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It was heartbreaking to learn that Google is killing off Google Reader.  I thought I didn’t have any emotional attachments to products and apps, but the death of Google Reader news proved otherwise.  I had no problem selling my first car. Didn’t shed a tear. I had no problem getting rid of my mobile devices. Couldn’t wait to switch. But hearing of imminent demise of Google reader evoked surprisingly strong emotions.

google reader shuttting down

Just as blogging was taking off in mid-2000s I needed a good way to keep stay updated. Google Reader was the answer. It was clean, simple; and it just worked.  I’ve tried other services at that time but nothing was comparable.  As with many Google products I stuck with it and never looked for an alternative. Until now.

Google Reader became part of my routine. It was the first thing I’d look through at 5am, and last browser window I’d shut down before bed time.  It was engrained into my daily life. Which is why I was so disappointed to hear the news. So, now I have to find an alternative.

Many people argue that you can get your news through multiple sources, primarily focusing on social networks.  Where news is already aggregated, shared and voted up by your networks and circles.  I don’t want my networks to influence what I see in my newsfeed.  By the time I see it, it might be too late. I want control over what gets pushed into my stream.

Also, RSS is built into all news sources and blogs I subscribe to. I know that if I do subscribe to the RSS feed I am guaranteed to get published content in my reader immediately.  Getting my news from social networks won’t work because the content doesn’t get pushed through it consistently. And when it does, it’s cluttered with editor’s tweets and opinions and replies to their audience.

Lastly, certain pieces of content take up too much of a browser real-estate. The only app that can get away with this is Flipboard. There’s no scrolling down the page, just quick flipping to the next article. Essentially, I want my RSS stream to be clutter-free and published with reliable consistency.

Time to look for good Google Reader alternatives.

So, what would be considered a good alternative?

  • First and foremost, I should be able to import my existing Google Reader data. If a new service is unable to do that I won’t go past this crucial step.
  • The new RSS reader should have a familiar look and feel. I want all the headlines listed on one screen. Clean and clutter-free.
  • Show me the data. I’d want to see some stats on my content consumption.
  • Ability to share content across social networks.
  • Ability to ‘star’ or mark as favourite for reading later or reference purposes.
  • Ability to access the feed on various devices
  • Free or minimum ad-support.
  • Finally, can I quickly love it and incorporate it into my daily routine?

As soon as the news of Google Reader’s inevitable demise hit the interwebs, articles about best alternatives started popping up like weeds.

After reviewing the articles, I decided to test out just a handful of most commonly recommended RSS Readers for myself and see which one would be best suited for my needs.

The three readers that dominate RSS reader lists are NewsBlur, The Old Reader and Feedly.  Between these three there’s no contest. Feedly takes the cake. NewsBlur wanted my credit card upfront before letting me test drive the app

newsblur payment screen

Apparently they can’t handle the demand, or is this milking unsuspecting ex-users of Google Reader? However, I was able to click back then hit forward again to gain access to my imported feed. The design looked horrible. Too cluttered. And frames; what is this 1996?

newsblur frames

I didn’t even get a chance to try The Old Reader. It’s been about 3 days now, and still no ETA on when my feed would be imported. Very disappointing.

the old reader

I started using Feedly right of way. Works great on the desktop, iPad, iPhone and other iGizmos and Droids.  Imported my feed instantly. No hick ups. I was hooked by the clean and beautiful layout options, similar look and feel of Google Reader, and tons of sharing options. This is what I always wanted the Google Reader to be.

feedly welcome screen

feedly rss feed

Feedly meets all my requirements I listed earlier. Except one. It doesn’t provide stats on my content consumption. But I can live without it.

With this post it wasn’t my intention to review any apps. My goal was to explore various alternatives to Google Reader.  Feedly comes up as the top recommendation on many lists.  Other RSS readers don’t even come close. Bottom line is, Feedly is in a league of its own and it’s the best alternative to Google Reader out there.

Not so long ago, infographics were somewhat of a rarity. An art form in itself, was a domain of skilled graphic designers, data miners and story tellers. However, with help from social networks such as Pinterest, infographics have recently enjoyed tremendous gains in popularity.

This rise in popularity also gave birth to speciality apps, production houses and graphics designers that specialize on creating infographics. But what if you don’t have the time or the budget to create your own infographic? In that case, use someone else’s infographic.

Don’t Steal

If you’re going to use someone else’s infographic, please don’t steal it and claim it as your own work. You must still follow proper etiquette and creator’s rules when reposting the work on your own online properties. For starters, if you find a infographic that you’re permitted to use on your own site use the source embed code, if available. The embed code is usually found at the bottom of the post. If no source code is available make sure you link the graphic back to the original post. A good practice is to also provide a text credit with a link to the source infographic.

When in Doubt, Just Ask

If you’re not sure if you are permitted to republish the infographic on your site, just ask.  Most people will hardly ever say no. But do expect some guidelines.

Best Practices

Now that you got an infographic, what do you do with it? Just post it on your site? And what do you hope to accomplish with that? If you’re just going to post without any context behind it, then might as well use Pinterest.

If you found an interesting infographic, share some insights. Tell your readers what you found interesting. How does it relate to your industry, profession or business? Is it something that everything should have a printed copy of on their desk? Or is the infographic completely off-base and you need to debunk all the claims?  Whatever you decide to do, a short write up about the infographic you’re sharing will make your post more meaningful.

To get you started and for some inspiration, check out these posts and how their authors comment on the infographics:

In my earlier post I mentioned I was going to stay off Twitter and facebook to dedicate more time to google+ … Looks like I’ll need more time, because in order to fully take advantage of what google+ offers you need to grow a following and build new relationships.  That doesn’t mean I’ll be staying off Twitter and facebook, it just means my online attention will be divided even more.

However, I hardly spent any time on other social networks through July, but I quickly realized that they were actually useful. Who would have ‘thunk’? For example, the only way for me to get a hold of some people would be via facebook. And when I needed to get answers or feedback quick, Twitter was my go-to-source.  The usefulness of these social networks only occurred to me when I self-imposed limited use of Twitter and facebook through July.

Would you text content to your audience (read: subscribers, customers, vendors, followers, etc.)? I would not, nor would I recommend it.  But Gene Sigalov of Content Marketing Institute does:

You need to shock customers out of their computer screen slumber. You need to generate a buzz… literally (in their pocket). You need to start sending texts.

Think about this for a moment.  What happened the last time you received a promotional message via text message? How did you react?  Unless you explicitly gave permission for a marketer to text you content or promotional material I would bet that you did not appreciate to be interrupted.  To make his case stronger, Mr. Sigalov points out some impressive SMS stats:

While those figures are impressive, the reason why (I believe) people read 90% of texts within 3 minutes is because the arriving message is sent via private communication channel, which is reserved for personal or professional contacts.  Once our phones buzzes, we’re curious to see who it is from, so we pick up the phone right of way.  Furthermore, most of the text messages either start and/or continue a conversation, or a simple status update such as “I’ll be there in 5 mins.”  But whenever I receive a promotional message from my Mobile service provider, I get annoyed that my SMS channel is used for marketing purposes. So I delete it.

Marketing texts boasts high open rates, just like email did in its early days.  But as soon as our SMS channel gets inundated with promotional content and offers, those rates will quickly decline as it did for email.

Lastly, look at the third bullet point: “Texting is the most frequently used channel for personal communications.” Exactly! It’s a personal communication channel.  We expect personal communication from our personal network.  If you want to be part of that network, you need my permission.

The internet was abuzz with a recent episode of Saturday Night Live.  Not only did it feature the return of Lindsay Lohan as host, but the SNL cast also did a hilarious spoof of The Real Housewives of Name Your City, with Disney Princesses, titled The Real Housewives of Disney.

I watched the SNL episode live for the first time in several months and thought it was hilarious.  In the morning I couldn’t wait to share some of the top moments with my fiance, but I couldn’t find the clip of Housewives of Disney.  Results on search engines we’re dominated by links to NBC and other pages that embbeded content from Hulu. But, since I’m in Canada I couldn’t watch it.

housewives of disney clip unavailable

I watched the show live on NBC just eight hours ago, but I couldn’t watch it online?  If this was 3-5 years ago, I would say I was frustrated, but these days if I can’t find the content on official channels, I’ll find it elsewhere.

In this case, I found the clip of Housewives of Disney on GossipCop. And guess what NBC and Hulu? You’ve accomplished nothing by restricting your content to be viewed only in specific regions.  No matter how hard you try to block and prevent people who WANT to consume your content they will find it elsewhere.  They will direct their attention and time to other sources.  They will bookmarks those sites and share them with friends. As visits and page views go up, other sites will reap financial benefits.

We can argue all we want whether other sources and sites such as GossipCop are legitimate or not, but the end user doesn’t care.  The end user WANTS to consume the content.  If you block it, they will find it elsewhere.

P.S.

Here’s the link to SNL clip: The Real Housewives of Disney.

By now, you’ve probably heard all kinds of buzz about Pinterest.  About being the fastest growing social network, its popularity with women, its ability to drive a great deal of referral traffic and their money making secrets.  There’s also a great deal of articles in the blogosphere providing Pinterest tips, tricks and expertise on how to best leverage this fast growing social network.

Pinterest works great for retailers, fashion brands, consumer brands, artists, designers of all kinds and everything in between.  Basically, if your product or service relies on visual presentation to help sell itself, then Pinterest is a great place to build a following and drive traffic to your site. However, if you’re a B2B company selling services that can’t be (read: challenging to be) represented visually you may feel left out.  Don’t fret, many B2B companies can still leverage Pinterest and build a strong community.

Infographics

Infographics are posters created to visually represent data in an interesting way.  As humans we love looking at beautiful things.  Think about it, what do you prefer, looking at boring Excel charts or a well designed Infographic?  (If you’ve never seen an Infographic check out my Infographic Pinboard on Pinterest for some examples.) The answer will always be Infographic. B2B companies collect and have access to all kinds of data.  Either create your own infographics poster or scour the blogosphere for infographics that relate to your industry, market or company.  Create a Pinterest board where you can collect your online infographics posters.

Showcase Company Culture

Got a cool office decor?  Work stations designed for optimal productivity? Staff break room with cool toys?  Showcase it.  You’ve got nothing to lose. You can help inspire others. It also gives you an opportunity to market yourselves to potential candidates.

Motivational Slogans

Do your employees write messages on whiteboards that help them stay motivated?  Why not snap a picture and upload it to Pinterest.  These motivational slogans can also be found on sticky notes and company walls.  Create a board that showcases how your staff keeps its self motivated, productive and on track.

The B2B Marketing objection to joining yet another social network might be, ‘but our customers aren’t on there.’ Of course they are! Who runs the companies you sell to? People. And where are these people? They’re online; discovering, sharing and communicating with other people.

The bottom line is, don’t be put off by Pinterest’s emphasis on visuals. Every company out there can find enough interesting visuals within their organization or online to contribute to and build their own interesting boards on Pinterest.

Step back and out of your role, company and industry.  Not literaly, ofcourse, but take yourself to the time before you joined your current firm.  Before you got involved in the industry you’re in. Before you only heard of the company name but had no idea what they did.  Because it was the only time when you were most bold. Had most ideas. Could imagine how others perceived the company.

The job market has never been more competitive than it is today.  Official Canadian unemployment rate stands at 7.5% (January 2012), American is at 8.5% (December 2011).  There aren’t enough jobs to go around and HR professionals and recruiters are overwhelmed with constant flow of resumes. So, how do you stand out? How do you compete with other candidates?  What do you do when everyone submits the same two page resume, on a 8.5×11 sheet with 10 point Times Roman font? You need to go beyond the resume to land better jobs and beat your competition.

Wall Street Journal recently published an article No More Resumes, Say Some Firms‘ in which author, Rachel Emma Silverman, reported that many firms are looking at other things other than a resume. This has always been true.  Yes, the traditional resume may get you an interview, if it stands out enough, or HR has enough time to read it.  But when you get there, you better be remarkable.  During my last job search, I’ve been asked about things that weren’t on my resume.  Some people didn’t even look at it.   That was nearly 2 years ago, and everyone that I’ve met with during that job search wanted to know what makes me wake up in the morning, how I’m going to solve problems for them and what makes me remarkable.  I was prepared.  I had created enough projects and produced results that I could firmly stand behind. Both in my previous daytime roles and outside of them. I was also involved in a handful of entrepreneurial stints, including my personal training side business.  And I still moonlight as a personal trainer to this day.

Employers don’t have the time to hold your hand.  It’s different now than it was 10 or 20 years ago.  You need to do more than just email resumes all day.

If you wanted to take down the biggest tree in a forest, how would you do it? Steamroll it? Charge at it like a linebacker? Throw a grenade at it?  Or use an axe?  Of course you would say ‘use an axe.’ Taking down a big tree requires patience and hard work.  A great thing about using an axe, is with every swing, you get stronger and better at it.  With every swing you’re closer to your goal.  And the tree will eventually fall.

My mind runs a thousand miles an hour, I have multiple interests, hobbies, ideas and a never ending projects wishlist.  It is very easy to get lost in all that and push old projects an ideas aside to clear the way for the ones. But there are certain things that persist.  No matter how many new ideas come up, some old ideas still make their way up and sit at the back of your mind.  And the only two real reasons why things get pushed back is because there’s no sense of urgency to get them done and perceived the size of the project. But there is a lot of literature on this exact subject on how to get things done, including Scott Belsky’s Action Method, as outlined in his very influential book Making Ideas Happen and David Allen’s GTD Method.  Both are aimed to help you stay organized and productive so that you could get things done and make your ideas happen.  I’ve learned a great deal from both authors, and implemented some of their ideas to my daily routine.  But the best way for me to get big projects done is to chip away at it.

What do I mean by ‘chip away at it’? It’s quite simple, do a little bit every day.  You can’t take down a tree by steam rolling it, charging it or throwing grenades at it; unless you want to cause a lot of damage to the environment, your equipment or hurt yourself. For example, if you wanted to write a book, you’d write 1 page a day for the next year. By the end of the year, you’d have 365 pages.  If you aimed to loose 1 lbs a week, by the end of the year you’d have lost 52 lbs.

Whatever the project is you need to find a manageable way to chip away at it. Do a little everyday, because the time will pass and you’ll reflect on that week, month or year and realize if only you did just a little everyday, you’d have it all done.

Image courtesy of Alexander Gude

There’s no shortage of lists, articles, and blog posts online that aim to help bloggers find new sources of blog topic ideas.  If you’re ideas ever dry up, all you need to do is Google for one these sources for inspiration.  My three favorite sources of blog topics come from things I already do everyday: read blogs, answer questions and makes observations.

Blogs and Comments

Other people’s blogs are great sources of inspiration.  Start by look at the titles, can you adopt it for your own industry? For example, 10 Marketing Predictions for 2012, change that into 10 Fitness Trends for 2012, if you blog about getting fit.  I admit it, that was too easy. But that’s what I wanted to illustrate.  Secondly, read the articles.  Do you agree, disagree, did you learn something? Comment on it.  If you’re going to be leaving a comment anyway, why don’t you just expand it and turn into a post?  You kill two birds with one stone, a new blog post and a comment.  In your comment, it is perfectly ok to notify the article author that you were inspired to write up a full blog post in response.  Be sure to leave a link to your post.

Answer Questions

This has to be one of my favourite ways of getting some ideas down on paper.  I am often asked questions related to marketing, technology, social media and fitness.  When I provide an answer, I actually send myself an email reminding myself to answer this question in the blog post.  I’ve done this a lot on my personal training and fitness blog.  Also, if you spend a lot of time answering questions on sites like LinkedIn Answer, Yahoo Answers and Quora, why not turn your answers into blog posts?  You don’t have to answer questions on there, you can simply browse categories that you’re most knowledgeable about and see the questions people are asking.  Like commenting on blogs, turn questions and your answers into blog posts.

Observe

Look around you.  Do you notice how people use certain products?  Do you notice how people react to different events?  How they interact with others? Turn your observations into blog posts.  For example, if you’re a personal trainer and you notice someone lacking motivation to push through the extra rep, can you write a post on ‘how to get motivated to push through the last rep’?  Of course you can.

The ideas are all around us, all we have to do is be aware of our activities and surroundings; and always be asking, Can I turn this into a blog post?  An answer will almost always be a resounding, YES.