Free Screen Sharing Application for Bootstrapped Internet Startups – Join.me

December 6th, 2010

Today I finally came across a great screen sharing application. I’ve used A LOT of different screen sharing applications, desktop streaming applications, remote desktop applications, etc etc etc and they have their niche, but this one is by far the easiest desktop streaming application that I’ve found (and it’s free).

The application is called Join.me. It’s done by the people behind the LogMeIn suite of products (which are good in their own right for more advanced users). However, Join.me is fantastic for those desktop streams that you want to do with people whose desktop you don’t control. There’s almost NOTHING to install. It uses Flash for the user viewing your desktop and a really simple exe download for the person looking to share.

I plan on using this for demos I’m doing for Giving Sports fundraising. It’s the perfect way to do a sales presentation. You send them a link, they click on it and they get access to your desktop computer. That means you can show them a powerpoint, a web browser, etc etc etc. Anything you run on your desktop you can show them and they don’t have to install anything. They can just click on the link.

I’m also planning on using this for helping my mom. Just yesterday I wished that I had a way to connect to my mom’s computer. It was too much to ask her to create an account and install LogMeIn. Plus, then she’d keep getting these update notices to update the software and it would confuse her. With Join.me she just does the one click download of the exe and then tells me the number. Awesome! Plus, after one use, you just tell her to install the app and it will put a shortcut on her desktop that she can use the next time she needs help.

Oh yes, did I say that it allows remote control of the desktop as well? That’s right, my mom can give me control of her desktop so I can just fix the stuff myself. So, I can not only see her desktop, but I can also fix it. Very nice!

There’s also a conference call number you can provide to people so a whole group could be on the same call. It’s not an 800 number, but that’s not a big deal for me at all. Most people have a cell phone or unlimited long distance.

The only problem I ran into is that it didn’t like my default screen resolution. I submitted a report to Join.me about it and so we’ll see if they respond. I just changed my screen resolution and it worked fine.

Anyway, as you can tell I’m excited. I’d wanted something like this for a while. It’s the perfect addition to a bootstrapped internet startup’s tool box!

Disqus New Analytics Features and the Future of Connected Communities Needs Fast Profile Switching

December 3rd, 2010

I’m still pondering this post done by Fred Wilson (a VC I read) about some new Disqus features. The post includes an interesting feature which shows you the sites that users of your site also visit. I must admit that it’s a really interesting feature and as a data loving blogger, I think that’s really interesting.

The challenge I have comes in the next part where Fred talks about his view forward with this type of technology. Basically, it’s the idea of connecting communities where the audience is similar. He uses the simple example of a hot topic on Suster’s blog (another VC I read) being promoted on Fred’s blog. Sure, this sounds great, and I imagine many would opt in to a feature like this. I would like to know about other good VC and internet startup related posts on other blogs.

The problem is when this feature goes bad and creates a poor user experience. What if Techcrunch adds it to the site and its readers are also commenting over on some porn site? Ok, maybe that’s a good experience for many of your readers since they’re visiting that site anyway. However, that could definitely turn off the other portion of your readers who don’t like that site that really isn’t related to the topic at hand. Plus, as a blogger, I don’t want to know that all my readers are visiting that type of site and I certainly wouldn’t want to promote it.

You could look at a simpler example. What if ESPN news started showing up on your tech blog just because a lot of tech people have been visiting ESPN? That’s not terrible, but it’s not the best user experience and I bet many bloggers wouldn’t like it.

The point here is that we all have different online profiles. Here’s a simple sample of my online profiles that I might want to use across the internet:
-Internet Startup Profile
-Electronic Medical Record Profile
-TV Blog Profile
-Sports Fundraising Profile
-Organization Fundraising Profile
-Personal and Family Profile
-BYU Sports Profile
-Other Sports Profile
-My Technology profile

I could keep going. The point is that just because we’re commenting on a website doesn’t mean that Disqus knows which profile I’m using to comment on that site. Of course, this is why I’ve argued that Disqus needs to create a fast profile switching feature. I never log in to Disqus when I comment, because I’d just have to log out the next time I comment and log back in as a different profile. It’s just easier for me to stay logged out and write in all the data myself (which is a pain).

Fast profile switching by Disqus would help me maintain my various internet profiles and then the data that they provide to sites wouldn’t be tainted with my other profiles. Even Google’s come around on the fact of supporting multiple profiles. Disqus and other online sites (I’m looking at you WordPress.com) should too!

The Effect of Making Money Blogging

November 24th, 2010

Blogging is absolutely fantastic. It has opened up so many doors for me to do cool things. Not to mention, it’s liberated me from working for someone else. I can’t tell you how fantastic that’s been for me and for my family. I love my life.

With that said, it’s important for people to realize how blogging changes over time. Most people start blogging just for fun. That’s how I started. I was just playing around with the blogging software. I had no clue what to publish and I definitely didn’t intend to become a full time blogger.

What makes blogging so much fun? There are a ton of reasons. One of the best is that it’s therapeutic and incredibly satisfying to produce some content. Not to mention, it’s pretty cool to think that you could make some money blogging. Whether you actually make much or not doesn’t change the fact that the dream of making money is awesome too.

Blogging is also a great way to show your knowledge and expertise. Plus, you get a great chance to learn from other people. If you get involved with one of the various community of bloggers, it’s amazing how cool it is to be apart of a community. It’s incredibly satisfying.

Once you start getting some readers of the content you created, the blogging satisfaction REALLY kicks in. Seeing a spike in traffic to your blog is an absolutely fantastic sensation. In fact, 5 years into blogging and it’s still satisfying. It’s like an adrenaline rush. Don’t ask me why it is this way. It just is.

At some point if your blog becomes popular, you’re going to have opportunities to make money blogging. In my case, I had people emailing me about advertising on the site. I hadn’t really considered the idea, and so I just pulled some number out of my hat and told them I’d be happy to have them advertise. I must admit that’s pretty cool. Think about it. You’re now getting paid to do something you were already doing for free. That’s not half bad.

The challenge comes when you continue to grow your blogs and start making a bunch of money. I’m talking about when you start relying on that income for all or part of your livelihood. Once this happens, your outlook on blogging changes. I think that Brad Feld described it well in his blog post about his Paid Content Experiment.

His first point really hit home for me, “Strange Pressure to Produce”

It’s hard to describe why this happens, but I tell you it does. My situation is a bit different from his. He had readers pay for content. In my case, it’s my advertisers that expect me to produce a great product. My product is the great content on my blogs. Not to mention that they likely expect consistent great content.

The difference from those first advertisers is that if they advertisers chose not to renew, it didn’t matter because I wasn’t necessarily relying on that income. Even my PPC ads aren’t as big a deal. If I don’t do as much I don’t make as much from my PPC ads (although even that has some pressure if I start relying on it too much). However, with advertisers paying you each month there’s a self imposed expectation that your blogs will continue to deliver what they’re paying you for.

Honestly, I might be making it sound like more than it is. I have confidence in my ability to deliver great content consistently. Plus, it’s pretty satisfying when traffic and what you provide advertisers continues to grow. Not to mention the incredible satisfaction you get when an advertiser on your site continues to renew month after month.

The only problem when this happens is that then you’ll slowly get more and more advertisers. Yes, the more advertisers you get, the more pressure there is to deliver a great product and thus the cycle goes. I guess this is why it’s so important to try and diversify your revenue streams as much as possible. That helps at least partially alleviate the pressure. My other goal is to reach 150% of our “family burn rate.” Having that extra 50% I imagine will really provide that extra leeway in case something happens with your blog revenue. Not to mention then we can start saving more and more for those rainy days as well.

I’m not writing this as a sort of “pity me.” Like I said at the beginning blogging full time is GREAT! I love it and I can’t imagine not blogging. I’m just hoping to share how blogging changes as you start to make and rely on the money your blog makes.

I think that’s also why I blog on this site. I’m not trying to make money on this blog. So, I can enjoy blogging the same way I did when I first started.

Can Blogging Be Entrepreneurship?

November 16th, 2010

I debated for quite a while how I would describe myself on my LinkedIn profile. I have a hard time describing what I do and who I am since I just do so many different things.

I finally ended up with the description of “Full time internet entrepreneur and blogger.” I think that kind of describes the two sides of what I do. Certainly there’s a lot of nuances in each of those things and I have some really specific niches, but that kind of describes what I do for a living.

Recently I’ve been thinking about the idea of whether blogging could really become entrepreneurship. I should first clarify that I think there’s a difference between a entrepreneurship and small business. Entreprenuership is about building a business that can scale. Small business is about doing a job that will provide for your family. With this definition of terms in place, I must admit that I’m stuck wondering if blogging can really become entrepreneurship or if it’s generally destined to just be a small business (ie. Can’t scale. Feeds the family, but you have to keep doing it forever).

The first question that I think must be asked is whether blogging can really be scaled. There are certainly examples where blogs have been scaled up nicely. Techcrunch scaled nicely and had what I’m guessing was a lucrative exit to AOL. I think it’s fair enough to say that blogs like Huffington Post have been able to scale in amazing ways.

I guess the question is whether there are smaller blogs that can scale beyond small business. For every Techcrunch and Huffington Post, there are a dozen Scoble’s and Dooce’s that are both incredibly successful bloggers and I’m sure they make a good living blogging. However, they have such unique voices that without them their blogs really don’t exist. So, they’ll have to keep doing it for a long time it seems. That’s small business and not entrepreneurship (from what I can tell).

Of course, I’m guessing that Scoble and others would argue that it really doesn’t need to scale. If he wanted to scale it, he’d choose to do something different to make it scale. He loves blogging and if he chose to scale it up it would take all the fun out of what he does on his blog. Plus, the end goal isn’t always about money. He makes good (probably even great) money doing something he loves. Why would he ever want to scale it?

Although, I think that deep down most people want to see more traffic to their site and find more ways to monetize the site.

One simple example for me. When I started my EMR and HIPAA blog, I worked really hard to drive as much traffic as possible to the site. After about 6 months and quite a bit of effort, I reached what I thought was the max traffic I could reasonably obtain for that blog: about 1000 pageviews per day. I reasoned that maybe that’s all of the people that were interested in such a narrow niche.

Long story short, Obama announced something called the ARRA EMR Stimulus money (Translation: $18+ billion for EMR). I read about it early and blogged about it early. That’s now paid off in spades as I’ve been able to grow my traffic to 5-7k pageviews a day.

Point being that I was able to scale that blog even though I originally thought that I couldn’t scale it anymore. It did take some outside circumstances to help the situation. Although, it’s also taken quite a bit of effort to maintain and even increase the traffic now that I have it.

The question I’m asking myself now is what else can be done to really take my blogs to the next level? Is it possible to scale blogs into true entrepeneurship?

I’ve also just started some talks with a company that is possibly interested in acquiring one of my blogs. The results of those discussions will hopefully shed some interesting light on that aspect of blogs and entrepreneurship as well. Certainly it’s nice to have a cash cow blog/website that just generates cash for you. That’s small business (a really nice small business, but still small business). Entrepeneurship requires an exit of some sort. I’m not sure what exits are available for a blog.

New Google Adsense Interface

November 10th, 2010

Today when I logged into Google Adsense, I was prompted about a new Google Adsense interface. Since I probably log into Google Adsense as much as any other website I use (except my email) I definitely wanted to try out the new Google Adsense interface. I love the data around ads as much as views to my site. I am a stats addict after all.

Let’s just say that I was pretty disappointed by the new Google Adsense interface. It had a couple nice features like graphs of your earning over time. However, they took out some of the most useful features from the old interface. What a mistake!!

I did report them as bugs and asked them to replace them.

The two biggest problems for me was:

1. They got rid of all the channel data reports from the main page of Google Adsense. This probably doesn’t matter if you have one website with one channel (which should never happen). I have my Google Ads spread across a dozen or more sites. So, the total for the day is interesting, but it’s more interesting to see which channels are earning the most money.

2. It defaults to my earnings to the last seven days. A few years ago I remember the Google Adsense blog talking about how often people logged in. I can’t remember the exact stat, but it was multiple times per day. If that’s the case (and I attest to you that it is), then why would you default to 7 days? I want to see what happened today. That’s why I log in 5 times a day (or something like that). If they had an IV where I could just automatically pump that information into me, I’d use that. Seeing the number is like a drug. Even if some people want 7 days, they could still let me change my preference to have it just show today.

As such I decided to return back to the old Google Adsense interface. I might go back to the new one on occasion. Now if they could just get the tie in with my Google Analytics account to work with multiple analytics accounts within the same Google Account (or a way to merge analytics accounts) I’d be much happier.

When I browsed the new interface I saw that I first started using Google Adsense back 7 years ago. It’s kind of crazy to think that I’ve been using it that long. I recently saw that Google is planning to give $1000 holiday bonuses and 10% raises to its employees. How about Google give us a 10% raise on our Google Adsense earnings? Or a $1000 holiday bonus? I’m not an employee of Google, but sometimes I kind of feel like one.

WordPress Contact Form 7 Plugin – Special Mail Tags

November 4th, 2010

I’m a big fan of the Contact Form 7 Plugin for WordPress. I’ve used some of the other form plugins for WordPress including the behemoth CForms, but I quickly turned back to the Contact Form 7 plugin. There’s something about just being a Contact Form that I like. I don’t usually need all the bells and whistles. I just want a contact form that will send me info.

Plus, I’ve been finding out that Contact Form 7 can actually do more than I even realized. One example of this is the Special Mail Tags. Basically, it’s a bunch of extra information you can include in the email you receive from your contact form.

I personally use the [_url] which sends me the “This tag will be replaced by the URL of the contact form.” This way I can track my landing pages based on the URL that someone used to fill out the form. It’s a great way for me to know which of my various ad campaigns is working the best.

I love small little tweaks like this that are very powerful. Plus, it’s what I love about the simple, but flexible WordPress plugins like Contact Form 7.

Open Source Gift Registry

October 27th, 2010

Seems like people are starting to talk about Christmas already. I know I’ve started thinking about it a bit. Man I love this time of year. All the Holidays right in a row.

Anyway, many people struggle with the challenge of having a list of things that they’d like for Christmas, but then you don’t know if multiple people are going to buy you the same thing. That’s right, then you get 2 of the same thing and 1 person sometimes feels bad if their gift is a lesser model than the other one.

Today I found an open source project that tries to solve this problem. It’s called PHP Gift Registry. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think I’m going to give it a try. Could be interesting to see how it goes.

Basically, you can make a list of things that you’d like (which I like since I always forget things that I want so I need to make a list when I think of them). Then, people can either Reserve or Purchase an item on the list. However, the person that created the list can’t see who else bought it. Only other people can see that info. Pretty slick.

Of course, the entrepreneur in me wondered why we hadn’t seen this type of software out there in mass where people could use it and not have to have the skills to host it themselves. Plus, the affiliate sales you could make from a list like this would be awesome. Not to mention the marketing data that you’d have at your fingertips. If done right, this could do really well.

Personally though, I’d probably want to convert it to a BuddyPress plugin so that then you’d get all the social elements of it. Plus, you could use the invite plugins to make the thing grow virally. Seems like a great extension of the BuddyPress Group API to me.

From Hobby to Full Time Blogger: Lessons Learned from 5 Years of Blogging

October 23rd, 2010

Today I did a presentation at Las Vegas WordCamp called “From Hobby to Full Time Blogger: Lessons Learned from 5 Years of Blogging.” Looking at people’s comments on Twitter, it seems like people generally liked my presentation. I’m not sure how much you will get from the slides below, because as one person mentioned on Twitter: I do presentations the right way where the slides just hit the main points. I don’t ever just read the slides off to people. Either way, check it out. I had a lot of fun presenting my story.

User Experience Design

October 16th, 2010

I just got finished reading this article about user experience design and what should and shouldn’t be the claims of someone who does user experience design. It’s a fascinating read for anyone that is working to design webpages.

When I tell people that I work on websites for a living, it’s regularly followed with some referral to someone who wants a website created. It always makes me laugh a little inside. I really don’t like doing websites for other people. I’ve occasionally done them, but they’re definitely the exception and not the rule. What’s funny is that most people don’t realize the different ways to make money on the internet.

So, yes, I am a web designer and I do create websites, but I mostly like to create my own websites. Why? That sounds like a good future post. I’ll save it for then. Although, one aspect of that answer has to do with user experience design.

To create a usable website it’s not a one time shot. Unfortunately, far too many people make this mistake. The key to building a usable website and one that becomes very popular is to constantly be building, modifying, tweaking, adding, improving, etc etc etc the website. Plus, all of these changes and additions are done as you fanatically evaluate the results of the changes you made.

Notice the use of the terms fanatic and constant. If I’m working on someone else’s website, it’s MUCH MUCH harder to be fanatic about their project and constantly changing what needs to be changed. However, I’m in love with my own projects and so the hours just pass and I barely realize where they’ve gone. This passion and love of the work is what makes for a great user experience design.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other people that can work on other people’s projects and enjoy it. There are people out there. However, the best user experience designers are the ones that are completely passionate about a project. If there’s no passion, you might as well go outsource a freelance web designer on eLance to create you a website. They’re great (and inexpensive) at creating websites, but it takes real passion to create a meaningful user experience.

Gmail Canned Responses and Email Signatures

October 14th, 2010

UPDATE: Now Gmail (or Google Apps) will do a signature on a per email basis. So, if you get an email to your account john@xyz.com you can have one signature and another one for john@lmn.com. Even better than the Canned Response solution below.

I’d been looking for a way to have a regular signature for my google apps (basically gmail) email accounts. See, the thing is that I have a dozen or so domains all going to one email address. So, I respond from all of my various personalities (or maybe I should call them online profiles) from one account.

Gmail recently launched an email signature feature that would be specific to the domain that I’m emailing with. I was really excited about this, but I hated the way it was implemented. First, I don’t ALWAYS want the email signature to be there. Sometimes I just want to have my name. It’s far too formal to have the full signature for some of my emails. Second, I hated how the email signature was at the very bottom of the email. I wanted the email at the end of what I wrote instead of being after the long list of “quoted” reply messages that might be there.

Third, It added a — before the signature. I didn’t like that. Mostly because I like to have it say Thanks, before my signature. Although, I don’t want the signature to add that. I have this quirk that I like to add the Thanks, myself to the signature. I see it as my little reminder to be thankful for the people involved in my life. Plus, sometimes Thanks doesn’t make sense.

For a little while I’d been using the signature and I’d go to the bottom and copy and paste the signature up to where I like it. You can imagine how painful that is.

Today for some reason it just clicked. There was something I’d seen before, but never used called “Canned Responses.” I’d considered using them for some responses to comments on my blog that I seem to write too much. However, I realized that Canned Responses is the type of email signatures I really want.

I created a number of email signatures and Canned Responses works just the way I want. It only adds the signature if I choose the Canned Response and it adds it in the location that I want it added. Why didn’t I think of it earlier. Sweet!