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Sign-Up-Sheet: Take Your Party To The People

There’s nothing quite like throwing a work party. You single-handedly bring all the elements together, post a sign-up sheet, iron-out scheduling conflicts, book the entertainment, reserve the meeting room, stay up all night preparing food and drinks, and spend the morning decorating, only to find that when the moment comes where people should be flooding in, they aren’t. Curious to find out how many people had committed to coming to your little shindig and are flaking out, you check the sign-up sheet you tacked up on the company bulletin board a week ago. Your worst fears are realized: it’s completely obscured by a flyer haphazardly stapled up there by Jim in Accounting, advertising his new kitten grooming service. Thanks Jim.

I would venture to say that there is an online equivalent to virtually every pencil-pushing task we have these days. Mail has become email, calendars have become auto-synched online day planners that beam to your PDA, taxes are filed online, bills are paid right out of your online checking account; you name it, there’s an app’ for it. Even better than moving the task online is that the online version of said task generally removes the tedious and frustrating aspects and streamlines the whole thing. Certainly, that’s the case with replacing your old paper and push-pin sign-up sheet with a virtual one from Sign-Up-Sheet.com.

signupsheet

Whether you’re planning a concert, annual picnic, race event, family reunion, training seminar, convention, toga party, or tea party, Sign-Up-Sheet is a website that will help you wrangle the most important aspect of any event: the guests. It’s a proactive approach to getting people to show up for any event.

The process for creating your first event sign-up sheet through Sign-Up-Sheet is pretty simple. First, sign up on the website for the Sign-Up-Sheet services. There are several plans from which to choose, based on how many events, attendees, and account users you anticipate needing. For users who just want to try out the service, I recommend the free account that allows up to 3 events and 200 attendees. Enter your basic information, select an account address (http://your_event_name_here.sign-up-sheet.com, which is where you’ll direct potential attendees), create a password and that’s about it. After activating your account by clicking the link sent to your email address, you’ll be taken to your account dashboard where you can create and edit events and manage attendees.

Essentially, Sign-Up-Sheet creates a webpage for your event that people can use to find out details, discuss the event, see who’s attending, and then commit themselves to attending. When you set up the event, you list the details of the party, specify if you want a waiting list, choose a sign-up start and end date, and select whether potential guests can see who else will be attending. (Now you can even search for attendees.) Users can leave comments on the event, which, depending on how well last years party went, could be a good thing. It might sound complex, but helpful video tutorials are available for all users and walk you through how to accomplish the tasks you’ll need to effectively manage your event.

Social networking links on each event page really help boost attendance. Anyone can post your shindig on Facebook, Twitter, etc., with just a few clicks, or just email the event notice to a few friends. There’s even a new RSS feed feature now, so the latest info on an event can go straight to a user’s RSS reader.

Sign-Up-Sheet integrates with your own website by matching colors and allowing you to upload your own logo to your event page. The sign-up form can be tailored to suit the needs of the event and You can also export your data for use with email marketing programs like Campaign Monitor to help you keep track of attendees and follow up for the next party. This is great, but hopefully we’ll see more integration with other client database programs in the future.

One of the things that I really like about this site is that the service scales incredibly well. You can use Sign-Up-Sheet to organize anything from a small tea party to a nationwide comic convention. The Sign-Up-Sheet service is based on a monthly fee rather than on ticket sales, meaning that you don’t have to share ticket proceeds. You simply pay the monthly fee and they let you run the events how you want. If your small event ends up attracting a huge number of visitors, you can choose to keep it small or upgrade to a more accommodating monthly plan. Managing the event (from the sign-up side of things at least) is the same whether you’re putting on a banquet for 40 people or 4,000.

The premise behind Sign-Up-Sheet is simple and works well. Integrating social media and the flexibility of having a traditional sign-up sheet online allows you to reach and accommodate a wider audience. Their not the only game in town for helping you plan events online, but they are one of the easiest to use, offer great tech support, and only charge a low monthly fee. These things make Sign-Up-Sheet rise above the competition.

With Sign-Up-Sheet, the problem will no longer be wondering how many people will show up, but rather how many people end up on the waiting list and how much bigger of a venue you’ll need next year. From an event planner’s perspective, that’s what is called a “happy problem”.

Apparently there was a problem with Sign-Up-Sheet’s paperwork. The internet police pulled them off the internet detaining those responsible for questioning.

Saxophone Microphone Graffiti Sponsored

MarcatoMusician: All-in-one artist management

Being in a band isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  When you’re on tour, the only respite from terrible highway fast food is Subway.  You rarely get paid; sometimes it’s even worse: rather than paying you in cash, you get “all you can drink Pabst Blue Ribbon.”  Ugh.  Oh, and you’re also a pariah in the eyes of your family.

For bands who try to “do it themselves,” it’s even worse: booking alone consumes weeks, years of one’s life.  Throw in dealing with your label (over-rated), mobilizing your fan base (non-existent), booking shows (annoying) and promoting your shows (real annoying), you suddenly agree with the old adage, “Nobody ever made money playing rock n’ roll.”  Furthermore, these tasks are spread across different websites, platforms, and files types.  What you need is an all-in-one place for easy band management.  Brother, you need Marcato Musician.

marcatomusicianpage1

Marcato Musician is, in it’s own words, “a web-based artist management application that lets you keep track of your entire world in one place. It works on any computer, there is nothing to install, and your information is available 24/7 from anywhere with an internet connection.  With Marcato Musician you can manage your communications, stay on top of tasks and deadlines, schedule bookings and other events, keep track of contacts and venues, store files in a centralized file manager, automatically push upcoming gigs to social networking sites, and generate printable tour itineraries and press kits.”  Better yet, it’s free for single artists.  So let’s take a quick tour, (pun) shall we?

  • Dashboard – Your all-in-one place to manage all your stuff: active messages, upcoming events, outstanding tasks, and recent user activity (see screen shot below.)
  • Messages & Tasks –  Here’s where you stay in touch with band members and other personnel in your entourage (yes, you have one.)  I feel like this may be the most valuable part of the service: spreadsheets or, worse yet, hand-written notes just don’t cut it.  This is specifically cool because you can set due dates: nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
  • Artists and Bookings: This is your band’s profile, more or less.  You can include your bio, photos, upcoming shows, contacts, and what’s really cool – attachments for, say, press photos and show requirements.  Not sure if there’s MarcatoMusician will delete ostentatious or patently absurd riders, however (no brown M&Ms, anyone?)  Better yet, since many different people rely on many different sites and platforms for their music management, you can export your shows from places like Sonicbids and MySpace.
  • Contacts – A very nice address book.
  • Calendar – This is really good.  Do you know many times bands have tried to schedule a practice over e-mail?  Impossible.  Or to get everybody on board for a show when certain members – who shall remain nameless – don’t check e-mail or their phones?  This goes bye-bye with the calendar tool.
  • Files – Why spread out band-related files – press sheets, photos, tour itineraries, etc. – on multiple computers when you can put it all here, accessible to all members?  That’s a rhetorical question.
  • EPKs (that’s “Electronic Press Kits,” for those of us in the industry) and Itineraries.  What struck me about this part was that the EPKs actually look really good: well-laid out, simple, compelling.

marcatomusicianpage

The only pressing comment I have is that a bunch of interesting bands are using Marcato Musician (they’re listed here); t’would be cool to link each to elsewhere on the Web.  That said, there are some really nifty testimonials below it.  And beyond that, what else is there to say?  Being in a band isn’t all Hammer of the Gods.  It’s actually a pain.  And while MarcatoMusician can’t do anything about long, smelly van rides, terrible higway fast food, and record industry vipers, it can make the logistics and mechanics of being in a band a lot nicer to navigate.

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SellMoo: Penny auction bliss

The world is full of people who are stuck in the past.  The Flat Earth Society, for example, thinks the world is not a spherical orb.  There are also legends of Japanese soldiers holed up in mountains still awaiting a mainland Allied invasion.  And, in this day and age, there are still people who pay full price for stuff.  People who walk into a retail store or retailers’ Web sites and get gouged.  These people, like their anachronistic brethen, need to wise up and embrace sites like Sellmoo, a penny auction site, where you can get really cool stuff for super-cheap. Pennies, even.

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Hop on the home page and you’ll see what I mean.  You’ll see that bidding for featured products start at, you guessed it, a cent.  When I hopped on, I saw an Apple iPod shuffle, starting at $0.03 (it’s retail value was $79.99.)  Seven hours remained in the auction, and the suspense was killing me.  I clicked on the product, and was taken to a page with additional info (see below), including bid history, payment information, and the ever-clicking clock.  Jeeze, I thought: bid ten cents for an iPod shuffle – what’s the harm?

So I registered.  I quickly learned there were some nice perks: registration is free, and new users get three free bids.  SellMoo also provides seven bid packages at a flat rate: 20 bids for $10 up to 1,500 bids for $750.  A middle-of-the-road packge – the BigPack Medium: 100 bids at $50 – probably pays for itself relatively quickly.  Upon activating my account, I rolled up to the My Bids page.  It was here where I will naturally track my bids.  There are other nifty things within this page as well, including Watched Auctions, My BuyNow List, and the SellMoo newsletter.

sell2

I also checked out the Community page.  It was here I could comment on video games, handbags (love ’em), and other products.  There was also a Forum page where I could discuss SellMoo gossip and suggest products.  Also, now that I was registered in logged in, all I had to do was click on the green “Place Bid” button to place my bid.  Then just sit back and watch the iPods flow like wine.

A couple of quick suggestions.

  • Since both the Community and Forum pages involve end user feedback and discussion, perhaps they could be consolidated.  Specifically, take the two forums from the Forum page – General and Product Suggestions – and drop them in Community.  Just a thought.
  • I was intrigued by certain things within the My Bids page, such as the AutoBidder.  I imagined a mechanism in which I’d automatically bid on certain types of products within a certain price range.  It’d be nice to have some Web copy to that effect on this page, plus instructions on how to set it up.
  • Where is Sellmoo, the Sellmoo cow mascot?  Perhaps I’m in an animal-centric frame of mind – we did just profile RecipeChimp, after all – but it’d be cool to have a mascot or something to brand – pun intended – the site.

All in all, I found Sellmoo to actually have a far more intuitive feel than other auction sites like eBay.  The bidding-at-a-penny concept is especially cool because it appeals to our inate sense of thrift – as anyone whose seen the popularity of the penny slots at a casino can attest.  It’s low-risk bidding, and the potential reward is fantastic.  If anything, it’s better than gambling.  I mean, you sit at the slots all day, and walk away with what, four bucks?  A few watered-down gin and tonics?  Some Tom Jones revue?  No thanks.

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RecipeChimp: Ingredient-based search engine

It happens all the time.  You come home after a hard day at the office, loosen your tie, and open the fridge.  It’s a scene out of “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome:” a gnarly, arid, dystopian wasteland.  A quart of curdled milk hovers menacingly in the door-drawer.  A rotting head of lettuce sprouts new life forms in the vortex of the crisper.  Half-eaten salami sticks and a tipped-over peanut butter jar skulk like some machete-wielding red-eyed renegade banshees.   A tupperware container of a mysterious fluid lurks and simmers like radioactive sludge.

So what do you do?  You order Chinese.  But this can’t go on.  It’s killing your bank account.  And in the absence of, say, going grocery shopping, you have to do something with what little ingredients you have left.  Man, you need RecipeChimp.

recipe2

RecipeChimp, in their own words, “is an ingredient-based search engine. All you have to do is enter in some ingredients (comma separated) and we’ll show you a ton of tasty recipe options. You can further refine your results by adding or removing ingredients to find the right recipe for your next meal.”  Very cool.

The site itself is wonderfully simple and clean.  It reminds me of Google’s search page, minus the chimp.  But that’s fine by me: whereas Google’s searching is done by some nameless algorithm, I am comforted to know the Recipe Chimp himself does the work on the back-end.  He wipes the sweat off his brow, cleans his hands on his apron, reads the ingredients, takes a bit of a banana, and gets to work.  (He’s a little sauced on gin.)

Now, in retrospect, my aforementioned analogy is a bit disingenuous: if there were a recipe out there that included curdled milk, rotting lettuce, and salami sticks, the EPA would have to get involved.  It’d be a certified Superfund site.  Permits would have to be granted; nearby children would grow six, seven thumbs.  The red tape would be endless.  So a more real-world-oriented example is in order.

I typed in stuff that normally resides in my fridge and cupboard: beef, onions, potatoes (note: I did not enter “chilled Goldschlager,” which also normally resides in my fridge.)  And up popped some totally delicious looking recipes: Beef and Potato Empanadas, Beef and Potato Curry, etc. And just like any good search engine, the resulting recipes themselves reside on other sites, in this case, Big Oven, All Recipes, and Cdkitchen.  The Recipe Chimp is industrious!  Give him a raise!  So when you click on the recipe, you are taken to this external page.

recipe1

There’s also a nice little touch with the search engine: you can stipulate what ingredients the recipe must have, or exclude certain recipes.  You can even enter stuff like, “carrots and eggs but without pepper.” Navigationally speaking, it’s hard to complain.  Again, it feels like Google Search, so it’s intuitive.  That said, I’d axe the “Site Map” tab at the bottom: slightly redundant.  The only other thing I’d suggest is that on the search result page, it’d be nice to minimize the white space; maybe make the Google ads at the top flow horizontally, rather than vertically.

So, with RecipeChimp at your side, you now have added incentive to, say, go to your local Farmers Market, pick up some vegetables, and get creative with your meals.  Maybe some bok choy, some tofu.  Y’know, get your act together.   And while you’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt get a haircut – you look a hobo, for God sakes.  And would it kill you to change your undershirt every now and then?

RecipeChimp pulled some monkey business on us. What once was a cool recipe finding service has now become a not oft updated blog.

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Iconize.me: Express yo-self (with icons) before you wreck yo-self

Any Jim Croce fans out there?  Anyone?  Bueller?  Well, he has a tune called “I’ll Have to Say I Love You With a Song.” Here is a particularly striking lyrical excerpt:

Every time I tried to tell you, the words just came out wrong
So I’ll have to say I love you, in a song

We’ve all been there, right?  Well, times have changed, and songs kinda don’t really do the trick anymore.  We have other tools at our disposal, like, say, icons.  Y’know, the happy/sad faces you put in e-mails (I kinda like the “embarrassed face” one.)  And much like anything else involving technology, icons have come along way.  They’re niftier, artier, more sophisticated.  And there are some super-cool, funny, and compelling icons on Iconize.me.

icon1

“Can’t find the words to be understood?  Try with icons” is what Iconize.me says, and they ain’t lying: they have more than 600 icons to express your mood, to say where you want to go or what you want to do.

The home page is simple.  There’s a wall with recently uploaded icons by users.  And by clicking on the About Us tab, we learn more about the back-story: Iconize.me aims to help folks all over the world communicate through icons, which is nice, since I only know English, and the last time I tried to talk to a cute French girl in French, I got my Shirley Temple promptly dumped on my head.  Ouch!  The more I thought about it, it made sense: like anything else, icons can be a form of expression – a form that has been highly under-utilized and under-developed.  Artists are encouraged to submit their icons, and they get a share of any proceeds.

Some suggestions.

  • I’d add some crisp copy to spell out what we’re looking at here.  For example, on the home page, there’s a “Wall” with icons.  I thought a little (it hurt) and deduced there were icons uploaded by recent users (though I could be wrong.)  Whatever it is, it’d be cool to say as much (e.g. “Recently uploaded icons.”)
  • I’d also provide users with some explicit, three-step instructions.  For example, 1) Join Iconize.me, 2) Search or upload your favorite icons, 3) Download them.  It’s PowerPoint presentation 101: people are lost sheep and need the security of a roadmap, of knowing where they’re going to go.  Otherwise they get restless and start playing Solitaire on their cell phone.   All that said, it was only after reading the About Us page that I realized my interpretation of the site may be slightly off – all the more reason to insert descriptive copy on the homepage.  To that end, it seems that Iconize.me’s main mission is to partner with artists to get their work up on the site.  Therefore something like: 1) Join Iconize.me, 2) Upload Your Icon, 3) Get paid for your work.  (Or whatever it is – synthesizing the process in three crisp steps.)
  • Lastly, I’d also have the FAQ page in English and enable people to register on the home page.

Before I wrap up here, I must say, throughout this feature, you – the reader – seemed a bit distracted.  Like, you weren’t even paying attention.  Are you still thinking about that girl?  You are?  Still?  Man.  Have you talked to her?  No?  Why don’t you?  Dude, you gotta let her know how you feel.  Then, at least, you’ll know.  In fact, just send her a text with an icon from iconize.me, and tell her this (you knew this was coming, by the way):

Every time I tried to tell you, the words just came out wrong
So I’ll have to say I love you…with an icon

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WorldlyPeople: A social network for intrepid travelers

I was reading article in the New Yorker the other day about the rise of e-books, and discovered that 40% of Americans have read one book or less in the past twelve months (you know who you are.)  Yikes.  These people, I would venture to say, are not worldly people.  But I do not judge; I, more than anyone, like a good meal at Applebee’s, but I think that’s where our similarities end.  Because I, rather, *am* a worldly person.  This is why I like – brace yourselves – WorldlyPeople, a social network for travelers, and – dare I say it – the 60% of Americans who read more than one book a year.

worldly

WorldlyPeople is a nifty hybrid of the social networking components of Facebook (is that still around?) with the on-the-ground, straight-from-the-traveling-horse’s-mouth commentary of TripAdvisor.  Toss is some eHarmony (or whatever) action – who wouldn’t want to find a like-minded traveling soul mate? – and you got WorldlyPeople.  It takes a bit of each, but to these worldly eyes, is wholly unique.  Like a bouillabaisse.  So let’s – in the words of my now-disgraced former CEO of my old job – “double-click” and take a “deeper dive,” shall we?

The home page is nice and clean and welcoming; something about that lime green color really captures my imagination (perhaps because as a young child, our “Family Clown,” Noodles, wore a lime green wig.*)  We are greeted with seven tabs which I shall now talk to you about:

  • Home – Hello, just talked about it!! (duh.)
  • Profile – After I signed up, I got to work on my profile.  It was here I could do all sorts of nifty things like write a blog, create a group, upload a song, create a quiz, or share a video.  I could find friends, chec out bulletins by other users, and see who’s birthday was coming up.  There was also a “What’s New” section which is, I guess, a kin to Facebook’s “wall.”
  • Mail – You got it – check your mail.
  • Friends – Check out your friends, invite them, scan for birthdays, or create birthday cards!
  • Browse – Indeed, browse for people.  You can also set your browsing criteria (gender, ages, location.)
  • Invite – Indeed again, invite other people to WorldlyPeople.
  • Explore – Here you can check out blogs, photos, forums, bulletins, and other stuff.

A couple of suggestions:

  • On the welcome/dashboard page  – after I joined WorldlyPeople – I was taken to a page where I was told some basics about the site; specifically around how they value privacy.  This was very comforting and a nice touch.  One suggestion would be to break up the text a bit in multiple paragraphs to make it easier on the eyes.  I’d also bold things like “Safety and Privacy,” “Focus,” “Options,” and “Fun.”
  • From a Web copy perspective, I’d also devote more verbage to the travel-related component of the site.  The idea of WorldlyPeople acting as a social network for travelers can really set it apart from other networking sites.  The site does this, for example, on the Forum page, with topics such as Places You Have Been and Places Where You Want to Go.

In fact, I’d try to take it a step further – or at least incorporate travel wherever possible.  For example, if you were to browse featured members, you see their name, gender, age, etc.  It’d be cool it also said their “Favorite Places” and “Places I Want to Go.”  That way – and this is where the dating stuff comes into play – one could search for people accordingly: if my favorite place is, say, Guerneville, CA (it’s up there), how cool would it be to find like-minded people?  And if I want to travel to, say, Bali, and I find someone who’s favorite place is Bali, then well, that’s just magic in the making.  So it could get pretty epic.  WorldlyPeople is new, but as far as their target market is concerned – smart, sophisticated, intelligent people, the foundation is wonderful, and possibles for travel, trysts, and…ehh…Tanzania are endless.

* It wasn’t until I was 28 that I found out “Noodles” was, in fact, post-rehab Uncle Ivan.

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Unanimous Craft: Your indie business directory

I was talking to a very nice woman the other day, and she said how getting laid off from her office job was the greatest thing that ever happened to her.  Or one of the greatest.  Because now, after putting it off for almost a decade, she’s being forced to finally pursue a dream as an independent filmmaker.  (It’s amazing what an unemployment check could do.)

But unemployment check aside – it was a joke, people – I’d argue she’d have a slightly harder time chasing this dream 10 years ago.  Or 20 years ago.  Or – heck – 300 years ago.  Simply because back then, the struggling indie artist simply lacked the tools that are now at our disposal.  Not just technological tools – cameras, Final Cut Pro, whatever software you feel appropriate – but the resources: the important people across the creative feeding chain that helps bring an idea to fruition.  And this applies to anyone involved in the creative process: from musician to filmmaker to artist to craftsperson.  I thought about this – along with lunch; I was famished – as I checked out UnanimousCraft.

homepage

UnanimousCraft is a a tagable, sortable index of resources for crafters, artists and indie business owners.  In their own words, they “submit our favorite resources and welcome the community to do the same. Once you become a member, you can submit resources you like, review and rate other resources and curate lists of your favorites.”

There are two levels of membership on Unanimous Craft: the basic membership is free and you can post and review resources and make lists of resources you find useful.  Premium members are given access to a customizable profile that links to their various social networking sites and provides a place to upload images.  One premium member profile is randomly shown on the home page and changes each time the page is refreshed. Premium members also receive $10/month off Unanimous Craft advertising.

There seem to be four main activities one can do on this site, and I’d like to briefly walk through each (each also has it’s own tutorial, which is nice.)

  • Become a Member – I did this! I was then able to add resources of your own, rate other resources and curate lists of resources with the same theme. (I’ll get to the “curate” stuff in a sec.)
  • Add a Resource – This is where I, were I a craftsperson, artist, or whatnot, would add my resource.  Simply fill out an easy-to-understand Create a Resource form, and you’re good to go.
  • Rate a Resource – This is cool.   Go in and gush about how much you like a certain craftsperson or group (or be mean.)  You can enter a 1-5 writing and then enter a written description.  All of these reviews roll up to a nifty part of the toolbar called “Popularity Contest.”  There you can view resources with the Most Views, Most Viewed of All Time, and Highest Rated.  Naturally, I wanted to see who was number 1.  Can you blame me?  But I ended up clicking on #2 (always like the underdogs), Ornamentea.  This brought me to an overview of the resource, which I’ve shared below.
  • Curate a List of Resources – Here you can create a mini-page of resources you like – your own personalized advertising page.

Vintagraph

What especially struck me was the jocular, informal vibe of the actual copy of the site.  It makes it a cozy place to visit, and I instantly not only understood the type of businesses they were looking for, but considered myself one of them as well.  You know the humble, innovative, funny, creative type?

So now, as I sit back with some final ruminations of UnanimousCraft, my thoughts turn to a “developing” neighborhood in Oakland, near where I live, where all the small businesses help each other out.  (One restaurant, for example, won’t serve a chicken sandwich because the one next door has been around longer.)  So we’re not talking about Coke vs. Pepsi stuff: indie business aren’t – and in many instances, shouldn’t – be in fierce competition with each other.  Quite the opposite: if one thrives, others may thrive as well.  A rising ride lifts all boats.  No indie business is an island.  But if it were, say, a chain of islands, each connected by, say, a water-navigation system or agency, that agency would be UnanimousCraft.  It recognizes the value of indie-to-indie networking and gives creative businesses an easy-to-use forum to advertise, advocate others, and grow.

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Purebulk: A no-frills nutritional supplement marketplace

Ooh, something just came across my desk.  According to my interns, the three sectors poised for the greatest growth in the next 10 years are:

  1. The solar panel industry
  2. The “Twilight”-related merchandise industry
  3. The nutritional supplement industry

In fact, according to my interns, the nutritional supplement industry will grow to either $5 billion or $153 trillion by 2020.  Sky’s the limit, in fact, and poised to take advantage of this growth is PureBulk.

purebulk

Purebulk is a simple, easy-to-use site that allows you to buy nutritional supplements…in bulk.  Simple stuff.  I hopped on to their home page, and there, as promised, were a bunch of nutritional supplements that’d make Barry Bonds’ over-sized, balloon-shaped head burst like a smashed cantaloupe: 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR), and Beta Sitosterol 40%, all of which made me think I was temporarily in a dystopian Charlton Heston movie (“the supplements….they’re people!“)*

Purebulk’s motto is “No Hype.  No Hassles.  No Fillers.”  (Not “I must break you.”)  And they’re true to their word.  As my grandma used to say, “Back in Lithuania, we walked three miles to buy bread.”  She also said, “Nothing’s worse than a complicated e-commerce site.”  Not the case here.  When you land on the home page (the “Products” tab), there are your supplements, in alphabetical order.  You can naturally search for them or browse as well.  The other tabs include Forums, News, Contact, Shipping Costs, and Log In.  Let’s explore each, shall we?

  • Forums:  There’s a pretty robust forum here, and the topics show that PureBulk is attuned to their customers (e.g. “What Products Would You Life to See?”)  But perhaps more pertinent to the customers themselves are the Supplement and Nutrition forums that deal with – you guessed it – the supplements themselves: “Bodybuilding and Performance Athletes,” “Anti-Aging and Longevity,” etc.
  • News: (see below) This comes across more like a blog (perhaps re-title it as such?), and it provides helpful tidbits such as new products, shipping times, and other general housekeeping.  (I also liked how the owners published a – presumably – reader e-mail and directly responded to it.  PureBulk has nothing to hide, man.)
  • Contact: A nice little page with a photo of their idyllic headquarters in magical Oregon!  Oh, Oregon.  Makes me wanna drink a Black Butte porter.
  • Log In: Pretty self-explanatory here, thought I wasn’t sure what logging in would actually take you to; presumably some sort of user dashboard?  Perhaps a little copy around that would be helpful.

pure2Oh, and the mailing list is a nice touch, as folks can be alerted when new products arise.  And one tiny navigational comment: when on the home page, I got accustomed to the tabs up top.  When I clicked on the News and Forum, the tabs disappeared.  (For Forums, this makes sense, as I assume the forum is “outsourced” elsewhere, but hey, if there was a way to keep the tabs, that’d be nice.)

All in all, Purebulk is a no-nonsense, no-frills way to order supplements.  In a way, kind of reminds me of Craigs List in design and execution: no annoying ads.  No bells and whistles.  No funny business.  And if anyone says otherwise, say, “Whatever – that’s pure bulk!”

* I speak of a “dystopian Charleton Heston” future as if it’s a bad thing.  But there’s a reason why human life expectancy is now longer 33 years old: progress.  And is a future in which, say, nutritional supplements help me burn energy faster a bad thing?  Or, say, a supplement that allows me, oh, I dunno, to grow webbed feet and/or leave the earth’s surface – not “flying,” mind you, but something close to it – for a a few seconds at a time?  Or a pill that allows me to compete in a triathalon, run a sprint, do some synchronized swimming, and bake a cake all while keeping my glucose levels below 45 kpg?  Is that really a bad thing?  Seriously, guys?  Hello?  Anybody out there?

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WaterMyBlog: Turning your blog into SEO gold

Last year I went to a Buck Owens Tribute Night at a bar in San Francisco, and as I looked at the lap pedal steel guitar player, I thought, man, this is some serious black magic.  I had no idea how the guy played it, though he made it look so easy, and it created such a compelling sound that I found myself ordering drink after drink.

You know what’s also black magic?  Search engine optimization.  Page rankings.  Google indexing.   In fact, perhaps a better term is alchemy: he who can harness that stuff can weave Web page gold (hence the blog title.)  This is precisely what WaterMyBlog does.  It’s a blog writing service that creates original posts, specifically designed for your company or industry, chock full o’ content-driven SEO to drive your page rankings and keep it in Google’s good graces.  Not a bad proposition.

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As someone who dabbles in this cryptic world of SEO, the whole proposition is quite alluring.  For starters, folks who are expanding their footprint on the Web probably didn’t get into business to write content all day.  They’re there to sell stuff, develop products, make PowerPoint presentations, etc.  They realize they need a blog (I picture a crusty old dude yelling to his secretary, “We needed a blog yesterday!”) yet once it’s up, it often times withers on the e-vine.  People forget to update it as more pressing matters take precedence.  E-tumbleweeds blow across the arid wasteland that was once your blog.  A blog writing service like this is like a sheriff, law book hand, rolling into town to restore content-related order.

Yet the importance of SEO is irrefutable, and hiring a “experienced content writer” off CraigsList won’t cut it in and off itself.  So this is the market WaterMyBlog steps into, and they do so elegantly: simply 1) choose from three distinct plans in which they’ll write your blog, 2) sign up for a month-to-month contract, and 3) watch your blog grow; all you need to do is approve their posts.

So about those three plans.  The basic one, at $39 a month, is “Standard,” and includes three posts a month, five keywords, and other goodies.  The most robust is the “Power” plan, at $99 a month, which adds “AddThis Button” and Social Bookmarking to nine posts a month and 10 keywords.  At $69, the “Advanced” plan is right in the middle.  Better yet, as of this very second, WaterMyBlog is offering a free one-month trial, plus a free blog post.  The former offer is good through June 1; the latter, July 1st.  They will, in their own words, “provide you with a 200 – 300 word blog post targeted for your keyword and designed for your company.  We want to show the world what we are capable of without sacrificing the security of our clients, and by doing so, hopefully win the support of you as well.”  Hard to argue with that.

In fact, for a company looking to expand their blog footprint, this is an offer one can’t refuse.  As a first-time user thrown in the shoes of a potential customer, there are other things that’d make me more likely to sign up.  For starters, examples of customer blog posts.  WaterMyBlog acknowledges they must keep their clients confidential – and that, as a would-be client, is good to know – but perhaps they can whip up some “dummy” blog content; write up posts for Joe’s Widgets – anything to give viewers a taste of the product itself.  In addition, as the site continues to grow, case studies would be great: the power of showing a significant increase in client site ranking after, say, three months of WaterMyBlog’s blogs, would be very compelling.

Wait a minute.  It just occurred to me: SlapStart itself is a blog.  And if a blog writing service like WaterMyBlog wrote my blogs for me, for even that free one-month trial, then, well, I wouldn’t have to.  Think of all the other things I could do.  Pour over a crossword puzzle with a cup of tea.  Put the finishing touches on my screenplay.  Call Aunt Linda.  Get into jazz.  Hmmm.

OK, well, gotta run.  Peace.

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Treidr: A better way to buy and sell online

Buying stuff on the Internet isn’t new, nor is posting classified ads.  We have our Amazons and our CraigsLists, but to my knowledge, there’s nothing out there that takes advantage of social media networks.  When someone wants a mattress, for example, they’ll go on a site and actively look for one.  However, but accessing these networks, sellers can proactively reach out to buyers; suddenly, the buyer realizes, “Hey, I didn’t think I needed a mattress – it’s amazing what club soda can do – but I guess I do after all.”  This is why I became intrigued by Treidr.  It’s a site where you can post free classified ads while interfacing with social media.  It’s simple, easy, and intuitive.

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I registered and gave it a try.  I registered and embarked on the two major things one would do on Treidr: buying and selling.  So, buying first.  It was pretty self-explanatory.  On the left-hand of the screen, I could browse classified: For Sale, Community, Housing, Cars & Vehicles, Jobs, Friends & Dating, Pets, and Services.  I selected “Jobs” and was taken to a page with subcategories ranging from Accounting and Finance to Work from Home.  What was intriguing about the page was that there was a thumbnail picture next job, breaking up the text in an aesthetically pleasing manner.  I clicked on a random job and all the details were there: Price (salary?), Date Posted, Ad Id, User Info, City, Country, Photos, and Description.

I next then went through the steps to post a free ad.  I clicked on “Manage My Ads” and was taken to my dashboard.  I clicked on “Post My Ad,” and chose a category for my ad.  I picked “Cars and Vehicles,” then from a subcategory selection, “Vans and Campervans.”  Then I was able to enter information (screen shot below.)  One thing that I noticed – and I may be wrong – is that you need to register to post an ad.  That may not be a huge obstacle for many people, but there may be a small subset of would-be users who pass on register and move on.  Then it occurred to me that this step was necessary and important: free registration attracts bad elements: spammers, scammers, and other riff-raft that ruins that party for everyone.  Think of it as a positive check and balance, so buyers and sellers alike know they’re dealing with a legitimate, hassle-free service.treidr2

Ultimately, the entire process was simple and very intuitive.  The layout is crisp, with lots of white space, but with the occasional thumbnails, which certainly broke up the text.  In fact, some of the ads from the front page made me think this wasn’t your average online selling site: ads for profiting from out of print books, Live Tarot Readers, and a massage therapist – neat, out-of-the-ordinary vendors and goods.  In fact, for customers and sellers dabbling in these industries or markets, Treidr can be *the* place to go for them to hawk their wares.

To that end, I’d like to get confessional.  As a writer, we always look for a “hook” to get the reader’s attention, and many times, the hooks come easily because of something – knowingly or unknowingly – silly or weird or perhaps even annoying about the subject matter.  Not so with Treidr.  It’s no-frills, no bells-and-whistles approach, it’s clean simplicity, it’s ability to allow users to post free classified ads without hassle – renders it immune from snarky, cynical hooks.  Add in it’s ability to interface with social media networks, and I’m beyond hook-less.  Hook-less and humbled.

Treidr appears to have removed their site from active record of the internet. It’s tough to go up against Craigslist, but we give them full marks for the valiant effort.