I Cannot Call Myself A Frugalista

So if you have been following the saga of the “Frugalista” trademark silliness, then what I say here probably won’t surprise you. That is especially true if you are a frequent reader of my blog. This has irritated me and I feel I need to explain why.

Let’s start with the fact that the term frugalista (oh no…I didn’t use quotes!) is a common term for its market with a general meaning. This alone should be enough to warrant scrutiny over the trademark application. We aren’t even talking about people who claim to be the Frugalista (looky there…it’s capitalized and not in quotes…oh dear me) of a certain geographical area. This is actually a pretty common practice, not just in blogging but in journalism. You stake claim to a geographical location and name yourself the authority over some particular subject matter that you focus on. Well guess what, bucko…you aren’t peddling that name around here. Doing so will get you a nice fresh C&D from the lawyer of the git that thinks she can just rip a word journalists on pain of lawsuit.

That seems awful anti-Frugalista-ish (oh ho…now we’re getting fancy with changing up the word) to spend that kind of money on frivolous unenforceable crap. Perhaps Ms. Self Important should read some of the blogs and forums and general online media on the subject of frugality and being a Frugalista. (Have I earned my very own C&D yet? I’m certainly trying my hardest. After all…every letter costs money and the tool that thinks she can trademark such a broad and general term deserves any bill she gets.) Now I’m sure some of you are wondering how I could possibly get a C&D for simply writing about this fight in the Frugalista community. It’s simple, really. My previous post has the excerpt from the C&D sent to the Jackson Frugalista blogger that holds the key to my crusade. Apparently the law office declares in said letters that they expect you to cease any and all use of the term in any derivation on any type of online media. Shucks…I think I failed to comply with that.

And to add to this idiocracy would be the article in U.S. News where the lawyer directly contradicts the statement of the letter. Now tell me, Madame I-Trademark-Common-Terms, do you actually pay for this contradictory tripe? If not, then I applaud you not only for your ninja skills at being frugal (for these guys MUST be cheap), but also for the sheer amount of ignorance you managed to locate in such a tiny little place. If you don’t yet understand what I mean, allow me to show you.

This is from the C&D sent to the Jackson Frugalista blog owner:

Further, please let us have your prompt written assurance that you and any affiliated companies or individuals will promptly discontinue and refrain from the use of the term “FRUGALISTA” in any form or derivation in any online blogs or journals.

This is statement from the lawyer as reported by U.S. News:

McDowell emphasizes that other writers can still use the word “frugalista” in their stories—which may seem obvious, given the fact that it is a commonly used word—but that they cannot identify themselves as a “frugalista.”

Call me craz…erm…Frugalista, but I don’t think this will hold up in court. Oh heck, I went and did it again. You know, If I keep this up someone might get the impression that I am trying to make a point with all the subtlety of a frag grenade to the face. It’s gotten me in trouble before and probably will again. I cannot, however, sit back and keep my mouth shut when I see something as blatantly stupid as this happening right before everyone’s eyes. This would be like Best Buy trying to trade mark the term “Geek” and saying that nobody could use said term in any online publication to refer to themselves because it “unfairly capitalizes on the goodwill and reputation embodied in our client’s use of the Mark”…not that anyone every accused the Geek Squad of being the recipient of goodwill or anything resembling a (good) reputation. Please, read the story at US News, read the letter and the response at Jackson Frugalista…and by all means boycott the stupid trademark lady’s blog until she apologizes to the internet for being a tool.

And before I forget…

I Am Not A Hypocritical Frugalista That Hates Freedom Of Speech.

I Don’t Own Words Like Frugalista

So the current viral story is the Jackson, Mississippi blogger being targeted by the Miami Herald for use of a word. That word…which will assuredly earn me a C&D of my very own…is “Frugalista”. I’m not opposed to branding. I also understand that if you have a trademark, you are required to defend it or you will lose it. I’m not even totally opposed to the idea of asking that the blog name be changed to avoid any confusion…silly though that is. That’s all fine and good. But the letter had this little tidbit:

Further, please let us have your prompt written assurance that you and any affiliated companies or individuals will promptly discontinue and refrain from the use of the term “FRUGALISTA” in any form or derivation in any online blogs or journals.

Let’s look at that for a moment. They want her to “refrain from the use of the term” not just in her blog title but “in any form or derivation in any online blogs or journals”. This means to comply with this order she can’t even say “I was reading The Frugalista Files” without being in violation. I think that’s a bit far. Being barred from using a WORD? It’s not even a word the trademark holder created. We’re not talking about Kleenex or Xerox here. We talking about someone that decided to use a word that is pretty generic and existed before she got into blogging and then trying to prevent the world from using it.

In that spirit, I am offering my feelings on this through my blog. Until the trademark is revoked as submitted, I will end all posts with the same line. And I dare you to C&D me…there’s no way my use is confusing to anyone.

I Am Not A Hypocritical Frugalista That Hates Freedom Of Speech.

Hashtags to Cash Bags

The first I heard of this marketing method was with Squarespace. Now I had already heard of this hosting company because I listen to several of the TWiT (no relation to Twitter…besides, TWiT was first) podcasts and they are an advertiser there. But then I caught wind of a marketing campaign they were kicking off…using Twitter. See, in the world of tweets there are things known as hashtags. What you do is put a hash mark in front of some tag-like keyword in your tweet. This makes it easy to find tweets about a certain subject. It’s also where the trending topics list comes from. What Squarespace was doing is picking a random tweet with the #squarespace hashtag and awarding that person with a $199 Apple gift certificate. This was billed as the iPhone giveaway. They did one a day for the 30 days of June. It seemed to work pretty well.

This month it’s Moonfruit. They’re another hosting company, this time in the UK. They are giving away 10 13″ Macbook Pros. All you have to do is tweet with the #moonfruit hashtag during the contest duration. They are also giving away a couple of iPod Touches to the most creative tweets. Just like that, they’re all over the trending topics and getting face time with millions of users. Seems to me like this is smart marketing…but only for a short time. I cannot imagine it will take long for this to get really old with Twitter users and it will fall by the wayside. But I have to say, it does show some creative marketing and a brilliant way to leverage a new internet trend to your marketing advantage.

I won’t say this marketing technique is already dying, but I will say it has an extremely limited shelf-life. Things on the internet move fast. Marketing strategists have to move faster to keep up. Why? Because not all of their ideas are going to work. So they have to have time to try again before the crowds pass them by. I don’t know who first thought up the hashtag guerilla campaign, but he deserves a nice trip somewhere tropical for being ahead of the curve.

Google Waves Goodbye To Old Messaging

If you look at the ways we communicate online, you’ll find they are nothing more than fresh paint on archaic methods…some of which date back to the days of six-shooters and stage coaches. All of the innovations thus far have been in the form of bolt-on extras. It’s kind of like duct taping an iPod to an 8-track player then splicing headphone cables to the speaker wires. You still have an 8-track player. Think about it, email is a mimic of snail mail and IM is just glorified telegraph communication.

But it looks like the guys and gals at Google have decided to step up and do something for online communication that nobody has successfully done thus far. They scrapped everything and designed a system from the ground up to leverage all the web and modern technology has to offer for communication into a single tool. This tool is Google Wave. If you visit the site you will be presented with a video of the tech demo that lasts nearly an hour and a half. It’s well worth the watch.

So what is Google Wave and what makes it so special? That’s not an easy thing to describe. It’s partly a framework, partly a protocol, partly an application, and all wrapped in yummy bacon. In the video, one of the designers of Google Wave mentions that email was actually invented over 40 years ago…long before the advent of the internet. So the driving force was if email were invented today, what would it be like? I have to say that in this regard it looks like they are succeeding amazingly. They touch on things far more in-depth than I will here, but I will hit the high points.

The gist of the application side of Wave is collaboration. Take email, IM, blogging, forums, Wikis, Twitter, Flickr/Picasa, YouTube, and basically any Web 2.0 site/application and stir. Bake in Google’s think-tank for two years and you get one heckuva slick piece of coding magic. You can write a Wave (which is the term used for any type of communication) and add people to it. We won’t call them recipients. They’re more like participants. They can then reply or add or edit or privately reply not just to the message, but to specific pieces of a message. In real-time. No more seeing Hoser is typing messages forcing you to wait eleventy hundred minutes for them to finish. You see what they are typing almost character for character which allows you to go ahead and start formulating or even typing in a response.

Then you can drag files (pictures, movies, whatever) directly into the Wave which shows up almost immediately in their Wave client if they are looking at the Wave at the time you do so. In the case of pictures, you get thumbnails pretty much instantaneously while the full pictures are still loading. This makes for some really interesting possibilities. Given that this is a Google project, you know that the search is really nice. No surprise there. The surprise is this: it runs completely in the browser. But this doesn’t scratch the surface of what it can do. Oh, did I mention this will be open-source?

Yes, Google has already announced this will be an open source system and they are encouraging developers to create their own Wave clients and even server implementations. There will be a series of APIs to allow anyone to create robots (snap-ins) to connect Wave to other services. They show a Twitter robot, a blog robot, and even a translator that does…get this…real-time language translation for conversations. They want to see what kinds of amazing things other people can come up with to extend Google Wave even further than they have imagined. Oh, did I mention that the real-time updates work even if you have your own Wave server implementation? Yep, you get the same sweetness between Wave servers so it could be as universal as email. That’s where the Wave protocol comes into play.

I really can’t go into much more about this or this post will take four years to read. Go watch the video. Seeing it work is far more impressive than any simple text post could hope to be. I’ve seen the future…and I’m wearing shades.

Comcast in the Kiddie Pool

Comcast gets a lot of press and most of it is bad. I still, despite my glowing praises for the Digital Media Outreach, agree with most of what’s said. The service is flaky. The content is mediocre. The price is outrageous. The hardware just plain sucks. But there are even more frustrating problems. Finally, though, I can take one of them off my list.

It seems they have decided to stick a toe into the kiddie pool of the intarweebs. You can at last get an email notification that your bill is ready. I am amazed that one of the largest communication providers in these United States has had the audacity to buck the trend of convenience by not doing what even little mom and pop shops have been doing since 1996. Any third grader with a keyboard can hammer out a quick and dirty script to send a little SMTP message to a specified email address on a specific day of the month.

I won’t get into it too deeply this time since I ranted about this in an earlier post. The long and short of it is this: Comcast has finally started coming out from under its rock and is beginning to offer some of the basic convenience services to its customers that other web enabled companies have offered for no less than 10 years. So if you have Comcast cable or internet service, you can now log into the website and sign up for email notifications for billing.

Sheesh guys, I know corporations move like slugs, but this is downright embarrasing.

Dr. Horrible Really Isn’t

If you’ve been under a rock, then you might not have heard of Joss Whedon‘s latest gem, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Comprised of three fairly short episodes and designed for web distribution, this mini-series is full of whimsy and general silliness. Long time geeks will recognize the stars that Whedon has breathing life into this latest creation. Names like Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser and How I Met Your Mother) and Nathan Fillion (Firefly) comprise the hero(?) and his nemisis. Center to their current conflict is Felicia Day (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

In usual Joss Whedon style, the hilarity ensues from the very first scene and it just gets better and better as the story unfolds. Without giving any spoilers, the premise is that Dr. Horrible (Harris) wants to join the Evil League of Evil and must prove himself which is easier said than done because he is always foiled by Captain Hammer (Fillion). Unfortunately, the time of free viewing on the website has passed, but it is available through iTunes for $1.99 and episode or $3.99 for the entire series. He plans a DVD release later. More details about that will be unleashed upon us at ComicCon. I can say this, if you like Whedon’s previous works and you like the silliness of Monty Python and Mel Brooks, then you’ll probably love Dr. Horrible. One thing I can tell you for sure, Dr. Horrible is wonderful.

Does Social Media Blend?

Dwight Silverman posted an interesting Tweet on the day of the iPhone release. He said:

I wish we could report more breaking stories the way we did the iPhone today, blending blogs, twitter, reporters, links. Soon, very soon…

…which brings up some interesting ideas. We have news aggregation sites like Digg and Slashdot. We have services like FriendFeed that aggregate information from multiple social media services. We have mashups like iGoogle. But has anyone yet put together a way to blend all of these wonderful things into a useful, intuitive interface for the creation and trafficking of breaking news stories?

Now I replied to that Tweet that we in the social media world are just getting through taking our baby steps. We haven’t quite got up to walking but we are getting there. The next phase is to make it truly mainstream. Many news sources already leverage services like Twitter to post links to new articles that appear on their site. But this is merely a scratch of the surface. Offerings like Twitter could easily be used to create “live” news articles.

Think about this: You have a new website with a system that will take an article’s owner (reporter) and allow this owner to let others expand their article with posts from Twitter/Pownce/Whatever in certain sections of the story. The article becomes a truly interactive experience that gives the reporter’s view and expands his or her words with the observations of others within the article itself. Now obviously you wouldn’t let just anyone put anything in there or you end up with John Gabriel’s GIFT(nsfw).

To avoid this you could have a system like OpenID and then the owner grants what level of access people have. Heck, this could be expanded to allow almost roundtable-like discussions. The point of this being that the next evolution of social media is the blending of more traditional news reporting with blogs and other social media services. The iPhone release could have had a parent article that featured the pic taken of Robert Scoble getting his phone with the side story from a blog about how he was allowed to cut in line (say…sent via Twitter DM to the article account) and the Twitter posts from the first guy stopped as the initial group went in to get their new shiny toys. Additional images from Flickr showcasing lines from stores in different areas could be linked in as well. This goes much further than simple comments at the end of an article. I speak of groups of web connected individuals actually building and expanding breaking news stories as they happen.

This is just one idea of what I’m sure is many that will make their way to the web soon. I’m also certain that there are far more qualified and imaginative people putting together new technologies and ideas. Some will fail but inevitably one or two of these new tools will gain some success in the next phase of the media evolution. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m looking forward to the next stage…so hurry up already and build us some tools to use.

UPDATE: It’s almost like Rule 34. I posted about it and find that STLToday.com already somewhat includes this. An example is this article about he InBev buyout of Anheuser-Busch. The first Related Link is a blog and Twitter feed basically of related stories. Found it because my little post on the deal got in there. Now we just need more articles to include this feature and more news sites to do it.

So What Exactly Is Social Media?

In the beginning, communicating with people on the net was done via newsgroups, IRC, email, or IM. There are limitations to all of these with respect to getting the message to a mass audience. In reality, most messages were sent to a specific person or very small and select group of people. Social Media, though I hate buzzwords, is a nice catch-all term for a new series of web services that allow for a much greater penetration of a message. It takes a different approach. It puts the power in the hands of the reader/subscriber and not the author.

The advent of blogs are where I think the true birth of Social Media took place. Services like WordPress (which SBR uses), TypePad, Blogger, and LiveJournal gave the non-tech savvy internet user the ability to easily share thoughts and ideas with the world. Sure there were places that had WYSIWYG web page generators, but they were almost always clunky and never really made it easy to share frequent updates with the mass audience of the intarwebs. Blog systems changed all of that by giving people a simple text box to type in and a button to push to add the posts as easily as one would write and send an email. The blog format has been adopted by a great many large sites like Ars Technica and LifeHacker.

RSS feeds added to the blog phenomenon by making it easier to keep track of when new posts were added. This began the opt-in series of services that form the basis of what Social Media is today. If you look at offerings like Twitter, Pownce, and FriendFeed, you truly begin to see the power of the opt-in approach. The limitations of IM such as having to add people you want to talk to and those people having to be online at the time you send your message were overcome. The pains you had to go through to send that message to a lot of people at once were also taken care of. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to know these people. They will find you and opt-in to your data feed from that service and the service worries about sending your message to all of them whether it is 10 or 10,000 people.

A myriad of clients for these services, both web based and desktop based add to the overall convenience of both posting your own messages and monitoring other’s feeds. This is the true magic of what we call Social Media. Take Twitter as an example. I am following well over 150 people. Granted I miss a few updates from people here and there from the sheer volume of messages, but I get to keep up with all of these people with similar interests that I have never met. I get to see thoughts and ideas and websites and articles I would probably have never seen if it wasn’t for my desktop client (Twhirl on Windows and Twitterrific on my iMac).

A lot of times, it is these messages that spur ideas for my blog posts. I’m sure that I’m not the only one deriving inspiration from random messages in these feeds. Of course, there is a lot of fluff out there but the nice thing is, you can skip it by just not subscribing to those feeds. Besides, what I consider fluff you might consider to be interesting reading. See how putting the power in the reader’s hands is so nice? It isn’t intrusive like all of those annoying forwarded emails that people perpetually send to one another. I get so tired of deleting emails with subjects that start with “FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW” (okay, maybe not quite that many, but you get the picture).

Basically, Social Media is a source of information that is offered through an opt-in service so that user’s interested can choose to be updated when more information is available. It may include getting an SMS with the latest message or getting a daily digest email to the account of your choice. The options are many and varied just like the services offered. The upshot is that these services, when properly implemented, make it much easier to get the information you want in a timely manner without all the hassle of various versions of spam.

Even big time corporations are seeing the advantages of leveraging Social Media networks. Comcast in particular has made some really good strides at improving Customer Service through a dedicated Social Media team. They scour the common services and search through blogs no matter how small to find places where people are complaining about problems they cannot get resolved with Comcast. The team then makes contact with these people and works with them to try and fix the issue. I know this works because they did it for me. I blogged extensively about it here at SBR and I’m happy to say they completely satisfied me with the solution.

So what is my short definition of Social Media? It’s all of those services on the web that let you post regular updates about things and sends those updates to everyone that opts-in to follow your feed/stream/whatever. It is all of those services that let us communicate with people we’ve never met but find what we have to say interesting. It is the next step of the world’s communication medium, but not the last.

Disqus Comment System

I saw an interesting tweet from Scott Beale over at Laughing Squid today about his new comment system. He moved to Disqus and he wanted some people to test it out. So I stopped over and left a few comments and decided to sign up for a Disqus account while doing so. This is a neat little system that lets you track your comments across all sites using this system for their comments. Your profile at Disqus is used for all of them and your clout (think karma) travels from site to site with you. This could both good and bad.

I do like the centralized storage and configuration for not only my comments, but all comments on my site as well. Everything is in one place and easy to deal with. The installation on a WordPress site is really straightforward. Just download and activate the plugin and you’re done. That’s the silver lining to this cloud. The cloud itself is that there is no way right now to import any existing WordPress stored comments into Disqus. You don’t lose them. They are still in the database. But since the plugin replaces the comments section on your site, they don’t show up any longer. Oh and did I mention Disqus supports Seesmic video comments?

I understand from my reading that they are working on an import mechanism and I am eagerly waiting for the release. There have been hints that it would be released this month so they better hurry…there’s only a few days left. I’m not overly worried about it for SBR because there weren’t all that many comments to begin with. Of course, part of my laid back attitude towards this has to do with their response for enhancements and fixes. All indications are they respond really really quickly. I’ve seen nothing but praise for their efforts to make their users happy.

Hey Comcast…perhaps you should have your techs study under these guys for a while. And while you’re at it, I think both Disqus and Comcast should head over to the Demo Girl site and read this. Why? There are links that are only available if you scroll to the very bottom of the page…things like HELP. Bad web designers. No cookie for you.

Evernote Goes Live

I was first introduce to the Evernote service by Leo Laporte. He mentioned it in a TWiT podcast and the concept intrigued me. Here is a service that will let you upload text, images, web pages, whatever into online notebooks that can be synchonized with desktop client software or accessed via web browser. The really neat feature of this service is the OCR. All notes are run through OCR so you can even search your images by typing any text that appears in the picture itself. Well, after a huge invite-only beta (much like GMail), they have gone live.

Free service with Evernote is still available. It will only allow for 40MB of uploads in a month and will not have priority access to OCR services. Storage allowed is still unlimited. There is also a premium membership which gives you the choice of paying $5 a month or $45 a year (a $15 savings). This service gives you 500MB of data uploads a month and first access to OCR services and other goodies like SSL for all data transmissions.

The service has been running along smoothly for the time I’ve had my account. I use the desktop client on both my Vista and Mac systems. Personally I love the clip tool of the desktop client that lets me select a box on my screen to copy into Evernote. This is wonderful for web clips. Then it’s just add a couple of tags and sync. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if the next thing Google tries to gobble is Evernote. This is exactly the kind of information organization they stand for.

Hats off to you guys for a great product and here’s looking to a bright future.