I’m excited about indie microblogging.

Manton Reece has big plans for microblogs.


A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about what would happen if Twitter disappeared or became unusable. I started to explore other options for connecting with others in the design community. I started posting to Dribbble again* and I started playing around with Medium.**

Last week, while listening to my usual playlist of podcasts, I stumbled on a couple of discussions about Manton Reese’s Indie Microblogging Kickstarter project.

I backed it instantly.

The Kickstarter has two parts: A book and a service.

The book will detail a framework for independent microblogging… basically a standards-based system for posting and sharing Twitter-like posts.

The service is Micro.blog. And it’s a fascinating attempt to make it as easy as possible to host your own micro blog, basically a decentralized version of Twitter.

I think Manton’s got some great ideas. And I think his heart is in the right place. I love the idea of leveraging RSS for the underpinning of the service. I think 280 characters is great. The iPhone app supports Markdown. You can use your own domain for free or pay $5/month for Micro.blog to host your microblog. An API that others can use to hook into the service. And oh yeah, and the name is perfect.

The Kickstarter project was funded on the first day. And he’s now got a stretch goal — $80,000 — to help fund a community manager to shape the service and actively address the bullying and nastiness that is rampant on Twitter. I don’t know if he’ll make the stretch goal, but I love that he’s already thinking about this.

Also, remember in the early days if Twitter, before they cracked down on the API usage, when third party developers were extending and improving the service. I hope those developers throw everything they’ve got at supporting Micro.blog.

Many people are skeptical that Micro.blog will blossom into a sustainable full featured Twitter replacement. And I completely get that. Look at all the failed attempts to replace or replicate the functionality of Twitter of the years. It's tough to build a large user base for a new social media site and it's too early to tell if Micro.blog will take off — after all, the service hasn’t even launched yet. But I think the service and the concept are the right idea at the right time. I’m looking forward to using the service and watching it develop in the coming years.

I’m excited about Micro.blog and about the plan to use RSS to power what is essentially an independent version of Twitter. If you are concerned about the future of Twitter and social networks, I really encourage you to head over to Kickstarter and back the Indie Microblogging project.


* Watch for another post about using Dribbble…
** Of course, who knows what Medium will become.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he browses RSS feeds in Feedly. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

Twitterless

What would happen if Twitter disappeared tomorrow?

I’ve been on Twitter since 2007. It’s part of my daily routine and probably my most vital social media channel for finding and sharing news. But Twitter has had some lingering financial issues and when they recently tried to sell the company, no one stepped up to make an appropriate offer.*

Also, a couple of social media experiments have crashed and burned lately. Twitter announced that they were closing Vine.** Talkshow had a bunch of potential but didn’t make it six months. And while Twitter is much larger, it’s not immune from financial reality.

Which got me thinking, what if we woke up one morning and Twitter was gone. Or more likely, what if Twitter changed so radically, that it was unusable? How would that change the way I get things done?

I’d lose a bunch of contacts. I follow a large number of designers, brands and local experts on Twitter — and no where else. If Twitter disappeared, I’d lose all those contacts and have to try and reconstruct the network on another channel. Not an easy task.

I’d change how I watch live events. During the World Series, I kept an eye on Twitter. During the presidential debates, I followed along on Twitter. During the University of South Carolina's football game last weekend, I kept up with the score on Twitter. During election night coverage, sigh. Twitter is the perfect companion to a live event and I’d miss seeing what my friends and family think in real time.

I’d have to rethink how I find articles and stories. I find lots of inspirational links and content on Twitter. If Twitter goes away, I’m using RSS and Feedly much more aggressively.

I’d have to rethink how I share content. I share most of my blog posts through Twitter. If Twitter were gone, I’d have to share them somewhere else like Facebook or Medium.

I’d change the way I use Facebook. I use Facebook for family pictures and connecting with people I know and have met. If Twitter disappeared, I’d probably use Facebook more to connect with a wider audience. Maybe I’d invest more time into building the Sketchbook B page on Facebook. Post more links to articles on my Facebook feed. If Twitter goes away, my Facebook experience changes radically.

I’d spend more time on Instagram. Because I love Instagram, almost as much as I love Twitter. And I’m going to have some free time if there is no Twitter.

I’d try to find a replacement. If Twitter disappeared, I imagine several companies would rush to unveil a replacement. Or modify their social product to attract Twitter refugees. You know Google would retool and rebrand Google Plus, Linked In might try to be less of a train wreck. Even Snapchat might try to appeal to former Twitter users. Startups would start, and fail. Someone would try to resurrect App.net. I’d try them all, but I’m not sure there can truly be a replacement for Twitter.

 

But… reality.

So I don’t think Twitter will just shut down. At some point, the price to purchase the company gets so low, that someone will take a chance on them. I’m more concerned that Twitter, or a company that buys Twitter, will change it so completely, that it becomes useless.

This exercise had forced me, though, to start evaluating areas where I am too reliant on Twitter. I'm going to start connecting to designers and thought leaders on other channels. I'm looking for new avenues to find and share content. I'll evaluate how I use channels like Facebook, Instagram, Dribbble, YouTube and Medium.

Twitter might not disappear, but it's still best not to keep your eggs in one basket.


* This was compounded but the fact that few established companies — like Disney — wanted to take on Twitter while abusive rhetoric is rampant. Let’s face it, Twitter has been a dumpster fire during this election season.

** Although maybe Vine is getting a reprieve.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he ponders the future of social media. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

Luke’s for a day

Impressive guerrilla marketing campaign turns local coffee shops into everyone’s favorite Stars Hollow diner

Last week, coffee shops all over the nation rebranded themselves for a day as “Luke’s” — the fictional diner from the TV show Gilmore Girls. This bit of marketing genius was part of a promotional effort to promote the new Gilmore Girls Netflix miniseries.

In South Carolina, only one coffee shop was selected to be Luke’s: The Wired Goat in the Vista. As a Gilmore Girls fan, I was looking forward to stopping by and getting my cup with a Luke’s coffee cup sleeve. (I'm also a Wired Goat fan... that's where AIGA South Carolina holds it's monthly coffee meet ups.)

The line stayed this long pretty much all day.

The line stayed this long pretty much all day.

I expected it to be crowded, but when I got to the Wired Goat, I was floored. The line extended out the door and down the alley. I drove by a couple of times that day, thinking that eventually the line would get shorter. It didn't. Fans kept coming until there was no more coffee to be sold. Gilmore Girls fans gathered from all around to celebrate one of their favorite shows. (I even heard stories of fans driving from adjacent states to be part of the Luke’s experience.)

Kudos to the ad agency or marketing firm that dreamed up this campaign. It really is a perfect guerrilla marketing scheme, with every participant getting something out of it. Netflix gets the exposure they want with a relatively minor investment. The selected coffee shops get positive exposure and additional traffic for the day. And the fans get a place to celebrate with other fans and then share their experience online. 

I never made it into the Wired Goat that day. I’m a Gilmore Girls fan, but I just couldn’t spend an hour in line. A few days later, though, my wife and I made in to the Wired Goat and they still had the Luke’s coffee sleeve. 

And, of course, we took pictures and shared them.

My serious coffee face, with A Luke's cup.

My serious coffee face, with A Luke's cup.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he loves to binge watch 1990's television series. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

Quick thoughts on "texting in public" with Talkshow

I’ve really had fun this week with Talkshow, a new messaging service/social media network. Essentially, it’s texting, but in public. It's a mix of Twitter and texting. You are able to converse with friends and other people can see the feed, like posts and react to posts. It’s pretty intuitive and I enjoyed playing with it.*

It's iOS only. So iPhone or iPad is your only option. Talkshow isn't available for Android and you can't post from a computer. You can share your conversations with others through a web view and embed "shows" on pages.

To give you an idea of what it's like, embedded below is a sample of a conversation between my friend and former coworker James Leslie Miller.** Our conversation eventually wanders into a discussion of design software and another user, Greg, requested to join as a cohost. 

If you try out Talkshow, look me up. As always, my handle is @sketchbookb.


* I also experimented with Snapchat this week. I'm so confused.

** He'll always be "Jim" to me.

Flood

Bridge closed

Bridge closed

My hometown of Columbia, South Carolina was pummeled by a once-in-a-lifetime storm this weekend. Over a foot of rain in less than 24 hours. Creeks, rivers and ponds overflowed. Dams gave way. Interstates were flooded and closed. Neighborhoods were evacuated.

Early Sunday — before I really understood the magnitude of what was going on — I walked down to check on the creek at the entrance to my neighborhood. As I walked down the hill, I could hear the roar of rushing water. The bridge was closed and the creek was massively overflowing. People were stopping and taking pictures. I stopped and took photos, too.

Normal people are documenting the terrible things happening around them and sharing them with friends and news outlets. Every person with a cellphone is a reporter.

As the day progressed, I got a constant stream of updates from Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. What roads are flooding? How much longer is it going to rain? Videos and pictures of roads underwater, bridges failing and daring rescues. It was a very personal and terrifying way to experience a natural disaster.

I remember Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which was the biggest natural disaster I had experienced personally. We followed the TV news and got updates from morning and afternoon papers. Without the internet, it was challenging to get much detail on what was going on.

Now, in 2015, I watched a little bit of storm coverage on the Columbia NBC affiliate, WIS, but most of my news came from Twitter. Getting information wasn't a problem at all. Information was coming from all directions.

In a crisis, this flood of information from social media is disorienting. Immediate. Powerful. Raw. Intense. There is an overwhelming sense of anxiety. It's also unfiltered. Serious news, alerts, hoax and rumors are mixed with NFL banter, cat videos, tech talk, ads and more.

As communicators in a social media environment, we need to accept this complex environment and figure out ways to help our audiences process what is happening around them. The goal should no longer be about simply adding more stories, pictures and videos to a vast virtual stream. Anyone with a iPhone can do that. Our value is in structuring and organizing information and in presenting clear, relevant messaging when our community needs it.

Personalization

Personalization is all the rage. The web makes it easy to allow consumers to build exactly what they want. And manufacturers are increasingly willing to charge a premium to give consumers what they want.

Not every company is jumping on the personalization bandwagon. Apple, the undisputed king of consumer products, offers very few options. But I wonder if the true motivation for customization is sales or simply customer engagement. How many consumers complete the personalization process and purchase their product? Most of these sites allow the user to post their custom order to their Facebook or other social media profile. Even if the customer doesn’t complete the purchase, the act of personalization and sharing probably helps connect the brand with consumer.

Below are a few sites that I’ve run across lately that do personalization well. These are all Flash-based sites so if you have an iPhone or iPad (or you just don’t like Flash), you are out of luck.

Timbuk2

I’m looking for a new messenger bag for my laptop and iPad. While looking, I came across Timbuk2 which lets you order a bag with custom fabrics. In playing with the website, I made some nice looking bags (and some really, really ugly bags).

Shoes: Converse and Nike

Of course, customization isn’t limited to the messenger bags. Converse allows you to design custom Chuck Taylor shoes – mixing and matching solid colors and prints. 

Nike also allows extensive personalization of their shoes and clothing as well with their Nike ID site. Nike is one of the first companies that I can remember offering a service like this.

Mini

Lots of car companies allow you to customize your car, but Mini takes the personalization even further. The Mini USA site allows you to customize a car design and send the specs to a dealer. You can change the colors, the interior finished and all sorts of details.

 

 

Soup, Spoons and Social Media

I went to Subway last week. I don’t typically eat at Subway, but there is one by my office and I didn’t have much time for lunch. As I walked in, on the door, there was a window cling encouraging me to order soup with a combo. When I got in line, I looked up and there on the menu was an ad encouraging me to order soup. At the register there was another sign.

So I ordered soup.

I grabbed a seat. And realized I didn’t have a spoon. I looked up by the straws and napkins. There were forks and knives, but no spoons. So I asked the woman behind the counter – the same woman who sold me the soup – if they had any spoons. After asking another employee, she confirmed that they had no spoons in the restaurant.

The big picture

It seems both silly and odd that a franchisee would go to all the trouble of putting up all the signs and ads and then mess up something as simple as having spoons.

But I think this type of thing is very common in business. Often, we see people obsess over seemingly insignificant details, only to completely overlook a major issue. They work on the details and lose sight of the big picture.

As designers, we see this a lot.

Clients spend time and energy critiquing minor elements of a design, but often forget to shore up the logistical issues that support a campaign. Marketing and design are critical, but so is customer service and support. Think about my Subway story for a second. The marketing worked. I entered the store. And I purchased soup. However because of a minor – but critical – oversight, I was a dissatisfied customer. 

Social media and a lack of spoons

Right now, social media is all the rage. Everyone seems to be talking about how social media can help their business. Worrying that they’ll be left behind if they aren’t on Twitter or Facebook. Consultants are aggressively selling social media services.

But I fear many of these folks are losing sight of the big picture. Social media is a tactic. And yes, it can be an effective and powerful tactic. But as companies develop their social media plans, they cannot forget that it is just the beginning of the customer relationship. Strategically, you need to think through the entire customer experience. What are you going to do with your customers after you reach out to them through social media? How do you want to engage your customers on a continuing basis?

I’m not saying social media is bad or that it isn’t important. There are absolutely uses for social media in business and marketing. Just remember that the social media tactics are only the beginning. You and your company need to prepare for a long-term customer relationship.

Or in other words, when you decide to sell soup, make sure you are ready to provide spoons.