Doggone Good Service

On the heels of this year’s Blogher conference, I am spending a week in the Chicago area catching up with customers and family alike.  (I grew up here, way back in the early Pleistocene.) 

Portillosneon
Was driving to the airport yesterday, and on the way pulled into Portillo’s for a good ol’ Chicago style hot dog.  However, upon pulling into the lot, I realized that there was a line of about 10 cars in the drive-thru ahead of us.  Yet, undeterred, I pulled into line.  Yes, we might miss a flight, but there is research to do here!

The first thing I noticed pulling into the line was that they had turned off the automatic squawk-box ordering system, and instead had put three human beings into the line, all with headsets and walkie-talkies.  As we pulled up to the first gentleman, he asked us for our order.  Having not seen the menu yet, I didn’t know the answer, and said so.  He deftly handed me a paper menu, and said, "No problem, just tell the next person."

We pulled up to the next person, a woman, who was about three car lengths up in the queue.  She took our order, radioed it in, and handed us a claim check.  (Number 87, to be precise.)  We then pulled ahead to the third person, who was taking cash, wearing one of those old-style coin belts with which one can clink out coin change with ridiculous efficiency.  She told us our total, took our money, made the change, and sent us rolling up to the window, where our food was already waiting.

Total time in line:  MAYBE four minutes.  Tops.

As we were pulling up to the cashier, I asked her if they always used this seemingly "inefficient" 3-person lineup during rush times.  She said yes.

Even though it appears inefficient at first blush, the process was absolutely flawless and unbelievably fast.  I would wager they do a substantially greater amount of business in their drive-thru than, say, the nearby large fast-food chain, with the standard one- or two-person drive-thru configuration.

Portillo’s website says their motto is: "The best food and the best service!"  I can concur, they are two-for-two.  Pass the mustard.

Related: By, the way, never, never, never order ketchup on a Chicago style hot dog, lest they say "Behold, this creature that walks like a man. It wants ketchup on its hot dog!"

image: city of buena park

Liveblogging Blogher: Inclusion and Exclusion in Online Communities

The Politics of Inclusion and Exclusion in Online Communities
Inclusion and exclusion in online communities panelSession description: "Comments, link-love, blog-rolls, who’s in, who’s out? The Internet
has the potential to be the great equalizer, to breakdown artificial
barriers. Is that what we’re doing, or are we all sticking to our
respective corners of the online world? What signposts do those who
feel outside the online majority look for when deciding if an online
community will be welcoming to "people like me." Can you build
community that becomes more inclusive, rather than exclusive — and does
it have broader social implications if you do (or don’t)? Join Joy Palmer, Liza Barry-Kessler, Dory Devlin and Valencia Roner
as they take a look at this often-sensitive subject. We’ll cover
everything from anecdotal experiences to research data on how online
communties tend to behave and evolve."

Audience: Do niche communities / niche blogs make people  connect only with similar people who share the same niche?

Valencia: I don’t limit myself (on my blog).  I make sure the audience knows that I’m open to anything.

Switching gears…

Kelli: What about when someone writes something that’s very important, but is written to you privately?  Is there a way to bring that conversation out into the open?

Valencia: You need to take it on a case-by-case basis.  You can also talk about it, but make the person anonymous.

Heather B.: I’ve noticed that sometimes people will send you things privately that they don’t want to put in the comments, because they felt it might offend you.

Audience: You can also expand/rethink your blogroll, to add blogs that you think are interesting, but don’t necessarily mirror the things your blog usually covers.

Viv:  I have three blogs.  I have a mom blog, but I also have a gaming blog.  I found that Stumbleupon has been a good tool to show new things to my friends.

Gena: I am African America.  But when I’m writing about software, or FEMA, I’m writing about who I am right now.  I had to come to a place where, no matter what, this is the person who I am today and whatever you’re reading is filtered through my experience.  It took a while for me to feel safe enough to say "this is who I am."  I intersect on a lot of different communities.  If I’m welcomed in that community, I’m going to go back and forth.

Valencia:  I think we’re the sum total of our experiences.  The beauty of places like this, and the beauty of the blog is that we can interact. 

Holli: How did I deal with this?  By taking the power of other people away for people to attack me, and setting the rules.

Skye Kilaen: We have a comment policy in place, so our visitors don’t need to armor up before reading the comments.  If it’s not a safe space, you’re systematically cutting out a large number of people and participation who don’t feel it’s safe to be there.

Lilly:  I wonder if people who are mean are more likely to comment more?  How do we make it so that ‘nice’ people aren’t intimidated by others out there?

Audience:  When getting trolled, I suggested to the troll to start their own blog.  So she did.  (And at that point I knew I’d made it.)  We don’t think of the trolls as part of our community. 

Audience:  I put a post out where I asked readers what their favorite blogs are.  I got a ton of comments, and there was this "web of inclusion" that was created.

Liza:  You can put inclusive asides in posts.

Joy: The element of risk is one worth taking.  You might not feel that you have the "right" to speak about something, but one way to reach out is to just write.  Another way to reach out is via the blogroll.  There are designs and visual cues that you can put on the blog.

Is There a “Web 2.0″ Gap, Akin To The Pay Gap?

Penelope Trunk makes an observation and asks a very enlightened question:

"Instead of worrying about the wage gap let’s worry about the Web 2.0
gap. The second round of the Internet revolution is being run largely
by men. In fact, as tech companies need less and less marketing,
the usual spots for women in tech companies are disappearing. And as
the barrier to entry gets lower and lower, and founders get younger and younger,
the hours people put in to start a company verge on 100 percent of
waking time, something that women seem to be just plain not interested
in doing.

I am not sure what should be done about the Web 2.0 gap. I have a
feeling that it ends up getting more and more male-centric — just like
video games. For example, most blogs are aimed at technical types.
(Something we might be able to overcome.) Yet the most prominent blog
ranking site, Technorati, ranks blogs based on how many people link to
them. So a blog catering to people who don’t blog themselves would be
ranked lower in the blogosphere. The subtle burying of women’s voices
online.

I’m not sure if it’s a big deal or not. But I am definitely sure the
time gap and the Web 2.0 gap are having more impact on the business
opportunities women see than that statistically irrelevant pay gap is.
It’s just that the mainstream media is accustomed to writing about pay
gap, and not about who is playing poker with the founders of Digg and who is playing Xbox with the founders of Reddit."

Interesting perspective. (I’m still mulling this over and need to check some of the assertions above before buying in wholesale, but this sounds plausible at first blush.)  Your thoughts?

Blues at Blogher


Blues at Blogher
Originally uploaded by christophercarfi.

Over the next couple of days, I’ll be doing a little bit of photoblogging as well – great conference, and unbelievable venue here at Navy Pier in Chicago. I just walked outside the conference area to find this blues stage with band doing a screaming cover of Red House.

It’s good to be home. :-)

By the way, if you want to subscribe to just the photo feed over the next couple of days, I’ll be posting the pics directly to Flickr and the photo feed is here.

Liveblogging Blogher: Building Your Blog and Site Traffic

Technical Tools To Build Traffic
Site description: "Grabbing an audience and keeping them engaged is enhanced by technical
know-how. We’re going to help you get some, including how to use
syndication to your best advantage, and a little DIY search engine
optimization. This is a reprise of what was one of our most popular
sessions at BlogHer Business in March, featuring, once again, Elise Bauer and Vanessa Fox."

The Top 5 Ways to build traffic:

  1. Link out to other bloggers
  2. Leave comments on their sites
  3. Plan and participate in blog events
  4. Contribute to the community
  5. Participate in social networks (put your blog in your profile)

Elise also shared a number of site design tips:

  • Image size (ideally under 15.5K each)
  • Page length and size (try to keep under 100k)
  • Font size (must be readable)
  • Reduce clutter
  • Color backgrounds (avoid for main text, too hard to read)
  • Search bars (have them up top where people can see them)
  • Categories (categorize your entres)
  • Multiple browsers
  • Screen resolution
  • Broken links (find and fix them)

Liveblogging Blogher: The Art of Storytelling

Staning room only at the Art of Storytelling sessionThe Art of Storytelling

Session description: "There have been many
calls for a session about the art of writing itself…how to improve
your writing, how to find your unique voice, etc. This session covers
narrative prose, and the blog as a platform for narrative prose
specifically. In a blogging world of 140 character posts on Twitter and
link posts posing as "content", is there a place for stories? Author,
blogger and screenwriter Claire Fontaine talks with other bloggers Birdie Jaworski and Ree from Confessions of a Pioneer Woman, about why they still find time to write intriguing beginnings, gripping middles and satisfying ends."

Audience:  We’re trying to build a collective story by way of interviewing a number of people.  What suggestions would you have?

Birdie:  I live in a small town in New Mexico.  The families in my area have an incredibly rich history, but no one ever tells them.  I went to the library, found old photographs of the community, and now I am showing the elder members of the community the photographs, and asked them to tell me about that place.  If you show people something that can be a visual cue, it can bring back a flood of memory.  It’s been fascinating.

Claire:  Asking the right questions is probably key.  If you can ask the right questions, it can tease those stories out.

A lot of interesting conversation of "telling stories" versus "blogging" or other similar forms.  Stories are just that … beginnings, middles, and ends.  Characters.  Narrative arc.  Stories are a very different creature than an episodic blog post that is not of any particular "form."

Audience:  Which are the stories that I want to keep close, and just for my family and friends?  Which ones do you put out there into the world?

Claire:  I just published a memoir.  For me, telling "risky" or "scary" stories from your past frees yourself.  The stuff that people respond to are the stories that we were originally afraid to publish. 

Claire asks herself three things every time she writes:  "Is it true? Is it clear?  Is it beautiful?"  But she also explicitly does NOT think about the "reader," as she would lose her "inner conversation" that creates her stories.  The only fact-checking is "am I telling the truth from within?"

Birdie uses contrast as a mechanism.  For example, she writes about a man in her town, and compares him to herself.  In doing so, she brings out more of what she is about and, at the end of the story, at which she and the subject are equal, but different.

Audience: What about "creative nonfiction," (yes, I know I’m using the term wrong) where I put two things together that were each true, but didn’t happen at the same time?  Or I leave out the middle of the story, because the beginning and end were the most interesting.  What’s the right way to do this?

Panel:  You *definitely* need to disclose that.  Even putting the phrase "based on a true story" will help to prevent you from getting into the trouble.  Or, if you’re not sure of a fact, preface it with "I think" or "in my opinion"…don’t state something as fact if that’s not the case.

Claire says "every story is an unanswered question."  And don’t answer that question until the end.  That mystery is the key.

 

Liveblogging Blogher: Life Stages of Online Communities

Blogher 07The Life Stages of Online Communities

Session overview: "Communities have a lifecycle. What we do to nurture them depends on
where a community is in its life. Talk with people at all stages of
managing online communities as part of for-profit and non-profit
endeavors. What are best practices, pitfalls and warning signs to look
for at the birth, growth spurt or middle-age of your community?"

  • Jane Goldman,
    editor-in-chief for several cnet communities, moderates this discussion
    with managers of communities at various life stages
  • Carol Lin.
    Carol is the former CNN anchor who left the network to care for her
    husband as he died from cancer. Carol is in the process of giving birth
    a new online community and social network deigned to support cancer
    families.
  • Betsy Aoki from
    Microsoft has been community manager for multiple developer and
    end-user communities…and has watched them go through their difficult
    adolescent phase and come out, well-adjusted, on the other side.
  • Aliza Sherman, aka CyberGrrl, has seen the birth…and death…of more than her fair share of online communities.

A few key points that have been made regarding growing a healthy community:

  • Find the "tipping point" connectors in your network, and let them know about the community.  Even if they may not participate, they may know others who will.
  • Have code of conduct, but have a sense of humor about it.
  • Communities may have 1% "high volume" participants, 9% "occasional" participants.  The remaining 90% often read, but do not overtly comment.  (ed. – that said, this "90%" group of constituents may be active participants in other communities, or may eventually move into the other 9% or 1% groups — they are just as critical to community health as the other groups)
  • Acknowledge first-time posters; it provides an example to the other 90% of of the community who read, but who have never posted.
  • Enforce the "living room rule" as a comment policy
  • Clearly state the mission of the community
  • Creators of the community need to be able to plan and understand that, if the community is successful, that the original community organizers will need to "let go" of the community and allow it to run on its own
  • "Serve first, then be called to lead" was suggested as a possible model
  • There is no "rule of thumb" for the projected lifespan of an online community – can be months to years or, conversely, some may never make it to launch