Using Disqus for Comments

Today I switched the comment system for this blog to Disqus (“discuss”). You’ve most likely already used Disqus on other websites even if you didn’t realize it – they reach over 200 million people each month. Disqus is used by CNN, Fox News, TechCrunch, and many other popular websites. Their reach is all the more impressive when you consider that the company only started in 2007. Here’s how Disqus introduces itself:

DISQUS is a comments platform that helps you build an active community from your website’s audience. It has awesome features, powerful tools, and it’s easy to install.

There are a number of features that Disqus provides that are quite compelling. As a blogger, you get threaded comments, inline media embedding, social integration, mobile support, email support, and much more all “out of the box”. All of that is now available here, on this blog.

Installation was simple – just download the plugin, activate it, and login. One of the primary reasons I felt comfortable switching to Disqus was its integration with WordPress. All new comments will appear in both Disqus and my WordPress database, which means I can remove Disqus at any time without losing any data. All existing comments are now in Disqus too. That process was somewhat trickier – the automatic importing didn’t work properly for me, so I had to manually export some comments from WordPress, and then import them into Disqus. Even that didn’t take much effort though.

Disqus also has really simple integration with Tumblr, so I am using it for comments on my Edmonton Etcetera blog as well.

You can learn more about Disqus at their blog. If you’re a developer, check out the API documentation (I’ll be looking into that more).

Hope you enjoy the new comment experience here!

Looking back at the Transforming Edmonton blog’s first year

A little over a year ago, the City of Edmonton launched its official blog, called Transforming Edmonton. Though it launched as a pilot project, the blog was meant to be another vehicle for the City to “share stories about how the City is working on transforming itself.” It remains focused on the City’s Vision and Strategic Plan, with sections on Economic Diversity, Environment, Financial Sustainability, Livability, Transportation, and Urban Form. How successful has the City of Edmonton’s foray into the world of blogging been? Let’s look back at the blog’s first year.

Let me start by saying that any blog that has made it past three months and is still updated somewhat regularly can probably be described as a success! Blogging takes commitment, so I applaud the City for sticking with it. Jas Darrah, Communications Business Partner at the City of Edmonton, was nice enough to answer my questions about the blog’s first year.

Over the last year, a total of 87 entries were posted to the blog. That’s not far off from the original goal of two new posts per category per month (which would have resulted in 144 posts). Though there are approximately 40 registered authors in the system, Jas clarified that in reality up to 100 people have collaborated on the resulting posts, as Public Information Officers and subject matter experts have worked together to craft the content. Initially, a lot of effort went into recruiting City employees to contribute to the blog, but that has become less necessary according to Jas. “The desire to participate from business units across the organization grows weekly, while in the first months we were beating the bushes to get participation.”

The blog has averaged 2400 page views per month over the year, which is respectable but quite a bit less than I expected. Of course, page views are just one piece of the puzzle. There’s also RSS feed readers (that’s how I read the blog), people who read the entries on Facebook, or who see the entries on YouTube, etc. And keeping in mind the City’s goals for the blog, engagement is a better metric than traffic statistics anyway. Slowly but surely, they’re having some success in that area. The blog has received 157 comments over the year, primarily on the two most successful posts: Bob Boutilier’s Q&A post on The Way We Move, and Phil Sande’s Q&A post on the City Centre Redevelopment Project. Jas says we’ll see more of those kinds of posts in the future.

Jas told me the blog is still being classified as a pilot, because the City is still gathering information to help evaluate it. I don’t think the public perceives it as a pilot however, and it sounds like City employees are happy for the blog to continue as well. Jas said the City’s “communications teams now see this as another vehicle to offer the City business units to reach out to the community, while offering ways to experiment with multimedia.” Many posts recently have included video and photos, such as the series on the Heads Up! campaign. While it may be just another tool in the communications arsenal, Jas confirmed the blog is “one of the most cost-effective tools in our toolkit.”

I’m a big fan of the Transforming Edmonton blog, and I’ve mentioned it numerous times in social media presentations over the last year. The design is clean, and I particularly like the simple Comment & Trackback Policy, accessible on every page. Jas said he’d regard the project as a success, even though there is still a lot of work to be done.

Raffaella Loro (the blog’s primary instigator) told me before the launch last November that she saw the blog as “encouraging a cultural shift” in the way the City operates. A year later, I think that is happening. Jas noted that “our City leadership saw that any negative comments that this project may facilitate would be outweighed by the positive reputation for facilitating those comments.” City employees like the blog as a way to share information, and according to Jas, many thought the blog was only internal when it launched! He told me the City will be launching its first internal blog in January.

I’d say the Transforming Edmonton blog has had a successful first year. There’s lots of room to grow and improve, but there’s now a strong foundation in place. I look forward to seeing it evolve.

A follow-up thought: I think the blog can become an important archive of the City’s perspectives over time. In the spirit of digital archiving, here’s what the blog looked like as of December 6.

Double props to the Edmonton Journal

As you probably know, I don’t shy away from criticizing the Edmonton Journal (or other local media). Though I don’t always succeed, I do try to be constructive, because I think there’s incredible opportunity facing The Journal. Two such opportunities: data-driven journalism, and real-time reporting.

Props to Brent Wittmeier & Lucas Timmons

Neither Brent nor Lucas have been with The Journal for very long, and maybe that’s why they were able to succeed with the unclaimed balances story. Brent was voluntold to write about the Bank of Canada’s unclaimed balances, which he did by teaming up with data journalist Lucas to create a searchable online database for Edmonton. They put together a three-part story, but it didn’t stop there:

We also got quite the response. Dozens of phone calls and emails poured in, and I began working on a follow-up story. And then two. And now, three. Some of these other stories are even better than the original… There should be an extensive piece either later this week or next weekend.

Start with some data, and more often than not a story will emerge. Brent noted: “In truth, they ended up being far more interesting stories than I thought.”

Props to Paula Simons & David Staples

I’m glad to see that Paula and David (with some help from other colleagues such as Todd Babiak) have started a new blog focused on local affairs, called The Edmonton Commons. They used it very effectively on nomination day to share stories about the candidates and the official start of the election. They’ve also got the #yegvote hashtag embedded on the page. Though they have cross-posted some columns, I’m hopeful that their use of the blog as way to forego the print deadline will expand.

Here is Paula’s first post, and here is David’s first post. I like what David had to say:

The sharpening of ideas, the accumulation of good information and the discarding of bad information is at the core of strong decision making. It’s what we hope to do here at this forum. In the past, there were more barriers in regards to entering into the great conversation of civil society, even for a newspaper writer…the conversation was largely one-way. The Internet gives us a new tool that enables that conversation to flourish.

Time will tell how successful the two are with the blog (will they still be writing as often in three months as they do now) but I think they’re off to a great start.

Would you trust a citizen plumber to work on your toilet?

That’s one of the questions, referring to citizen journalism, that Edmonton Journal columnist Dan Barnes asked last week in this all-over-the-place piece. Was it rhetorical? Maybe, but I’ll bite anyway.

I know you’re not supposed to answer a question with a question, but I wonder what Dan meant by citizen plumber? Did he mean someone whose experience with plumbing is limited to some fancy new tool, or did he mean someone who simply lacks the license but has all of the necessary interest, skills, experience, and knowledge of a plumber-minus-the-citizen? My point is that its easy to misuse the label “citizen journalist” and to paint with too broad a brush.

It’s also really difficult to define. I wonder how Dan defines it? Maybe he thinks I’m a citizen journalist because my platform is this blog. But what about “mainstream journalists” who have blogs – aren’t they also citizen journalists then? If we can’t define it with the tools or platform, maybe we can define it with the kinds of content the citizen journalist produces. But there again, what’s the distinction between someone who rewrites a press release for a newspaper and someone who does an interview for a blog post? Is the only distinction the employer?

Why do we need that label anyway? What would happen if we dropped the term “citizen” and just called them journalists? Both tell stories, after all.

Dan Barnes and I would be on the same level, that’s what would happen. And my guess is that Dan wouldn’t be able to deal with that.

It’s worth mentioning that Dan’s argument is not new or unique. Though at least one other “mainstream journalist” has used the term “citizen plumber” before, the straw man is most often made with a “citizen neurosurgeon” or a “citizen dentist”. As always, Techdirt does a nice job of dealing with that:

Most people seem to recognize the basic difference between reporting on something and cutting into someone’s brain. And, many people also recognize that most reporters themselves are often not experts in the field they’re reporting on — and what participatory journalism and the internet enable is the ability for actual experts on the topic to take part in the discussion and reporting as well.

I don’t think it’s that difficult to recognize the differences between a plumber and a journalist, either. There are only so many ways to fix a leaky pipe, but a myriad of ways to interpret and write about something, for instance.

The reality is that journalism is not a constant, it’s not static or unchanging. Like most things worth caring about, journalism is constantly evolving, and whether Dan likes it or not, journalists who don’t work for the mainstream media are here to stay.

I can understand why we’d be hesitant to call the first guy I described above a plumber, but it’s pretty clear that the second one is a plumber. If we call them both just plumbers, do we risk cheapening the term? If we call them both “citizen plumbers”, do we risk preventing the second guy from making an impact?

What if the new tool that plumber #1 uses turns out to be a plunger, or Drano, all of a sudden enabling millions of people to deal with simple plumbing problems on their own, and thereby freeing up the non-citizen plumbers to focus on more difficult problems? That’s the real risk, in my opinion, with putting too much weight behind a label. We risk overlooking the significant contributions that both can make to plumbing overall.

Still not convinced Dan? Maybe you’ll enjoy this story (from way back in 2006!):

Witness the power of the humble tools of citizens’ media. A citizen dentist used them to become a journalist. He used them to give the world a unique and human perspective on a story where too much is unreported. He gained an appreciative and supportive audience around the world. He helped give birth to a new medium. And journalism is all the better for it.

Give a citizen dentist a blog and he’ll change the world? Maybe not, but he might just impact journalism for the better.

CTV Edmonton launches Inner Tube blog

On Friday afternoon, just hours before the start of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, CTV Edmonton launched a new blog called Inner Tube. I’m not sure if the timing was just a coincidence or if CTV Edmonton purposefully wanted to “soft launch” the blog, but either way, this “online experiment of sorts” is something that’s worth paying attention to.

First, the key points:

  • Inner Tube is a group blog. Entries will be written by a variety of people at CTV Edmonton, including Carrie Doll and Josh Classen.
  • This is an Edmonton project, not something that came from Toronto.
  • Posts are edited for clarity, comments are moderated.
  • From the about blurb: “You’ll read stories about the inner workings of the news process, how we develop our stories, or just casual observations about what makes north central Alberta so special.”

I called Stewart Shaw, web guru at CTV Edmonton, to learn more about the site that he has been working to launch for the last six months or so. My first question was why it took so long! Stewart very democratically explained that many people just aren’t as comfortable with technology as the rest of us, and that convincing all of the necessary people took time (as it would have in any typical corporate environment). He was pleased with how things progressed.

Stewart told me that CTV Edmonton sees this as an extension of what they’ve been doing for more than 50 years. The station has always felt that it was part of the community, and the blog is just a modern way of ensuring that remains true. And while the CTV Edmonton account on Twitter has been quite successful, and most stories on the news website offer the ability to leave comments, neither offers the same kind of connection that the blog can (though Carrie Doll, Josh Classen, and other personalities regularly interact with other Twitter users). Stewart said that the Save Local TV open house last year opened some eyes – it was the first time in a long time that CTV Edmonton had invited the public to the station, and they were overwhelmed by the response. The idea with Inner Tube is to open up a little, to provide a glimpse behind the curtain from the people that make CTV Edmonton tick.

Local media blogs are not new, of course. The Edmonton Journal, iNews880, and Edmonton Sun have had blogs on their websites for a long time, with varying levels of success. The difference is that CTV Edmonton has created a group blog that everyone will contribute to, rather than individual blogs for each employee or personality. The idea is that it’ll be a little easier to keep fresh, and also to build a following with. I think the jury’s still out on which approach is more successful, but I like that CTV Edmonton is experimenting with something different.

Inner Tube is off to a good start, with roughly half a dozen posts already up on the blog. It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves – I hope it opens the door to even more online activity from the local media. Congrats to Stewart and everyone else at CTV Edmonton for launching Inner Tube, and good luck!

Top 10 Edmonton Posts for 2009

I wrote a lot about Edmonton last year, on a variety of topics! Which posts were the most popular? Which posts got people talking?

Here are the top 10 Edmonton posts by traffic:

  1. Edmonton Police Service (EPS) Crime Mapping tool now online
  2. Edmonton Transit (ETS) officially launches Google Transit trip planning
  3. The Last 24 Hours on Twitter: Storm in Edmonton
  4. Edmonton’s LRT now extends to South Campus
  5. Transforming the City of Edmonton IT Branch
  6. West & Southeast Edmonton LRT Route Recommendations
  7. Taking Edmonton’s Technology Community to the Next Level
  8. Airport Passenger Statistics for Edmonton & Calgary
  9. Edmonton Transit (ETS) – The Every Day Way
  10. Social Media and the Edmonton Storm

Close behind were these two:

And here are the top 10 Edmonton posts by comments:

  1. Edmonton Police Service (EPS) Crime Mapping tool now online
  2. Taking Edmonton’s Technology Community to the Next Level
  3. Reporting live in a world with Twitter
  4. How far beyond the city does Edmonton Stories reach?
  5. Airport Passenger Statistics for Edmonton & Calgary
  6. State of the Edmonton Twittersphere – February 2009
  7. Twitter lovers: watch out for baseball bats!
  8. Idea: Proud Edmonton Tech Company badge
  9. State of the Edmonton Twittersphere – June 2009
  10. Newspapers, cities, and the local web

Thank you for reading & commenting – I’ll do my best to make 2010 even better!

Social Media in Action: Belua Designs

This post is the first in a new, semi-regular series of entries called Social Media in Action. My goal with the series is to share my favorite examples of organizations using social media effectively. To start, I wanted to highlight local monster creators Belua Designs.

Sarah Bourque makes handmade monsters from new socks and recycled wool sweaters, scrap buttons and felt. Each monster is unique, and sells for between $20 and $50. Sarah makes up to about 50 monsters per week and in addition to selling via Etsy, usually has a table at the many local Farmers’ Markets and craft fairs.

For the last few months, she’s also been writing a blog. Writing about sewing probably isn’t the most fascinating topic in the world, and Sarah seems to understand that. Instead, she tells a story with almost every post, and generally keeps the blog focused on the monsters. It’s engaging, and it keeps me subscribed. Many readers look forward to Fremly’s Friday Favorites – a weekly series of posts highlighting Sarah’s mascot monster and other local designers (here’s my favorite entry).

Sharon and I are both big fans of the blog (she gets so excited to find out what Fremly is up to – she loves her own monster too), so I asked Sarah a few questions about it.

How long have you been blogging, and why did you decide to start a blog?

I started my blog just after Christmas last year. I always wanted a website but kept putting it off because I felt it would be expensive and time consuming. After doing a bit of research into the blog world I realized it was the perfect way for me to go. It was very easy to set-up, it had all the elements I was looking for and it was free (which is always a bonus!).

How do you decide when and what to post?

I try to post 3 times a week. I’ve been pretty good about it although I must admit when things get really busy I don’t post as often. I keep my blog monster related so I usually feature a monster a week and talk about upcoming shows.

What kind of feedback have you received? Do you think the blog is effective?

I think the blog is very effective and the feedback has been great. I really noticed it after I injured my finger after a sewing accident (yes, that can happen!). I was at a craft show and a few different people came up and asked me how my finger was doing. It caught me off guard until I realized that my blog was actually being read. It’s always nice when people can feel a more personable connection with the creator of something they just purchased.

Do you use Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media services to promote your business – why or why not?

I take advantage of as many social media services as possible. My blog has a link to my Twitter, business Facebook fan page, Fremly’s personal Facebook page, Flickr and my shop on Etsy. I think it’s really important to have everything connected from one main source otherwise it could get a bit confusing. I have found them all to be really effective and a great way to stay in touch with customers.

I think Sarah has done a number of things really well with the blog. She posts regularly, and consistently. She has a good mix of updates on the business and stories about the monsters. Most importantly, she’s gotten creative with the personalities of the monsters. You can tell when you read the blog that she’s having fun!

Check out Belua Designs if you haven’t already – it’ll put a smile on your face!

Live Tweeting at the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO) Sunday Masters

Last year, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra invited a number of local bloggers to live-blog Symphony Under the Sky. I remember reading Adam’s posts from the event, and thought it was a cool initiative; a rather unique way to try to get a different crowd interested in the ESO. When I was invited to do the same this year for Carmina Burana, I readily agreed (I received two free tickets and a CD previewing the 2009/2010 season).

Of course, I decided to live-tweet the event rather than live-blog it – you can see my tweets here. I tried to do a mix of details from the program and observations. Two other bloggers sat next to me, though they weren’t live-blogging: Jim Tustian (a former photographer for the ESO) and The Choir Girl. We were up in the Gallery, which was sold out despite not normally being open for Sunday performances.

The Winspear Centre

Snagged this photo before the show started, ignoring the sign about recording devices!

The first piece was Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances. It was immediately recognizable. At just 13 minutes for the performance, I was left wanting more! I’m a sucker for the contrast of Disney-esque sections and the familiar booming sections.

The second piece was Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, consisting of all eight movements: Prologue, Pastoral, Nocturne, Elegy, Dirge, Hymn, Sonnet, Epilogue. I was thankful the performance was just 23 minutes long, because I couldn’t get into it. Before the performance started, conductor William Eddins said that you need a strong tenor, strong horn player, and strong string section to perform Britten’s piece. He joked that getting all three was as likely as the Edmonton Oilers winning the Stanley Cup this year!

The main event was after the intermission – Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Again, this one was instantly recognizable, though with about 65 minutes of music there were definitely long sections I had never heard before. I enjoyed it all, but my favorite part was definitely Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi, O Fortuna which both opened and closed the performance.

As I mentioned, William Eddins was the conductor. He’s currently in his fourth season as Music Director for the ESO. Performers today included Allene Hackleman, French horn, Bonaventura Bottone, tenor, Illana Davidson, soprano, and Hugh Russell, baritone. The Cantilon Chamber Chorus and the Ukrainian Male Chorus of Edmonton provided the rest of the vocals.

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Social Media

Before the show and during the intermission, I had the chance to ask Philip Paschke, ESO’s New Media Specialist (he must be one of the only people in the city with a title like that), about their travels into the world of social media. He told me their website needs work, and in the future will hopefully incorporate the ESO Blog, and potentially Twitter, Facebook, and other services. Like so many organizations, they are hearing a lot about Twitter and the other social media tools and are struggling to understand how to best make use of them.

I think the blogger initiative is a good one. There’s another concert being blogged on April 16th, and Philip hopes to get at least one more before the season ends. One of the biggest challenges thus far has been fielding complaints about “the inconsiderate texters” from other concert-goers. It’s definitely a challenge to make the click-clacking of keys seem welcome inside The Winspear Centre (fortunately my BlackBerry was relatively silent).

I’m not sure if my live-tweets were of interest to anyone, but I had fun doing it. If nothing else, tweets and blog posts during a concert just help to remind others that the ESO is still putting on great concerts.

Thanks to Philip for inviting me to participate – I really enjoyed the show, and I look forward to the ESO’s future adventures with social media.

Questionmark enters the blogosphere

I spend most of my time at Questionmark writing code, managing projects, and performing all the other tasks that make sense for a software developer. That doesn’t stop me from thinking about how the company could take advantage of social media though! Ever since I started with the company, I’ve been looking forward to the launch of an official blog. On Tuesday, it finally happened! Introducing Getting Results – The Questionmark Blog:

Stay connected with us and with the wider testing and assessment community right here. Ask questions, post comments and take the opportunity to spark discussions.

Together, let’s explore how best to create, deliver and report on assessments that help individuals and organizations work more effectively. And let’s have some fun in the process!

I can’t take credit for getting the blog setup – our marketing team did a great job at that. I’d like to think that I helped get the idea going, however. And I’ve done my best in the last few weeks to act as an “in-house expert” of sorts, offering advice and suggestions on what to consider.

I look forward to watching the blog evolve. One of my local colleagues, Greg Pope, has already posted an entry on psychometrics! In it, he mentions the Questionmark Users Conference, coming up on April 5th in Memphis. I’m sure there will be a number of great posts that come out of that event.

I should also mention that our CEO, Eric Shepherd, has become quite a champion for blogging! He recently started his own blog, which I encourage you to check out as well.

And yes, I’m already pushing the next big thing…watch for that in the next few weeks!

Blog posts have staying power

Fascinating post over at TechCrunch today by Brian Solis. He talks about the declining authority of blogs and attributes the loss to the “statusphere” – essentially micromedia services like Twitter and FriendFeed. This is the key passage:

Links from blogs are no longer the only measurable game in town. Potentially valuable linkbacks are increasingly shared in micro communities and social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and FriendFeed and they are detouring attention and time away from formal blog responses.

Ignoring the fact that he talks about Technorati a lot (I never use it anymore), I think Brian makes a good point. Even just looking at my own activities, I definitely respond less to other blog posts using my own blog than I used to. Instead, I tweet about them. Actually, I would say Twitter is affecting my social bookmarking activities too! I save things in Delicious far less frequently now, choosing instead to tweet them.

What does this mean for bloggers? Mainly that it’s more difficult to track the discussion about a blog post. Brian mentions a number of services in his post that you can use, but they’re not yet what I would call foolproof. They are getting better though.

This trend toward micro-responses doesn’t make blogs any less important, however. Probably the opposite, actually. I could tweet all day about a topic, but my tweets would be largely lost the next day. Blog posts have staying power. That’s probably why I still get more traffic from Google than from Twitter.

Anyway, give Brian’s post a read.