#cttu – Aldon Hynes, Internet Novelist

It’s five o’clock on a Thursday and the usual crowd is driving to the CT Tweet Crawl. It is a diverse group of people that gather every so often who are united by little more than their common use of Twitter. I’ve been going to Tweet Crawls, Tweetups, and other social media gatherings for years. It used to be much more geeks talking about some wild idea for a new website. The content producers started showing up, the bloggers, podcasters, and videobloggers. Finally, the marketing people caught on with their nice suits and a chance to exchange business cards.

I’m listening to All Things Considered on the radio as I drive up. They are talking about William Faulkner and I think about novel writing. Every year I give National Novel Writing Month a try, and one year I completed the novel, but never got around to editing it.

I’m thinking to myself, “What do I have to say to this upcoming gathering? What do they have to say to me?” I anticipate the first question I will hear from many people, “So, what do you do?” I eat, I drink, I sleep, sometimes I write or manage to find interesting technology projects that pay the bills, but that isn’t concise enough for this crowd and people won’t want to swap cards with me. I could say that I’m quick with a joke, or to light up a smoke but people would then assume that there’s some place that I’d rather be.

Years ago, I spoke with my daughter’s kindergarten class about what I do. It occurred to me that the best way to describe what I do is to say that I “help people tell their stories online.” With this in mind, the words of William Faulkner rattling around in my head and a little Billy Joel somehow slipping in, I decided on my new job description. “I’m an Internet Novelist”.

Yeah, it’s a little different from Bill’s friend the Real Estate Novelist. I’ve had time for a wife, although she may sometimes get frustrated at the amount of time that I am online. So, at the TweetCrawl, I use the phrase. I get polite nods as people seem to get it, exchange business cards and move on. Only one person seems to object. He points out that novels are supposed to be long form fiction. A lot of social media is very short form, and by novel standards, even a long blog post is short form. In addition, social media people are supposed to be writing about what is really going on, not some fiction.

While I’m a big advocate of truth and authenticity online, it seems as if a good social media presence is concerned with the narrative, with taking all the bits and pieces of life and weaving it into an interesting story. Hopefully, the story isn’t fiction, but becomes true in the telling of the story.

So, there you have it. I’ve told my story of being an Internet Novelist, and hopefully telling this story makes it a little bit true. It certainly made the discussions at the CT Tweetup more interesting. On the way home, I listened to Fresh Air as Terry Gross interviewed Loudon Wainwright. He talked some about his father being a journalist for Life magazine and how he had bought into the notion that you need to write a book to be a serious writer. Maybe I’ll end up buying into the same notion, but until then I’ll keep up my various forms of internet writing and hope to weave them into interesting stories.

The Crowd Sourcing Winter Vacation Contest

Fiona’s week long school vacation starts a week from tomorrow. It will include Valentine’s day, President’s day, Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, and probably some other important days I am not aware of. In other years, we haven’t really done anything special during winter vacation. It has conflicted with my work or my wife’s work. However, this year, we really need a few days away.

We’ve talked about various things to do. We could go into New York City, or maybe up to Boston for a day of exploring museums. We could go Cape Cod for a few days and walk on quiet beaches. I started looking for ideas online.

One site I checked was They listed Dance Flurry, the great folk dancing festival up in Saratoga Springs, NY. Last summer at Falcon Ridge, we spent a bit of time with folks from Bungieville, a group of dancers from Long Island that always camp together at Falcon Ridge, and dance together at Saratoga Springs. Unfortunately, it conflicts with a few things, so we won’t be at Dance Flurry. also listed the Chainsaw Rendezvoux. This is a weeklong gathering of chainsaw artists in western Pennsylvania. It seems like a fairly long trip to see some chainsaw artists in action, but it does sound very interesting.

The State of Maine’s Festival Page for February listed a nice collection of winter festivals, and we might head up there. However, many of them are focused on snowmobile races or ice car races. Races don’t rank high on our list of interesting things, but there is also going to be ice sculptures and fireworks.

I’ve wondered if sites like Dopplr, Where Are You Now?, CouchSurfing, Yelp, 43 Places, Upcoming, Foursquare, BrightKite, or some other set of sites might be helpful in finding a special vacation.

Then, it occurred to me, why don’t I put this request out on my blog, and spread it to various social media sites? So, I open it up to friends, followers, readers, and anyone else that stumbles across this website. Share your best idea for inexpensive, interesting things to do in the North Eastern United States for a husband, wife, and eight year old girl. If I get some good ideas, I’ll recap them in a later blog post, and perhaps do some blogging and other social media activities from the event. If it comes from a blog in one of my blog networks, I’ll through a little link love in there too.

So, what do you say? What fun events are happening in mid February?

Jesus Didn’t Turn Anyone Away

It has been interesting to follow the discussion about the Focus on Family Superbowl Advertisement that CBS will run during the Superbowl that has been getting so much attention. I’ve received emails from advocacy groups urging me to contact CBS to condemn their decision. I’ve read article in the advertising and marketing world analyzing the pros and cons of the decision, as well as some interesting political analysis of the decision. I’ve been looking for an angle to say something that hasn’t been said already about the advertisement, and it wasn’t until I found a blog post talking positively about the advertisement that I found what I wanted to say.

WordJourney Magazine talks about the advertisement as being ‘inspirational’, or at least it is inspiring controversy, but the author hopes it will have the ‘ the intended effect of touching lives for Jesus Christ”. Personally, I have serious doubts and suspect that it may, in fact, drive people further from Jesus Christ. I expressed this view in a comment on the article.

I hope, for our Lord and Savior’s sake, that you are right. However, I fear that this ad may in fact do more damage to the Kingdom than good. Mrs. Tebow made a difficult and noble choice. She should be lauded for that, and to the extent that the ad encourages other young women in her situation to make a similar difficult and noble choice, there is much to be gained. If, on the other hand, the advertisement encourages our leaders to not to allow other women to make this difficult choice, then it may be seen by many as the efforts of the self-righteous meddling in the lives of others. If this is the case, I worry that it may drive others further from looking towards God’s saving grace in times of trouble.

Likewise, it is wonderful that an anonymous person has stepped up to pay for the advertisement, and if the advertisement stays within the realm of encouraging people to make choices in their lives that will draw them closer to Christ, it is a wonderful thing. However, to the extent that it is advocating a political opinion, such illegalizing abortions, then it seems as if the person is at best skirting the laws that require public disclosure about advocating for political positions. It does little good for us as Christians if Christian leaders are perceived as trying to get around are laws to advocate for specific positions.

So, I pray that you are right, and I hope that we all pray that this message might glorify Christ and not drive people away from Him.

I deliberated about whether to post the comment in and of itself on my blog. I don’t often write about religion here. As I thought about it, I decided to go look at the advertisement that CBS rejected last time for the Superbowl. It was sponsored by the United Church of Christ and carried another controversial message. “Jesus Didn’t Turn Anyone Away”.

I do believe that the message of the United Church of Christ that was rejected would have done much more to ‘touch lives for Jesus Christ’ than the Focus on Family ad does.

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Pop It Forward Bursts

The other day, as I was surfing blogs, I found a link to Pop It Forward, a promotion for Popchips. If you click on the link and fill out a form, they would send samples to three of your friends. I like Popchips so I signed up to send chips to my wife, my daughter off in college, and to my wife’s parents.

Then, today I received an email from popchips stating:

hi there. we're sorry to say that someone "mistakenly" posted a "pop it forward" link for popchips onto the web this past weekend. we're not sure why, but what was a hand-delivered invitation to a small number of people, ended-up online with tens of thousands of people signing-up. we're really sorry about the mix-up and hope you understand.

With that, they provided a link to a coupon for $1 off. The link now says

thanks for your interest in popchips - unfortunately this page is temporarily unavailable.

please check back with us soon.

happy snacking!

your friends at popchips

A quick search revealed the site is listed on many ‘freebie’ sites. It seems as if whomever is doing the social marketing for popchips didn’t understand the way something can go viral or ways to protect against getting inundated. They were overwhelmed by merely tens of thousands of people wanting free chips? If you want to have a limited invitation promotion online, you should use an invitation code and make sure each code only gets used once. Live and learn.

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The Year of the QR Code?

Some people look at what is and ask why? I prefer to dream of what is not and write blog posts about it.

At a New Year’s party, I was asked if 2010 will be the year that someone finally figures out where the online revenues for local newspapers are going to come from. I certainly hope so. Already there are examples springing up here and there of local papers that are doing well with their online revenues. However, we have a long way to go.

I normally talk about the importance of localization, and perhaps throw in a few comments about the importance of convergence when I talk about the possibilities for online revenues for local newspapers, but before I get to that, I want to talk about one other area that I think is important, that too many people are missing.

At conferences on online publishing, someone always mentions large publishers that are making more money from selling their data than they are from the advertisements they run. Unfortunately, most data purchasers are buying from very large sites; sites with over a million visitors a month. This just doesn’t work for small local newspapers. However, there is great value in the data from these small local newspapers, and I hope someone comes along, figures a way to aggregate some of this data and sell it as a profit both to themselves and the local papers they serve.

Yet in most cases, aggregation seems to drive down the value that local online sites provide. If I’m a small business in a small area, I want my ads, including my online ads, to target people in my area that are most likely to respond to my ads. Ideally, I would like my ads in the local paper to fit nicely with the online ads, and any other advertising that I might do.

It is with this in mind, that I would like propose a couple examples where I think a little innovation might be able to dig up some good value. Hopefully, they will illustrate the ideas of localization and convergence.

Many local papers run special advertising sections for real estate. Next to the picture and description of a house for sale, a QR Code could be added. When a person is reading the real estate advertising section, they could simply scan the QR Code with their cellphone, and it would send a message to the realtor that has placed the ad.


(Scan this code if you want to send me a text message about being interested in a house in my neighborhood that is for sale. I’ll put you in touch with a local realtor.)

It is worth noting while we see a little convergence and localization in this example, it could also be done for a print only publication.

The next example brings the print and the web a little bit closer. A store that has the ability to accept orders online might place an advertisement in the online section of a local newspaper, with a link to the online store. Using QR Codes, the same could be done with a print version, and a print and online ad could run concurrently.

Since I don’t have my own online store, I’ve set up a sample using an Amazon advertisement for the Nokia N900, my current cellphone, which supports QR Code scanning.


Now, to the nitty gritty. It doesn’t take a lot of work to make good QR Codes. For this article, I used the Kaywa QR Code Generator. There are several other good free QR code generators. I’ve chosen to go with QR Codes instead of some of the other 2D bar codes because QR codes seem to be easiest to generate and scannable on the widest set of devices.

It is also worth noting that if you have a good design team, you can make QR codes very fancy, as is noted in an Engadget article about Takashi Murakami and Louis Vuitton QR Codes.

A final concern, QR Codes are not popular yet in the United States. It seems as if there is a little bit of a chicken and egg problem. Advertisers don’t use them because a lot of people don’t use QR Code scanners yet, and a lot of people don’t use QR Code scanners yet because there aren’t a lot of codes to scan yet. However, someone will break this cycle and start doing interesting things with QR Codes and hopefully this article will inspire others to think up new ideas.

A little innovation, like using QR Codes to converge local advertising could be just the ticket to help build online revenues for local newspapers. Now, I just need to find more ways of building revenues for certain bloggers.

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