Some Tools to Make Life Easier

There are a wealth of tools that you can tap to cut down on your workload and make it easier for others to participate. Here are just a few I’ve used:


Refresh Austin uses Google Groups as the central point of communication. It’s convenient and easy for us to administer and provides our members the ability to choose how they want to interact with it. Each person can choose to receive every message posted to the board as it comes in, or opt to receive a batch message each day, or they may choose to use it as a message board, visiting whenever is convenient for them. Keep that last option in mind – you may have a significant amount of members who do not receive any e-mail from the group, and who may not check the message board very often, if at all. The one downside to Google Groups is the lack of a decent spam solution. You’ll spend some time weeding the garden, but its worth it.

Tip: A spammy list will destroy your group. Set Google Groups to moderate all new members. This puts a bit of work on your shoulders up front, but once you see a valid message from a user, you can set them to “Always Allow” and you won’t have to moderate them any more.

I’ve also set up the Refresh Austin Google Group to auto-tweet to the Refresh Austin Twitter account whenever there is a new topic or job posted to one of our mailing lists.

Don’t forget other methods, like chat rooms or IRC channels if your group would be into it.


I’ve used SurveyMonkey to gauge which subjects we should cover in our Refresh meetings as well as to gain a better insight into what members would like from the group. The basic level is free and has served my needs well. There are many similar options.


Refresh Austin used to use Upcoming to provide event information and to track potential attendance, but has shifted to Facebook given the amount of people in the network. Ultimately I chose to go where the people are and that’s Facebook. Meetup is another option, but they charge an annual fee, which doesn’t seem like a worthwhile use of money for our particular group. You can also keep it simple, and just send out notices to your group and keep your Web site up-to-date, as the Austin 1759 Society does.

Tip: Keep in mind that you can’t rely on the RSVP numbers on any of the sites, as many members of your group may not RSVP or may not stick to their option. Enforcing an RSVP will result in less attendance unless yours is an exclusive group.

Web Site

This is a bit of a no-brainer, but I want to ensure I include everything I can think of. Make sure you have a site that includes the most up-to-date information regarding your meetings and topics, even if you are posting to multiple other sources like those mentioned above. You want to ensure that your group is findable via search engines and a URL that’s easy to remember. You may also want to include a wiki or a blog to make it easier for your members to follow group news and contribute to the expansion of the site through comments and new content. As to which platform or content package you use – the only thing that matters is that you have a t least a few people who know how to use it and keep it up to date.

The evolution of evolution »

Just suppose that Darwin’s ideas were only a part of the story of evolution. Suppose that a process he never wrote about, and never even imagined, has been controlling the evolution of life throughout most of the Earth’s history. It may sound preposterous, but this is exactly what microbiologist Carl Woese and physicist Nigel Goldenfeld, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believe

The evolution of evolution »

Just suppose that Darwin’s ideas were only a part of the story of evolution. Suppose that a process he never wrote about, and never even imagined, has been controlling the evolution of life throughout most of the Earth’s history. It may sound preposterous, but this is exactly what microbiologist Carl Woese and physicist Nigel Goldenfeld, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believe

Trendspotting: It's Your Job

Juhan's 2009 Career Graph - image from Flickr user juhansonin
Image from juhansonin

What are people saying about the company you work for? How do customers view the products or services you work on and the interactions they have with the organization? Don’t know? Think that this only matters for people in marketing or higher up the chain?


It matters. It matters a lot.

You need to know when customers have issues, even if they aren’t yours to fix. You need to know when a trend is forming within the company and among the public. This is your livelihood, this is how you pay the bills and pay for drinks. Who in your company is excited and who’s dejected? Who’s gone quiet all of a sudden and who’s denouncing their boss or a new project? How does all of this impact you, your job and your happiness?

While I can’t answer that last question – that’s for you to decide. I can help you with a very simple way to get on top of the game so you can spot trends before they appear on the official radar.

This post may look like a lot of work, but it isn’t. You’ll spend a little time up-front, but once everything is set up you’ll be able to skate by with a quick daily or weekly scan of headlines.

The Components

There’s a small set of tools that will provide you with all you need: Google Alerts, Twitter and RSS.


Twitter Logo If you aren’t on Twitter by now you need to sign up. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s stupid, people are using it and they’re talking about the company you work for. They’re talking about your work. If you are on twitter but don’t check into it all that often, you’ll want to increase your attention, but don’t worry – you don’t have to participate to a high degree, though I recommend that you do jump in.

Step One

Assuming you’ve already signed up, find your coworkers’ accounts and follow them or add them to a company-specific Twitter list. If you’re lucky, at least one of those coworkers will have already created a list for your company, making life much easier. Start with people in Marketing or that you know are into Twitter as those are the most likely to have made the connections with coworkers already. You may have to be selective if you work in a large company. If that’s the case, start with a Twitter list of everyone then follow those you think provide the most value.

Step Two

Pay attention to the traffic and back-and-forth discussions, especially those of people higher up the chain or in key positions. The latter group doesn’t necessarily equate to an important title; it could be a QA person or developer who’s the linchpin for a product shipping or someone who who staffs trade shows tweeting about who they just met or an interesting product in a neighboring booth.


While this isn’t required, you will gain much more from this process if you participate by answering questions and asking some of your own. I’ve connected with customers actively using our products via Twitter and my work is better for that exposure, and my view of the company is more informed.

Twitter Search

The fastest way to gauge reaction to a new initiative or to see the ramifications of a positive or negative customer experience is to have Twitter act as your personal monitor. Setting up a saved search on Twitter is easy and provides a wealth of information and alternate viewpoints.

Step One

Go to Twitter’s Search page and type in your company’s name. If the name is more than one word, place it in quotes to reduce false-positives. The same applies if the name is a single word that may be used in common communication. Use the Advanced Search if your company name is common or is likely to be a part of a common phrase so you can weed out the useless results. You may even use the “positive” and “negative” results checkboxes, but I recommend you take everything.

You can even use the advanced Search to specifically follow tweets to, from and referencing your company’s main Twitter account as well as key people in the company.

Step Two

Add the “Feed for this Query” to your RSS reader of choice. Even if you don’t check your feed reader often, it will cache the results for you so you won’t miss anything.

Bonus: Set up additional searches for alternate spellings, typos and key product names.

Google Alerts

Google Google Alerts are an invaluable tool for keeping an eye on the Web. While Twitter has quickly become the fastest way to learn about trends and opinions, this service provides insight into long(er) content. Someone may mention your company in a blog post or article, but the company name may not be included in the title of the piece or the 140 characters used to tweet about it.

Step One

Go to Google Alerts and as you did with your Twitter search type in the company name, placing it in quotes if it’s more than one word or is a single word that may be used often in a different context. Set the Type to Comprehensive and E-mail Length to Up to 50 Results (you do’t want to miss something). You can choose whether you want to receive the results via e-mail or RSS feed. I recommend the latter so it’s a part of the same workflow and it doesn’t clutter your inbox.

Step Two

Add the feed to your RSS reader of choice unless you opted for delivery via e-mail.

RSS & Newsletters

RSS Icon Assuming your company has a blog or two, make sure you’re subscribed to those RSS feeds. You may know the topics they cover backward and forward, but it’s important to see how they’re presenting the company and your work. The same goes for any company newsletters.

By now you’ve likely noticed that the RSS reader is key to this process. Beyond it providing a central location for you to gauge what’s happening on a day-to-day basis, you may be able to use it to spot general activity trends. For example, here’s a graph provided by Google Reader that shows the activity for a Twitter search feed broken down by day:
Twitter Search Activity Chart

If you didn’t notice the spike the first time around, you’ll see it now and be able to do a quick search to see what caused it.


These steps can easily be applied to your competition or other groups or companies of interest. If you’re interviewing at a company this framework will help you gauge the activity, personality and culture of the organization. If you want to see how your competition is fairing, there’s no better way than to apply the same process.

What Else?

I avoided large-scale social metric reporting services as this post is for people interested on a personal level as opposed to it being a key part of their job. Outside of those services, I’m sure there are many more ways to keep an eye on the trends that I didn’t cover. I’d love to know your tips and tricks if you’d be kind enough to leave a comment.

Weekly Digest for January 25th

A collection of my actions and interactions from around the Net over the last week.

twitter (feed #6) Reading TipTip jQuery Plugin: [#]

twitter (feed #6) Reading jLabel: "jQuery plugin that formats text input fields with unobtrusive labels featuring interactive sugges… [#]

twitter (feed #6) Reading SymbolicLinker: "allows any user to create symbolic links to files inside the Finder. SymbolicLinker does … [#]

twitter (feed #6) <– Reformed introvert [#]

twitter (feed #6) Reading Crafting Subtle & Realistic User Interfaces: [#]

twitter (feed #6) Reading MediaCore: "a free open source video, audio, and podcast publishing platform. It is built for organiza… [#]

twitter (feed #6) Good to see @Boxee is building a platform for monetization. I’ll happily pay for good content that I want. [#]

twitter (feed #6) RT @rickbenavidez: we don’t have single party tyranny, we have multi-party ineptitude [#]

twitter (feed #6) Posted: Replacing the Save Icon [#]

twitter (feed #6) Reading 100 Little Ways You Can Dramatically Improve Your Writing: via @Hoovers [#]

twitter (feed #6) Reading Mastering Photoshop: Unknown Tricks and Time-Savers: [#]

twitter (feed #6) Devs: Including "IE sucks" in the comments of code you send to clients may be true, but it’s unprofessional and sounds whiny. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Wish I could have made it to #ProductPotluck tonight, but sadly the timing didn’t work out. Enjoying the tweets tho. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Glass of wine, Beethoven and Photoshop zoomed in to 400%. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Done tweaking borders, backgrounds and buttons. Time to read then sleep. [#]

twitter (feed #6) RT @banksean: I don’t care if anyone would want to use an Apple tablet. I care if they would want to buy AAPL after the announcement. [#]

twitter (feed #6) I really like my Kindle, but opening it up for apps seems odd. I have a hard time believing it was built for multiple purposes. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Reading Getting Started with GeekTool: [#]

twitter (feed #6) Reading Brosho ‘Design in the Browser’ jQuery Plugin: [#]

twitter (feed #6) Reading The Best Icon Sets for Minimal Style Web Design: [#]

twitter (feed #6) After a very busy and dynamic week I’m enjoying this gin and tonic and look forward to the Green Chili Mac & Cheese that’s on tonight’s menu [#]

twitter (feed #6) Can’t wait for my Sugru to arrive. I applied to host a Hackquarium. If selected, they’ll send a bunch of Sugru so I could host a hack party. [#]

twitter (feed #6) The Android Developer Lab is coming to Austin on Feb. 4. Interested in developing for mobile? Check it out: [#]

twitter (feed #6) Reading Social Visor: A visor interface for Twitter and Facebook. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Reading The Official Creebobby Comics Archetype Times Table: [#]

twitter (feed #6) RT @Tocquigny: JOBS Austin – Senior & Associate .Net Developers, Ruby on Rails Developer [#]

twitter (feed #6) Rub applied to the pork butt that I’m smoking tomorrow. Sunday will be a good day – football, smoking and fun projects. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Up early for a Sunday to get the smoker prepped and a fire started. But first – coffee. [#]

twitter (feed #6) The smell of the pecan and hickory smoke is as aromatic as the day is beautiful. The pork is about half way through its time in the smoker [#]

twitter (feed #6) Posted: Lists following @WrongAlexJones [Flickr] [#]

twitter (feed #6) Just rotated the pork butt and lightly mopped it. Six hours into the smoke and it looks gorgeous. About three more to go until we eat it. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Looking forward to the NFC Championship. It’ll be good to see the Saints smack the Vikings around. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Bwahahaha "Current Reigning American Idol" Wow, I had no idea they they reigned in addition to adding to the crap we call pop music. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Pork pulled from the smoker. I gave it an extra hour (just over 10 total) and can’t wait to dig in once it’s rested for a bit. [#]

twitter (feed #6) What a game. C’mon Saints! [#]

twitter (feed #6) SAINTS! [#]

Understand Your Customers’ Social Behaviors »

Introduction to socialgraphics and the Engagement Pyramid, a way to understand your customers in addition to traditional demographics, psychographics, etc. Research forms the foundation for your social strategy. Presented by Charlene Li and Jeremiah Owyang, Altimeter Group, on January 20, 2010. Recording is also available at

Understand Your Customers’ Social Behaviors »

Introduction to socialgraphics and the Engagement Pyramid, a way to understand your customers in addition to traditional demographics, psychographics, etc. Research forms the foundation for your social strategy. Presented by Charlene Li and Jeremiah Owyang, Altimeter Group, on January 20, 2010. Recording is also available at

Replacing the Save Icon

Floppy Disk IconThe Save icon – that little ol’ floppy disk that exists in nearly every application sitting on your computer and on the Web. A representation of a piece of technology so utterly out of date that it’s meaning has shifted away from its physical existence into a concept of safety and permanence.

As a means of storage it was convenient by the standards of the day, but not necessarily that reliable and yet we’ve held onto it as a symbol, in large part because everyone who uses a computer recognizes it. So I recognize the fact that we’re unlikely to actually change it any time soon, I thought it would be fun to explore alternatives, so I asked the members of Refresh Austin, those who follow me on Twitter and my friends on Facebook for their ideas on a replacement. Those conversations generated some great ideas, which I present to you.

The Question

I asked “If it were up to you to change the old floppy disk as the “save” icon across all Web and desktop apps, what would you choose?”

The Answers

Physical Representations

Hard Drive icon Several responses recommended a hard drive, replacing one form of physical media with another, more accurate version. Though as William Yarbrough noted, it may not work as well for apps in the cloud.

safe-icon.png Keith Aric Hall was the first of many to recommend a vaults or safe. I like this idea as it reinforces the concept of “save”. As Frank Robinson noted, those also imply encryption or file-locking, so he suggested a two-drawer filing cabinet.

Terry Brown brought up the idea that since the Open icon is often an arrow pointing out of a folder, then having an arrow point into the folder would make sense for Save.

entry_saved.png Michelle McGonagle recommended a document with a checkmark and then took a larger step outside of the normal bounds by suggesting a treasure chest or empty jar, both of which are technology-agnostic. Keith noted that many CMSes use the document with a check icon to denote “Approve for Publishing”, which could be problematic.

Mental Concepts

box_address.png Clouds and Boxes proved popular, often accompanied by an arrow.

Diana Dupuis suggested a red “S” in a thin black circle.

The response from Steven Harms is too good to not quote outright:

The notion that is important is the locking of bits into a static form: stored in a cloud, stored on a disk, stored on a CD. The trouble is that those icons would be “lock” or “frosty-ness.” The former is visually synonymous with “security” and the latter with Wendy’s, so neither has quite the right visual glyph-set.

Other Notes

Annette Priest brought up some great points, including the fact that we’re on the verge of needing to replace phone icons as well. She also noted that perhaps we should look at a shift towards gestures for the action instead of an icon. Follow a certain pattern with your mouse or device and your work is saved.

Ryan Joy brought up the point that sometimes “save means ‘save draft’ or state and other times it’s intended as ‘publish'”. So, a bigger question may arise as to how and if we differentiate those concepts via icons.

What Do You Think?

A definitive answer was never the point, rather the conversation is the key, and it has been great so far. I’d love for you to jump in with your ideas to keep this going!.


All icons except for the safe, which is from VisualPharm are available as a part of the Flavour Extended Icon set by Oliver Twardowski.

Weekly Digest for January 18th

A collection of my actions and interactions from around the Net over the last week.

twitter (feed #6) Congrats to my friends at @poweredinc on the acquisitions. I look forward to seeing the steps you take in 2010. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Want coworking in North Austin? Give @baileyhillmedia your feedback to help build Junto Coworking: [#]

twitter (feed #6) Posted: Weekly Digest for January 11th [#]

twitter (feed #6) RT @JulieGomoll: Sarah Palin is joining Fox News. That means the Daily Show will get *even better*. [Oh man I can’t wait!] [#]

twitter (feed #6) At the Drafthouse for the 7:10 showing of Sherlock Holmes. [#]

twitter (feed #6) RT @ppk: Breaking: "to unfriend" already existed in 17th century Dutch. Draw your own conclusions. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Who’s coming to Refresh Austin Tonight? It’ll be a good one. [#]

"Honest Project provides services to all home construction participants, educating homeowners and managing budgets, draw schedules and payments."

twitter (feed #6) Reading Honest Project | Trust Build Verify: "Honest Project provides services to all home construction participan… [#]

twitter (feed #6) Austin Front-End Devs: Hit me up, I know of three different gigs looking for a rock star, at least two of which are full time. [#]

twitter (feed #6) ** Tonight’s Refresh Austin has shifted across the street from normal location. Info: ** [#]

twitter (feed #6) I love building user personas. as it forces me to step back from the implementation-side of day-to-day tasks. Higher-level thinking is good. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Remember – Refresh Austin hhas a different venue tonight (at Texas Coworking above @bdrileysaustin): [#]

twitter (feed #6) Great turnout for @RefreshAustin for @adonoho‘s presentation on building iPhone apps. We’ve filled @TexasCoworking‘s conf. room + overflow. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Yesterday’s @refreshaustin was great thanks to a fantastic presentation by @Adonoho and the folks at @TexasCoworking. Thanks all! [#]

twitter (feed #6) Another big thanks to @michaelpearsun for jumping in to man the door last night, plus some great conversation that has me thinking still. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Posted: The Value of Free eBooks [#]

twitter (feed #6) So who’s going to be at Ignite Austin tonight? [#]

twitter (feed #6) Having a blast at @IgniteAustin Watching some great presentations. [#]

twitter (feed #6) It blows me away when people say we should "be creative". They’re blind to the creativity around them because it doesn’t match their view. [#]

twitter (feed #6) I had a blast catching up with friends and meeting new ones at Ignite Austin. A big thanks to those who stepped up to present. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Thanks to @sryder Olivia Newton John’s "Physical" is in my head. See @palpatim‘s status a week ago: [#]

twitter (feed #6) Volume does not equate to expertise. [#]

twitter (feed #6) After talking with @BryanChaney, I’m excited to join the Tribes session at @CareerConnects on Jan. 29 to talk about@refreshaustin. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Reading Don’t let document ready slow you down: [#]

twitter (feed #6) Wow Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is 22 years old. Gotta love the comparison of Socrates (So-Crates) to Ozzy Osbourne. [#]

twitter (feed #6) RT @hayesdavis: RT @deadprogram: My rules for social media: find something cool=tweet it, learned something cool=blog it, mastered somet … [#]

twitter (feed #6) RT @SheilaS: Yes, it’s Jelly Coworking Round Rock today, any time btwn 11-2 at Star Co on Main downtown. More info: [#]

twitter (feed #6) RT @LPT: Pimping ain’t easy on the back of a tow truck [#]

twitter (feed #6) Wrapping up some morning design as I wait for football to start. Looking forward to watching the Cowboys crush the Vikings. [#]

twitter (feed #6) Damnit. Vikings were good, but the Cowboys are much better than they played. At least the Saints are still set up for the full run. [#]

Small Home Office in Your Backyard : OfficePOD

Small Home Office in Your Backyard : OfficePOD In these days working from home is becoming a trend thanks to the internet. For those of you who work from home, or want to have a quiet place to work the OfficePODp rovides a new additional space that is dedicated to work only. This creates a very important mental and physical boundary between home and work. The Office POD brings a whole new meaning to the idea of remote working as it comprises a rather sleek workspace in an all inclusive capsule. The OfficePOD is of optimum size (2.1m x 2.1m) and does not require planning consent in the greater majority of cases. It’s modular design enables speedy construction even in gardens with the most difficult access. The POD has been designed to provide appropriate security when empty or occupied. The external and internal look and feel of the space as well as the overall user experience is the product of an extensive design process. The OfficePODprovides the user with an efficient use of space with innovative storage and …