How to Acquire or Market to New Customers

I haven’t posted in a little while, and just tripped across an answer that I posted for someone on Quora a while ago, but I though that I would share it here.

The question was asking how a small customer facing business could market to or acquire new customers. You can read the original post here.

The following was my response:

There are numerous means of acquiring new traffic to a brick and mortar store, many of which are inexpensive and some of which are free.

Keep in mind it costs less to keep an existing customer than it does to find new customers. Ensure that the customers you do have are having their expectations exceeded. This will result in repeat business and word of mouth that is invaluable.

Methods of delivery:
Online Presence
– Start a blog about your business that demonstrates your expertise in your field. For a restaurant it might be posts about locally sourced food, special preparations, etc. For a spa, maybe a new product line or ways to extend the benefits of a treatment.
– Twitter and Facebook can both help with getting your name out. Essentially ask your existing clientele to “like” you (Facebook) or ‘follow” you on Twitter. As you post interesting content, they will share their content with people in their social network.
– Sign up for MailChimp or a similar service and mail a newsletter at regular intervals. While this doesn’t necessarily bring in new customers, it may bring your existing customers back more often. 
– Some companies have had success with Groupon and similar sites. Between the discounted pricing and the site’s fees, this may or may not be a wise channel to market your business.

Traditional Marketing
– Ads in a local weekly paper can be purchased relatively cheap and the price can be further reduced if you purchase numerous ads in advance.
– Donate to worthy causes. Silent auctions and the like are often in need of items and services to help raise money. You get a new customer and some exposure.
– Flyers. You can often receive flyer distribution quite inexpensively and targeted by postal/zip code. This makes it easy to test the return on investment.
– Sponsorship of local events (music festivals, art shows, etc) can provide visibility.
– Radio, television and newspapers – getting into a greater expense, so I won’t expand on these.

And the number one way to increase traffic flow? 
Ensure that your front line staff are engaged with each and every one of your customers. As an owner or manager, make it your goal to talk to ever single person that comes through your doors, even if only to extend a warm “hello”.

Remember that a great experience is without explanation a good thing, a terrible experience will result in a complaint allowing you to turn it into a great experience and the worst is a mediocre experience. Any customer that is not angry (and then wowed) or wowed from the start is not going to sing your praises and help you grow your business.

Things to deliver:
Ensure you have a solid offering to present when choosing your methods above. A flyer campaign is not going to do much good without some kind of offer to compel people to visit you. This does not mean that you have to offer a 50% discount, but rather have a call to action that results in customers paying you money for something of value.
– Ask your staff for things are lacking or could be improved and act on their advice.
– Ask your customers what would improve their experience and what would make them return more often.
– If you setup Facebook, Twitter and/or a blog, tell your customers about it and provide the links so they can sign up
– Be creative in your marketing. If you send an email newsletter, try a discount for bringing a friend with you, or a deal on an additional service, etc.
– As each customer leaves, ensure that someone has invited them back. “Thanks for coming in today Susan. Please come back and see us soon” goes a long way.

This is fairly long, and I could go on for a while. Depending on the business, location, management and a host of other factors, the strategy will change. Don’t afraid to be creative in your customer acquisition, but be sure to evaluate the return on investment and measure the success of each method. If one method fails, move on. If a method works, keep it in your arsenal and keep trying new things.


PSA Time – 10 Minutes on Heart Health

So tomorrow (Sunday) will be one week from when I suffered my heart attack. I’m 37 years old, not in terrible shape and it was nothing like I would have imagined. I figure that I can share my story and if one person can recognize some of the warning signs and prevent the attack, then that’s a good thing. I’ll go over what happened to me, but feel free to skip down to a section to learn a bit about angina and how to recognize it so you can prevent having a heart attack.

The Event
Last Sunday evening near the tail end of my beer league hockey game, I came off a pretty long shift with a pretty hard end to end skate. I hit the bench breathing hard, as I normally do (I’ve smoked since I was 13 and I’m carrying 30-35 extra pounds). By the time I made my way to my spot on the bench rotation, I noticed a tightness in my chest, but thought I had tweaked my back a little and simply pinched something. I sat down, tried to catch my breath and waited for the tightness to pass. I’ll point out that this was not searing pain, but simply mild discomfort.

After a minute or two, thoughts were running all over the place in my head and “heart attack” was briefly considered, but I decided it couldn’t be as I’m only 37 and it wasn’t a pronounced pain, my left arm wasn’t numb, etc. I chalked it up to something else but figured I would err on the side of caution and sat out my last shift of the game having someone play in my place. The game ended (a loss btw), and I skated out to shake hands with my teammates and the opposing team. Still pretty uncomfortable, but able to skate.

By the time I hit the dressing room door, all I wanted to do was sit and get out of my equipment. I wasn’t dizzy or nauseous, but I could feel the cold sweat coming in buckets and cutting through the sweat from playing hockey. I made it to my seat and got my sweater, elbow and shoulder pads offs, but things were not getting better. A teammate next to me noticed I was not doing well and asked if I was okay. I said I wasn’t sure. He asked again and then asked if I wanted to lay down. They got my knees raised and I tried to twist the knot out of my back but to no avail. After a few minutes, I felt a touch better but I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be driving myself home and wanted to get out of my gear just in case. I don’t know why it was so important at the time, but I got sat up and got my skates off. Another teammate asked if I wanted them to get somebody from the league office with first aid to check me out. After responding “not yet”, I quickly followed with ‘Yes, please”.

Luckily, the league representative was a retired EMT and as he checked pulse, pupils, etc, I blacked out and woke up about ten seconds later on the ground (they had caught me and eased me to the ground thankfully). That ten seconds felt like an hour of really solid sleep but was the weirdest damn thing I’ve ever experienced. There was no white light or floating above my body and I don’t think it was anything other than a brief loss of consciousness. I simply became aware of my limbs being moved and voices and had to think about where I was and will myself back into the dressing room, mainly because I knew that was where I should be and there was no need to stay in the calm blackness of where I was. Chris, the league rep, had me on oxygen within minutes which helped to maximize the O2 getting through my heart and preventing damage. When joined by a first responder and the EMTs, my EKG was sent to the Cardiologist and they responded with a course of action to take in the ambulance before it left the arena which included the administration of some kind of industrial strength clot buster. That clot buster (along with the efforts of Chris, the EMTs and several of my teammates) leaves me standing today.

I was shipped to Emergency at the University of Alberta and triaged pretty quickly. A team of five or six worked on getting an additional IV line in, blood work done, getting my history and a whole bunch more. I knew how serious it was when they stuck the two large pads, one to my chest, one on my back, “just in case”. My poor wife had met me at the ER and was watching all of this, beside herself I’m sure. Other than the ten seconds in the dressing room that I blacked out, I was awake and alert the whole time and asked a lot of questions. I really wanted to ask “the question” to the cardiologist, but couldn’t do it with my wife within ear shot.

After I was stabilised, I was moved up to the Critical Cardio Care unit and settled in. After three days, an angiogram (another oddity to experience), about three billion needle pokes, and surprisingly edible food, I was released to rest at home.

Hindsight and the Important Thing to Read
In hindsight, I now know that I was suffering from Angina attacks in the weeks (maybe months) before the the heart attack. Had I known this and listened to my body, I could have had it checked out and likely prevented the heart attack altogether.

As a 37 year old in moderate shape and decent health,  I never would have attributed these pains to heart issues. I’m hoping by telling my story, it’ll stick somewhere in the back of your head and you’ll recognize it early enough to prevent a heart attack. Angina presented itself to me as a very mild tightness in the chest through to a couple of vertebrae in my back and would happen without a distinct pattern, though it was usually after some kind of activity or movement (not lengthy exercise, but simply standing up quickly and walking into the other room). There was only one occasion that it presented as enough to stop me from what was doing and that was only for a few minutes. It honestly felt more like a pinch in my back than anything else and was easily overlooked. It could be so mild as to be almost unnoticeable, but like I say, had I known what it was, I may have been more aware and had it checked out. If you think you may have suffered from angina, please book an appointment with your family doctor and get it looked at. You can read more on angina here and here.

The heart attack as we know it is heavily influenced by Hollywood and as I have learned the hard way, at least sometimes a fallacy. There was no chest clutching, numb left arm, “holy shit! I’m having a heart attack” moment. It was much more subtle for me. I had a tightness in my chest that penetrated through to my spine, cold sweats, and my elbow joints and shoulders both had an odd pain (like when you’ve got a really bad cold and cough really hard and it makes your joints ache), but not all at once and not all strongly pronounced. This is not to say that the symptoms you hear about are wrong, just simply that they are not always typical. I was on my feet for 15 or 20 minutes after it started, but was really just in some discomfort, not debilitating pain for most of that time. I’m pretty lucky I was playing hockey as had I been home, I may have gone for a hot shower and a tried to nap it off and may not have gotten off so easily. I have my teammates to thank for their persistence in checking up on me.

What were the causes in my case? Generally, I eat fairly well though a bit shy on the fruits and vegetables and a bit high on the salt, fat and carbs. I don’t eat a lot of fast food, barely drink pop/soda, and portions are a bit large but not excessive. As mentioned, I have smoked from the age of thirteen up until last Sunday and I own a tech company which provides plenty of stress. The last two and half years have been a roller coaster, but the last six months have been particularly stressful with a lot of projects on the go. Finances have been all over the map going from flush to destitute and back again, often in the same week. I believe that nearly a quarter century of smoking laid the groundwork, diet playing a fairly minor role and that the stress of the last couple of years was the fuse that lit things up. Lots of changes already in place and more to come as I start Cardio Rehab next week.

What I’m Asking you to do
I’m not going to pretend that I’ve lived the life of a saint and I’m certainly not going to start preaching about healthy lifestyles. What I will ask is that if you think you may have symptoms similar to what I’ve described above, or if you have a family history of heart problems or high cholesterol:

  1. Call this week to book yourself for a checkup with your family doctor, be sure to discuss any symptoms you have or may have had
  2. Ensure that you have your cholesterol checked as part of that appointment,
  3. Take ten minutes to read more on Angina here and here.
That’s it. Ten minutes now to read a bit of information, five minutes to book an appointment and an hour or two sometime in the next month for an appointment. I ignored and was ignorant to the warning signs, and feel like an idiot for nearly leaving my wife and six year old son without their husband and dad. Actually, that was the worst part of the whole ordeal; the thought that I just about left them on their own, suddenly and forever.

If you’re above 30, get an annual checkup with your family physician and ensure you have you cholesterol checked at least once a year, more often if you have a family history. Spend 10 minutes and do some reading on angina today (links above), keep that info in the back of your head and be aware of it just in case. It might save your life, or the life of someone you know.

Thanks
As mentioned, I got off pretty lucky. I have to thank Iannick, Trevor, Dave, Jason and probably a few others from my team, Chris from the ASHL, Darryl, Dave and the EMT whose name I forget (had a touch of morphine by the time I asked), and all of the doctors and nurses in the ER and Cardio Care Unit at the University of Alberta. As much as people talk about the problems with our health care system, my experience was nothing short of world class at every turn and I’m damn lucky to live in a place where the care is of such high quality. Special thanks to my wife and family for their support and help.

Here’s to shaping up, butting out and not making any more visits to the Cardio Unit. Thanks for reading.


Privacy and Protection – Proposed Canadian Bill

I remember as a child in elementary school, probably in grade four or five, hearing about citizens in the U.S.S.R not being able to congregate in groups of three or more.  The details are hazy from over 25 years since then, but I remember a shock and sadness that a government would not allow citizens to have such a simple freedom as conversing in a group. As a young Canadian prairie kid, I remember gaining a distinct appreciation for the freedoms afforded to us in our country. It may have been groups of four, and I don’t remember if it was at the current time or sometime during the Second World War. We were still living in the Cold War times, so it may have been in the early eighties that this was still true.

Fast forward to the current day. Recently in the U.S.A., SOPA and PIPA were brought forward as bills and vehemently fought by the general public. The bills were slow to draw attention with only a very few in the Tech and Privacy sectors discussing them until worry reached a tipping point and finally people were made aware. Strangely enough, most people became aware of the proposed legislation through the internet.

Not to be left out of the systematic peeling away of democratic rights, this week in Canada, Vic Toews the Minister of Public Safety, tabled a bill originally named the “Lawful Access Act” later renamed to the more catchy “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act”. According to the Edmonton Journal:

The bill will require Internet service providers and cellphone companies to install equipment for real-time surveillance and will create new police powers designed to access the surveillance data. This means police can order a telecom company to preserve data for a specified period, but must first obtain a warrant to read the actual content.

The bill will allow for the warrantless access to subscriber information — a provision that triggered a sustained campaign last year by the federal and provincial privacy commissioners to get it scrapped from the bill before the Conservatives re-introduced it. An earlier version of the bill died when the federal election was called last spring.

Their description is a bit misleading in stating that a warrant must be obtained before accessing the information and in the following paragraph states that warrantless access is available. Reading through the bill yesterday, access to at least some of the information collected by the ISP and Telecom companies is indeed available without a warrant. Essentially, there is to be a mechanism to obtain access quickly with a promise to report the access to a supervisor later.

The bill requires ISPs and Telecoms to not only release subscriber information, but to track location and all digital communications for subscribers. This information must also be stored, providing a history of this communication. From my understanding, this data must be kept and stored for all subscribers just in case a warrant is issued.

For me personally, I run my business online using email, websites, social media, etc. I also run my business and personal banking online and unless I need to deposit a cheque, I simply don’t find myself in a bank branch very often. Considering the profiling that can be completed simply with a person’s search history, picture the profiling available with access to everything you do online.  Add to that location profiling and access to mobile conversations. Now picture that information being stored for every single Canadian.

I’ll pause and restate that to let it sink in:

Think about every internet and mobile communication, for every Canadian, being stored in a relatively small number of servers.

A single breach, either through hacking or an unscrupulous “keeper-of-the-data” could destroy the lives of countless Canadians and wreak havoc on our economy. It would quite simply be the largest and juiciest group of hacking targets on the planet.

Those paid to maintain the data that have the power to grant access could be swayed with large sums of cash to leak this information. Some Sys Admin making $60k a year may take a serious look at a bounty that would afford name changes and their remaining years on a private secluded beach.

Of course, sometimes there is just a personal vendetta and a suitable lack of ethics to encourage the unauthorized access. Those that are expected to tend our data are humans too. Humans with problems, ex-spouses, and shitty neighbors. They have disagreements with co-workers and bosses. They, like most of us, have an occasional axe to grind. The burden of access to this amount and type of data will be heavy at the most trying of emotional times of their lives.

As another actor in the system, we look at the RCMP and Police Services that would access this system. I will start by saying that from childhood, I hold officers of the law in high regard and appreciate the risks they face for us everyday. That being said, there is chronic under-staffing across this country (here, here, & here). Members of the RCMP have complaints about the staffing and administration (here). Members of the police are also human and like the Keepers of the Data above, suffer from the day to day pressures and problems of life, and are also susceptible to some of the same pitfalls. Given the under-staffing, I worry about access to this data with or without a warrant becoming a coping mechanism that makes investigations easier and less time consuming in addition to the risk of exercising personal vendettas. Being that they are human, there is, as always, a risk of error or error in judgement that may result in an innocent Canadian’s information being made available without just cause.

Large amounts of data being thrown around is also dangerous. Lets face it, there is not a great track record of public servants safe guarding the data they are entrusted with,(Sadly, I thought I’d find a few links from news stories and then found that site. Depressing to say the least). In a country where one is innocent until proven guilty, what is the price of a lost laptop during an investigation that can destroy the financial and personal life of a Canadian citizen? What about a laptop with information on many investigations? While the claim will be made that guidelines and precautions are in place, those exist today and we see from the above link how well those work.

This proposed legislation underwent a name change and is now being sold as a way to “prevent child pornography”. The name change only happened on Monday after Vic Toews made a remark to an opponent of the bill, stating “can either stand with us or with the child pornographers”.

For one, Toews statement alone is offensive and simple minded. Let’s play this game for a minute: Mark Twitchell killed someone in a rented garage. Mark Twitchell is Caucasian.  Vic Toews is Caucasian. Therefore, using this logic, Vic Toews is a convicted murderer. See? It’s a fun game. Set ’em up and knock ’em over.

Toews is purposely trying to simplify the issue into a Fox News like soundbite to garner support, ignoring the obvious complexity of the proposed legislation he has written and tabled. CP is a truly horrible crime with real victims and real criminals that deserve prosecution. Toews is leaning on the emotional pull people will inherently have to stop this type of crime from happening. Unfortunately, in 110 pages of the bill, there is a distinct trampling of rights to privacy for Canadians. Labeling those who want to have a discussion about the intrusion of the government in our personal lives, does not mean that we “stand with the child pornographers” and he’s a deceptive, politicking, dickbag for implying so (but as a murderer, I guess that should be expected).

Under the proposed legislation the Canadian Competition Bureau is also afforded access to to this information with and without a warrant.  While I understand that they are indeed a wing of law enforcement in this country, this is legislation being sold on “preventing CP”. Are they preventing unfair competitive practices in the CP industry?

While there are aspects of the bill that would indeed help to investigate, arrest and prosecute child pornographers, the collection, storage and access to amazing collections of data at the cost of basic privacy to every single Canadian that uses the internet or a mobile phone is a very high cost.  I think Canadians are open to finding solution that facilitate these types of investigations and we should have an open discourse on it. It is however, disingenuous to believe that a bill written and titled generically as the “Lawful Access Act” and later renamed, to be passed without scrutiny because of rhetoric that places opponents to the measures in the legislation in the same camp as a child pornographer.  Canadians deserve better than that.

If this bill is passed into law, then I only have one addendum that I insist is added:

Every member of government at the federal, provincial and municipal level, every municipal police officer, every employee of the RCMP, every employee of CSIS, every employee of the Canadian Competition Bureau  and every employee at every ISP and cellular provider has their data streamed to a website where the Canadian public can monitor the effective safety of their private data. Quite simply, if we can see all of the information, communication, and location of this group of people in real time, we can ensure that our data is not leaked inappropriately. We would effectively now know who watches the watchmen. Besides, if they have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to worry about, right?

And anyone that disagrees with the above addendum to the bill is obviously a pinko, nazi, drug addicted, alchoholic, spouse abusing, child pornographer so I expect it will be added to the legislation promptly.

Get Involved

This legislation is worrisome on many levels. From the systematic erosion of our rights and freedoms, to creating a data target, to risk of lost or mishandled data, to the abuse of access and malicious investigations, it is important that you understand what we are potentially giving up here.

Read the proposed legislation, inform others, sign the petition, and write your MP to tell them how you feel. If Mr. Toews wants a solution that helps decrease CP, then lets discuss ways in which that can happen with out giving up all of our rights to privacy.

Read the legislation: http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/hoc/Bills/411/Government/C-30/C-30_1/C-30_1.PDF

Read More: http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/6316/125/

Sign the Petition: http://openmedia.ca/StopSpying

Write your MP: http://www.realprivacy.ca/write-my-mp

Spread the word: Use the links below to share this link using social media


Concept Engineering Site Launch

I have just launched a website built for Concept Engineering. 

concepteng.ca screen capture

This was a fairly comprehensive site with a lot of different components and a client with an eye for detail. The main features of the site include:

  • jsp image slider on the home page with text
  • A blog re-purposed as a newsfeed
  • A client area with Dropbox like functionality (great for sharing engineering docs when they are too large for email)
  • Dojo slider displays for projects and services
  • Lightbox call outs

The project was not on a set timeline and getting it right was more important than getting it done (they had an existing site already). There was a lot of emails and phone calls back and forth in between adding elements and gathering feedback. From little tweaks to a couple of big changes early on, it was a challenge and a lot of fun to work on and I managed to learn a lot as it went along.

Concept Engineering already had a good handle on their branding and did not want to veer too far away from that. The colours, logo and some other key elements were important to keep to prevent losing the familiarity gained with their prior branding efforts. Like many other clients we talk to, they simply needed a site that they could maintain without waiting on somebody else to make those changes and so I built the site with Concrete5. They can make their own updates easily, add projects, add staff and generally manage the site on their own, only calling me if they are too busy or get stuck on something.

A big thanks to Jason, Gary and Cam at Concept Engineering for their business and their input.

_________

Also, just a reminder to check out Yeggers. I’m still poking away at the concept and trying to validate whether this is a viable way to garner website clients. If you know someone that might be interested, please pass it on. Feel free to leave a comment with what you think of the idea, pricing, value, etc.


An Experiment Begins

Just a few minutes ago, I launched Yeggers.com

I took the idea of website development and design and thought about ways to reduce the up front costs for clients and this is what I came up with. Essentially, for a tiny setup fee and an on-going monthly subscription, we’ll build a website for your business, or band or what have you and take care of the whole thing for you.

At this point, it is an experiment and we’ll see how it goes. We already have the infrastructure in place for our own sites and clients, so we can honor any signups for an indefinite amount of time. What remains to be seen is if the business model works for generating revenue and if there is a market for what is essentially an amortization of the development costs over a period of several years.

I’ll post occasional updates as things go.


A View on SOPA from a Canadian Tech Company

The last few weeks have seen a growing surge of discussion about SOPA (the Stop Online Privacy Act) with a huge wave of discussion washing over the internet in the last couple of days. This legislation is, in my view, poorly thought out and threatens to neuter the widespread benefits of the internet for sharing information.

What is SOPA?

I have not read the legislation in full, but have read pieces of it on blog posts, Reddit, Techcrunch, and thousands of comments in article threads. In a nut shell, SOPA will allow the disabling of sites that have violated the content rights of another party. Essentially, at the DNS level, a site can be turned off to US site visitors if a site is accused of infringing on other’s content rights. While I understand that content owners have a right to protect their work, I think it was said best in an article I read that, and I paraphrase, this is a “nuclear bomb for the internet when a surgical strike is necessary”.

Why is This a Concern?

The internet has allowed, for the first time in human history, everyone to have a voice. Information a hundred years may have taken weeks or months to spread and was controlled and shaped by media forces now happens instantly. News wires and printed news papers allowed for word to spread more quickly, but with a delay of a day. Radio and Television were again faster, but like newspapers, suffered from editorial control whereby stories could be spun, ignored or made more important than they really were. The internet gave the people a voice. Unfiltered, on the ground, often wrong and without citation. But it also allows people to their truth to the world, as they see it, in real time.

Not only has the internet democratized information and made the sharing of information real time, the last ten years have led to a cultural revolution of independent artists, musicians, and authors. Not so long ago, record labels were the only way to get your music heard and the labels decided what we would hear. Now, the cost of recording and distributing a “record album” has become essentially free. An artist can share their work with world with a few mouse clicks. A writer can display their talent (or lack there of) via a blog, or they can self publish through one of several means. Part of this cultural shift has included liberal ‘re-mixing’ of the mediums. Bands sample other bands, artists add paint to someone else’s photo, a blogger quotes sources in their work.

This remixing does not rely on a small percentage of content creators. This remixing is done by countless numbers from every country in the world. From funny Imgur photos posted on reddit (tens of thousands a day), to music mash-ups, to re-dubbing movie clips on Youtube.

While the internet shapes and evolves culture across the globe, those that started, grew and controlled industries whereby content was created have seen their bottom line impacted. This has made them angry (and their shareholders angry) as they have clung to old business models and watched their margins slowly chip away. They no longer have the total and complete say in who the biggest musical artist will be this year. They don’t get to tell us who the artist is that will break large. They don’t get to spoon feed us the news they want to. While it would seem prudent to find ways to adapt and use the capital they have to dominate in a world with new market rules, they instead decide to sit back and use that capital to fund lobby groups to protect “the good ol’ days”.

So People Should Just be Able to Steal Their Content?

No. We already have copyright laws, trademark laws, patents and a host of other laws that can be used to force someone to take down a page, photo, song, etc that infringes on their content. Unfortunately for the big content creators, these laws require that you actually deal with lawyers and courtrooms and judges (actually, often a C&D letter from a lawyer is enough). SOPA will undoubtedly require some kind of lawyering, but instead of being forced to remove the content, the entire site is blocked at the DNS level. At this point, I don’t see any means of defending oneself against a SOPA takedown either.

Some of the corporate supporters of SOPA have claimed that their support is based upon the need to prevent counterfeit goods purveyors from outside the reach of US law enforcement from chipping away at their sales. I get this. If you spend time designing, researching, sourcing, creating, marketing and distributing content or a product, you don’t want some factory in China selling lower quality versions of your creations at a fraction of your price. That being said, I don’t think someone buying a $20 knockoff of your $300 product is really the customer that would ever buy your $300 product.

I don’t know what the answer is to prevent this type of infringement, but I know SOPA is not it. Let’s look at a service like Youtube. I don’t think it’s a big secret that there is content infringement on Youtube. There are tens, probably hundreds of thousands of videos that have  some form of infringement.

I have seen music remixes, movie redubs, people dancing to a track that probably wasn’t licensed and a million other examples of content infringement. The old school content creators get angry at this because someone is using their product without paying them. What do savvy content creators see? Free advertising. If somebody remixes my music into their video and their video goes viral, then more people hear about me and check out my music. If someone redubs my serious drama with funny lines and it gets passed around Reddit, then people learn about my serious drama and some of those people will seek my drama out after they’ve had their share of lols. The Dave Matthews Band became successful partially because of their taping policy when they were just starting out and playing shows to 30 people. The encouraged fans to tape the shows and share them. This was nearly unheard of at the time due to the draconian and short-sighted policies of the record labels (though bands like the Grateful Dead had tapers for years, mainstream acts rarely allowed live tapers). As early fans shared these tapes with friends in neighboring towns, DMB rolled in to play shows to larger and larger crowds on their first time in town. To this day, they still allow taping and encourage trading.

I had a video that was shot on a public street corner where a shop was blaring music through their outdoor speaker system. That video cannot be listed publically because I was infringing on the musical artist that someone else was broadcasting into a public street. We’ll call this type of situation “Unintentional Infringement”. How many videos are recorded with a stereo or television playing in the background? What about someone else’s artwork? If I have a painting on my wall and it is in the background of a photo or video I put on the internet, have I not reproduced the work without permission? I think this is a pretty slippery slope.

What Happens if SOPA Passes?

As I understand it, SOPA allows sites to be shut down without any avenue for defending against the order. For people accessing the internet in the USA, SOPA would see sites disappear from the web at an unknown pace. Given the way the record industry and Hollywood have pursued some offenders aggressively, I would expect them to flex their new found SOPA powers in a way to make the largest possible example as a warning to other infringers.

With a site like Youtube, my unintentional infringement could potentially lead to Youtube being shut off for all US web users. While it likely wouldn’t be my video that tipped that scale, the loss of the medium would be huge. There are plenty of great videos on the site that educate, entertain and enlighten and don’t infringe. Is it worth nuking the whole site instead of the surgical strike?

If the corporate “creators” decide to pick that fight, then say good-bye to Facebook, Reddit, Vimeo, WordPress, Tumbler, Flickr, myspace, countless blogs and independent websites. One also has to question if Google search would be shut down as it often shows results for sites that have infringing content. There goes Bing, Ebay, and a host of others.

This legislation is scary stuff. The internet has made it possible to have your voice heard, no matter how smart, stupid, right or wrong you are. SOPA opens the door to remove your voice. And if this legislation passes in the US, you will see similar legislation imposed on countries around the world.

What Can I Do?

If you’re in the USA:

Check out this post: http://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/ngd4r/i_work_in_news_this_is_how_you_stop_sopa/

And write your representative in Congress: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

Outside the US?

Talk with American friends and family members to ensure they understand what may happen if SOPA is passed and how it will affect them. Encourage them to become vocal about it.

Learn more about SOPA and your government. There’s a good chance they are starting to think this is a good idea too.


Client Video

I wouldn’t bill myself out as a video guy by any means, but one of our clients (Doug at Solalta Group) wanted a video to showcase a property he has in the Dominican Republic that is looking for partners. I spent a couple of hours on a concept idea that was really rough, but showed him what I was able to accomplish and he liked it.

I spent a bit more time tweaking, tightening and messing around and managed this:

 

Working with Doug over the past little while, I have seen numerous pictures of the property and the area and people surrounding it. Doug splits his time between Edmonton and the DR and has shared tonnes of information about living there, the food, the lifestyle, the people and more. I have on more than one occasion tried to point out that I might be able to better complete work and design for his projects if he were to fly me to the DR, but to no avail. Hopefully my future holds a trip for even a short vacation. Hopefully during the middle of an Edmonton winter too.

As to the production? Pretty much value budget tools all the way around. Prezi was the canvas with pictures text and video all laid out there. I then used Camtasia to record the screen and audio as I panned through the Prezi presentation. The whole thing is shot in one take with the only edits being splices at the beginning and end and fading the volume in and out. It took a few versions to find something that worked, something that Doug liked, and had the timing right. There were countless dry runs to try and get the timing right and somewhat close to the music’s beat.

The music and some of the photos came from here. If you look closely, the Youtube video has simply been embedded into the presentation layer. The crop I made at the beginning of the video was to cut me pressing play.

While I don’t foresee any Oscar nominations for this season (I didn’t one for this either), it was pretty fun to do, especially since Doug was throwing around ideas and I thought I’d take a stab at something. If you happen to be a developer/financier looking for a project and you want more information about Doug’s Royal Palms project, you can get in touch here: http://solaltagroup.ca/contact-us/