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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!

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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?!?

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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I think I may be a control freak

I’m not gonna lie, I love to organize events. Normally small events. Poker tournaments, trips with friends to the movies or things like that. But this is the first time I’ve ever taken on an event the size of WordCamp:Las Vegas. If things go well and we manage to sell out, we are talking about 200 attendees, 10 speakers, a dozen-ish sponsors and a handful of volunteers. That’s a bigger group than I’ve ever put together by a roughly 10:1 ratio.

Everybody I’ve talked to and everything I’ve read online has said that the best way to do organize something like WordCamp is to delegate certain portions of the organization process to different people. Put one person in charge of sponsorship, put somebody else in charge of rounding up speakers, etc, etc, etc… The thing is, when I decided to step up and take on the WordCamp project, it didn’t dawn on me to go around and ask if anybody else was interested in taking on part of the responsibility. This isn’t to say that I haven’t had help. A couple of people have provided me with some excellent contacts. But, the legwork has been all mine.

Here’s the thing… I’m not bothered by this in the least. To be quite honest, this is exactly how I would have wanted it. That’s not to say that I don’t want/need any help. Far from it. I’ve got my dad driving in from L.A. to do the audio, I’ve got a friend lined up to shoot video and manage the livecast, I’ve got another friend lined up to shoot photos and live blog the event and a third friend lined up to help with technical issues (wireless network, etc…), plus I’m still in need of a couple people to work the registration booth the day of the event, a couple people to play “security” and check badges at the door, and probably somebody to be a gopher for the miscellaneous things that come up during the day. But other than that, I’d like to think that things are coming together nicely.

Had to do over again, it would be nice to be sharing the duties with a partner. Unfortunately the one guy who I know would have been the perfect candidate to help out has moved a few thousand miles away. True, he’s still been a great help in providing me information and some direction, but not getting to see him daily (or even weekly) to bounce ideas off is a big bummer for me.

But hey, with him out of the way, there’s nobody to tell me I can’t start the show off by riding in on a Shetland Pony surrounded by the ladies of Olympic Garden! (The Power Is MINE!)

If you plan on taking on a project like organizing a WordCamp, don’t do it the way I’m doing it. Find a small group of people who you can rely on and hand off projects to save your sanity. You will be happy you did.

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Messing around with WordPress 2.7 Beta

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As I’m getting ready for our WordPress Meetup tomorrow night, I’ve installed the latest build of the WordPress 2.7 Beta. I have to say that the new admin section is a really big step in the right direction.

Before I go on, remember that this is still a Beta version of the software. The screenshots to follow may not match exactly that of the final release version.

For starters, here’s the new dashboard
(click images for a larger view)

It’s hard for me to decide which features of the new dashboard I like the most.
- Left-side collapsible navigation that allows you to get to the feature you want without having to load a secondary page first. For example, no need to click settings, wait for the page to load and then click “permalinks”. Just click the dropdown arrow next to settings and click the permalinks link. Depending on your server speed, this can be a 30-60 second time savings.
- “Right Now” stats showing you number of posts, pages, categories, tags, comments (approved, spam and awaiting moderation)
- Quick Press which lets you write a post directly from the dashboard (or save as a draft)
- Screen options (not shown in photo) where you can decide which elements of the dashboard are shown/hidden.

There is a lot more information being shown, but yet it doesn’t feel cluttered. It seems way better suited to getting the information you need and getting on with your day.

The Plugin Installer

This may be my favorite feature. No longer do you need to go to wordpress.org, download the plugin, FTP it to your server, go to the plugin page and activate it. Instead, simply go to the install plugins page, find the plugin you want and click the install button. It will do the rest for you. When done you only need to click the activate button. This is a HUGE time saver and is amazingly convenient when you don’t always have your FTP username/password with you. You could now install plugins while sitting at the airport or in Starbucks. I’ll bet you could even do it from your iphone without much trouble.

Media Library

The library itself hasn’t changed a lot, but, from the left-side menu you can now go add images to the library rather than needing to be in the write window. This is a big plus for me as I have had many instances where I wanted to store an image for use in a post later, but may not want to start the post and create a draft. Now I can just upload whatever and get to it when I get to it.

Custom Characters

Want to add a copyright, infinity or Yen symbol but don’t know the HTML code for it? In the post writing form there’s a link for custom characters that brings up a fly-out menu with 200 symbols that you can click on to instantly add to your post. I can now add that funky upside down question mark to my posts whenever I want! ¿ Ha!

I’m probably just scratching the surface of the cool features yet to be found in the new version of WordPress, but these are the features that jumped out at my after my first quick glance. I’m looking forward to the final release so I can upgrade my blogs to it right away.

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Double-Check Your Work!

Over the past few weeks I have been working on organizing the WordCamp:Las Vegas conference in January. I but together a website, I added some content and I even signed up for eventbrite.com to let them handle the registrations. I added a button to the site to send the visitors over to eventbrite.com to complete their registration and I tested the link to make sure everything was working properly. Once satisfied, I checked that off my list of things to do and I moved on.

This past weekend there was a LOT of buzz surrounding WordPress and more specifically, WordCamp. There were events held in 3 different cities around the country. There’s another one taking place this coming weekend. WordPress and WordCamp are the hot ticket right now. And yet, it’s been almost 2 full weeks and not a single person has completed the registration form. I realize that the event is still over 3 months away, but come on. Not 1 person signed up?

I received an email this morning from a guy who took the time to write. It said the following:

“Trying to register for WordCamp LV, but the registration form has no submit button. I’ll try again in a day or two and hope it works.”

ACK!! I immediately followed up with an email to the help desk at eventbrite.com asking what the deal is. Unfortunately, it’s now been a full day without a response. That saddens me a little bit. I’ll be following up in the morning with another email and perhaps a phone call.

In this case it wasn’t my work that needed double-checking. But had I taken the extra step to test out the form before considering it done, I would have saved myself some grief.

Live and learn.

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Blog World Expo 2008 – Day 2 Recap

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Day 2 of Blog World Expo started off exactly as I suspected… late. I don’t know that I have ever been to a conference where the final day has started on time. Especially a conference held in Las Vegas. I think the only way to have a final day session start on time in Las Vegas is to make sure the final day doesn’t start until noon.

The keynote today wasn’t so much a speech as it was a dialog/Q&A with Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week and Mike Shinoda, singer from Linkin Park moderated by Rohit Bhargava. They talked about building your personal brand and how it pays to be more interested than interesting. Rohit asked them the best question I had heard all weekend: How important to your success has it been to not be an asshole?” This headed the conversation towards how it is important to be nice to people you may think are non-important at the time. You never know which person is going to have the connection or cause you to be in a certain place at the exact right time. Tim also spoke about setting goals but know what the goals give you when you get there. He also suggested to “Talk to your readers like you would talk to your friends after 2 beers.”

The first session of the day I went to was called “My Blog is a Business? Building a Foundation that Can Help You Grow Your Blog Past the Hobby Stage” The panel consisted of Chris Brogan, Rob McNealy, Jeremy Wright and Nina Yablok and was moderated by Jim Kukral. The panel for this session was pretty amusing. Definitely a bunch of characters here. Nina forced them all to give their top keys to becoming a business in less than 5 minutes.

Chris made the following points: Be helpful in your space, write from your customer/reader’s side of the fence, don’t do a sales pitch.

Jeremy said he has 3 simple rules: think less, plan less, do more stupid shit. Don’t get caught up in trying to make things perfect. Of course, he didn’t mean that you should throw any crap together and expect to make money. But I think you get the idea.

Rob pointed out the following: professional bloggers work their asses off 80+ hours a week. Embrace the hard work to be successful, and, if you love what you do and are passionate about it, it doesn’t really seem like hard work.

The next session was called “Beyond Adsense: Exploration of Practical Monetization Streams“. This panel had David Berkowitz, Jason Billingsley, Michael Buechele and Matt Hulett and was moderated by Angel Djambazov. This session had a lot to do with tools each use for making money on their blogs. Mostly ad networks, affiliate links, software to display ads on WordPress blogs, etc. For me this session was mainly review and didn’t have a lot of new content, but there were several people in the crowd frantically taking notes, so I was definitely in the minority there.

Next was the Networking Reception on the Show Floor. During this time I made one final trip around the show room floor. I grabbed a couple more business cards and flyers and broke my rule from yesterday and collected 2 new T-shirts (thanks, Lijit). I drank a couple Jones Sodas (cream soda, yum!) and I picked up these two bottles that I think I’m going to go ahead and save for a while. I had some chicken fingers and chips and then I spoke with a few people about WordCamp:Las Vegas. By the time I was done, there was still another hour left before the next session started. I realized that my recent travel schedule plus the marathon day yesterday had left me wiped out. I decided to pack it in and head on home.

I had a great time at BlogWorld once again and I’m already looking forward to next year’s event. I hope to see you all there!