriously. I had the chance to mull this over in relation to this blog on the last Saturday of November, and I've been thinking of it ever since.

See, the good folks at New Media Manitoba scoured the 'Peg for bloggers who knew their stuff plus brought in some special guests for MBlog 2012: Blogging in the Big Time. Chief among those guests was Catherine Connors, editor of Babble (Disney Interactive) and author of - one of TIME’s Top 25 Blogs of 2012.

Catherine was a delight. And there were a few ideas she clearly unpacked during her preso and the subsequent Q&A. 

1) You're not going to get rich from your precious blog. Live with that.
2) If you don't occasionally feel fear after you post, you're not doing it right.
3) Use your authentic voice or your blog won't be sustainable.

Motivation is the key on that third point, she said. You simply won't want to blog if there's not enough you in your posts. And that's what I've been wrestling with.

How much of me does come through in these posts? Is the writing process here a catalyst for generating and floating ideas or simply reviewing ed-related apps and the thoughts of others? Add to that the time crunch nearly every blogger feels and other questions surface. Is this space the best vehicle for my own self-expression? Would a short form blog like a Tumblr or Posterous be easier to update? Does every post need to gift wrapped with a bow?
What about the possibility of embedding quick and more frequent Social Cam videos to bypass a sometimes tedious writing process?

My friend Darren Kuropatwa (@dkuropatwa) uses Social Cam vids brilliantly as a way to float his thoughts about his teaching practice. Check out his While Walking series. It looks like Ontario educator Rodd Lucier @thecleversheep is starting down the same road - sharing short thoughts and impressions more frequently.

So, where does that leave me?

Well, I'm grateful to New Media Manitoba for the excellent event this past November. It was great professional development in a sweet venue with some great networking opportunities - plus I got to meet Winnipeg's bona fide social media guru Erica Glasier (@ericaglasier).

While I haven't found any easy answers to the questions of voice and posting convenience yet, the questions themselves are good ones and deserve attention in the new year.

And that's where my head is right now. What questions will you be be asking yourself this year?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Shyness and Self-expression

Been thinking a lot about the need for self-expression lately. What makes people want to create and share?

When in college learning to write for a living, we sometimes talked about why people write in the first place. Having been an introvert for much of my life to that point, my own pet theory went like this.

Shy people are keen observers of human nature. They may not appear to crave attention, but they learn a lot from the sidelines. They also file away plenty of honest detail. Through years of life off the mainstage, their need to create, express and share - kept in abeyance for so long - can become very strong. And if they find a medium that allows them some facility of expression, they have a pretty incredible stockpile of feelings to surface and stories to tell. They begin to risk and share - often with the flair and precision that take even their extroverted peers by surprise.

My son Ryan and I with Kina Grannis in Minneapolis
One of my favourite examples of this is Kina Grannis - one of the most prolific and creative artists on YouTube. Earlier this year, she completed an comprehensive tour of Europe, Australia, Southeast Asia, Japan and North America.

Her concerts are filled with more good vibes than you can imagine, and her "In Your Arms" jelly bean stop motion video is one of the most killer creative vids you've ever seen. The behind-the-scenes video tells the fascinating story of the year-long shoot.

Most importantly, watch the video above as Kina talks about a moment of epiphany when she knew she had to share.

Q: When did you know your need to share was bigger than your fear - or are you just realizing that now?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gordon's desk - a thoughtful touch of warmth at Selkirk boy's funeral

Seven-year-old Gordon Anderson was killed in a car accident while driving with his mom last week. I went to his funeral yesterday.

He came from a good Mormon family. One that believes that families can be together forever. Hope and faith in Jesus Christ anchor them through tough times. This is their biggest test.

His grandpa gave a moving eulogy of a boy who lighted up a room and filled his world with hugs, questions and energy - tons of energy. His grandma sang "Goin' Home." His four siblings, mom, dad, and 20 other members of his extended family sang "We Can Be Together" and "Love One Another" through their tears. And one of his uncles put together a video tribute that left 450 people wiping their eyes and scrambling for tissues.

While Gordon's death near Lockport, Manitoba, was tragic, his funeral was anything but bleak.

Love filled the chapel. Admiration and anecdotes of the little guy filled the post-service air in the foyer. And gratitude toward Gordon's principal filled our hearts.

Yes, his principal.

He had arranged something none of us had seen before. A moving tribute to the boy, Gordon's desk, signed by his teacher and classmates, was placed discreetly along one of the walls of the foyer. Underneath it, his family had tucked his gym bag and a pair of his runners.

The desk had a powerful effect on the many knots of people who gathered around it. It provoked pictures and questions and somehow made the boy more real - even to those who had never met him.

It was a loving gesture on the part of his school administrator, teacher and classmates - and it left a huge impression on everyone. What a thoughtful touch of warmth it added to the celebration of Gordon's remarkable short life.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Five reasons to love the new YouTube app

Ok, it's up. A day after the launch of the new YouTube app, you can actually download it in the Canadian app store.

Here are a few reasons I love it.

1) Subscribe to new channels. This just wasn't an option in the native YouTube app built by Apple. This functionality saves you a trip through Safari to the YouTube site.

2) More ways to share. The new app gives you six options instead of three - and they include Facebook and Google+.

3) Shorter URL's. That long URL you had to steal from the "email link" option on the old app was unwieldy and wouldn't render a thumbnail if you copied it into Facebook. The new URL is short, clean and works.

4) Category menu. Borrowing from the menu style you find on the excellent Twitter and Pinterest apps, the new YouTube app allows you to parse your surfing into smaller albeit still broad chunks. Just don't bother rummaging around in the Education category--you'll be extremely disappointed.

5) Fast full screen transition. Clicking on full screen immediately rotates the view from vertical to horizontal. Nice touch.

Modest changes? Sure.

But it looks like the growing estrangement between Google and Apple holds the promise of useful--and likely more frequent--improvements. Changes many of us will appreciate.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cool stuff I learned on social media this summer

Instagram lets you share so many of the amazing places, people and moments that enrich your life. You'll stop your car on the way to Safeway just to grab a sunset. Your family will question your IG obsession. It's all good.

With the luxury of a month off, I experimented with social media a fair bit over the summer--between long walks on knock-out gorgeous evenings, playing ukulele and singing with my son, and over-indulging at crazy good summer barbeques. 

Here are a few of the things I learned while playing with pixels.

This is my go-to creative outlet. The community is overwhelmingly supportive. The IG app has undergone three updates since being bought by Facebook. The latest incarnation has brought many cosmetic changes, plus photomaps--ostensibly a way for you to browse and display geo-tagged photos. The mid-August launch saw a rush of people loading their pics to these maps.

I don't geotag--ever--and that makes me an odd person out. But I keep wondering what's in this geo-tagging frenzy for Facebook as it inevitably merges IG with its timeline sometime down the road. While I enjoy FB, I don't want to be any more an accomplice than I already am in its marketing plans.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that the daily forum by @joshjohnson (175K followers) is a great way to find great mobile photographers and to get followed by same.

The daily forum is somewhat reminiscent of an #edchat. Not nearly as intense but a superb way to make connections. The rules are usually something along the lines of "like three pics and comment on two for every image you post." I shot this pic at the Mennonite Village Museum in Steinbach, Manitoba. It was one of four winners out of over 6,000 posts on the nightly challenge.

Many serious IGers were looking for the death of the "popular page", because it can be gamed by people who sometimes post vanity shots. But it's still alive, just tucked under the Explore page's now more nuanced search box. And whereas you used to be able to search without getting exposed to suggestive content, alas, not anymore.

In spite of that, the IG creative process and associated apps are such a rush. You can't help but have fun. I'll make a point of reviewing some of my favourite apps in a future post.

If you're already on Twitter, take the plunge and download Instagram. A few weeks on IG and you'll begin to see the world in a different way--to actually look at the sky, appreciate the sunsets, slow down and record the beautiful people and places in your world.

The latest mobile update to FB is snappier, prettier, and lets you like comments--something you couldn't do before. Esthetically it's a substantial improvement.

If you're have a corporate fan page, the Facebook Pages app is a must because it will let you manage it right from your mobile device. While you can post pictures right from the iPhone or iPad to your page on the standard Facebook app, Facebook Pages also lets you perform a few other functions like checking your stats plus sending and receiving messages. In order to do that, though, you'll have to be logged into both your FB and FB Pages apps.

There's also a new Facebook Camera app that let's you take, view and post nothing but pictures. When it first came out, many asked, "why buy Instagram and then come out with your own photo-sharing app?!" But Facebook Camera is a different beast, developed before the IG purchase. I use it only to do a quick review of the snaps I've already posted. It's handy if you're looking for a pic and don't want to scroll forever down your, or someone else's, timeline.

When it comes to firing off quick, short blog posts, tumblr is incredible for ease of use and for its gorgeous free templates. This site is definitely the extemely visual, colourful, and sometimes seedy underbelly of the blogging world. Its versatility is crazy, its users are legion--and it skews younger than other blogging platforms.

After experimenting quite a bit, I've found a place to fit tumblr into my life--but it's very esoteric. I use it almost exclusively to look up ukulele song covers and it never fails to disappoint. It's so easy to ferret out YouTube content from the scads of posts that hit every day. And these are so fresh they often don't turn up in typical YouTube search. I made this contribution to the ukulele hashtag on a day I was feeling brave.

There is a also a vigorous education community built around tumblr blogs as attested to by @coolcatteacher--the extraordinaryVicki Davis--who celebrated the year anniversary of her Tumblr blog this summer. To wit:
I’ve learned so much from so many of you and now I’m in Tumblr daily. Just looked and have no idea where all these tumblr folks come from. It blows my mind that since March or so, over 10,000 people have chosen to follow this little blog that I just messed around with on the side.

Just wanted to stop and say thank you but also to comment on the awe of what Tumblr is becoming. I love Twitter and Facebook and my first blog at coolcatteacher. Pinterest is cool but Tumblr is action packed and intense. It definitely has a place in anyone’s social media experience.

Clarence Fisher aka @glassbeed tweeted that YouTube is the most popular way for kids to listen to and discover new music.* This is so true of my 16-year-old and I. Sure I still hang on to my Mott the Hoople, T-Rex and Bowie albums. But there is so much good music being created, covered and written by young musicians these days, it would be a shame to stay stuck in the past.

How could you ever discover hyperactively fun melodies like this one from We Were Evergreen? Have a quick watch.

Of course, it's not enough to simply use YouTube as a video search engine. Its full value is only evident once you start creating and posting content - and subscribing to other channels. Don't let your account go to waste. Start to create and connect.

And I can't mention YouTube without including a plug for...

iCab Mobile
Sure downloading videos from YouTube is verboten according to YouTube's TOS. But say you're giving a keynote and want to show a couple of clips. Are you really going to trust your brilliant tee-up with the hotel's wi-fi? Exactly.

iCab Mobile is an alternative browser to Safari which also let's you download video to your iPad beautifully. It will take you a few minutes to figure out how to navigate through, save and display videos. But once you do, you'll never be at the mercy of wimpy wireless again. Here's some help.

Okay, that once-upon-a-time fun app you downloaded a few tech conference ago to swap contact information is now capable of performing something really useful.

You can transfer photos by tapping iPhone or iPad against the space bar of your desktop keyboard. It works...instantly. So give it a go at

Cut already!
Ok, long post, and there's a lot more to tell. But I'd love to hear about your summer on social media. So, tell me, what did you play with and learn?

*Besides being an awesome educator, Clarence is also the mayor of the town of Snow Lake, Manitoba.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why Snapguide Could Be The Next Big Thing

Snapguide is a free, simple and very slick iPhone/iPad application for creating and sharing step-by-step "how-to" guides. Even though it only made its App Store debut on March 27, it's easy to see why Snapguide could be big - maybe even Instagram big.

You create attractive guides right from the app taking advantage of your iPhone or iPad's camera and some sweet Snapguide creation tools. Text, photos and video clips are combined in a step-by-step sideways swipe format and each guide features your name and pic plus like, comment and share buttons on the front cover. The results can be stunning.

You'll recognize the social components as being highly reminiscent of Instagram - simple and workable. The explore buttons will let you search for any category of guide you'd like instead of relying on app-generated suggestions.

Now, initially, the range of guides isn't as wide as you'd like to see, but the app is in its infancy and topics will certainly broaden in the coming weeks and months. For now, titles include everything from "How to Roast Your Own Coffee" to "How to Keep a Parrot as a Companion Bird."

Face it, everyone knows how to do something, but doesn't necessarily have the venue to easily share it. Sure there are DIY sites on the web, and YouTube videos are useful for learning new tricks, but this particular mobile format lends itself so well to easy creation and consumption. There is a Snapguide website as well, but the creative fun is definitely in the mobile app.

So, have fun with this one, kick out a few guides of your own and see how Snapguide grows. Looks like a winner.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Riveted to Young Woman's Tweets While I Eat Lunch

She choked on tear gas while I ate my sandwich. It was noon at the Subway in Oshawa where I'm attending a social media conference, but night in Egypt - and I just couldn't break away from her frantic tweets.

They outlined:

Her anger at the density of tear gas used.
Her concern for the people run over by police in front of her.
Her panic at the young man who was beaten severely nearby and needed an ambulance.
Her fears for friends and pleas for information from other Twitter users in the crowd.

Her twitter handle is @nadawassef and for 40 minutes I was scrambling through the streets of downtown Cairo with her. The contrast couldn't have been more stark.

My human rights have been secured through not much effort on my part.

She's still working on hers.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Playful Bookstore Video Goes Viral

I stumbled upon this happy little bookstore video on tumblr today. It's been out for only five days and already has over 1.5 million hits.

Now, I love spending time in bookstores. But the variety and immediacy of downloading books for the Kobo and Kindle apps on my iPad has been so seductive that I seldom hit the bricks and mortar buildings anymore.

When I do pull open the big heavy doors of  McNally Robinson or Chapters, the smells of the paper, ink and coffee slam the pleasure centres of my brain so hard that nothing short of my two impatient sons can nudge me toward the checkout.

I love technology. My next device will probably be a Kindle Fire. But there's something incredibly alluring about spending hours among thousands of hard copy books and other people who are just as crazy about them.

E-readers may have conquered my head in terms of selection, price and convenience. But seeing this playful little video reminds me that I have to get out to the bookstores more often. My heart tells me they're not going to be around much longer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Winnipeg Convention Centre's Turn to Get Wireless

There's a story by Geoff Kirbyson in last Sunday's Winnipeg Free Press that MTS Allstream and Rogers are spending $1.5 million over the next six months to upgrade the wireless service for Jets fans and everyone else who uses the MTS Centre.

So, here's a related question for you:

Q: Which of the following is most likely to have free wireless service in Winnipeg?
a) Safeway stores b) Your child's orthodontist c) Winnipeg Convention Centre d) Any McDonald's

You're smiling right now, because you know which one it isn't.

Let's say you want to live tweet an election debate, conference, trade show or other event at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. Or maybe you need to send email or access an important document for just-in-time delivery to the floor of your convention?

And forget the 3G or 4G (or any G for that matter) - you want the speedy snap of wireless.

The WCC will give you an hour's worth of free wireless, then pull the plug on their sluggish signal. After that you have to hike over to the offices on the mezzanine floor and make arrangements to pay by the hour or day to keep using it.

Get Wireless
Convention Centre pulls plug on free wireless after one hour.
Now, I like the WCC. I'm not a critic, I'm a customer. Over the past 30 years, I've enjoyed wonderful events there, everything from concerts and home shows, to the Signature Awards, political debates and the yearly career symposium. But the lack of robust, free wireless for the past couple few years is now quite bothersome. It's a situation that's been documented in an excellent post by Erica Glasier last summer.

While some North-American conference centres are announcing free WiFi - doubtless enough of a factor in bookings to equip themselves with it - and our own hockey palace is boosting its signal, the WCC is silent on its plans.

It's not like conference attendees can get much free WiFi at the Delta next door, either. The hotel has no wireless in the rooms - only high speed cable access. The only place you can get free wireless is in the hotel's main floor lobby. But at least it lasts for more than an hour.

I do have faith, though, that the WCC will come through, because it's their turn - even if they have to partner with another service provider and plaster a "free wireless compliments of" message throughout the building.

In spite of logistical challenges in outfitting a building of that age with systems that will work well, the centre must get it done. How can conference goers land at our new airport terminal, enjoy strong and free WiFi there and while taking in a Jets game - and not expect the same from the venue that's hosting their conference?

Get a Social Voice
Even before the free WiFi  is up and running, though, the Convention Centre should really take a dip into social media for voice lessons. If you search for Twitter, WiFi, or Facebook on the WCC website, you can hear - or see, rather - the digital crickets chirping. If you Google "convention centres on twitter" you'll find WCC's more progressive Canadian counterparts are already on Twitter - and finding their social voice.

Sure they use it as another broadcast channel for events ranging from United Way wind-ups to State of the Province addresses, to boat and bridal shows. But much more importantly, they use it to connect with their community and their guests.

After all, people don't connect with buildings, they connect with real people inside those builidings. So, these centres are using their authentic social voice, rather than their institutional voices on Twitter.

Here's a sampling of how other Canadian conference centres court their guests by using their social voice on Twitter.

Now, this might look like the nuisance stuff. But I am so impressed that there's someone tweeting for the Ottawa Convention Centre that would take the time to ask a guest about their meal and the speaker at an event. That scores you big points. And if someone does have a bad experience, like the fellow with the note on his bike outside Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre, you get to smooth feathers or pass the message on to someone who can make it better.

Those kinds of social media interactions are the daily grind of dedicated community managers and such a welcome human voice. And at the WCC - it's a voice they need.

Get Manitoba Bold
So how about it WCC? This is 2012. Tech is a part of everyone's life including the conference and event patrons who converge on your facility. The competition down the street is putting big bucks into making sure their guests have a great WiFi experience.

My Manitoba Bold idea for you?

Let your guests connect with each other through strong and free wireless, and give yourselves permission to start connecting with them through social media.

Get wireless, social and Manitoba bold. We'll all enjoy you more.