myJournal – it lives!

As promised oh so many weeks ago, myJournal is now live. At the moment it’s in a beta state so membership is by invitation only, however visitors have full access to all the public parts of the site. It’s aimed to be a powerful social networking tool specifically for businesses and is packed with features:

  • Member profiles
  • Multiple sites per member
  • Sites can be company sites or personal sites
  • Company sites have a showroom (an online product brochure, with multiple images per product, product categories and a really powerful management tool)
  • Company sites and personal sites have a gallery where images and videos can be uploaded
  • Members can create and join networks. The administration functions for networks are really extensive:
    • Make networks open membership, or membership by invitation only
    • Make networks private, meaning the network can be seen but all members remain hidden (except to other members of that networks)
    • Network discussions, based on the great bbPress software, with attachments
    • Network administers can revoke network invitations, ban members, and promote/demote members to be administrators
  • Members and companies can choose a number of industries to be in – the list of industries is pretty massive
  • Private messaging feature which handles multiple recipients and attachments
  • Featured members and networks, which appear around the site
  • “Who’s online?” feature

And the entire system is available for organisations that wish to run their own business social networking site. If you’re interested in that please contact us for more details.

The whole thing wouldn’t be possible without the wonderful WordPress MU platform, which I believe I’ve pushed to the very edge! Also my thanks go to Andy Peatling of BuddyPress fame for many, many hours chatting, helping me with code and generally being a good egg. It’s my pleasure to have offered the entire myJournal codebase to BuddyPress for their open source system, and I know some parts have already made it into builds.

Obviously there’s still a lot to do – how come so many bugs only make themselves visible when a beta version has gone live? – but I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve done so far. Hopefully we’ll end up with a site that will help businesses really get the best out of the web.

Unplanned marketing

Let me tell you a story. This is about me and my friend Toby. We’re both musicians (although Toby is a proper musician who Does Gigs and Gets Paid for them) and we’re both into obscure, unheard-of music.

Two weeks ago I gave Toby a hundred or so tracks by a very eclectic mix of artists, mostof which he’d never heard of, to see if he liked any of it. It’s all stuff I like, mainly collected from websites like 2Hive and Aurgasm. He put it all on his MP3 player and off we went to enjoy our Christmas breaks, and hopefully Toby liked at least some of the music.

What happened there? What did that music represent? Who benefited from that transaction? The answer to that last question is easy: everyone. I benefited as I helped to strengthen my friendship with Toby (unless he hated all the music, of course). Toby benefited as he got a load of new music to listen to. And the artists benefited as it’s spread their music further than it would have otherwise gone, and may well result in a couple of sales, a couple of extra concert tickets bought, or just a greater awareness of who they are.

That music was what Hugh MacLeod calls a Social Object. Something that either brings people together, or gives their social interactions an angle when they are together.

So what did I do for that music? In the traditional, now rapidly becoming more defunct business model, I was marketing that music. Except I wasn’t, I was just letting my friend know about some music I like. So if it’s not marketing, what is it? Marketing 2.0? Unmarketing? I think it was just unplanned marketing.

Traditional marketing has been very regimented; as planned as it can be. Marketers know what sector of society they want to target, what time of day their TV adverts will go on, what magazines they will publish adverts in. This new kind of marketing is unplanned, natural, authentic. And it’s much more personal. I won’t try to sell Toby something I know he doesn’t want or won’t like (I think there’s only me in the world who likes banana sandwiches) but when it comes to shared social objects – music, whisky, table tennis, a love of the worlds strongest man competition – traditional marketing hasn’t got a chance.

Which is why Radioheads latest album launch was such a genius idea. It’s a shared object – they have lots of fans who could get the album easily and for free. It’s personal but global. And now they’ve launched a real, hold-in-your-hand version as well. The fact that they pretty much took over the music media for a couple of months tells you all you need to know – have something remarkable, a social object – and you’ll be noticed.

So the next time you’re talking with a friend and tell them how good your blender is, or the great book someone bought you for Christmas, or how comfortable your walking boots are, realise you’re doing unplanned marketing.

Yorkshire Twist: Part 1

Over the next few months I hope to make some pretty big changes regarding the way I do business. The biggest change is my company name, currently stillbreathing.co.uk, will change to Yorkshire Twist. Sounds like a cocktail involving ferrets, I know. Let me explain.

The Yorkshire bit speaks for itself. I’m based in the heart of Yorkshire and although I’m not a Yorkshireman born and bred I’m very proud to have made this place my home.

So, what’s the twist? Yorkshire folk are known for having little patience for frippery. Extraneous fluff isn’t their way, and I appreciate the fact that they want to get to the nitty-gritty quickly. I’m not the only one that thinks like that. Simple is better, especially when it comes to the web where acronyms and jargon abound.

So I’m putting in place a policy to avoid jargon as much as possible. Yorkshire Twist will be an acronym-light zone. Clients will be able to easily understand the technology and therefore get the best out of it, without having to invest in a thesaurus.

How exactly that will pan out I’m not sure yet. The clients I work with currently say they appreciate my down-to-earth approach, so I figured it’s worth turning that skill to my advantage. Plus it gives me the chance to separate my slightly worrying personal online life from my business dealings.

It will also give me a brand under which I can offer some of my open source software, and some other pieces of software such as my content management system and e-commerce system. Hmm, that’s a bit close to jargon for my liking. I may have to rethink how I describe these things.

My manual for much of this transition, apart from my wife’s impeccable common sense (she’s a true Yorkshirewoman, you know), will be this guide to marketing a small web design business. Recommended reading for anyone in my position.

Target by name…

Roger Johansson is one of the leading experts on accessibility in website design. “Accessibility” means making sure that website will be usable by visitors with different abilities, experience, software and hardware. Just like it’s the law that you should not hinder disabled people accessing a shop, it’s a law in some places at least that websites should be accessible. Read here for more about website accessibility.

The big news for some time in accessibility circles has been the court case against Target which is now a class action, meaning any visually-impaired people who have had trouble using Target’s website can add their name to the growing list of disgruntled shoppers. Target tried to get out of the court case, and one of their arguments was that people having trouble using their site might not have bought anything anyway. They judge said:

“Target’s argument based on the speculative purchases would defeat most ADA claims. There is no requirement that a plaintiff who encounters physical accessibility barriers—such as a wheelchair user who confronts a store without ramps at its entrance—must provide a shopping list of products available at the store in order to proceed with an ADA claim,” the judge ruled. “Rather, it is sufficient that the (consumers who are suing Target) have alleged that they were denied access, by being diverted to another store, in order to meet the class definition.”

Which I think sums up the situation very nicely. Let’s get one thing clear: if you discriminate against people your business will suffer. By reducing the number of potential happy customers you have, or – as Target are finding out – by legal action.