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Dadgets   New window
Date: Friday, 18 Jun 2010 11:01

Is your dad or husband a total tech geek? Is he crazy about contraptions and always drooling over the latest devices?  The Blog Studio is here with the Comprehensive Father’s Day Guide for the guy who love gadgets: DADGETS.

1) First on our “dadget” list is the Samsung LED 7000 3D TV: the very cutting edge of television technology.  We got a sneak peak of it a few months back when Samsung held a preview reception, and we were totally blown away.  Regular flat screens are a thing of the past… the Samsung 3-D TV brings a genuine theatre experience into your dad’s life.  What else would be fit for Avatar’s upcoming DVD release?
http://www.samsung.com/ca/

2) Speaking of surreal experiences, how about Apple’s latest tech toy: the iPad?  They might be hard to score, but this device has the cache to truly impress even the most tech savvy pops.  It became available in Canada recently and is buzzing all over the net as the new hot ticket item.
http://www.apple.com
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3) If your dad has already beaten you to the iPad punch, that’s ok. We’d like to introduce you to the brand new line of iPad accessories, like iLuv and Gucci’s line.  We’ve read about everything from slick cases, to desk mounts and… they come in a variety of great colours for you to match to your dad’s favourite gadgets.
http://www.mrgadget.com

4) For the dad who’s a world traveler and always on the move, the perfect gift is Indigo’s kobo electronic book reader.  The kobo is simple, sleek, and best of all you will be supporting a Canadian brand.  If you would like try it out for yourself, Indigo is offering tutorials and demos at their Bay/Bloor location.
http://www.indigo.com

5) Canon Rebel: Is the dad in your life always juggling the digital camera, his video camera, memory cards, etc.?  Save him the hassle and surprise him with the new Canon Rebel complete with 15 megapixel camera and HD video capabilities.
http://www.canon.ca
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6) If your dad is a true “Mad Men” fan, look to a chic vintage inspired accessory like the ‘Yubz’ Retro handset sold on roots.com.  Yubz looks great and will make you feel even better: it’s been clinically proven to reduce 95% of radiation emitting from mobile phones. Not only will you show your dear old dad that you care about his health, but it upgrades sound quality and is definitely conversation piece.
http://canada.roots.com

7) If your dad is in the Tech and Social Media business (like us) and is already hip to these trendy tools you might be able to surprise him with the first ever Videophone Touch AiGuru from Asus: The world’s first Skype-enabled touch screen videophone that allows users to make free video and voice calls over Skype.  This Videophone boasts an internal microphone, conference calling capabilities and Skype voicemail.
http://www.saks.com

Still stumped? Be sure to check out these dedicated “gadget guide” websites and you will be sure to find him something he will really love:

http://www.thinkgeek.com/
http://www.dlink.com/boxeebox
http://www.theflip.com/en-us/

Happy Father’s Day to all of our friends!

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Date: Friday, 11 Jun 2010 11:32

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All hands on deck! The North By North East festival is descending on Toronto Monday for a full-on Music, Film, and Culture takeover.  What’s more exciting for us geeks this year is an ‘i’—meaning NXNE has gone interactive, just like i its’ big sister festival SXSW (where the interactive portion has actually become larger and more popular than music and film!).

Alongside the massive gathering of bands and fans, there will be 30+ panels featuring industry leaders and design professionals discussing digital technology, creativity and social media trends.

This is especially thrilling for us here The Blog Studio, and we’re beyond excited and honoured to be taking a really active role at NXNE. Our President Lucia Mancuso (@lulula), and our Lead Strategy and Outreach nerd, Mike Dolan (@EvilPRGuy) will be speaking on two panels at the sold out conference.

On Monday June 14th at 2:00 pm, Lucia will share the stage with Amrita Chandra, Guinevere Orvis, April Dunford and moderator Meghan Warby on “Thank You For Being A Friend: tips, traits and tactics of successful women in tech and social media.” These women are Toronto’s leaders in Social Media, Marketing, and Digital Communications. They will unveil and discuss gender, workplace and media strategy. You can also expect to walk away from this panel with usable strategies and ideas you can implement into your own workday right away.

On June 14 at 9:30am, Mike will share the stage for the hotly anticipated “Circle Jerking 101” panel, along with Andrew Lane, Kevin Airgid, Mark Evans, and panel moderator Jamie Woo. Mike Dolan is a man who tells it like it is (for better or for worse, his talk at Toronto Social Media Week stirred up more than a little controversy)—and this panel won’t be any different. These contributors will discuss the pitfalls of social media, and exactly what a client can expect from a great social media campaign. You can arm yourself with the insider straight dope you need to make the right decisions for incorporating social media into your business strategies, and avoid getting ripped off by the sham artists that multiply by the day in this industry. This panel is guaranteed to be entertaining, so this is one you definitely don’t want to miss.

These Digital Discussions will be cutting edge, raw and uncut. We are excited to sink our teeth into the NXNEi’s Social Media fabric, but are concerned that NXNEi could fall into the pit that many people feel has crippled SXSW in recent years.  SXSW started small and expanded exponentially very quickly.  With its rampant growth, depth of information and diversity of the SXSW conference, the festival became so popular it it lost some of the intimacy that ensured you would make personal and business connections that are really the most valuable takeaway from a conference..

Too much of SXSW is now spent waiting in lines, coordinating hangouts and trying to hit the fifteen parties hosted each night. A ‘Swarm‘ badge on Foursquare? That’s the line at the Empanada Truck at 4am. How about a SuperSwarm of 250+ people in one spot! That badge popped up at nearly every gathering at the festival.

We love NXNE’s intimate vibe, and are curious to see if it can retain the ‘warm feeling’ this year. As How Magazine editor Bryn Mooth says, “All this Social Media stuff makes us think we are really connected—facebook and twitter are fine ways to do that—But for my money, making connections in person is what really matters.” While Social Media enables you to reach out to a huge cross section of people , there r is nothing like an old school face to face chat.  So come out and chat with Lucia, Mike and all of their colleagues next week during the industry panels (or the parties, which are just as important)!

We invite all of you to attend our panels as well as email us questions to address during our talks, so please send them in. We will also keep you posted via twitter and our blog on the people, parties and panels.

Plus we’ll be annoucning a huge surprise for every attending NXNEi. So keep your eyes on the blog here and at http://www.nxne.com for this special announcement . You’re going to love it (pinky swear)! Stay tuned!

Author: "--" Tags: "Business"
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Date: Thursday, 03 Jun 2010 20:23

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“I felt a great disturbance in the Force… as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror...”
-Obi Wan Kenobi, “A New Hope”

There has been near hysteria building in the tech community, as well as in the wider world concerning Facebook’s privacy policies, and possible user betrayal. The safety of our facebook “avatars” are being threatened!  Have we sold our secrets and ourselves to an amoral corporation?

Facebook transformed the web, and along with it revolutionized human connectivity, communication and supernova’ed the circulation of ideas, but as the old Star Wars adage tells us “you have paid the highest price for your lack of vision.” Facebook has attracted an unprecedented number of users who automatically agreed to place their identities in Mark Zuckerberg’s outstretched hands.  It started with university students who related to Mark’s youth and admired his forward thinking.  They jumped on a social spaceship, piloted by Zuckerberg, to boldly go where no one had gone before. They also seem to like pretending to be virtual farmers, cultivating a virtual environment.

People are starting to realize that Zuck might be Vader and not Anakin.  As is usually the case with technology, what appears to be empowering, and often is, can also lead to tyranny.  If our technological revolutionaries and friends from Star Wars have taught us anything it is that the line between good and evil can be perilous.

Many of us have already smartened up and altered the way in which we are using facebook. Maybe we’re not using private messages to send our most intimate thoughts or secrets, for fear that they’ll end up public like so many recently have. Some of us are resisting the urge to post amusing, but slightly off-color signatures on friend’s walls, or screening and scrutinizing the photos we post and tag. After all, what will we think of them when we are 50?  Even more concerning, is wondering what our spouses, bosses, decision makers and the general public think of the electronic follies of our youth?  How will anyone be fit to run for public office?

We also have to think about what this means for us historically, in a larger sense, and not just in the facebook bubble. The Library of Congress will be archiving all “tweets” from 2006 onwards, giving us another reason to pause for a second before we hit that send button willy-nilly. We really need to look before we leap (or tweet).  With social media comes social consciousness and social responsibility. The bottom line is that you have to use your head before releasing anything to the web. The power of words can have resounding and far-reaching effects. Then again, maybe your words aren’t yours anymore. They now belong to the government, or Mark Zuckerberg, or the magical elves that run Twitter.

Copycat sites that champion user privacy are beginning to pop up everywhere (ie. Project Diaspora), but are people really abandoning Facebook? If they aren’t leaving now, what will be the new site or feature that creates the tipping point and sends them overboard?? There have been rumours circulating that MySpace is busy creating new privacy settings, to woo back disaffected users that are frustrated with Facebook’s new privacy changes. Is MySpace about to be the new hot thing for the second time?

Considering all of the propaganda, speculation, and reports of facebook’s indifference to personal privacy, people are definitely alarmed.  Maybe it’s time the usually clandestine Zuckerberg addresses the world in an open letter that outlines the implications of having put our trust in him.  We’d like to know what his intentions are, and remind him that our love is turning to fear. He needs to be reminded of the sage advice of Yoda: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Hopefully our leader will lean more towards benevolence than hubris.

More than anything, Zuckerberg must learn that “With great power comes great responsibility”. The lure of darkness is always seductive, and seems to have quick pay-offs, but every major villain from Antonio Montana to the Borg Queen is brought down by Data and the common good.

Indeed, what creates us can also destroy us… but just like Seven of Nine we can defy the superpower collective and take control of our destinies.

Mark, we are hailing you: we’ve opened a channel for communication.  We have come in peace and we are your Facebook civilization. We are waiting for your response.

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Date: Thursday, 27 May 2010 00:44

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The Blog Studio’s Project Manager and Humber College alumni Nalin Sharma (@nalins) was recently invited by his alma mater to give a career talk to students.  Sharma graduated from Humber’s Web Design, Development and Maintenance program in 2008 before joining us at The Blog Studio.  Professor Thomas Borzecki (@iborg) and Amit Chail (@achail) invited Sharma and industry colleague Mike Clark (@shapelike) to share their experiences as two young professionals detailing every aspect of their corporate journey: graduation, job search, and beginning their respective careers.

Nalin and Mike addressed Humber’s students and faculty to guide them through Web Design post grad: they discussed program highlights, offered job search tips, assessed expectations, and shared their experiences.

Nalin’s key message to Web Design students was to recognize that Humber provides the opportunity to work with a myriad of different software and concepts.  Consequently, it is important to realize that this introduction allows you to choose an area of specialization in your professional work.  For instance, Nalin is a specialist of front end coding (HTML and CSS) and has parleyed his knowledge of this industry to oversee business administration within our company.

Mike was able to offer an honest perspective on the highly competitive and intense nature of interviewing as a Web Design candidate: As a current employee of the University of Toronto, Mike successfully completed several panel interviews.  The wide scope of Mike’s job in terms of UofT’s international visibility and reputation requires extreme accuracy and dedication.  He has learned that in junior positions companies are less interested in your CV—every candidate has the basic requirements—and are more focused on your motivations, willingness to learn and ability to work cooperatively within a corporation.  Personality and professionalism has just as much to do with a successful hire as a strong resume.

After the talk, Mike spoke with us and said, “I really enjoyed heading back to Humber and speaking with the current group of students there. They showed a lot of enthusiasm and asked some smart questions about topics I wish I had thought about when I was in school. We spoke about a number of subjects, from project planning, fair rates and client management to standards-based accessible design and using open source projects like WordPress and jQuery. I’m looking forward to seeing the students progress and make a place for themselves in the local web community!”

Nalin added, “The Humber students were really engaged; they participated in the discussion and asked some really well thought out questions! Mike Clark and myself both tried to stress the importance of web design specialization and as well as personal development.  One thing I found was that the students really benefited from working through potential interview questions. We provided some insight into different approaches to answering difficult questions and insight on how to stand out. I will be going back to Humber when the class presents their final portfolio assignments and am really excited to see the development of the students individual skill sets.”

The students were extremely engaged and took this opportunity to openly communicate with Nalin and Mike:  No topic was off limits. Professor Borzecki was pleased with the wealth of information endowed to the students and commented, “The students and faculty of the WDDM program expressed gratitude for the invaluable information that Nalin Sharma of The Blog Studio brought to the class.  It was a very informative and productive session, providing students with answers to questions they may have otherwise been unable to resolve.”

Here is a link to Mike Clark’s notes and recap on networking,specialization and other useful career hints: http://forum.wddmportfolios.com/topic/mike-nalins-talk

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Date: Wednesday, 26 May 2010 09:10

It’s been a great couple of months at The Blog Studio, thanks to you, our clients. We’ve recently completed quite a few projects that we see as our best work to date.  According to all of you, you like our work as well, and because of this we’ve been busier than ever.

In order to keep up with all our new projects, and continue to provide you with same level of service and individual attention you’re used to, we’re expanding. We’d just like to take a moment of your time to introduce you to the new members of our staff, here online. You’ll have a chance to meet everyone in person very soon.

The Blog Studio team has grown by three. We now have a dedicated Account Director Nalin, and PR Intern, Victoria.  As our Account Director, Nalin will be overseeing the daily business operations and acting as a point of contact for all of The Blog Studio Clientele.  He is a business administration expert, and we are excited for all of you to meet and chat with him. That will be easy because Nalin is ultra friendly and loves to talk. He is the go-to-guy for information on planning your projects, status updates, day-to-day questions or any information you might require while working with The Blog Studio. While Nalin knows the business side of things, he’s also a well trained web designer and developer, so he can answer your technical questions and help you make sense of any aspects of your project that might require translation into plain English. He’s the guy that will make sure your project is done on time, on budget, and works just the way you want it to.

Victoria will be working in our PR division, creating web content for our blog, sharing new ideas, chatting away on Twitter and keeping up on social media trends. She’s a dedicated blogger herself, and enjoys interacting in the real life and online. 

We’d also like to take a second too formally introduce you to Michael Dolan, who heads up strategy and outreach at The Blog Studio. Michael has been with us for a while, and many of our clients have had a chance to work with him in the last year. In fact, he’s so busy on all of our projects we haven’t had a chance to properly introduce him. He’s a PR vet with many years of agency and in-house experience. As on old-school geek, Michael is always on the bleeding edge of the tech scene and his one-of-a-kind creative strategies have been widely praised everywhere from Wired Magazine to the NY Times.

So I invite you to get to know them and what makes them tick. Here is a little Q&A and some info about our new friends:


Account Director:
Nalin is a graduate of McMaster University, and also Web Design Development at Humber College.  He then began freelancing for tech companies in Toronto learning the ropes before joining the team at The Blog Studio.  He has an eye for design, development skills and is a damn friendly fellow.  Nalin is a truly gifted communicator who specializes in bridging the gap between the deep tech world and everyone else. Nalin spends his days riding hard on all The Blog Studio projects to ensure that every client gets exactly what they want at the end of the day.  When he’s not keeping the wheels greased at work, you can find him following the NBA (Go Raptors!), swinging a tennis racket or hanging from a climbing rope somewhere. He’s excited to take on new challenges at the Blog Studio and brings things to a whole new level.

Questions:

1) What are you most passionate about? I am most passionate about communicating and forming new relationships with people.
2) What is your favorite ice cream flavour? Mint chocolate chip!
3) What is your twitter handle? @nalins
4) What social network do you love the most? Twitter, because Facebook is just starting to get creepy.
5) What piece of software is your favorite? I would have to say Coda for Mac, it’s a great development tool and lets you do so much through a simple interface.
6) What can’t you live without? My macbook.
7) Mac or PC? Mac. They are much more stable and have better applications for what I do on a daily basis.
8) Favorite Website? Probably something sports related, maybe nba.com…
9) Gamer? If so expand on favourite games? Used to be. I loved strategy games. Age of Empires, Starcraft, Command & Conquer. Goldeneye and Mario Kart for N64 were classics.


PR Intern:
Victoria is a devotee of all things surrounding design and social media.  She’s a social butterfly that combines her gift of gab with an innate ability to write publicity love notes on all of her favourite subjects.  Having studied English Lit and Communications at UofT, she’s written for Holt Renfrew—who deems her work “truly inspired,” Toronto’s http://www.iheartthemusic.com, The Varsity and her own blog Rosebuds&Rascals. She draws influence from classic concepts of aesthetics as well as from her diverse background; her vision is created through a mash-up of eastern and western textures and flavours.  When she’s not tweeting her heart out (a rare occasion) you can find her in a yoga studio or patio hopping. She is really excited to working at the Blog Studio and putting her creative eye to use.

Questions:

1) What are you most passionate about? International Travel and photography in search of beauty (in all its obscure forms.)
2) What is your favorite ice cream flavour? Roasted Marshmallow from Greg’s Ice-cream.
3) What social network do you love the most?
My blog http://rosebudsandrascals.blogspot.com I’m constantly updating it and it’s my vehicle for being fearlessly self-expressive.
4) What is your twitter handle? @lolakuketz
5) What can’t you live without? Sleeping in, dark chocolate and house music:)
6) Mac or PC? Mac—After having Apple I could never go back to PC. Love love my Mac.
7) Favorite Website? Style.com and I have a committed daily love for Scott Schuman and Garace Dore.
8) What makes you blush? Admitting my middle name is Lolita—after the opera, not the book. But try convincing people of that:)


Strategy and Outreach
Mike Dolan

1) What are you most passionate about? Making new ideas fun. There is no reason you can’t make things both succesful and enjoyable.
2) What is your favorite ice cream flavour? Strawberry Tofutti
3) What social network do you love the most? Twitter. I’ve been called a Twitter-aholic by more than one person. You can usually find out what I’m doing minute by minute by checking out my feed.
4) What is your twitter handle? @EvilPRGuy
5) What can’t you live without? Long bike rides as often as possible.
6) Mac or PC? I never go anywhere without my Macbook, and it’s been that way for 10 years. I also have a Linux box for games and general geeking out.
7) Favorite Website? BoingBoing.net I need my daily fix of the strange and geeky.
8) What makes you blush?  Red wine. 

Author: "--" Tags: "Business"
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Date: Tuesday, 11 May 2010 00:42

I was recently invited to a soiree with the Emerging Arts Professional Network (EAP.) EAP Connects is an event that operates in partnership with our neighbours, the Centre for Social Innovation. They provide positive space for networking, creativity and social interaction between members of the Toronto art scene and their community partners. This was an exciting event for me because it provided an opportunity to exchange ideas and interact with top designers and creative minds outside the office.



Each EAP Connects event has a unique theme to attract new people and a broader audience: this event featured interactive art installations as well as “a special focus on creative business, innovations and out of the box thinking.” We really enjoyed the chance to talk shop with other creative professionals. This was an especially valuable event because we had a chance to learn about some of the new innovations in the world of design, and how we might be able to implement them in our own work. Even ideas that don’t quite fit with our business get us thinking in new directions, or discovering creative ways to change our working processes.



The woman behind the event is Ella Cooper, an artist and community manager who decided to fill a gap in the networking world, and decided to create the collective with the support of the Ontario Arts Council.  Establishing open communication is her main goal and she encourages partygoers to ignore their friends, play icebreakers and actually meet everyone in the room.  This mentality encourages collaborative connections that may not happen otherwise.  This, along with complementary delectables and spirits made for awesome energy in the room.



Some highlights of the evening included special guest Laraaji—an New York electronic musician, mystic and “laughter yoga instructor”—who played the zither and also led a live laughter demo and talk on the medically documented health benefits of channeled chuckling. He cited free association as his method of creativity, and stressed the importance of play in both personal and professional life.  He added that “play is the spontaneous exploration of sensation,” something to remember when struggling with inspiration in the future.  Local artist Rachel Ellison also invited attendees to create art together by painting a communal canvas called “We Paint” for 90 seconds each.



Ultimately, the evening was a lot of fun and a venue for us to connect with new friends, artists and also it served to renew our creative energies.  Look out for some new and exciting directions in our work. To learn more about the EAP or to plug into their events you can visit www.eapnetwork.ca

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Date: Thursday, 06 May 2010 01:03

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On Monday Google announced the acquisition of the Canadian creation Bumptop, the 3D organizing software that allows users to turn their desktop into true visual and tactile experience. Photos, documents, notes, etc. can be combined in a space similar to a physical desktop to be sorted, stacked and manipulated all with the swipe of a fingertip.

Torontonian and former UofT alum Anand Agarawala created Bumptop as a project for his Masters Thesis in Computer Science. He created the company from scratch, and has managed and run all aspects of the company up until now. Wearing many hats, Agarawala has had his hands in everything from development and international sales, up to the Google acquisition.

One of The Blog Studio staff was extremely fortunate to hear Agarawala speak in 2008 during a TED convention at the University of Toronto.  At this time, Agarawala created big buzz on the TED circuit as an innovator and maverick, but publicly Bumptop remained relatively unknown in the crowded world of desktop apps.  Agarawala’s presentation stood out and created a lasting impression on the audience. He led us through Bumptop’s different technological possibilities—which seemed almost limitless— and it was clear that this had changed interface expectations and brought user/desktop interactivity to a whole new level.

Bumptop is best experienced firsthand, but we would like to share some of our experiences using the free version (a free trial is available until May 7th at www.bumtop.com/download). In terms of usability, Bumptop is best suited to smartphones and other touch screen platforms.  We are assuming Agarawala built Bumptop for touch screens and then ported it to other platforms, because of high user demand. This software defies and expands all expectations. If it’s used (as rumoured) on Google’s next Android smart phone I think consumers will quickly adapt Bumptop as the desktop interface of choice.

We have been listening to the twitterati regarding this acquisition, and here are some of the most popular and compelling tweets from our peers:

@StBarg Bumptop acquisition to give Google UI edge over Apple? http://bit.ly/ccK38z #Google #Microsoft #Apple #opensource http://bit.ly/913Pq0

@Juanarroyo I am now using BumpTop as my desktop, have to say its really good for a free tool that makes your desktop 3D!

@behbime experimenting with bumptop! thanks achi trace!

@santhoshdivakar Trying this new 3D desktop software called bumptop, loving the small cute feature set : http://eol.bumptop.com/download.php #in

@Joyost I’m excited to see what #Google does with #BumpTop. Here’s what #Android could look like http://ow.ly/1Hirs

@thomdahl Übercool “arbejdsværelse” på din computer (nu købt af Google): http://bit.ly/95lBPz #bumptop #innovation

@JoHoule Dernière chance de télécharger BumpTop la nouvelle acquisition de Google! Le futur des interfaces desktop ? http://bit.ly/3nDkTi

@renatobon Preguiça de usar o #BumpTop ...mas achei mega interessante! http://bit.ly/ymjf

The CBC has done a great piece on Bumptop and posted a live demo for their viewers.  You can visit cbc.ca to learn more about this useful new app.


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Date: Thursday, 29 Apr 2010 07:20

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Last night I had the honour of attending the Hills Season 6 premier and live taping of The Aftershow at MTV. The show was good but it was the way that MTV handles social media that really left a lasting impression on me. 

The premier followed Kristin, Brody and the rest of the cast members partying in Miami for Superbowl weekend and lest we forget: the official Hills unveiling of the new and improved (?) Heidi Montag.  Then Jesse and Dan discussed the show highlights and had a bit of naughty back and forth with the audience during The Aftershow.

What you won’t get from watching online is the atmosphere MTV creates during their live tapings. They created an intimate, communicative vibe for both in house guests, and the web audience. 

MTV treated the bloggers with style and courtesy. They welcomed Social Media to the premises via a dedicated press entrance and seated us in the balcony, which were the best seats in the house.  Everyone was invited by the hosts to tweet and blog away. MTV’s policies were clear: social media is welcome here, and so are your cameras, laptops and any other electronic gizmmo you can think of. They provided a fast wi-fi connection and encouraged everyone to take full advantage of it throughout the show.  MTV is smart and they get it. They understand social media and the influence that bloggers hold in their target demographic, and did everything possible to ensure we had a good time...and could easily tell our online friends what was going on. 

It was cool to see the barriers between “formal journalism” and social media fall away in this regard.  So many publications make it crystal clear that these are two mutually exclusive arenas. We really appreciated that bloggers were treated as press, because we are. Viewers outside the studio were interacting with MTV via twitter, adding another layer of inclusivity to the event.

I really enjoyed myself last night and was impressed by the scope and spirit of the event. There were 90,000 viewers in North America alone and I can’t wait to see what MTV brings us in the months to come. I think a lot of this can be attributed to the influence of MTV’s new community manager Casie Stewart, and I’d like to extend a thank you to her for having The Blog Studio be part of the action. 

Author: "--" Tags: "Business"
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Date: Friday, 23 Apr 2010 23:32

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It’s time for hotDOCS to take over Toronto nightlife and descend on selected screens for an amazing ten days of escapism, exploration and globalization. Here at The Blog Studio, we have been eagerly anticipating hotDOCS arrival and wanted to weigh in on our top picks as well as welcome aficionados of our blog to do the same.  We just finished reading through what hotDOCS has to offer this year and are excited for the documentaries that deal with design and social media, but beyond that there are several creations that engage with unique topics and perspectives that we are super excited about.

For those new to the Hot DOCS scene, it’s the biggest docu-festival in all of North American and this year it runs from April 29-May 9th. There are also plenty of opportunities to network and express yourself if you are a budding or seasoned filmmaker through the Kickstart Sessions happening on May 5th.  Delegates will learn from industry leaders on how to develop their work as well as write and produce film projects.  But if you prefer to be spectator and focus on the festival’s entertainment it looks like you will definitely not be disappointed.  There are over 170 films to choose from and over 40 countries being represented through historical, docu-dramas, tech and art house films (including one haunting doc about Pablo Escobar’s son making peace with his heritage—Sins of My Father.)

Here are some of our picks:

A Different Path
A documentary about social activism in regards to green methods of transportation and preserving urban space for people not cars.

Beyond Ipanema
A doc that traces the influence and spread of Brazil’s music and its rich and diverse cultural roots that culminate in the awesome sounds of Samba and Bossa Nova.

Babies
Chronicling the first year of four beautiful babies from Tokyo, Namibia, San Francisco and Mongolia in an exploration of connectedness and “blissful observation.”

Dish: Women, Waitressing and the Art of Service
Dish illuminates the art and lifestyle of women in Paris, Toronto, Montreal’s most chic eateries and the culture and gender politics surrounding gastronomy.

Blank City
The history of punk rock and indie films from its genesis on the Lower East Side of New York and the characters surrounding the No Wave Scene and the Cinema of Transgression.

Critical Mass Speaker Series
The hotDOCS speaker series that allows a rare opportunity to watch high profile critics engage with media critics about the industry. This year’s series features Eric Friesen and Sasha Frere Jones.

Czech Dream
The ultimate hoax: two Czech filmmakers create a major marketing scheme for a product that doesn’t exist and it pervades the whole society…

Disco and Atomic War
Best Doc Winner at the Warsaw International Film Fest, this film shows that amidst the Cold War and the heavy hand of the Iron Curtain the Estonian people’s spirit rang through—they rigged their tv sets to plug into western pop culture and DANCED.

Sins of my Father
The psychological negotiations of Sebastien Marroquin—son of the infamous gangster Pablo Escobar—as he tries to make peace with his father and ultimately, with himself.

The World According to Ion B
Vita Brevis, Ars Longa—the tale of a Romanian street artist discovered at age 62 and is now being hailed the next Andy Warhol.

The Blog Studio will definitely be front and centre at the festival checking out these documentaries and more.  So…which docs are you excited about?  Which ones are people buzzing about? Feel free to post your comments and recommend some other docs to check out during the festival. And if you are curious to check out the entire hotDOCS 2010 lineup please visit the hotDOCS website.

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Author: "--" Tags: "Film/ Art"
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Date: Saturday, 03 Apr 2010 11:06

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South by Southwest Interactive 2010 has come and gone, so now it’s time to don our beer goggles and rose colored spectacles to relive the hazy memories of our time in Austin. This year, The Blog Studio decided to do something special at SxSw, to encourage everyone to make new friends and have a good time. Towards this end we created an interactive game, SxSw Yearbook. Although we’re experienced in the social media space, and we’ve run interactive games several times before, we learned some valuable lessons. We’ve created this blog post to share what we learned, so that everyone else playing in the social media space can make their next project more successful.

Tip #1: Be Fun
The concept was simple. Since SxSw is a lot like high school, we decided the conference needed a yearbook, and you can’t have a yearbook without superlatives. Throughout the conference we buttonholed people into taking photos of their frenemies, and nominating them for dubious honors like Most Likely to be Found in the Gutter, Prom King and Prom Queen.

In order to nominate someone, you had to take a photo, then share that photo via Twitter with the hashtag #sxswyearbook. Once your photo appeared on Twitter, in order to maximize the honors bestowed upon your nominee, the photo then appeared in the correct category on our fabulous SxSw Geek Yearbook website.  Each photo was subjected too a gauntlet of voting, and the four photos with the largest number of votes were crowned with laurels and declared the winners.  We kept the categories light and funny, and we weren’t afraid to laugh at ourselves, our industry and the people we work with.

Throughout the week we spent in Austin, the question we heard the most (after “Have you seen Quentin Tarantino”) was: “Why are you doing this?” We were expecting to rake in a few million bucks off this brilliant idea, so we could fly home via jet pack with Steve Jobs. Since that didn’t happen, we needed some other explanation for SxSw Yearbook in order to save face. We were doing it because it was fun.

The Blog Studio Team was comprised of SxSw vets, and we all realized that having a bit of a distraction that had absolutely no serious element to it was a valuable commodity. We envisioned creating a bit of a sideshow distraction for our fellow geeks, for when they’ve reached the point where hearing the phrase ‘key influencers’ or seeing one more ironic t-shirt that says ‘Follow Me On Twitter’ will make their heads explode.

When we’re working, we spend a lot of time creating ways to make messages standout and cut through the noise. Through years of trial and error, we’ve learned that showing people a good time is the best way to get your point across.  Depending on your age you can probably recite the rules to ‘Clue’ verbatim, hum the ‘Legend of Zelda’ theme note for note, or name every single Pokemon in alphabetical order.  People love games.

Tip #2: Be Flexible
We arrived in Austin a few days early to start getting the word out. Armed with SxSw Yearbook stickers, iPhone magnets to bribe people into playing and the bottomless supply of wit and charm. Our plan was to find willing geeks, explain the simple rules of the game, and fill the yearbook with beautiful nerds.

This is easier said than done. The 2010 edition of SxSw was more crowded than ever before. The amount of marketing types, street teams and people giving away free trinkets made Austin look more like a gypsy camp than a geek convention. In order to cut through the noise, we quickly adapted our strategy. We originally began by meeting people, explaining how the game worked, and handing them a piece of swag with the URL and encouraging them to play later. This wasn’t working.

We decided instead of explaining the game to people, we would just show them how it works by submitting entries right in front of them. Since this was SxSw, there was no shortage of photo/internet/Twitter capable devices (The most common injury at SxSw is probably a concussion caused by tripping over a power cord). Our team took advantage of this, and got people snapping photos, and uploading them right there. We were implementing another lesson we learned: out of sight, out of mind. While people might have the best intentions to play your game, read your brochure or check out your site later, they will probably forget. It’s always better to show it to them, and give them an action step while it’s fresh in their mind. The most memorable new projects we saw were ones where the creators pulled out their phone or laptop, and gave us an impromptu demo right where we stood.

Once we switched tactics, the entire game started to pick up steam quickly, and we had multiple photo entries for each category. The second phase of the game required people to vote on their favorite entries for each category. The entries with the most total votes, regardless of category, became the winners. Overall, it was much simpler to get people to vote, because it doesn’t require anything more than visiting the website and clicking.

We learned another useful lesson here, that can be applied to all types of social media projects. People are their own best promoters. After examining the analytics, we discovered that most of the votes came from the entrants sharing their link with their friends, and asking for their votes. They let people know via Twitter and Facebook, that they were playing SxSw Yearbook, and their friends could help them out by voting. Encouraging people to utilize their own online networks to promote themselves, and your game, is a smart strategy that really works. Taking advantage of the tangental networks connected to your project makes ideas spread quickly.

If you’re running a game, or project that revolves around an event like a conference or a concert, structure it so participants have a bit of a chance to interact with your project after the event is over. Although we closed submissions for SxSw Yearbook, when the interactive conference ended, we kept the voting open for another week. We ended up getting the most votes and traffic to the site after the conference ended. Giving people a chance to take their time, look at your site and play your game after the event is over lets you get people’s undivided attention. You don’t have to compete with the event, and people are back on their regular schedules, with a bit more free time.

We consider SxSw a success on many levels. People played the game, and they talked about it. The site got a lot of traffic, and the entries got quite a few votes. We were actually able to make a small marketing dent in Austin, despite the crazy level of noise. For The Blog Studio, the best part of the whole experience was what we learned about running an interactive promotion. The next time we do this, which will be soon, we’ll be that much more prepared.

We can boil down our hard earned lessons into 5 easy tips. If you keep these in mind when you’re creating something interactive, you’ll really up your chances for success.

1. Be Flexible
2. Be Fun
3. Out of sight, out of mind
4. People are there own best promoters
5. After the fact

We hope you find our writeup helpful, and use what we’ve learned to improve your own work. We’d love to hear about your interactive successes and failures, so drop us a line in the comments. If you’re a business, and you have an idea to promote, we’re happy to whip up something fun and creative to help get your point across. We’ll even incorporate what we learned at SxSw.

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Date: Monday, 22 Feb 2010 08:31

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Is Social Media Week over already? It went so fast, and we learned so much here at The Blog Studio. We’re just starting to process and make sense of it now. We’d like to take a second and send a heartfelt ‘Thanks’ to all of you who came out to our office for our ‘No Cheerleaders Allowed’ talk. We wanted an honest conversation about social media, and thanks to all of you, we really got one.

If you’ll indulge us for a moment, we’d like to take a quick stroll down memory lane and recap some of the interesting discussions we had that evening, and share what we learned for those of you who couldn’t make it in person. For those of you that braved the Canadian cold to squeeze into our offices, we commend your moxie!

The biggest lesson we learned is that social media means something different to everyone. Everyone in the room had a different opinion on what social media is, how you can use it personally or for business, and what works and what doesn’t. This make a whole lot of sense, because the one thing everyone agreed on is that social media is powered by the individual behind the keyboard. So to all the ‘experts; out there trying to define social media, you’re being shouted down by the rabble. There is no solid definition that everyone in the industry feels comfortable with.

We started the conversation off by asking everyone to discuss the early experiences they had with the web, and with social media. I got the ball rolling discussing how I miss the days where social media was a free for all, and everyone shared their ideas free of charge. Maybe this is a bit of nostalgia, but it still holds true for. Early memories in the room ranged from telnet to Twitter, and I quickly realized the age of people in the room started in the early 20’s and went all the way to people in their 50’s. How cool is that? Social media crushed the age barrier. It isn’t just for young tech savvy whippersnappers.

The hot button topic of the night was definitely using social media to make a buck. Is it OK to do this for profit? The answers ranged from absolutely to absolutely not. Fair enough. The consensus seemed to be we all want to make a living, but it can be very difficult to quantify ROI on social media campaigns. It’s great to hear that people really want to show their clients and employers they can demonstrate real value with social media, and hopefully prove it.

A thorough discussion of tools and analytics followed, and again the room was split. Many of you felt you can use analytics to show success with the numbers. A second camp felt that while numbers are important, you can’t always quantify the intangible way that people view yourself, or your business in the social media world. Personally, I agree with both points of view. In a perfect world a combination of analytics and conversation is able to tell the whole story. That isn’t an easy concept to explain, but we’re trying, and as time goes on we’re getting better at making our case.

This brought up the idea of whether it’s more valuable to target a select group of people on the web, or get your message out to everyone and see what sticks. Here’s one point where just about everyone in the room agreed: the targeted approach is the way to go.  Speaking to your specific audience, in the space where they live, generates the best results and the most clear communications. This is genuine two way engagement. The ‘scatter gun’ approach is headed out the door with the old media world, because it gets in the way of having a real conversation.

This led to a discussion about where people live and hang out online. We all agree that fewer and fewer people are watching television, at a set time, on an actual television. More commonly, viewers are tuning into their favorite shows online. This has a huge impact on the way we buy and consume advertising, or what even constitutes advertising anymore. While online viewing hasn’t eclipsed traditional TV watching yet, it’s coming.

Our favorite loudmouth American at The Blog Studio, Michael Dolan, turned a few heads when he said “Everyone who watches TV will be dead in a few years anyway.” That’s one way to put it. Maybe a more optimistic way to look at it, is you can get great bang for your buck by participating in TV online, either through ads or social media conversations around these shows.

Mr. Dolan gave a quick rundown of one his favorite topics: Social Media Trainwrecks. We discussed the Saatchi and Saatchi Toyota social media campaign, The Motrin Moms Debacle and the Steve Rubel Wal-Mart bloggers screwup. All interesting cases with a lot to teach anyone who gets involved in this space. The takeaway here is to enter at your own risk and be certain to keep things honest. Your audience is as smart as you are, don’t forget that.

The discussion continued with people and brands who are honest, and using social media in a fun and transparent way. Shaq, PDiddy and BlogTO were three names that popped up right away. I agree. They all do it well, keep it honest and make it fun. They also engage with their audiences and don’t use social media as a way to blast out ads.

The last part of the evening focused on Facebook, and opinions were all over the place. Some people love it, some people hate it. That’s the only honest assessment I can give of this discussion. Every person had a wholly different opinion. Some thought it was the future of online engagement, and some thought it’s already seen its’ day. The line of the night came out of this conversation, courtesy of Meghan Warbly of Argyle, “Facebook is the Nickelback of Social Media.” Ha.

We really had a great time, and were extremely impressed with the wide range of opinions and backgrounds that all came together in one room for a smart and civil conversation. That’s why the social media world is a such a great place. We’d like to take a second and thank all of you for coming and sharing with us. A few of you went far beyond the call of duty. Like Crystal Gibson, who shared her excellent great notes with us. Carolyn Van who showed up early to help us set up, and @tourdedufflet for bringing over some yummy dufflet treats.

It was lovely to meet some familiar Twitter avatars in the flesh like Toronto PR gadfly @J_Lab, @interpretivist and man about town @mynameisguygal. We also got a chance to play Smush. CA, and meet the brilliant minds at Atmosphere industries who thought it up.

Also a special thanks to Marijke Daye from Sweet Something Design for her awesome candy table that kept us all hopped up on sugar for our chat.

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Thank you all for taking the time to visit, we’re looking forward to having you over for drinks again soon. 

Author: "--" Tags: "Marketing, Business"
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Date: Friday, 12 Feb 2010 06:29

There’s been quite a bit of buzz about Google Buzz since the rollout this week. Terrible puns aside, we’re always curious to try out the latest, and possibly greatest tech toys and social media tools. Google Buzz is no exception, and we couldn’t wait to get our grubby mouse pointer all over it.
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Because we’re special, important and extremely good looking, The Blog Studio team noticed Buzz pop-up in our Gmail accounts late Tuesday afternoon, so we’ve had a bit of time to take it for a test drive. The easiest way to explain Buzz, which I’m sure Google will hate, is that it’s a built in Twitter for your Gmail account. It also offers quite a bit of integration with many social media platforms, bringing them all into one easy to manage place. Buzz offers you the option to follow and be followed by the people you Gmail with. While this isn’t anything special, it is nice to use a new service that you don’t have to invite your friends to. If you’re a heavy Gmail user, your contacts are already in place. You don’t have to chase down your contacts and convince them to sign up for something new. It’s been a while since we’ve experienced that luxury.

You’ll notice a multi-colored balloon under the inbox icon in your Gmail account, which is the Buzz button. When you click the button, you’re brought to a screen that is aesthetically familiar to most Google users. You’re offered the option to use your Google Public Profile as your Buzz profile, or you can create a new one. Next, you’ll see your photo icon, with a comic book like speech bubble coming out of it. This is where the action happens.

You can type a random thought snippet, similar to Twitter, or post a picture, video, or a link. You have the option of sharing this information publicly, with your followers, or keeping it completely private. The interface is nice, and it definitely has that Gmail snappiness to it. It feels very solid right out of the gate.

Look down the page a little farther, and things start to get interesting. You’re given the option to connect other social media sites you participate in. This very simple interface allows you to link up your YouTube, Blogger, Flickr, Google Reader and even...your Twitter account to Buzz. It works like a charm. I imagine over time, Google will begin to offer support for more and more services as the number of Buzz users increases. Whenever you update one of your other social media sites, your buzz followers will see that update in their stream. It’s a social media catch all. There’s a mobile, location based sharing feature as well with features similar to Foursquare.

Google has managed to bring your entire online life into one place, with no hassle and no fuss. It’s just there. It’s like Friend Feed on steroids with great UI. You can comment on the updates of the people you follow, ‘Like’ their updates a la Facebook, or email that person, all from the same screen. In the short time we’ve been playing with Buzz, we can already say it’s extremely convenient. If you spend a lot of time in Gmail as it is, you now have access to all of your other social media networks right from your inbox. That’s a timesaver as well as a powerful sharing tool.

We haven’t really scratched the surface of all the features and potential uses for Buzz. Hey, it’s only been 48 hours, give us a chance! It’s too early to make any predictions, but we’re betting Buzz is hugely popular in the very near future. With so many built in Gmail users, and the simple to understand interface, Buzz may be what brings microblogging to the masses. We will say this: for hardcore social media geeks, Buzz is a convenient way to ride herd on all the accounts you have. What does everyone else think so far? Leave us a comment and let’s discuss. 

Author: "--" Tags: "Esteemed Software Opinions, Business, Ho..."
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Date: Wednesday, 20 Jan 2010 04:54

It’s an exciting time to be a geek in Toronto! Social Media Week Toronto is headed your way, and of course The Blog Studio will be right in the thick of things. We’d like to invite all our old friends, new friends and friends we haven’t met yet to join us for a good time on at our offices on February 1, 2010.

Leave your pom poms and megaphone at home! We aren’t hosting a panel, we’re not giving a talk and there definitely won’t be a slideshow. There will be good eats, cold booze and Toronto’s smartest people (that’s you!) having an honest discussion about what is actually going on in social media. We aren’t selling anything, we don’t have an agenda, and social media ‘gurus’ and ‘mavens’ will be stopped at the door.

I’ll be your hostess with the mostess, while we all sit down for a chat about our industry that might end up anywhere. Submit your questions and RSVP beforehand to socialmedia@theblogstudio.com. I really hope to see you there. There are some more details below, and keep your eye on Social Media Week site to find out what else is going on during Social Media Week: Toronto.

No Cheerleaders Allowed: An Honest Conversation About Social Media

You ever get the feeling that the social media ‘experts’ are only telling half the truth? Do you get the distinct impression that the Big Time social media mavens and gurus are painting a pretty picture because it benefits them directly? We do to.

Join Managing Director of The Blog Studio, Lucia Mancuso, for an intimate, no holds barred discussion about the on the ground state of affairs in the wired world. Submit your questions anonymously beforehand. Then join us February, 1. 2010 at the The Blog Studio space in downtown Toronto for apps, booze and a rollicking discussion about what’s really going on. No punches pulled, no smoke and mirrors and no self-proclaimed experts. Just a diverse group of smart people who engage the social media space talking about their ideas and concerns.

Afterwards we’ll compile a list of the sharpest, wittiest, nastiest and most useful answers to see if we can make sense out of what social media is, and what it might become.

Please RSVP as soon as possible. Space for this event is very limited.

RSVP to socialmedia@TheBlogStudio.com

Author: "--" Tags: "Business"
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Date: Wednesday, 06 Jan 2010 21:43

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2010 is upon is. We’d like to thank all of our clients, co-workers, friends, freelancers, geeky colleagues, fellow tech workers and everyone else that we’ve met and worked with in 2009. You’ve made the last year absolutely wonderful for us, and we’ve enjoyed every interaction. The great people we talk to everyday are what makes everything worthwhile. We’re extremely proud of the work we’ve done in the past year, and we’ve had some brilliant successes. Thank you, thank you and thank you again.

We’re looking forward to the upcoming year. Thinking about our plans for the future, we realized that there is always room for improvement. We want to share some of the goals, ideas and improvements that we’re going to make happen immediately in the upcoming year. Everything we want to do comes down to one thing: providing you with best web presence to make your business successful.

Put You First
The most important thing we can do is improve our customer service. You, our clients are the sole reason we exist, and we want to treat you even better than we do now. We want to get things done more quickly, do them better and create the best sites that we can. We want you to be happy with us. In order to help things along, we’re expanding our team so there is more of us to go around. Your project always comes first. This is a promise we take seriously, and if something falls between the cracks let us know and we’ll make it right.

No Agency BS
We’re not an agency, and we’ll never be one. What does that mean exactly? We’re a boutique size business with small to large size clients. You won’t get your project passed off to an underling after we win your business, because we don’t have any underlings. We’re a team. We’re proud of every project we’ve done, and take it personally if something isn’t right. We don’t care about running up billable hours, that isn’t how we work. We’ll quote you for your project, and we’ll stick to that quote. Since everyone at The Blog Studio does a little bit of everything, you don’t have to pay for a bunch of unnecessary management costs. There aren’t a bunch of overpaid executives sitting in our office that need to keep the Lear Jet gassed up. We all get our hands dirty, so all the hours you pay for get your project closer to perfection. We’ll never pad your bills, we’ll never give you the runaround, we won’t bill you for vapor work, and we’ll make sure the work is done right. In short, we’ll treat your business the way we like people to treat our business.

Adding New Services
After we finish a site, many of our you have asked us for help getting the word out, creating content strategies, advice on copywriting and how to get a PR program started. We’ve got you’ve covered in 2010. We’re happy to say we’ve expanded our menu of offerings in these areas, and we’ve brought in some new staff with loads of experience in these areas. So whether you want to learn about how Twitter can help your business, what taglines work the best for your site or how to get your business featured in a big name magazine, we can help you build a program to expand your brand.

Offering More Advice
We’re very proud of our blog, and the most popular posts are the ones where we share advice on how to get things done. In 2010 we plan to post more how-to’s, more software reviews, and more of the methods we use to get things done. We love to share our ideas and working methods with you, so you can make your business better. The ongoing conversation in our comments section teaches us a lot about what you want to know more about. From WordPress to Google Wave, we’ll try our best to cover it all. If there’s something you’d like to hear more about, please drop us a line and let us know. We’ll also be offering more advice and continuing to answer your questions on Twitter @TheBlogStudio, so stop by and say ‘Hello’ anytime.

Keeping Up With the Joneses
Technology wise, things are moving faster than ever. We keep up with the newest of the new, so you don’t have to. In the coming year we plan to work even harder to ensure that every site we build is compatible with the new best of breed browsers like Google Chrome. Our improved cross browser support and testing will make certain you don’t miss a single slice of your online audience. We’ll be extending this testing to all the software, plugins and code that we use. We want every site built by The Blog Studio to work flawlessly in every situation, every time. 

Thanks for making 2009 a great year, and here’s to 2010.

Cheers,

The Blog Studio

Author: "--" Tags: "Business"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Dec 2009 04:15

WordPress 2.9 ‘Carmen’ just hit the street, and this update has some really useful new features. We’ve spent some time with Carmen (named for jazz chanteuse Carmen McRae), and have written a short rundown to let you know what to expect when you upgrade, aimed at the everyday end user. This update is an especially big win for media heavy bloggers and inexperienced WP users.

The most exciting improvements can be found in the way WordPress handles images. While we love WP, we’ve always found the image handling a little clunky, and it’s the most common complaint we hear from users. Carmen adds a feature packed image editor to the WP dashboard. It’s now possible to resize, crop, flip and scale images right inside the program. This is a huge improvement that will save you time and trouble of having to edit images in a 3rd party app, and the fly them into WP.

The image editor works beautifully, and photos fit painlessly into the post. Images look the way you’d like them to look in your posts on the first try. Say ‘Goodbye’ to the old system of editing, inserting an image into the post, viewing the post, and going back to do it all over again. This feature is a huge win for bloggers that include many images in their posts, or users who aren’t familiar with image editing software.
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Carmen also makes it dead simple to handle video embedding, which was a bit of a nightmare before.  Video embeds usually required a plugin, and many times the video formatting ended up looking funny in the post. Now, you just paste the video URL on its’ own line in the post, and the video will show up. That’s it’s. It couldn’t be simpler. WordPress 2.9 supports most popular video upload services including YouTube, Google Video, Flickr, Hulu, Viddler and many more. We gave this a quick test this morning with some videos from YouTube and they went up without a hitch. This is a big time saver, and will let users add video with zero hassle or technical skill required. If you can paste a link, you can embed a video in WordPress 2.9.
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Though not as flashy, Carmen overhauls the WordPress Plugin upgrade and compatibility system. One of the best things about WP is the staggering amount of useful plugins available, and most users have at least a few installed. The new system allows you to update your plugins as a batch, up to 10 at a time. It also improves the way WP checks plugins for compatibility with WordPress updates. As time goes on, the feature will become more useful as more plugins, and WP itself continue to release new versions. You can upgrade without having to suffer through plugin/WP compatibility issues.

At one point or another we’ve all accidentally deleted a WP post, and lost some sleep because once it’s gone, it’s gone. Not anymore. Carmen includes a powerful Global Undo feature. Now, when you delete a post or a comment, it goes into your trash, where it can be resurrected. As developers we LOVE this feature, because we no longer have to tell clients that the post spent hours working on is gone into the ether forever.

There quite a few less glamorous technical improvements going on in the background too. The most useful is that WP now supports rel=canonical, which is nice bonus in the SEO arena.

WordPress 2.9 Carmen has only been out for a couple days, but we’re already deeply impressed with the new features. Carmen takes two of the most frustrating aspects of WP, image and video handling, and completely overhauls them to make your life easier. The next time you create a post, you’ll immediately notice a difference in how simple it is to get media into your posts. The next time you accidentally delete a post, and can recover it, you’ll want to kiss Carmen on the mouth. The other improvements, while aren’t as obvious will become useful over time. As usual the brilliant people working on WP have cleaned up the code, stomped out some bugs and tightened things up all around.

Should you upgrade? Absolutely. The only reason not to upgrade would be if you rely on a certain plugin that is currently incompatible with Carmen. Other than that, you should switch over as soon as you can. It will simplify your blogging, and make using WP an even better experience.

If you’re currently using a previous version of Wordpress, you’ve got a lot to gain from this update. At The Blog Studio, we’re currently offering an upgrade to the latest version of Wordpress for $150! The service includes a backup of your current site and database (an essential, yet often ignored step), as well as performing the upgrade itself.

If you are comfortable performing the upgrade yourself, upgrading to WordPress 2.9 couldn’t be easier. Login in to your WordPress Dashboard, and you’ll see a link that asks if you’d like to upgrade your installation. Click it, and in 30 seconds you’ll be ready to go. We didn’t have any issues at all, and the process was ultra fast and painless. You can also go the more technical route and download the package and perform the upgrade manually.

As always we’d like to take a second to extend a huge ‘Thank You’ from The Blog Studio, to the wonderful people who write, update and improve WP. You’ve done another excellent job and we appreciate your efforts. 

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Date: Tuesday, 22 Dec 2009 03:29

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Google Chrome, has recently become available for OSX, and we’ve spent some time taking it for a test drive.

The first thing you’ll notice is how fast Chrome opens and launches your homepage. It starts noticeably faster than Firefox or Safari. The address bar, is by default, a Google search box. You can type in what your looking for, and Google will start displaying results in the bar. The search also feels extremely snappy, and it’s a nice convenience to be able to search without having to open an additional tab.

Chrome supports tabbed browsing, and when you open a new tab you’ll be brought to a favorites page that displays your most visited sites and recently closed tabs.  The tabs can also be dragged visually to arrange them in any order, and you can pop them out to start a tab in an entirely new window. This seems to offer a nice combination of the way Safari and Firefox handle tabs.

In our completely unscientific tests, Google Chrome does seem to load nearly every page much more quickly than Firefox, and is about as fast as Safari. Plenty of people have done head to head browser tests for speed, and Safari seems to show up as slightly faster in technical tests. We found Chrome very fast overall.

The user experience with Chrome is fantastic. It’s clean, uncluttered and very easy to find and tweak the settings. There is no fluff in the user interface, and Chrome seems built for simplicity. Either choose a favorite site from your thumbnails, or type what you’re looking for into the search bar. It all happens in one place, so you don’t need to jump around.

The Preferences pane is the most well organized we’ve encountered. It has three tabs: Basics, Personal Stuff and Under the Hood. You can change every setting that matters right here, and each setting is clearly explained. The preference panel here is much more user friendly than Firefox or Safari, where you sometimes need to dig a bit to find the setting you’re looking to change, and the function of these settings can be somewhat confusing for inexperienced users. Google has done a solid job of highlighting the setting most users need to change, and eliminating some of the more confusing setting you find in other browsers.

There’s one feature we really love and have been getting a lot of mileage out of. You can set Chrome to open up a few sites in separate tabs whenever you start the browser.  When Chrome launches, Google Wave, Co-Tweet and some of the other web apps we use open automatically. Basically, you can pop open the browser and get ready to work.  This is especially helpful when you’re trying to get used to using a new app, like Wave.

There’s also some interesting technical stuff going on under the hood as well. Each tab in the browser is it’s own separate entity. What’s going on in one tab, doesn’t effect the others, which is an added layer of malware protection.  If you have the bad luck of opening up a data stealing site in one tab, and happen to be purchasing something or looking at your bank account in another, your personal information is safe. It’s a solid security feature that is built right into the design of the browser.

The one place where Chrome for OSX fails, at least for now, is with addons. Firefox and Safari have an enormous amount of plugins, addons and hacks available that can make your life much easier. Chrome doesn’t currently support any extensions, although this is set to change in the future. If you’re a power user, who has a suite of plugins you can’t live without, Chrome isn’t the browser for you. Yet. We’ll reserve our judgement in this area until Chrome starts adding extra functionality, but it will be difficult to replicate the large hacker community surrounding Firefox, that are always adding new functions.

However, there is a hacker build of Chrome, called Chromium that addresses some of these shortcomings. Chromium has a full suite of extensions available, features daily updates and removes the Google branding from the browser. Chromium is a good choice for tech savvy power users, and does a great job of showing the future potential of Chrome.

Chrome does offer some very cool themes to change the look of the browser, including ones by Jeff Koons, Karim Rashid and Anna Sui. These are wonderful looking, but just window dressing. Very cool attractive stuff, but they don’t add any functionality.

Overall, Chrome is a very light, solid and fast browser. Safari users may be tempted to jump ship, as it seems more stable and nearly as quick. Firefox users will enjoy the speed increase Chrome brings to the table, but without the plugins, Chrome won’t be the best choice for geeks who live inside their browser. Our feeling is that Chrome is a great choice for casual web users, especially those that aren’t very tech savvy.

Chrome is still in beta. When the community expands, plugins become available, and Google tightens things up, we imagine Chrome will become the number one browser on the web in the near future.

Author: "--" Tags: "Esteemed Software Opinions"
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Date: Thursday, 10 Dec 2009 00:27

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When you’re building a new site, it’s common to spend considerable time brainstorming, planning, wire framing and conceptualizing. You want your site to be perfect. So do we. When it comes to hosting your site, you probably give a hundredth of the amount of consideration to the company you use. This will make your developer grouchy because it makes their job much more difficult. Choosing poor hosting companies is extremely common. Sadly, we deal with substandard hosting outfits on a daily basis.

Choosing the right hosting company will make all the difference in the development and success of your site. A bad hosting company can cause the development process to drag on much longer than it should, knock your site off line for extended period of time and cost you lots of money with little return. Bad hosting can turn your dream site into a nightmare in a few seconds.

Here are the three most important factors to investigate when looking for a hosting company for a new site.

Support
What type of support does your hosting company offer? Ideally, you should be able to get someone on the phone who you feel comfortable communicating with 24/7. When you are first developing your site, there are numerous minor tweaks and changes that will need to be made to your hosting account to get things up and running. Most aren’t very time consuming. Having to send an email, get a ticket number and wait for someone to contact you can severely cripple the development process. Having to wait 4 hours or 3 days to have a change made that should take a few minutes is unacceptable. You may need to put your hosting provider in touch with your developers directly, so enquire if they are comfortable and capable of working with developers. They should be. In the best case, you will have one or two support people that are assigned to your account, that understand your site and become an extension of your development team.

Reliability
If your site goes down, you are temporarily out of business. Most hosting companies will tell you they have ’99% Uptime’. This isn’t always the case.  Things happen at even the best hosting companies, and sooner or later your site may go offline for one reason or another. Ask about the safeguards your hosting company has in place to prevent this. More importantly, find out how they have handled outages in the past.  Get a reference from other users, and get a first hand account of their recovery procedures.  A really solid hosting company will admit when they have had issues in the past, and will be proud to discuss how quickly and how well they have corrected them. If a hosting company tells you they never have issues, and have never had a server go down. Run away. Quickly.

Pricing
It’s really, really easy to get ripped off when you are paying for web hosting. Unlike many other things in the world, the most expensive hosting companies aren’t necessarily the best. Strangely, we’ve had nearly the opposite experience. Many of the less expensive hosting companies are some of the best we’ve dealt with. This is economies of scale in action. Larger hosting companies can offer very competitive pricing because they have so many clients. Some smaller hosting companies charge exorbitant prices, but not necessarily superior service, features or support. Take advantage of this, and shop around. Don’t make a decision based solely on the lowest price you can find, but there is no need to pay through the nose either. Investigate the amount of disk space, data transfer and other extras that are actually included in the available plans. In many cases, a low price upfront can easily soar out of control with data and transfer costs, or other fine print extras.

You do the research for every aspect of your business. Please do the same with your hosting company. It makes the job of a developers much easier, and in the long run it will benefit your pocketbook, your business and the people who visit your site. We’re always happy to help with any suggestions, so get in touch or leave your questions and favorite hosting companies in the comments. 

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Date: Wednesday, 02 Dec 2009 00:07

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Working on a development project can be complicated. The days where everyone is sitting just a cubicle away are long gone. You need to keep the project manager, the clients, the copywriter, the developers, the marketing people, the designers and the SEO team in the loop. Every decision that’s made effects every part of the project. There are lots of project management tools available, and they all fall short. Email chains get unwieldy after a few replies and sharing files can become a burden quickly.

Google Wave might be the answer we’ve all been waiting for. It’s a combination of email, social networking and file sharing that brings people and ideas into one place. We’ve been playing around with Wave for a few weeks, and it’s impressive. It especially excels as a way to keep complicated projects moving along while removing the bulk that comes with other methods of project management.

Here’s a few reasons why we’re using Wave:

Media Handling Forget attachments

  • Wave handles every media file we’ve thrown at it in an elegant way. Relevant links, videos, audio files, copy and code can be shared right in the message. You seem them right in front of you without having to click around. That’s efficient. There’s also an option to browse media files which is very cool. Clicking through the various stages of a design, or every photo being used on a project is very convenient when making design changes.

Latecomers at Different Points in a Project

  • It’s sometimes necessary to bring a new person into the mix. Getting them up to speed can be a difficult dance of dredging up old emails, zipping groups of files and filling them in on past conversations. With Wave, simple include the new people working on the project in the Wave and they can get briefed on thier own time, see all the past revisions and discussions, and view the various iterations and changes that have been made. This is a gigantic time saver.

Tags

  • Tagging your projects gives you the ability to build an archive of your work over time, making it easy to see how problems were solved in the past. If you’re diligent about tagging specific issues and solutions, when you run into a similar issues, just search Wave and see how you developed a working solution in the past. That’s something so valuable you can’t put a price on.

Contacts

  • Having your contacts right in your project management software is very convenient. There’s no imports that fail, no proprietary data formats, and since Wave is spreading quickly, after you’ve collaborated with someone, you’ll be able to add them to new projects with a click. Over time you’ll build a database of old and new collaborators expanding your business network.

Fast

  • Wave is fast. Really fast. It swallows big media files, updates in real time, and is hosted by Google, who overall have a solid record of data integrity.

Is Google Wave the perfect project management tool? Maybe. It’s still new, but so far we’re really impressed with it. So impressed we’re about to start a huge new project involving a big team in many different locations, and we’re using Wave to keep it together. We’ll keep you updated.

What are your experiences with Wave so far? We’d love to hear how you’re using Wave for business or fun. 

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Date: Wednesday, 11 Nov 2009 06:35

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Web designers are less than a dime a dozen these days. They’re more like a dime a gross. Everyone with a web connection and a copy of Fireworks hangs their shingle out and calls themselves a web expert. It’s a lot like social media experts, but that’s another topic for another day. When you’re looking for a web designer, how do you separate the bad from the good, and the good from the great?

This is a topic near and dear to The Blog Studio, and something everyone who works with us discusses on an hourly basis. Choosing the best designer for your project isn’t easy. Here’s 3 topics you should explore when looking to hire a pixel slinger for your project.

1. Does their work appeal to other designers, or to your potential market? Some designers achieve notoriety because their work appeals to the creative fancy of other designers. This isn’t always the most practical choice for a commercial product. A good, successful design will appeal to the end users, the public & not only to the design community. These aren’t mutually exclusive, but in many cases it’s a choice between one or the other. Choose the designer that has your users needs in focus.

2. How many sites in their portfolio are still up and running? When you view a designers portfolio, take a second and chase down those sites live on the web. Are the sites still live and in business? Are they successful? Take a look at the site traffic on a site like Alexa, are they generating numbers? Have the sites been re-designed by someone else? It’s one thing for a designer to have a portfolio of great looking sites, but it’s another for a designer to have a track record of sites that have become commercially viable. Ask the hard questions above to get on the right track for success.

3. Is your designer active in the design community? While you don’t want a designer that is so wrapped up in the ‘art’ of design, they don’t put your audience first, you also don’t want a designer who works in a vacuum. Take a spin around the internet and see what other designers have said about their work. Find out which magazines, blogs and podcasts they consume. Have they won any awards, or participated in any design initiatives? Are they active in writing about design or commenting on other designers work? Check some of the Twitter hashtags like #design and #web and see if they pop up. Participation in the design community ensures they’re up to date on the newest trends and design techniques. You don’t want to hire a dinosaur.

This is just a jumping off point, because choosing a designer should be a conversation between the designer and yourself. I hope these questions spark some thoughts and conversations the next time you’re starting a new endeavor. What are your favorite questions to ask a potential web designer? We’d love to hear your successes and your horror stories, so drop some science in the comments.

Author: "--" Tags: "Branding, Design"
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Date: Saturday, 31 Oct 2009 21:34

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Twitter is a great tool for finding new ideas, meeting the digital hoi polloi and spreading the word about your business. A new, potentially powerful feature has just made the scene: Twitter Lists. Lists allow you to create and share groups of people centered on a common topic. It’s a simple way to find new people that share your interests, or work in the same media sphere that you do. We’ll admit, it can be somewhat overwhelming digging through Twitter to find the gems, so here’s three of our favorite lists for tech savvy Twitterers to get you started. Lists are a wholly new feature and frontier, so expect to hear more from us as Twitter Lists begin to mature. 

@Scobleizer’s Tech People - We all know Robert Scoble, one of the best known and most reasonable, knowledgeable voices in the tech community. He’s created a list of his favor Twitter tech folks. This is a great place to start if you’re new to the world of Twitter, or need to make sure you don’t miss a beat in the geek-a-sphere.
http://twitter.com/Scobleizer/my-favstar-fm-list

Tech Bloggers - If you’re looking for inspiration, ideas and content you can use to improve your own blogging, thics list by @CourtenayBird will be extremely useful. There’s some big names, and some people you haven’t heard of, but I’ll well worth your time to interact with.
http://twitter.com/courtenaybird/digital-and-social-media

Designers - @Grainedit has a well curated list that’s a who’s who of designers of all type who tweet. If you’re looking for eye candy and visual web innovation, you’ve found the right list. http://twitter.com/grainedit/graphicdesign

If you need a step by step on how to use twitter lists check out Freelance Folders post on How to Get Started.

Stay on the lookout for @TheBlogStudio list of web design favorites coming up shortly.

Author: "--" Tags: "Business, Marketing"
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