Aaron Brazell

Grow Where You're Planted

My offline friends will tell you how much I hate where I live. I moved here to Baltimore as a preteen with my parents and aside from a 4 year stint galavanting around New York State, including 2 years in NYC, I’ve lived in the Baltimore area since. I graduated from high school here. I got married here. We had our son here. I’ve developed my career here.

For better or for worse, Baltimore is home. I can point out The Wire locations. I could give you a photo tour of Hamden, Federal Hill and Catonsville. I can introduce you to “the best crabcakes in Baltimore.”

Historically, though, I hate it here.

In recent years, I’ve considered relocating to Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto, New York, Boston – anywhere would be better than good old Bmore.

The last move consideration was to Toronto where my employer, b5media is located. For whatever reason, I decided that wasn’t a great move for us. And so, we stayed in Baltimore. At that time, I decided that I was going to grow where I was planted. I’m in Baltimore, so I’m going to make the most of the opportunity to flourish here.

So, I began interacting with likeminded people here. (I did expand here to include Washington, D.C. since – it’s really the same place with only a 45 minute drive between us. I began attending as many social media events as I could. In Baltimore, I met , Greg Cangialosi, Steve Fisher, Greg Gershmann and more. (Some of these guys I’ve known for awhile). In D.C., I met Shashi and Shana, Rana and Eric, Jeff, Jonny, Jim and many many more.

Last night, at DC Media Makers I looked around the room (and the subsequent compulsory after-event at Capital City Brewing Company) at 30+ passionate people from very different background and very different lifestyles (Scott Stead comes from CNN, Stowe Boyd has a respectability aura all of his own, Chris Penn dropped in from Boston) and thought – how cool is this scene? Besides Boston, I don’t know of any single social media community that is well defined, interesting and really family-like as the Maryland-DC-Northern Virginia tech community. It’s actually sort of unreal, if I’m honest.

As I made the drive home from DC back to Baltimore, the phrase “Grow Where You’re Planted” kept turning over in my mind. You may not particularly like where you’re at, but you can make a difference in the community that you find yourself in. My take away for the weekend is that, as social media types, you should be doing everything in your power to get out of yourself and help the community grow.

I’m not sure that I have done anything particularly special for this community, but I know that I would rather invest myself in this community than in any other regional community anywhere else in the world.

Aaron Brazell

The Value of Personal Brand to a Business

So you just graduated from communications school. You have your business degree in public relations, or you might be a marketing major, etc. You hit the ground running with an offer from several companies looking for “young, eager professionals with a communications degree” to “engage customers with social media tools”.

Let’s cut to the chase. They want to hire a social media evangelist or a social media PR goon.

You start your job and begin to hit all the usual spots. You setup Facebook groups and fan clubs. You get a Twitter account going. You start adding bunches of people to your LinkedIn network. You make sure the company has a blog. You do all the standard things to get going.

Then something surprising happens. Nothing. Yeah, that’s right. Nothing. You end up following 1500 Twitter people and 30 of them follow you in return. This causes other people to look at friend/follower ratios and determine that you’re not “worth it” to follow.

Been there?

Your Facebook groups never get traction and the invitation to join them are ignored by people who get 30 or more invitations to something or other on Facebook and only have enough time to click “Ignore” on all of them.

Starting to sound familiar?

Your LinkedIn profile gets 300 connections – friends of friends, generally. When it comes down to hiring that marketing analyst, no one responds to your questions soliciting leads.

I know I’m talking to someone.

So what am I getting at? Networking and Personal Brand are the most important thing you can bring to a company. It’s more important than that communications degree. It’s more important than your years of experience, if that is the case. It’s more important than the company you work for.

Picture this. You’re at SXSW and you have not taken the time to cultivate your personal brand, it doesn’t matter if you are a CTO, CEO or a marketing intern – no one is coming up to you and talking to you. However, if you’ve taken the time to be a “known entity” – you blog and get a critical mass of readers, you are present and visible in the social media community or otherwise – your position, title, rank, and degree becomes irrelevant. You have a magnetism that attracts people to you. Magically.

Now, you are an asset to your company. You have people wanting to know about what your company is about? What do you do? Why do you do it? Can I get some advice?

On the flip side, companies have to understand this and not feel threatened. I’ve talked about my friend Shashi before and he is a great example of someone who has a tremendous personal brand that benefits his employer, Network Solutions. They had to give him the space to have a brand outside of his company, but the moment he became their Social Media Swami, they began seeing benefits – some more tangible than others.

Aaron Brazell

Spanish Content in English Feed

Apologies to my english speaking feed readers who have noticed that Spanish content has been leaking into the feed. I had it worked out that that would not happen but at some point, the content began leaking in. I’m on it like espresso beans on decaf (ok, really bad analogy there). Thanks for your patience as we might have a few posts leak in still while I work out why my rules aren’t working anymore.

Disculpas a mis lectores hispanoparlantes por el contenido en inglés que se ha estado colando dentro del feed. Lo tenía funcionando correctamente pero en algún momento los filtros dejaron de separar este contenido del feed en español. Tengan la certeza que estoy trabajando lo más rápido posible para corregirlo. Es posible que uno que otro artículo en inglés se cuele dentro del feed en español mientras averiguo por qué los filtros no están funcionando. Gracias por su paciencia.

Aaron Brazell


protagonize.jpgFor quite some time, I’ve dreamed of starting an historical fiction blog. I’ve toyed with this idea as I think it would be a fantastic experiment in social media. In my eyes, the blog would be written by a World War II Army soldier, and would be dated and conveyed as such.

This morning, I discovered Protagonize, a community-driven, collaborative fiction writing service that just recently launched. I’m late to the game, however, but better late than never.

Protagonize is one of those ideas that slaps you in the face and asks, Why didn’t I think of that?

The concept is community-driven, collaboration on works of fiction. As a social media kind of guy, anything having to do with “community-driven” or “collaboration” is going to end up on my radar (again, late, but it appeared). It’s just the way I roll.

In this case, Protagonize resounds with me because now I can write my story, but I can let you add to it, provide your own missing pieces, and, well, collaborate. I’ve begun a new story, Afrika, which begins by introducing Johan “Joey” Friedrichson, a German-American U.S. Army officer in World War II who is in deep cover in Rommel’s Afrika Corps trying to collect intelligence on Rommel’s plans. We are briefly told about his wife, Michelle, who has yet to have a picture painted. Why don’t you add that part? Or help us figure out what Joey’s plans are next? The story is wide open.

Aaron Brazell

Age of Exploration 500 Years Later

In 1519, an explorer by the name of Ferdinand Magellan began a journey that would be the first of it’s kind. He would lead an expedition that would circle the globe for the first time. It would cost him his Portuguese citizenship, 219 crew members, 4 ships and even his own life. In the process, his expedition would sail through the southern tip of South America, Guam, the Philippines and throughout the Far East. It would be the first trip of its kind.

In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark embarked on horseback from the small port town of St. Louis and headed west to explore the great unknown chunk of land gained from Napoleonic France in the controversial “Louisiana Purchase”. The Louisiana Purchase forgave millions of dollars in French debt as well as provided the critical port city of New Orleans to the United States. However, the territory came with millions of acres of unexplored land.

Notably, after two years of exploration along the Missouri River basin and eventually finding the Pacific Ocean, they returned bringing information and intelligence about the Natives they met and territory they explored. Further exploration would happen in subsequent years cementing the western territories as part of U.S. culture and history.

One hundred-fifty years later, in 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced to Congress that he wanted the U.S. to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, an ambitious goal that was itself controversial. As history tells us, Neil Armstrong became the first man to lay foot on the moon on July 16, 1969 stating that, “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Amazingly, we continue to explore in our innovation. Obviously, I’m one of these geeks that gets into all the new tools and gadgets that some new entrepreneur comes up with but not everybody is. The other night, I spoke at Social Media Club DC and I compared today’s internet with the internet of 10 years ago. Ten years ago, realtime online communication carried a connotation of creepy stalker-like chats on AOL. Today, we have real time communication instantly in so many forms and on so many platforms that the lines blur.

And we don’t really think twice about it.

When I think about the explorers who have gone before us, I see that they explored and discovered and brought something back for the rest of us. Magellan told us about peoples and nations and geography that we did not know existed before. Lewis & Clark showed us just how big the United States really is. Armstrong brought space, the final frontier, to us. Everyone of these explorers added something back to society through their discoveries.

Then they all came back (Well, except Magellan who died en route to coming back). Consolidation took place.

Today we are in another innovative age. I’m proud of my friend (disclaimer: he’s also done contract work for b5media) Keith Casey. When I met him several years ago, he was a die hard developer. He mocked me for using Twitter and now uses it religiously. Today, he is the CTO for WhyGoSolo an upstart company that suddenly has the eyes of the world on them. I feel like I watched somebody grow up in front of me (Keith, no offense, man. You were grown up already)

At this point, I’m thinking some consolidation takes place. Sure there’s the economic consolidation (recession) that people like to talk to. But I think I see consolidation being more of a maturation of what we have. “Now the Moon has been walked on, let’s build a Shuttle and put satellites up there.”

At least that’s me.

Aaron Brazell

The Problem Microsoft Created: Mac Office 2008

msofficemac.pngAbout a year and a half ago, I made the switch to Mac and I have not looked back. To this day, I feel confused when I go into Windows (XP or Vista) even though I used to support XP for Northrop Grumman.

When I made the switch, I was very much used to Office 2003 (I was coming from a Windows world!) so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Mac Office 2004 was included on my new Macbook Pro. I used the 30 day free trial and then bought a full license. However, I got frustrated after a bit by the sluggishness and the prone nature of Office 2004 to crash.

For those of you following along at home, this was because Office 2004 was never redone for Intel processors (or as we in Intel Mac world like to say, there was no Universal binary). It was built for the old PowerPC architecture and so the underlying code was not optimized for zippier, more threaded architecture. Yes, I know I’m getting geeky here.

So anyway, I went out and bought iWork ’06. I switched to native Apple apps all around. Instead of Entourage (Outlook for you Window users!) for calendaring, contact management and Email – I switched to Mail.app, Address Book, and iCal. Instead of Microsoft Word, I used Pages. Instead of Powerpoint, I used KEynote. The only thing I was missing was an Excel replacement – so I kept Office Mac 2004 around. In fact, at that point, I would have still bought Microsoft Office simply because I needed Excel.

That all changed in iWork ’08. Numbers was added giving me a full featured spreadsheet. Keynote got better. Pages rocked. There was no reason to use Microsoft Office anymore. So I didn’t. I uninstalled (Read: I just dragged it to the trash can. Forget about the Add/Remove programs nonsense).

Now the difference between iWork and MS Office is minimal for most users. It’s not a lightweight poser. The apps are full featured and is compatible with MS Office. Office probably still offers additional perks that iWork doesn’t have. It’s always had way more features than anybody else.

Now, Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac is out and it really does look good. The problem is there is no free demo. Since I bought Office 2004, I am eligible for the upgrade price of $239.95.

Here’s the problem. iWork ’08 costs $79. I own iWork ’08. For me, buying it was a no-brainer. But assume for a moment that I did not own it. I could try it out. Apple offers a 30 day free trial of iWork ’08. Microsoft trial of Microsoft Office 2008. Nah, sucka!

Which is odd.

Because Microsoft still offers a free trial of Office 2007 for Windows, it does not seem to be decision of corporate intent. It just seems that the Mactopia people are tone deaf.

If the MBU people at Microsoft were smart, they would recognize that NOT offering a 30-60 day trial of their product is tantamount to Product suicide. Hey, your main competitor is giving their product away for 30 days and the total cost of ownership is $79. Microsoft Office is way more expensive and, let’s face it, more Mac users are inclined to use Apple products than Microsoft so they should be doing whatever they can to get crossover customers.

Aaron Brazell

Thank You, Social Media Club DC

This evening’s event. Enjoy and thank you everyone who viewed live and came out to Viget Labs for Social Media Club.

The slide deck can be viewed in the video. Enjoy and thank you.

Update: Here’s the slide deck. Though the ideas are free for anyone to use, the presentation itself is is not open source. It is for personal use, non-commercial use only.

Update 2: Lots of problems getting this slide deck into an accessible format. YouTube seems to work best.

Aaron Brazell

The Official Unofficial SXSW Playlist

I know there’s probably only one of you that remembers back when I was doing custom playlists on request.

Those were the days. I should revive that game.

At any rate, a lot of geeks like myself are heading down to Austin next month for SXSW Interactive, possibly the Mecca of all web conferences. In the spirit of the event being in Austin (you never have to go far for great Texas blues with absolutely no cover charge) and in true social networking fashion, I asked people on Twitter today to name a single song that would be their theme song for SXSW. They could only choose one song. I’ve compiled this into a playlist for you.

  1. Simple Man – Lynryd Skynrd
  2. I Turn My Camera On – Spoon
  3. Parent’s Just Don’t Understand – Fresh Prince
  4. Party Up – DMX
  5. Guitars and Video Games – Sunny Day Real Estate
  6. I Feel it All – Feist
  7. You Won’t See Me – The Beatles

As a bonus, here are some tracks I would add:

  1. Video Killed the Radio Star – Amber Pacific/Punk Goes 80s
  2. Fake Tales of San Francisco – Arctic Monkeys
  3. Lights and Sounds – Yellowcard
  4. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John
  5. In God’s Country – U2
  6. Every Night’s Another Story – The Early November

What are your theme songs for SXSW? :-)

Aaron Brazell

Video Questions for Social Media Club DC

Thursday night, I’m going to be speaking at Social Media Club DC. If you’re in the area, I’d love to have you come by. It’s at Viget Labs in Falls Church, Virginia and you should RSVP to Larissa Faire by Tuesday if you plan on attending. It is BYOB – Bring Your Own Beverage (non alcoholic, if I recall). More details here.

The name of the talk is Blog Draft Day: Making it into the Bigs, and I’ll be talking about some of the things bloggers encounter when trying to break out of the “long tail”. Specifically, my talk will be around marketing, message and brand and I’ll be sharing some of my own thoughts as a blogger who has enjoyed reasonable success. I’ll also be sharing some of the things I’ve learned at b5media working with bloggers who have encountered their own success.

One of the things I really want to engage is questions from both the audience as well as those of you who can’t make it to the event in person. Because of the good folks at Viddler, you can send your videos which I will try to share at SMC, via comments right here on this blog. Click on the “Record or choose a video?” link in the comments section and you can record your video right there and it will post as a comment. Simple as that. No special knowledge, or gear. As long as your computer has a webcam, then the hard part is taken care of for you.

Give it a try. It can’t hurt.

(Now to test out the ustream embed for Technosailor TV)

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Los Curadores de Contenido

El volumen de información que debemos procesar aumenta cada día. Cada nuevo paquete de contenido que consumimos parece abrir las puertas a cientos de paquetes adicionales. La sobrecarga de información se ha vuelto un problema tan grande que muchas veces paraliza nuestra productividad.

Recientement, Steve Rubel (Micro Persuasion: The Digital Curator in Your Future) y Valeria Maltoni (Conversation Agent: Do We Need Editors in New Media) han retomado un tema que toqué en el 2006 (RED66: Where are the Editors?): la necesidad de editores o curadores de contenido que funcionen como un filtro que regule la cantidad y calidad del contenido que consumimos.

Actualmente podemos crear Agentes de Búsqueda (e.g., Google Alerts) para estar al tanto de cualquier información relacionada a un tema de nuestro interés. El problema está en que estos agentes no tienen todavía la capacidad de decidir cual contenido vale la pena y cual debe ir a la basura. Hace falta un agente de búsqueda con criterio suficiente para decidir cual contenido enviarnos. (una opción sería construir un Agente de Búsqueda que utilice información previamente curada, como por ejemplo la que está en Del.icio.us).

Yahoo!, Altavista, Google, entre otros, fueron los primeros agentes de búsqueda de internet, permitiéndonos encontrar información que de otro modo nunca hubieramos visto. Google aplicó su algoritmo de PageRank para entregarnos resultados más relevantes. Pero es tanta la información disponible en Internet que estos sistemas de búsqueda nos devuelven demasiada información, mucha de ella irrelevante o de poca importancia. PageRank no es necesariamente la mejor forma de categorizar información.

Servicios como Mahalo, StumpleUpon, Del.icio.us y hasta Digg nos permiten buscar información previamente filtrada y organizada por otros. Los usuarios de estos servicios actúan como curadores de la información, decidiendo qué vale la pena ver – de la misma forma que el curador de un museo decide cuales obras de arte exhibir (y al igual que en el museo, a veces nos preguntamos cómo un artículo en particular fue escogido para la colección).

Pero todavía prefiero servicios como Twitter, que me permiten escoger mis conexiones (mis fuentes de información) y aprender de sus recomendaciones. Siguiendo las conversaciones de mis contactos en Twitter consigo más contactos y aprendo quiénes ofrecen contenido relevante. Sin embargo, Twitter requiere mi atención constante (es lo que podríamos llamar un “torrente de distracción permanente”); me hace falta un agente de búsqueda que condense lo que llega a mi Twitter y me informe regularmente al respecto.

Y tu, ¿cómo consumes información? ¿Tienes alguna herramienta secreta que te permite estar al día? ¿O te estás ahogando en un mar de información banal? Cuéntanos tu experiencia usando el formulario de comentarios.

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