Monday, July 25, 2005

Blue Ferret Software Review - GreatNews RSS Reader

It's time for another software review! I write reviews whenever three conditions are met:

  1. The program does exactly what I want it to/performs its intended function (and often little else, I like to specialize)

  2. The program is free.

  3. I am now using the program regularly

Today, The Blue Ferret Squeaks! is reviewing the GreatNews RSS Reader.

What is RSS? I've heard several definitions, but I'll stick with Really Simple Syndication. It's a method of "feeding" information direct to a reader program, where the user goes through the information and checks the sites that have what he/she wants to see. These readers can be web-based, or a separate application. I prefer separate applications, because if the browser crashes, it's possible to mess up the RSS feeds. Separate apps also take fewer resources (if done right), and I'm a maximum-resource nut.

GreatNews is a separate application - tiny and fast (it takes up less memory than an mp3 player does while running!). It's freeware, and it's now my default RSS reader. So it qualifies in my book for being top-notch software.

There are a TON of RSS readers out there, both web-based and separate. The most popular ones - Awasu, Abilon, FeedReader - all have the same basic features. These are all good applications, and I've used each at one time or another. But GreatNews does a few things that I really wanted RSS readers to do (and had trouble finding):

  1. It lets me set it so the articles I want to read pop up in my default browser (FireFox). This was the clincher for me.

  2. It lets me customize its look & feel.

  3. Adding a new feed is easy. When you click on "Add Channel" (feed addresses are called channels), GreatNews peeks at your clipboard first to see if there's a feed address in there. If you hit Copy on a feed link, then switch to GreatNews, it already knows what you want.

  4. I can make my own categories, change how many feeds I want to see at once, and play with many other easily-customizable options.

As always, your mileage may vary. But personally, for a copywriter who needs to be informed quickly, RSS is an extremely useful tool. And GreatNews was a dose of great news for me.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A Productive Week

So far it's been a very productive week!

On Tuesday I spoke with another referral from Gary Chang, and had a pleasant conversation about what sounds like a good project brewing over there (they're a specialty-foods manufacturer; I couldn't resist the pun). They have an ambitious timetable too, which I heartily appreciate, because it means everybody's focused, on point, raring to go. I'll be calling back tomorrow to (hopefully) set up a project meeting.

Today I gave my presentation at Rick Silva's B2B Gathering meeting, to a surprisingly light audience. The group's attendance was about half of what it normally pulls in. Rick said a lot of people were sick, or on vacation. Unfortunate, but understandable. I presented using a reworked version of the Google Local article I posted here a few weeks ago (direct-linked here if you missed it). I got it to 5 minutes EXACTLY, which I'm quite proud of, between you & me!

And, I sent off web content for one of my clients this week! I'll be calling tomorrow to gauge the client's impressions, but I think it came out very well for what he wanted - a straightforward, informative front end for a niche insurance specialist.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Careers Article on Copywriting Gets to the Heart

It's rare that I come across an article on my chosen career. Rarer still when I find one that really gets to the heart of this often-misunderstood business of copywriting, and treats it with respect.

Chronicle Careers - Copywriter

I particularly like the author's definition of marketing, and his reasoning behind why marketing is grossly misunderstood in our world. We've all seen rotten marketing pieces, schlocky stuff that shouts overblown promises and beats you over the head with fake urgency. That kind of copy will permanently damage a person, a company, even an industry. (Does anyone walk onto a used car lot absolutely convinced their salesman will be totally honest with them anymore?)

Real marketing - and real copywriting - is about information, about sharing yours with your customers. As the author says, people aren't stupid. If they're given solid information, and the opportunity to make their own conclusion, you'll see your sales shoot up. And they'll be honest sales, from honest copy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"Different" Reasons To Use IM for Business

There are lots of reasons why instant messaging, or IM, is a useful communications medium for business: easy to use, it's free, provides interoffice communication without tying up phones, etc. etc.

These are all great, but there are other aspects of IM you might not consider that are useful. Particularly when a client needs to communicate with a consultant, like myself. I'll highlight three of these uses in the general context of a corporate client talking with his marketing consultant.

1. Instant messaging forces both sides to think about the project. Your brain has to be working to type about it, especially in real-time.
   A. For the client, this means he'll be reassessing the priority of the project, mentally tallying what he needs to put together during the project, and so on.
   B. For the consultant, he can mull over questions he has for the client, run ideas by them, and do research with the client right on hand for approvals.

2. IM provides a record of the meeting/conversation that both parties can refer to later. Simply save the log before closing the IM window, and boom! Instant meeting notes. Easier to read, too.

3. You don't even have to be in the office! Either party can use their cellphone, PDA or laptop anywhere they have access. Have some coffee, distract yourself from the squeal of a dentist's drill in the next room - wherever you are, you can communicate via IM.

IM is slow to grow on businesses, but its intrinsic value is growing all the time. With the creation of IM servers for corporate hosting, improved security on messages, and open-source development of IM software and additions, instant messaging is a medium any company should take a serious look at to improve their overall communications.

(By the way, for anyone who wants to contact me on IM, I have an AIM screen name: "blfert." I'm sure you can guess what it means!)

Disclaimer: IM is, unless additional steps are taken, an unsecured protocol. Do not exchange company secrets or confidential information via IM unless necessary, and after appropriate security measures have been taken.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Radio-Based Broadband - Great New "Wave" of Communication!

As a writer with all sorts of fun specialties, communication is absolutely vital in all its forms. So, I'm always interested in learning about new ways to communicate, new ideas on improving existing communications, what have you. Also, being from a tech background, I keep an ear to the ground about advances in hi-tech.

So I was very glad to see both these interests recognized in an article I received by newsletter last night:
New Radio-Based Wireless Broadband

This article talks about a new use of those ever-present radio waves - piggybacking a weak signal on them to carry broadband transmissions. If continued, this would solve a lot of expensive transmission problems - getting broadband out to rural areas, making it easier and cheaper to get online just about anywhere, you name it.

Plus, radio waves are less harmful than the transmissions made by other wireless tech (we've all heard that using the cellphone too much = microwaved braaaains). I'm all for keeping my brain cells raw and functioning.

Hearing about a better, longer-reaching mode of communication is a great way to end the week, in my book. I'll keep on this new tech, to find out more about how it (hopefully) develops and is put to use. Anything to improve communication is, in my book, well worth any effort!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A Moment for Silence Today, 7-7-05

I want to stop and take a moment today to offer my sincere sympathies to the families of the 37 killed passengers in the London transit system today. I'm not going to expound on my thoughts on the whole scene here, but I am going to take a moment and say that I am sorry, and that I hope their pain will be eased with time and caring.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A Decline in Consistent Posting?

I'm noting that several blogs I frequent are either slowing down on posting, or stopping entirely. One blog, a fellow copywriter's, hasn't been updated in over a month and a half. I know we're busy, but I find it a little worrisome.

Those of us who are copywriters, or freelancers, or self-employed, often did so with the intent of budgeting our time more efficiently, right? We call the shots on when and how much we work, and how much time we set aside for being with family, or following other pursuits, or dallying around with our hobbies.

So, if people are falling too far into the work trap to set aside time for other things - like, for instance, a few minutes to blog about an upcoming event, or an unusual happening - doesn't that defeat the purpose of working for yourself?

I see blogging as accomplishing two things for me. One, it allows me to practice writing, whenever I want. Use it or lose it. Two, it allows me to share information with the rest of the world, information I alone have and CAN share.

And I do it all in a few minutes, a couple times a week. Pretty easy commitment. Plus, it's a break in the routine, which we all can use from time to time.

So, take a break! Write a little something. You'll feel better.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Steal Google's List - Using Googe Local for Prospecting

My article on Google Local was featured as a Main Course in Peter Bowerman's excellent and thorough newsletter, the Well-Fed E-Pub. I highly recommend signing up if you're a writer, marketer or communications pro. As promised to him, I waited until he'd published before posting it here. Since it was published earlier today, and for those of you who asked for the you go! Enjoy!

"Steal Google's List - Using Google Local for Prospecting."

We've all made up our prospect lists for marketing - poring through yellow pages, getting Chamber of Commerce directories, scanning the newspaper. It takes a lot of time and effort, doesn't it? Now there's a service that chops that time down to a few seconds.

Google. The name everyone knows, everyone relies on to find everything from movies to news to that website your friend gave you but you forgot the address for. But did you know that you can use Google to find clients?

Google recently introduced a service called Google Local. Google Local is one huge business list, free to use AND to add your business to, sorted by region. Graphic designers, manufacturers, PR, B2B industries - just about everyone's on there. Google indexes their own list of websites, along with Yellow Pages directories, to make comprehensive business lists. Think of it as the ultimate Chamber of Commerce directory...and it's yours, free.

How do you use Google Local? Easy!
1. Go to
2. Type in the INDUSTRY TYPE you want (i.e., "graphic design" or "manufacturing"), and your city. Make sure you click the "Remember this location" box, too!
3. Hit "Google Search."
4. Behold list. Stare in awe.
5. Start calling.

Google Local gives you an address & phone number for every company name, about what you'd find in a Yellow Pages ad, but on your computer, where you can cut & paste it into a spreadsheet or Word. And, if you want to get specific: whenever a company has a website, it shows up in their Google Local listing, right below their contact info. So if you want to know exactly who to call, one click takes you right to a prospect's website.

Google Local represents a big shift in the viability of prospecting online. More and more businesses will be added to the list as they come online, which means it's cutting-edge information. With the added option of researching sites to find the exact contact person, Google Local becomes an invaluable prospecting tool for self-employed professionals of all stripes.

About the Author: Chris Williams is a freelance business writer living in the Bay Area. Where he works is anywhere he wants, thanks to the Internet (which he's been mucking around in since 1997). You can find him at