Wednesday, April 30, 2008

There is time enough to create 10,000 new web sites that engage and empower us

NYU professor Clay Shirky points out the the Internet population watches 5 trillion hours of TV, roughly equivalent to 10,000 Wikipedia projects worth of time. His point is that what he calls our "cognitive surplus" is huge, and there is room for a whole lot of new and engaging stuff on the web. His talk at the at Web 2.0 Expo SF 2008 is loaded with useful insights. (Transcript and video below.)

I wish he'd talked more about self-actualization. Self-actualization is sometimes described as an instinctual need (in humans) to make the most of our abilities; to strive to fulfill our potential and be all that we are capable of. It includes creativity and problem solving. And self-actualization opportunities sometimes need to be made more visible before people will take them up.

Whether you agree with Maslow's heirarchy of needs from "A Theory of Human Motivation," it seems common sense that self-actualization is a higher kind of human striving.

Here Comes Everybody, The Power of Organizing Without OrganizationsShirky points out, explaining social sites, that if you offer people the opportunity to produce and share media (beyond just consuming it) people take it up, but it didn't feel like he delved into the real reasons why, IMHO. I predict sites that seek to provide a high level of self-actualization opportunities become more the norm, but they need to signal that they offer a higher level of opportunity.

But it's nonetheless a great talk! Some very useful insights. You can read this lightly edited transcript of his talk, or watch it below. Shirky also has a great book about net-enabled social tools are transforming us, Here Comes Everybody, The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.

His talk begins:
"I was recently reminded of some reading I did in college, way back in the last century, by a British historian arguing that the critical technology, for the early phase of the industrial revolution, was gin.

"The transformation from rural to urban life was so sudden, and so wrenching, that the only thing society could do to manage was to drink itself into a stupor for a generation. The stories from that era are amazing-- there were gin pushcarts working their way through the streets of London.

"And it wasn't until society woke up from that collective bender that we actually started to get the institutional structures that we associate with the industrial revolution today.

Read the whole transcript here.

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Large Garage/Yard Sales: Doing It Right

This is also relevant for small garage/yard sales, but includes tips and advice mainly for multi-family, neighborhood, and church sales.

Double sales with signs done right

Would you like to double the early, most profitable sales? (Late sales are often heavily discounted.) I managed a sales location at one of this country's larger outdoor festivals. Every single visitor had to walk past it when they exited. The perfect location, right? Everyone saw it, everyone could see what was for sale there. No way to bring sales up by much there, you would think. Improved signage doubled sales at that location! This was a six-figure increase in net sales. (And it didn't cannibalize sales elsewhere, since people were exiting.)

Here's how to make it work for your garage sale:

  1. Use the same neon color (green, yellow, etc.) for all signs. People searching for your sale will follow the color. Put up signs at all major intersections nearby, and then at each intersection they will have to turn from. Yes, this will mean a lot of signs! Color means people who have to drive several blocks to the next turn will see the color ahead and not give up.
  2. Put up signs days ahead of time, with a tear off bottom portion that says "Starts Thursday!" or whenever. Go around with a box cutter and remove that portion the night before or the night of the first sale day.
  3. Put colorful streamers on top of the post(s) holding in the signs.
  4. Consider using metal rebar for the signposts, especially for church sales where it can be reused. It goes in fast and easy and doesn't break or give splinters.
What should it say on the signs? Read on:

The biggest sales booster

You can't skip this one. I once backed up traffic throughout a huge neighborhood with this one change. The neighbor had done a sale, but didn't get a lot of visitors or sales though weather was good. The next weekend, we did our sale, and made just one change vs. what they had done: We offered junk (mostly stuff you would never try to sell) for free, and said so on the signs.

Have an area for junk (you can bag misc tiny stuff and call it a mystery grab bag if you wish) labeled "FREE STUFF." Have someone watch over it. It doesn't need to be visible--make it easy on yourself: put it in an out-of-the-way area, where you wouldn't want to put things people might want to buy. It's okay if it's not visible right away, it helps get people looking at what you have.

Your signs should at least say (and can say no more than)

(plus the tear off bottom portion STARTS THURSDAY or whenever)

Don't kid yourself that you'll lose money this way. You'll make more than you could imagine, if you've got good stuff to sell. Amazingly, people don't bother much with the free stuff, even if that's what brought them over. And it brings traffic in droves.

Get the goods, get people involved, and thank Santa Claus!

When you're recruiting families or church members for a sale, be prepared to do some web sales ( eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, etc.) Second, get in touch via your regular mailing, or a postcard or phone tree before Christmas with potential donors! The discards after Christmas are when you get the really profitable stuff, and you may be able to sell it via the web before needing to deal with delivery and storage.

Ask people donating items to put a large description tag on the item. Have a standard form on the web they can print out and use. (below). This kind of merchandising vastly increases the sales of higher priced items. And they are the only ones that know the true working condition to provide a description.

For higher-priced items, ask people to consider:
  1. Taking a photograph of the item so you can advertise it via the web
  2. Shipping the item for you if you sell it over the web (via eBay, for example)
  3. Showing the item for you (and collecting payment), if you sell it via a local ad.
Lastly, divide up tasks, make teams for each task, over-recruit for volunteers, and set a schedule that starts in September of the this year for next year's sale. Collect ideas and feedback on what went right and wrong.

For the donors to describe their items, pre-print some standard fields (description of item; checkboxes for condition; space for price--you fill that in, not the donor; notes) on a piece of paper roughly shaped as shown at left above. It should be at least 5-8" in length, preferably on colored paper (choose a light color). You can fit three on a standard sheet of letter paper.

So much stuff you could start a business

Get people to contact you before they throw stuff out, because an amazing source of stuff for a garage sale is stuff people throw out--that would otherwise go to the dumpster. I've learned there are businesses all over the U.S. that get 60-80% of the goods they sell from castoff goods. But instead of "dumpster diving," use the Cole Directory at your library to find luxury townhome/condominium areas in your area and can send those addresses that are convenient a postcard offering to haul stuff away for charity, if your sale is for a charity.

(We actually sold stuff OUT of a dumpster at one sale that was very crowded. It was an accident! The dumpster was full and neighbors moving had piled stuff next to it. People started making offers on the stuff by the dumpster! Some old carpet cuttings and broken chairs. Amazing. )

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SEO Cheat Sheet of Technical Issues for Web Developers

Extremely brief summary of technical issues you need to know. Both a great starting point and a great reference. View screenshots of the SEO reference here, or go straight to the PDF download. Also some great SEO checklists for beginners here.

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