Product Review: HootSuite & OW.LY - Do The Benefits Outweigh The Problems?

One of my favorite things to do is to test out new products.  And, last week, I gave a try at the Twitter tool "HootSuite".  At first glance, I thought this was one of the better Twitter tools out there because there were lots of value added resources available through the product.  But, once I jumped in and started testing it (on an unsuspecting group of followers), well, there were problems that were quickly pointed out to me.
First, a little background:
While having lunch with the other two geeks last week, Lisa mentioned that she was looking at HootSuite, and that she'd heard good things about it, and even folks like Guy Kawasaki were using it to help them Twitter throughout the day.  Although, I'm certainly no Guy Kawasaki, I too, like a good Twitter tool that will help me manage the moderate number of followers and friends I have.  So, I sat down Thursday night and gave it a go.
The Good:
HootSuite has a lot of nice features to help you manage one or more Twitter accounts.
  • Multiple Editors: If you're a Twitter Stud like Guy Kawasaki, you can add additional editors to your HootSuite Login, and still maintain privacy of your own Twitter password.  So, you can have people help feed to your Twitter followers, but still prevent they rouge editor from changing your password and hijacking your account.
  • Share a Business Twitter Account: With Multiple Editors, you can have a "business" Twitter account, and have your employees Tweet information as needed.  So, if your law firm has a Twitter account, you can share the responsibility of Tweeting and answering Tweets among the staff.  Perhaps having one person Tweeting your events and publications, while another answers any replies or Direct Messages you may receive.  Come to think of it, this would work really well for a Politician that has a Twitter account and needs to make sure he or she is on top of everything.
  • Manage Multiple Twitter Accounts: Got a personal and a business Twitter account?  HootSuite allows you to manage all of them in one place.  Switching back and forth, or posting to all of your Tweets via the HootSuite Dashboard.  This is a great convenience if you have ever had to go back and forth from one account to the other.  And, if you've ever accidentally posted a personal tweet on your business account by mistake, this could help save you that embarrassment in the future.
  • Schedule Tweets: I'm constantly finding a lot of good resources out there, but I don't want to necessarily Tweet all of them within a 10 minute period of time.  Or, I find them at 3:00 AM and I want to discuss them with my 10:00 AM Twitter friends (although, I still love all of my Aussie Twitter Mates.)  This also works if you are scheduling an event, and would like to send out periodic Tweets reminding people that the event is coming up.   There are lots of Twitter Elites out there that schedule their Tweets throughout the day.  HootSuite makes it pretty easy to set it up and send it out later.
  • Monitor Who Is Clicking on Your Tweet Links: NOTE:  I'll give the good on this one here, but be warned, there are a lot of folks out there that do not like this part. If you ever wonder if anyone ever really goes to the links you Tweet about, then HootSuite has a way to do that for you.  HootSuite uses "ow.ly" to shorten the URLs, but it also uses it as a monitor for click-thru's and feedback options.  On the surface, this sounds like a great tool.  It is nice being able to see that 83 people clicked on your link to the blog you mentioned.  In addition, people can vote their positive or negative reaction to the link in the OW.LY frame that surrounds the web page you Tweeted about.  So, in a way it is like a mini Google Analytics program for your Tweets.  You can even add your Google Adsense code to your HootSuite account, and generate revenue from your Tweet Links.
  • Save Keyword Searches: Got some key terms you like to search?  Well, HootSuite allows you to save some of those keyword searches and retrieve them at the click of a button.  This is pretty convenient to have included with all the other resources found on HootSuite.
  • Easy To Navigate Dashboard The HootSuite Dashboard is set up with tabs for you "Home", "@Replies", "DM's", etc.  Pretty easy to use, and similar looking to the Twitter.com homepage, so there's not a big learning curve involved.
The Bad:
  • Just Who Am I Tweeting To Anyway?? None of us like to be fooled, or made to believe we are communicating with one person, when in reality, it is someone else.  This goes for the fake Brittney Spears twit, as well as the big personalities on Twitter that use ghost writers to tweet for them.  So, if you are one of those folks that has the money to pay people to Tweet for you, just make sure that people understand that is how you set things up.  
  • The Whole "OW.LY" Thing.... Alright, this is the big one.   I barely got my first test Tweet out on HootSuite when someone called me out for "annoying" if not "illegal" framing of web content.  Now, I confess that I didn't realize what OW.LY was doing until after I had sent out the Tweet, so I was pretty ignorant of the drawbacks of using OW.LY as my URL shrinker.  At first glance, the frame is a little annoying, but also a little useful.  So, I had a nice little discussion with Doug Cornelius about the benefits.  Whereas I thought HootSuite's ability to gather statistics and feedback could be a benefit to the person Tweeting the link --  Doug thought it was something close to the incarnation of Satan himself (okay, I'm being a little over dramatic on Doug's response... but, not that far off!)   After looking at the positives and the negatives, I decided that framing of other people's content really isn't a great idea.  It is annoying for one, and it borders on the unethical for another.  I would ask the folks at HootSuite to give the users of their product an option to use a non-framing version of OW.LY that would still gather the metrics of who did the click-thru, without annoying the hell out of them!! As for the putting Google Adsense code on OW.LY to generate revenue from your Tweets, I'd have to say that would not be something that I would do, or recommend.  Some may argue that people would not have gone to these websites if it were not for your Tweets, but I'd have to say that there seems to be a certain sliminess about that type of revenue generating that I do not like.  
  • Good Lord!!  Are You Always on Twitter??? I mentioned to a friend of mine one day that it seems that people we knew are spending all of their time on Twitter.  He laughed and said, "No.  They only spend half of the day on Twitter.  The other half they are on LinkedIn trying to find more connections." Do I really need a scheduled tweet from you every 15 minutes?  Does the scheduling of Tweets take away from the "social" part of the social network platform?  Eh..  perhaps.  I'd say as long as you don't overdue it, use it.
HootSuite offers a lot of valuable Twitter resources for those of us that like to Tweet a lot or have multiple accounts.  The ability to get metrics out of our Tweets has value too, but we have to be cognizant of the problems that the frame method that OW.LY employs.  At this time, I don't think that framing is the way to go.  Again, if you can get some stats without the frames, that would be an excellent resource.
I still like the overall benefits that HootSuite gives you.  My suggestion would be to try it, but not use it in a way that would annoy or offend those that will see your tweets.
Got comments??  Put them below.  Or, you can follow me on Twitter at @glambert and let me know what you think about HootSuite or any other resource you'd like reviewed.

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Writing for the Web: A Lesson in Writing Small

I spotted a James Carville article in the FT.com op/ed (Daddy, tell me, what exactly is a derivative?) this morning that reminded me of how difficult it is to write for the web.

Carville was writing about Obama's "supposed communication breakdown during the financial crisis." Carville says the failure is not in Obama's ability to communicate but in the complexity of what he is trying to explain.

I can definitely relate.

I will never forget what my grizzly, old editor told me when I was interning for a small newspaper in Orange County, "Honey, you gotta write dumber. Most people can't read above a 4th grade level."

Writing dumb may sound easy, but it is not, especially if you are writing about a complex topic.

Granted, in the legal field, I am generally writing to a more sophisticated audience. But I run into another challenge: time.

My readers do not want to pour over paragraphs of analysis. They want to be able to read my story in less than 30 seconds.

So I have to be able to tell my story in a paragraph. And, no, that does not mean a 10-line paragraph. If you look at my writing, most of my paragraphs are only 1-2 sentences long. And my sentences are very short.

Here's another lesson that I learned from another grizzly old guy: look at your sentence and eliminate every fifth word.

Yeah, it is hard to write small. And just like I pointed out in my SEO post: you have 3-4 seconds to get their attention on the web.

So you better engage them fast!

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Alternative Fees: "How To" do The Budget

Although I see the appeal of the Just Do It crowd, there needs to be some performance metrics when it comes to Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs). And all paths on this subject point to The Budget. So for our next "How To" step towards AFAs, we need to dive in deeper on this subject. The Bottomless Budget The lawyer personality tends to want to eliminate risk (we have mentioned that before here on 3 Geeks). From this perspective, the best budget is the one that takes into account every possible task, the people who will work on it and the number of 6 minute increments each person will apply to these tasks. In a perfect world, this type of budget would be tremendously valuable. Unfortunately, we live here on earth. Besides - this type of budgeting approach allows lawyers to spend all their time analyzing instead of pricing and engaging with clients. In my experience, even when the effort is made to produce a budget like this - it is not a final product. Lawyers will step back (to yet again analyze instead of act) and consider how much resource is going to each task, phase or budget line item. From this larger perspective, it becomes apparent that adjustments must be made. The lawyer knows in his gut that too much resource or not enough is committed to different portions of the budget. So even this "get-down-in-the-weeds" approach to determining a budget and a firm's cost of production will not produce a perfect budget. In fact, this quest for the 'perfect budget' is a journey and not a destination. Which is another way of saying it allows lawyers to do what they like (analysis) and avoid what makes them uncomfortable (talking to clients about price). The Wafer Thin Budget "My gut tells me ... $." Although likely an accurate estimation, the "feels-right-in-my-gut" budget does not give enough information to measure performance. Although at the end of the matter you will see how well you did, a firm will benefit from gaining metrics through-out the representation. Theoretically, you could use the gut measure to estimate various phases of a budget (e.g. investigation, discovery, ...), but those sorts of numbers won't give you a solid profitability measure (a.k.a. leverage). Obviously we need to find some middle ground - somewhere between the "weeds" and "my gut." The Balanced Budget I propose a reasonable, middle-ground for building a matter budget. A seasoned lawyer's instincts on estimated fees are a great resource. We just need to focus them to the right level of detail. Let's start with the UTBMS task codes. I know - these are both universally vilified and praised. I say start with them because they are an existing (and accepted) standard and they are in use in most every e-billing system around. This means even though they may not be the most directly applicable division of tasks, they provide common ground. Another advantage they bring; they provide reasonable case phase definitions (L100, L200, and so on). Now take your seasoned partner's gut and point it at this structure. Get him/her to estimate fees per task code and phase. Take it a step further and have them estimate how each task code should be leveraged - partner to associate wise. Some codes or phases will be partner intensive - some associate. I suggest the resulting budget will be a good approximation of fees, arrived at in short-order and with enough information to serve as a performance metric benchmark. The "Balanced Budget" is one possible approach. There must be others. Whatever a firm or lawyer does for AFAs, they will need to understand the cost of providing services and be able to measure how each matter stacks up in terms of profitability. The Budget will play a central role in meeting both of those needs.

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Using FeeFieFoeFirm to Make My Search Idea a Reality

A friend of mine mentioned on Twitter that she was "loving" the FeeFieFoeFirm website this morning. I've looked at that site in the past, but never really took the time to do any serious searching on it. The timing of this reminder couldn't have been better. I just happened to be thinking of a project where I wanted a way to gather data on a particular legal topic, written by lawyers, and it turns out that FeeFieFoeFirm just may help me turn that into a reality.
Here's my idea: Compile a list of recent articles from law firms that discuss Electronic Discovery and (here's the hard part) keep the list up-to-date via RSS feed.
Well, I'm kind of a search whiz, and heck, I've even won awards in the past for creating these types of resources, but quite frankly, this particular idea was kicking my butt. I could easily set up a Google Custom Search Engine (CSE) to index the sites I wanted, but I couldn't set "time restrictions" on those results. Now, enter FeeFieFoeFirm.
Turns out that in January FeeFieFoeFirm figured out a way to put the date on the information they were indexing via Google CSE. This was the key piece I'd been missing. Now I could search for electronic discovery articles that had been written in the past 24 hours:
Very nice!!
But, not everything was peaches and cream in the land of e-discovery article searching. Alas, there was no RSS feed available to help me move the information from FeeFieFoeFirm to an RSS feed.
No problem!!
I turned to one of my favorite tools, Dapper Factory, to help create this step. For those of you that were with the 3 Geeks back in the beginning, you'll know that I reviewed Dapper Factory and found it to be a great resource in creating RSS feeds or widgets that housed the feeds.
By mashing FeeFieFoeFirm and Dapper Factory together, I found a way to put my idea to the test!! It still has a little tweaking to do, but then most of my ideas do. Go check them both out!!
If you know of other ways to do this type of search to RSS feed, feel free to comment below.

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Twitter, Writing for the Web and Life in General

@AngelaJames and I just had an epiphany. A little bit of background. @AngelaJames just made friends on Twitter. She's the executive editor at Samhain Publishing, specializing in digital books. Anywhoo, she was twittering with some of her peers about a book I didn't know--Blood and Chocolate--and I know a lot of books! So I asked her to give me a review. On Twitter. In 140 characters or less. Suddenly, we both saw the possibilities of Twitter. I held my breath. In less than a minute, she twittered back a succinct plot line with her critique.
Teenage female werewolf struggles to find acceptance in a world that doesn't know about the supernatural. Moody, dark and emotional.
We then both realized the beauty of Twitter. It teaches you to write better faster. As one of my favorite lines by AJ Liebling goes, "I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better." Tweets refine your thinking, creativity, wit and writing. And, if done well, a twitter can be repurposed for elevator pitches, bylines, resumes and queries. Twitter: helping the cause of literacy one character at a time.

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Print Media's Solution: Invasion of the Pod

Time Inc. has developed a 10-week experiment called Mine that will allow subscribers to pick their content and publish it in the requested format. The magazine is free, but limited to 200,000 online subscribers and 31,000 print subscribers. Similar to your customized Google page, your pods of information are printed in one publication. Couldn't you imagine a daily newspaper like this? Honestly, I never read sports sections, horoscopes or grizzly news. But I always read international, business and lifestyle news. Oh, and the funnies. If I could get a daily, customized newspaper that had monthly features from my favorite magazines: Wired, InStyle, Entertainment and Harpers, how much would I pay for that??? Hmm. That sounds like a very attractive package to me that I might be willing to lay some serious bucks down for . . .

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Behavioral Search Engines and Privacy Laws: Are You Sure You Want to Go There?

The NYTimes reports that Virginia Democrat Representative Rick Boucher, who now chairs the House Subcommittee on telecommunications, technology and the internet, wants to write a law to require web surfers to "opt-in" to share personal information with trafficked web sites. I'm sorry, but I just don't think that is necessary. Think about it: less than 10 years ago, people were spooked because Amazon knew their book selections and was suggesting related books. Now-a-days, if a site doesn't have the "suggested items," users get really crabby and want to know why the site is so "unsophisticated." In fact, according to a TRUSTe survey, site visitors are getting less paranoid about online tracking: last year, 57% found online tracking "disturbing". this year, it dropped to 51%. OPA Intelligence Report, 3/16/09. Sure, people are "saying" that people are squeamish about Google tracking social behavior to figure out what ads are more interesting to them. Interestingly, though, Yahoo! rolled out their own version of social behavior targeting called "Search Retargeting" on February 24 with barely a whimper from privacy advocates. Think about it: its no different than merchandising at a grocery store. Kroger's and other grocery stores display the Kraft's parmesan cheese next to the frozen pizza. Nobody's griping about that. Kroger's and other grocery stores have their little "frequent flyer" cards hooked on shoppers' key rings to get "substantial savings" in exchange for letting grocers know what kind of food shoppers are buying. Nobody's griping about that. So go ahead, make our overworked, over-bloated, nothing-better-to-do government wrangle over this "privacy" law that requires all of your favorite ISPs, search engines, e-mail accounts and web sites to post little check boxes so that you have to click to allow them access to your online excavations. But I can guarantee you that in 5 years or less, you are going to be clicking every single one of those boxes because, doggone it, it's a hassle to reload your personal data into each of your favorite sites. Because I can guarantee you that Google and all the other search providers--Sear's included--is going to figure out a way to make you WANT to give them your personal surfing information. Maybe something like, if you follow the scavenger hunt from Sears to Disneyto Netflix, you will get a free movie. Or if you go from Google to NASCAR to ticketmaster, you will get a 3% discount. Or, even better, if you go to Google to Medweb to your doctor to the hospital, all of your medical files will follow you. Just imagine the future. Do really you want to slow it down? Besides, Rick Boucher's busy trying to convert all of our TVs to digital right now. You don't want to stop him from working on that, do you?

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TweetDeck Blurs the Line Between Twitter and Facebook

On Monday, TweetDeck released a Beta version that now includes a way to monitor both Twitter and FaceBook all in one interface.  Watch the little video below to get an introduction.
(More on how I made this video in a later post)
I've been very impressed with how TweetDeck has managed to create a program that allows me to manage the large number of people I follow on Twitter.  I've never really been a big FaceBook user, but I do follow some old High School friends, monitor my son and his girl friend who are both in college in Memphis, and a few close professional colleagues.  
For a while now, I've been updating my FaceBook status using the Twitter App that is a part of FaceBook.  However, this has probably caused more confusion from my FaceBook friends than it was worth.   So, each time I put something on Twitter, it would automatically show up on FaceBook.  What it ended up doing was confusing my FaceBook friends (those that weren't on Twitter.)  Especially if I "ReTweeted" something that someone else on Twitter posted.  
 The Twitter app on FaceBook was a good idea, but wasn't really ready for prime time.
The TweetDeck "Twitter/FaceBook" option is a much better way to monitor and update both platforms.  First of all, it allows me the option to update either or both using a simple checkbox option on which platform I wish to update.
The view of the FaceBook status updates is also very clean.  When you compare it with the web version, it is very similar.  So, even for novices, there isn't a big learning curve.
Get out there and test out the new TweetDeck Beta and enjoy the ability to use one tool to monitor and update two social media platforms.  It is very easy to install (you'll be prompted to approve the application within FaceBook, and asked for your FaceBook credentials, and viola, you're ready to play.)  The FaceBook checkbox is not checked by default, so when you're ready to update FaceBook, you'll need to make sure it is checked.  BTW - "Direct Messages" in Twitter will not go to FaceBook, even if you have the FaceBook checkbox checked (great proactive catch by TweetDeck!!).
Enjoy, and let me know what you think!!

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Clients and Their Hourly Mindset

We want alternative fees! This has become the new mantra of clients. Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs) are all the rage now and rightly so, given the state of things. But ... I've previously noted that clients, in addition to law firms, will need to change to adapt to AFAs. I've come to realize this is a deep-seated challenge and one not to be written off lightly. The Hypothetical: Law firm offers client a fixed fee (the holy grail of AFAs) of $100k for a litigation matter. Client agrees, thankful the law firm is taking the risk on this matter. A week later the matter settles, based to a good degree on the law firm's efforts. Should the firm be paid $100k? For all the talk about how fixed-fee AFAs will benefit clients, this scenario presents a challenge. From experience ... the client is going to ask why they should pay the whole $100k fee. The law firm barely put any time into the case. How could they deserve that level of fee? The point here is that clients have an implicit understanding that time equals value when it comes to legal services. This understanding exists based on years of experience. On an academic level, fixed-fees make perfect sense. But your gut may tell you something different when push comes to shove, like in our example above. My read is that clients are really wanting efficiency in the short-run. They equate time with value, but they want to make sure that the value and therefore price equals the right amount of time. For the time being, this means they will almost always want to know "how many hours" did it take (and as an extension of hours "what is the rate?"). That's the measure of value they have known and trusted for years. I recommend law firms keep this deep-seated mindset in mind as they approach AFAs. A short-run focus on demonstrating efficiency will probably go a long way to keeping clients happy on the path to AFAs. As clients come to trust that AFAs equate value with price, then fixed-fee and other aggressive AFA engagements will become more palatable.

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But its free!! Oh, no, my little grasshopper . . .

Two articles in yesterday's Financial Times struck my fancy: Retailer buys ‘social’ search engine Google to match online adverts with web users' viewing habits What Google and Sears--yes, Sears, the seller of all things American--are heading towards behavioral search engines that look at a person's online activity and social networking profiles to determine their interests and thereby producing more customized search engine results. And, consequently, more tailored ads to serve up items that the user may be more likely to buy. Now what is interesting to me is that "privacy" groups (isn't that an oxymoron?) are outraged that these ISPs are going to be tracking online activity. Hello?!? First of all, nothing, and I mean absolutely NOTHING, is free. You think Google is free? You think they just let you use their search engine out of the goodness of their heart? That they are the benevolent oracle of all known human intelligence? Umm, no. Your privacy is the price you pay for using Google. When you decided to use Google, or any other search engine for that matter, you clicked a little box, ignoring that plain-text box that contained 20 scrolls worth of legalese, because you were in a hurry to find out last night's football scores, tonight's TV schedule or the cheapest deal for those dozen roses that you had to send to your mother/girlfriend/wife. So if you don't want your privacy invaded and your interests assessed, don't use search engines. Or Amazon. Or Netflix. Or Blockbuster. Or Victoria's Secret. Let's see how long that boycott lasts.

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Too Many Damned Twits

Spotted this on Wire. Google Turns Voicemail Into E-mail. What I'm waiting for, tho, and was just thinking about this morning is a voiced version of my text messages? Do you know how hard it is to read text messages when you are driving?? :) I was on my way to work and had 225 tweets from 5 of my favorite twitterers that I HAD TO READ. And I couldn't. Not without wrecking my newly purchased used Volvo. So what, Google has figured out how to transcribe VM to e-mail. Who needs that?? I need text to Vmail!! I'm waiting, phone guys . . . (tapping foot, impatiently)

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My IT Guy and I Have a Nodding Relationship

I read two completely unrelated things yesterday that made me think of how, in our efforts to become efficient, we have lost something very important along the way -- relationships.  
First, I was reading Jenn Steele's "Leading Geeks" blog where she was commenting on the lack of communication between Geeks and Users.  Then, on the way home, there was a sentence in the book I'm reading (Geraldine McCaughrean's The White Darkness) that spoke of how one of the characters and Death were on a "nodding relationship."  
The issues that Jenn mention in her post between end-user and "Geek" seem to result from a general lack of communication between the two parties.  That made me realize that in our quest to centralize, compartmentalize, and to get more from less, we've somehow lost our "nodding relationships" with those that help us.
Here's a quick example:
  • Quick - say the name of the person that answered the IT Help Desk phone the last time you had a problem.
  • Now - say the name of the IT person that used to drop by your office to install hardware, or upgrade software, or check to see if things were running properly.
Having experience working both as the IT guy (aka "Geek") and the End-User (aka - "loose nut between the chair and keyboard"), I understand the reasons of why we are where we are today.  In the same respect, I also have a keen understanding of what the savings in time and money have also cost in the ability to better understand what are the real problems that the end user is experiencing.   
Over the years, we have worked very hard at creating a situation where tasks are "automated," "performed in the background," "seamless" and "invisible" to the end user.  We've done this to minimize the amount of time the technology is unavailable to the end user, in order to keep the end user as efficient as possible, too.  However, this has had a side-effect of also causing the people performing these tasks to also become "automated," "in the background," and "invisible" to the end user (and vise-versa in a limit way.)   
Don't get me wrong, there are lots and lots of things that should be invisible to the end-user.  My complaint is that the pendulum has swung so far to the "automated" and "invisible" side, that we have taken the human portion with it.  In my view this results in  two major flaws:
1.  The Columbo Effect -  There have been many times, both as a techie and as a user, where in the process of solving one problem, another problem is unearthed.  You know... you're about to walk out of the room when the other person says, "Oh, just one more question."  Granted, most of the time, this means more work, but there were many occasions where that "one more question" lead to proactively solving major issues before they became major issues.
2.  The Chilling Effect - Because we've so separated the user from the techie, we've created a situation where most users find it too difficult to ask for help on what they consider "minor issues."  Or, we've created a situation where we've inadvertently promoted "work-arounds" that the end user is taking to solve the problem on their own.  Granted, a lot of the time, these work-arounds cause little to no harm, but every once in a while, you have some creative user that finds a way to shut down a shared resource because their work around had unintended effects.
I had a professor in college that used to say that "Computers are the dumbest thing on campus, because they only do exactly what you tell them to do."  In a way, we are using this same approach with those that support our technology.  We call in, we say what our problem is, we are asked a few questions, a "ticket" is created, someone works on the problem from an undisclosed bunker somewhere, and then we are emailed that the problem is solved or sent to a higher-level of support.  Somewhere down the line we are issued an email that says the problem is solved unless we email them back and say it isn't.  All automated, efficient and clean.  No nodding necessary.
Doug Cornelius commented on Jenn Steele's blog that web 2.0, and some transparency tools would help bring back in the nodding relationship.  I think he's onto something there.  Bring back the "Geek" into the process, even if it is virtually.  I'm pretty sure I can find a nodding emoticon to send a virtual nod to my far away Geek.

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BigLaw Beneficiaries

Everybody loves to bash BigLaw. Admit it. It's like making fun of Microsoft and all of the security "features" built into its software. You see it in the growing number of Blogs who love to talk trash about the foibles of the AmLaw 100. Big law firms are easy targets since they are visible and what they do tends to get picked up by the press and the blogosphere. Enjoying the Washington Post on Monday morning, I noticed this gem about how the smart lawyers are leaving BigLaw. The lawyer noted in the article was smart enough to leave DLA Piper and join Virtual Law Partners, a small telecommuting firm. He cut his hourly rate by 25% and reduced his overhead by a much larger number. The result: he has more time for his family (he even works out of his home) and he makes more money. Wah-laa - he is smart. BigLaw is not so smart. If you really look at it, he is smart because he took all the benefits of BigLaw and left behind the baggage. He's what you call a beneficiary. My point is that BigLaw, like another institution, has its good and bad. And BigLaw has been doing pretty well so far. It's hard to argue the profits and growth BigLaw has seen to-date. Lawyers who work for these firms handle large scale, complex, bet-the-company types of cases and transactions. Lawyers who leave can take that pedigree with them and then profit from it. Well down into the Post article (buried so-to-speak) I noted this statement: Virtual Law Partners "expects to make a profit once it has 50 lawyers." BigLaw is an easy target, but maybe its earned that rank given its success. Whatever happens in this time of change, I don't expect BigLaw to be going away any time soon. Big companies tend to prefer big providers. It's more a matter of how BigLaw will transform as a group. Of course, I'm still hoping alternative fees will play a core part in that transition. Truth-in-advertising: I work at a large firm, which might make me biased. But as a non-lawyer observer who lives more with the frustrating aspects of the model (and less with the financial benefits) I feel I bring an informed perspective.

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The Untapped Value of Your Local Library

It is no secret that out of the Three Geeks, I'm viewed as the cheap one ("thrify" my wife calls me.)   It isn't that I don't mind spending money, it is just that I hate wasting money.  And, if I find a nice way to save a few bucks here and there, I'd like to share that savings along with you.
If you do research (legal or otherwise), you know that there are resources out there that are directed toward helping you do your research.  Products like Westlaw, Bloomberg, Medline, etc. are premium research tools that allow you to basically do some one-stop shopping within your expertise, and are excellent tools to have.  However, premium also comes at a price, and in these times, cost savings aren't just for the "thrifty."
There are many times where I use the local public library resources, without even entering into the library building itself.  I'm pretty lucky that I work one block away from the main Houston Public Library, and can physically be in the public library within 5 minutes (my desk to library door.)  But, within a few seconds, I can access hundreds (if not thousands) of online library resources simply by using my library card.
With access to my public library in Houston, I can take a look at academic, business, cultural, and a long list of other databases from the likes of top-notch vendors like Hoover's, Lexis, Gale, Morningstar, ReferenceUSA and many, many others.  To see a list of the different databases, you can view the "ALL the Library's Research Links" page.  In addition to research databases, there are also valuable resources like magazine archives, newspapers (including my favorite of the Houston Chronicle in full Digital Image format), and even a language program like Rosetta Stone.  
You don't even have necessarily live in a highly populated city to get access to these resources.  A lot of these are negotiated on a state-wide contract so that regardless of the size of your public library, you can still get access to excellent online resources for free.
If you find that your local library doesn't offer these, you can contact some of the larger libraries to see if they offer "Out-of-State" registrations.  Most will, and from what I have found, at a price of around $40 or so.
Go check out your local library's website to see what they offer. 

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De-Leveraging ... Again?

A number of recent posts and articles are talking about the de-leveraging of BigLaw. Many of these predict that the other side of the recession will see BigLaw with less associates per partner. Say what? There's all this talk of alternative billing, leveraging technology and changing the way firms do business and somehow they are going to do this by shrinking the bottom-level of the inverted pyramid they live in ... again??? Karl Marx perhaps said it best when he noted that Capitalists (a.k.a. business owners) make money off the sweat of another's brow and not their own. Just like the de-leveraging cycle in the 80's, when hours go soft - Partners hoard. And they do this to their own detriment as the least profitable billable hours of the business are their own. They lose the best billable hours (a.k.a. leverage). Of course this behavior is highly motivated by the compensation systems. And we shouldn't really be surprised by the fact that history is repeating itself, since these compensation systems have not changed much since the 80's. "Fool me once - shame on you. Fool me twice - shame on me." Still I am dumb-founded. After seeing so much encouraging dialogue about alternative fees and the subsequent changing of the law firm business model, firms fall right back into their old habits. Although leverage is not the be-all and end-all of profitability, its still a core metric to use. It's a basic business practice to push labor tasks to their lowest cost source. It is past time for lawyers and firms to turn and look over the bow of the boat. They need to understand that the radical changes in the market will need to be reflected by corresponding changes in the law firm business model. Change ...? I see a theme developing

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Dreams Really DO Come True!

Well, look what Apple and Amazon dreamed up!
A Kindle app on the iPhone. Geez louise, I thought it would take 'em 5 years to figure this out. Looks like I'm gonna have to put my money where my mouth is . . .
I wonder how the Kindle app works with the other iPhone features. Can you copy/import text? Can you cite sources in other apps?
Its funny, I was just talking to my cousin--who, ironically, works for Microsoft as an engineer--and he was showing off his friend's iPhone and explaining all the apps to me.
In the course of our conversation, I was oohing and aahing, but, in the end, I told him, "this really doesn't work for me. I don't like the keyboard."
He said, "yeah, you are a writer. Most people are just readers. But you develop content so this doesn't really meet your needs."
So my next caveat would be an iPhone with a Kindle app and a better, more tactile keyboard for us writers.
This time, I will give Apple less lead time. How about a year, guys?

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Skittles, Social Media and Conferences.... Time to Put the Attendee to Work for You!!

By now, you've probably seen the new social media experiment that is Skittles.com
Although the site developed by Agency.com is still a little rough around the edges, this experiment is widely viewed as a social media success story because it allows the user to interact with the product, thus producing a way for the end-user to promote (or critique) the product.  At this point, the message has been pretty positive.  
But, enough of Skittles!! I'm a Hot Tamale man myself....
This idea of social media, using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, along with traditional web content is not only a great idea for marketing products, but I think one of the biggest benefits could be experienced by using this type of resource for big conferences.
Imagine that you're attending a conference (say last month's LegalTech conference.)  We've seen how social media has inspired people to blog and tweet about what they are listening to at the conference, why not take a tool like this and make it really work for the conference??
Here's a quick breakdown on how I think this type of resource would benefit a conference:
  • Traditional Web Presence: Conferences usually have information posted about the conference posted on a traditional website.  Sticking with the LegalTech, the traditional web site gives the organizer the ability to promote, inform, and distribute information about the conference.  Let's face it, most conferences end the "official" flow of information at this point.  But, taking the Skittles model, let's expand.
  • Twitter Feed of the "#" Hash-Tag: They're going to do it anyway...  so, why not take advantage?  Whenever you have more than 5 people going to the same thing, one of them is going to create a hash-tag about it, so that they can get more people to join in.  Heck, if Congress is going to Twitter while the President is speaking, you can bet your techie attendees will be Tweeting away as well.  So, why not put that information out there along with your traditional web page and make it easy for folks to see what others are talking about?
  • YouTube - "Show 'Em What You've Told 'Em": Expand your reach through the simple use of video.  This give the organizer a chance to expand the information being distributed, and if done right, can allow your attendees to add content.  
  • Flickr - "We're at 'X' Conference Having a Ball....  Wish You Were Here!": As people take pictures at the event, enable them to share them in a central location so that others can see what's going on.  Make people feel like they are there, even if they're not! (Maybe next year, they'll attend!!)
  • Facebook - Allow Your Attendees To Be Your Friends and Promoters: The Facebook angle allows you to build upon the past conferences.  Think of it as the ability to take your attendee list and keep them up-to-date throughout the year.  Allow them to tell you what was good (and bad) about the conference, and suggest what to do for the next one.  Allow others to see the comments, and contribute as well.  
I'm sure additional social media tools could also be integrated into a conference to allow the connection of people to people, and people to content.  So, if you have more suggestions, please comment below!
Using social media as a tool for a conference isn't without its risks.  Even the Skittles site has a potential down side which Stan Schroeder points out in this blog post.   But, I believe that the upside has such potential, that the rewards tremendously outweigh the risks.  

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