Ultimate Blogger Dinner @ CES09

I was lucky enough to score an invite to a party last night called the Ultimate Blogger Dinner. It was hosted by Chris Heuer and Kristie Wells, the founders of Social Media Club and sponsored by Lenovo. Even though this week is absolutely crazy as I prepare for WordCamp coming up this weekend, I knew it would be a great networking opportunity and something I shouldn’t miss. I was right.

Lenovo sprang for a very nice seafood spread. Crab claws, cocktail shrimp and a shrimp ceviche that was excellent. Aside from bringing the great food, they also had an impressive product display taking up the back half of the room. Laptops of all shapes and sizes. I even saw a dual screen laptop. If I was in the market for a new laptop, I’d strongly consider that one. Way cool.

One of the best parts of going out to events like this is being able to meet face-to-face with people you only know from their avatar on Twitter. I went up to a guy last night and said, “You look so familiar.” Sure enough, that’s where I knew him from.

Chris Heuer was doing a live webcast from the event and was interviewing a few people including the CEO from Ford and several others. He asked if I would come on the show as well. You can watch the whole webcast below. If you are only interested in seeing my pretty face, fast forward to the 13 minute point.

Live Video streaming by Ustream

It was great to meet so many people last night. I’m looking forward to seeing several of them again this weekend at WordCamp.

Feeling the love

“What a long strange trip it’s been”, sang The Grateful Dead. I can’t agree more.

It started back in September. I got the idea to host a WordCamp since nobody else in Las Vegas had done it yet. My initial thought was that once I announced it, others would come to be clamoring for the opportunity to be involved with the planning. I was wrong.

Thankfully, I have some great friends and family. My dad, mom, sister are all coming out from California to help out to help with the event. I’ve off-loaded the photography and video taping duties to Jeff and Todd. Wifi is being handled by Brent. And my awesome wife will work as my assistant for the event. I envy her job the least. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of running around involved.

I have been unbelievably lucky to have been able to pull together an absolutely amazing lineup of speakers for the event. I am shocked that this call came together as it did. I think if I had half the amount of speakers that we currently have presenting, we’d still be giving the audience more than their money’s worth.

In the months leading up to the event registrations had been going slow. Then, the holidays arrived and they certainly didn’t help. Now, as we are in the final few days before the event, signups and traffic to the site in general has really picked up. Tonight we event crossed the triple digit line and got our 100th signup. I’m holding out hope that we will get to 150 before registration closes on Friday at noon.

My main goal all along has been to put on a WordCamp that is second to none. At times it seemed like that just wasn’t going to happen. This week, however, I’m finally getting a feeling that the show is going to be everything I had in mind… and more.

Even though the planning duties fell squarely on my shoulders, promoting the event has been a group effort. There have been dozens and dozens of blog posts written about the event and hundreds of tweets. The buzz surrounding the event as we lead up to it this weekend is staggering. A heart-felt thanks goes out to all those who have done more than your fair share to help promote this event.

All the key pieces of materials have arrived at this point. I’m still waiting for a banner to arrive, but that’s it. I have a lot of work left to do and I don’t expect to get much sleep between now and Sunday. I’m OK with that. It’s all been well worth it.

If you have already registered for WordCamp:Las Vegas, I look forward to seeing you on Saturday. If you haven’t yet signed up, you have until Friday at noon to get it done. Go register now before it’s too late.

Thank you for all the kind words you guys have written. It means a lot to me.

Incorrect info leads to major stress

One of the requirements for running WordCamp is a temporary event license. I needed to get this from the businesses license department of Las Vegas. I went to their website and downloaded the form and was quickly overwhelmed. For some strange reason, instead of tackling the issue, I set it aside and let time roll on by.

I made a call to the business license a few days later and explained what I was doing and asked what all I needed. They pointed me back to the website to the form I already had in front of me and said to follow the instructions. Oh boy, this was not going to be easy. The instructions list several different permits I had to get that included getting inspections for waste removal. HUH? What have I got myself in to? Overwhelmed once again, I set the papers aside and let more time roll on by.

Yesterday I got a call from a very nice lady at the business license office here in Las Vegas. She was following up because she knew my event date was coming up and needed to get my paperwork in. I could put it off no longer, I was forced to get this done. NOW! On my lunch break I made several calls to find out what I needed to do and who I needed to pay. Some of these permits were fairly pricey. This was going to hurt. Thanks to my brilliant timing of waiting until the last minute, which just so happens to be in the middle of the holiday season, I have even less time than I normally would. So, in a panic I fill out some forms, leave work early and head home to pick up the checkbook.

On my way home I decided to call my contact at Palace Station to see if she can provide some guidance. I know it’s my fault that I’ve waited so long, but hopefully I’m not overly screwed. As I’m explaining the hoops I’m getting ready to jump through, she stops me and says, “You don’t need to do all that.” Palace Station has all the permits for 95% of what’s on the list. The only thing I need is the temporary event license, sans all the permits. Excellent, this is a good start. I high-tail it over to the business license office and submit my paperwork. As it turns out, there is one permit I do need to attain. It’s a tax permit that is required because I’m charging attendees for the conference. Still, they let me submit the forms with the promise that I’ll get the tax permit and fax it the following morning. We pay our bill and hit the door.

I check our navigation system and it says that the tax building is .7 miles from the business license building. 10 minutes later (thanks to some fun one-way street issues) we are in their parking lot. We find the right room, put our name on the list and find that we are in for a 1 hour wait. During that hour it became clear that every person working in the tax office was overly nice. They were cheery and helpful and got people in and out of there quickly. The experience was not what I was expecting, I’ll tell you that right now! When it was my turn, I sat down at the desk and found that the lady helping me was training 2 people at the same time. She had a big smile, great attitude and had me in and out of there in under 10 minutes paperwork in hand. It could not have gone any smoother.

If I could make one suggestion it would be that the city of Las Vegas create different forms for the different type of event permits or at least provide a set of instructions that can help you figure out what parts are or aren’t required. Running events is not my normal job so I would have no idea that I could skip portions of that form. It would have made for a way less stressful day. Thankfully, I ran in to 3 ladies today that helped me out, set me straight and got me back on track.

WordCamp:Las Vegas is only $20 for 2 days!

I know I’ve talked about it before and my long time readers have probably heard about it a bunch, but, I have a few hundred new followers on Twitter who may be hearing this for the first time, so please pardon me if you’ve read this before.

If you are interested in learning more about WordPress, blogging, monetization, personal branding, or building up interest for your personal or business blog/website, I invite you to join us for WordCamp:Las Vegas.

You can find all the details about who’s speaking at the event, the agenda, who’s sponsoring and everything else there is to know about it at LasVegasWordCamp.com, but here are the basics:

When: January 10-11, 2009 (8am-5pm, both days)
Where: Palace Station Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV
Cost: $20.00
Where to Register: EventBrite.com

For your $20 you’ll get a t-shirt plus 2 full days of learning and networking. You’ll have a hard time finding a better deal!

See you there.

Building a Las Vegas posse

There are so many great tools for social networking these days. Who isn’t on Twitter and Facebook by now, right? While both of these are great for virtual meetings, I’m looking to expand that to actual face-to-face meetings. In order to do that, I need to find people in my basic area who are also interested in building their own social web.

For the past few weeks I have been focusing on building up the number of people I’m interacting with on Twitter from the Las Vegas area. To do this, I have been using twitterlocal.net to find tweeters in and around Las Vegas. I have a fairly basic rule set that I use as a guideline when it comes to who I do or don’t follow. For example, I usually don’t follow somebody if I’m going to be one of their first 5 followers. I also don’t follow people that look like they might be less than 21. This is mainly because if we schedule a meetup at a bar, I’d hate to exclude somebody I’ve gone out of my way to try and network with.

So what’s the benefit in all of this? Unless you are independently wealthy, we all have some sort of business or service that we offer. There is no better way to advertiser yourself than by going out and meeting a bunch of people who share common interests. Your first meetup may not turn up any new clients. Your second, third and fourth might not either. But, by keeping your name and face fresh in peoples minds, when it comes time that they or somebody they know need a service that you provide, your name should be on the top of their list.

I currently organize 3 groups on meetup.com. Each group has been having meetings on a monthly basis. We have some cross pollination going on with the groups, and that’s a good thing. People are getting introduced to different views on social media, blogging, self branding and promotion. My goal now is to introduce the 200 plus people I’ve found on Twitter from Las Vegas to our meetup groups.

If you are interested, here are the 3 meetup groups to join:
– Las Vegas WordPress Meetup Group
– Vegas Tweetup
– Las Vegas Social Media Club

On Saturday, January 10th at 5:30 PM, just after the end of Day 1 of WordCamp:Las Vegas, we’ll be having a meetup with all 3 groups invited. Join any of the groups above to get all the details. We’d love to see you out there!

Time for the ducks to line up

I’m only about 3.5 weeks away from the start of WordCamp. Wow, let me say that again… I’m only 3.5 weeks away from the start of WordCamp. I need to get my shit together!

OK, truthfully, things are all going pretty well. But, that’s been thanks to some things falling in to place quite nicely. Some of that has just been hard work & manual labor, while other parts have been great recommendations by others.

I’m using EventBrite.com for handling the registrations. This turned out to be a stroke of genius. They handle the order taking, they collect all the important information securely, they let you ask additional questions if needed (shirt size, URL, etc…) and they deliver the cash directly to your paypal account. It couldn’t be easier.

After some searching on Google, I found a great deal on lanyards and badge holders at NameTag.com. They shipped my order the following day and it should arrive tomorrow. Sweet.

For the badges themselves, I’m actually still waiting on a piece of artwork from my designer. But, as soon as it arrives, I’m using a printer who I found through Twitter, of all places. Their website is VerticalPrinting.com and you can find Laura on Twitter @VPG_Printing.

Much of the hard work has been made a lot easier by the team over at Palace Station. They’ve really been helpful along the way. Getting the room organized, discount codes and all the extras that come up along the way. Big thanks to Page and Gina!

And finally, lots of help from friends. Doug hooked me up with the contacts for the conference space, Todd is on board to shoot photos and live blog the event, Jeff is in charge of the video and live stream, Brent is taking care of the internet access, my dad is driving in from California to do sound, my sister is coming in from California to help with registration/packet pickup and Dave was kind enough to loan me a projector. I think that’s everybody so far. I’m sure there will be more before the day arrives, but this has already been a great outpouring of assistance and I’m thrilled to have friends and family so eager to help! I hope they realize this is NOT a paying gig. 😉

I currently have a list of “last minute things” to get done that is on my iPhone and I look at it daily. I’ve been plucking items off the list and I’m feeling pretty good that everything is going to click in to place like a well tuned machine.

If I can get the shirts ordered by Friday, the printing ordered by the middle of next week, I’m going to be in the clear. I think those are the only things outside of my control that are outstanding. Everything else can be done locally. The weekend following Christmas is gonna be a busy one.

See you all there. Right?!?

Get one thing done

As you may already know, I’m in the process of organizing a conference called WordCamp:Las Vegas. It’s less than a month away now so it’s really starting to become Crunch Time! All those things I knew I had to get done before the show didn’t seem like that big of a deal a few months ago when I started this journey. However, as the event draws near, it’s time to do like the jolly guy from the North Pole is doing right now; make a list and check it twice!

Last night while I had some down time, I started brainstorming. I wanted to work on a list of items I’m going to need for the conference that aren’t the big obvious things (like chairs, a stage, a microphone, etc…). I decided that the best way to do this was going to be on the iPhone using an app called Toodledo. Each time I would think of a new item I needed to get, I’d create a new task for it. By the time I was done I realized I have some work to do. And some of it I need to get done soon!

This morning I opened up Toodledo to double-check the list. When I first saw all the tasks staring back at me with their due dates and importance level (most say HIGH), it was a little overwhelming. I quickly closed the app and went back in to my shell of denial and headed off to work. Luckily, on my lunch break I came to my senses. I opened up the app again and took a quick look and found exactly what I was looking for. A simple task on the list that could be done with minimal effort. I quickly hit the Internet, did a search on Google, found 3 stores selling the product I needed. I found the store that had the item that best fit my needs and had the best price and I placed the order. I opened up Toodledo again and checked the item off the list. With that check mark went a sizable amount of stress.

When staring at the entire list of things to do, it can be overwhelming. When looking at any of the tasks on the list, none are to challenging and likely need only a few minutes attention each. Getting just one thing done of my list helped reinforce that fact.

I feel better already.

WordPress 2.7 – A few of my favorite things

Today WordPress 2.7 Release Candidate 2 was released. For those that don’t speak geek, a release candidate, or RC for short, is a version of software that, assuming nobody finds any bugs, what you see is what you get for the final released version. Though I have been testing out the beta versions since they first started being released, I had been waiting for a second RC version prior to updating several of the blogs I manage. Tonight was that night and the upgrades were flying!

Since I have been staring at the interface for the past 3 hours, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite aspects of the new WordPress release.

The Dashboard
The dashboard has matured in to a page that provides information and quick navigation rather than in previous versions where it was simply a page you stopped on for a second before immediately looking for a way to leave. Inside the dashboard alone there are several new features to be found before you even leave the page.

  • The “Right Now” section is an “At a Glance” look at your website as a whole. It tells you how many posts, pages, categories, etc.. you have on your site. Best of all, you can click the number next to each item and it will take you directly to the “manage” page for the selected section.
  • The “QuickPress” section allows you to write a blog post directly from the dashboard. It is a stripped down version of the new blog post page, but I’m sure there are thousands of bloggers who need nothing more than what is available.
  • The “Screen Options” menu is tucked away in the top right hand corner. Click on it and you’ll get a fly-out menu showing you a list of each section of the dashboard available to you. Simply click the checkbox next to a section’s name and that section is removed from the dashboard. This will unclutter your dashboard and make sure you are only seeing the sections you want/need to see.
  • This last feature is something that I’m sure is going to be missed by most users. The drag and drop organization of the dashboard may be one of my favorite features. I didn’t want to remove any of the sections from the main page, but, for me, I didn’t need to see my inbound links “above the fold” as they say. So, I simply drug that section to the bottom of the left hand column. Now, it’s there any time I want to see it, I only need to scroll down to get to it.

The Navigation
The only thing more deserving of an overhaul than the dashboard was the navigation. I’d say they really hit it out of the park with the new layout. There are several key ingredients that went in to making a better nav system.

  • Left hand nav Vs. Top nav. It seems like such a small thing, but really it’s not. When the menu was along the top, it would take up valuable North/South screen real estate. Plus, with the new left hand nav, you now have access to all the menu items at once (if you choose) rather than being forced to be on the plugins page to click the link to edit settings for a specific plugin. Now you only need to open the settings menu section and you have instant access to the config page for any active plugin.
  • In 2.7 you now have access to all the menu items and sub-menu items from any page you are on. For some, this may be information overload. For those people they have introduced the collapsible menu. First you can expand/collapse any specific section and it’s options. If that’s not enough, you can collapse the entire menu. Doing this will leave you with icons for each individual section. Hovering over those icons will give you the same access you had before for each individual section.
  • Instant Access to Everything!! Assuming you have expanded all the menus (like I have), you now have direct access to just about every page in your WordPress install. This means no more clicking two or three times to get to a specific page. This may sound trivial, but since WordPress loads up a new page from your server every time you click a page, you are now saving 5-30 seconds each time you log in to WordPress.

What is your favorite part of the new WordPress?

Paid themes Vs Free themes

Almost everybody who uses WordPress has gone in search of new templates for their blog. They are easy to find. A search on Google for the term “wordpress themes” turned up 6.99 million results. The trick is finding one that:

  • Works for your intended use
  • Looks good
  • Works with the plugins you use
  • Is free of malicious code

WordPress.org helped out with a few of these points by creating the free Theme Directory where you can find 718 themes that have been downloaded 1,695,648 (at the time of this post) times. I’ve paged through nearly all of the themes that are up there over the past few months and have found several that are decent looking, but once I install them on a test site, it doesn’t take long before I realize it’s missing something. I then go back to the theme directory, find another theme and repeat the process. For me it was a process that was getting really old.

The other side of the coin is the increasing availability of paid themes. Companies like Unique Blog Designs, DIY Themes, and the group that brought us the Revolution and Revolution 2 themes are all putting out high quality, highly configurable site templates that can be yours for a price.

I recently purchased the Revolution 2 Theme bundle for use on a couple sites. So far I’ve launched a site for my Son using the Elements theme (VideoGameDude.com), I’ve used the LifeStyle theme for a client (HandsInMotion.info – still in progress), and the TV theme is being used on a site set to launch in the next few weeks. Each theme makes use of the custom fields feature to allow for easy inclusion of images that are displayed as part of the post layout giving each site a decidedly different look and feel. The Elements theme options page provides space for entering your adsense code(s) to be included in several spots throughout the site. Easy, quick and  powerful.

Obviously not every blog requires you spend a few hundred dollars on a site template, but for any business blog or if you are trying to build your own personal brand, don’t you think you should set yourself apart from the masses?

What drives your WordPress blog

Today James asked me if I could write a post about what my current favorite WordPress plugins are because he’s redoing his blog and knows that I manage several WordPress installs. So here ya go, James. A list of my current “must have” WordPress plugins, in no particular order:

  • Akismet – If you don’t want to be spending half your day dealing with blog spam, turn on Akismet. It is hands down the best comment spam fighting utility around.
  • DISQUS Comment System – I really like the way comments are handled with the Disqus system. Plus, since I combined Disqus and Akismet, I don’t believe I’ve had more than a handful of comment spam get through.
  • WordPress.com Stats – Where are your visitors coming from, what pages are they viewing and what are they clicking on to leave? Simple, easy to use stats. Period.
  • Cross-Linker – Create text links for keywords across your entire blog. For example, if you want the word Poker to redirect to a poker site, add the link one time using Cross-Linker and have every instance of the word Poker automatically linked for you. Don’t worry, it’s quite configurable.
  • All in One SEO Pack – Helps get your blog ready to rule the Search Engines. Clean up your titles and meta tags for your WordPress site.
  • WP Super Cache – If you aren’t updating your site multiple times a day and you want to speed up the loading of your website for your visitors, this plugin is the answer.
  • NextGen Gallery – You no longer need to rely on flickr to host your photos to pull in using a different plugin. Us NextGen Gallery to upload your photos to your own site and then have multiple options for how to display them in posts.
  • Twitter Tools – With Twitter Tools it is a no brainer to display your latest tweets on your blog. You can also do things like create a blog post of your tweets (either individually, or in a summary post.) Also, create an automatic tweet each time you write a post to alert your followers of the new content.

While there are other plugins I use, these are the ones that I tend to add to most all the WordPress installs.

How about you? Are there plugins you think are mandatory that I’ve missed? Leave me a comment and tell me what they are.