A sky at night with gorgeous stars. Picture by Scott Cresswell on Flickr.

The beauty of the Universe.

When I was a kid, more than anything, I wanted to be an astronomer. I would lay on the grass in the front yard of my parents’ house in New Hampshire, look up at the stars, and wonder what life was like away from Earth. Every Saturday, I would sit on the floor of my bedroom and eagerly flip through astronomy books as I learned about nebulae and red dwarfs; black holes and asteroids. At night, when I slowly succumbed to the sounds of crickets and the softness of the breeze outside my bedroom window, I would have dreams about discovering new planets. The universe was so vast, so inspiring, so… amazing.

I love telling my stories and I love hearing the stories of others. The woman you see walking her dog every day has a touching story from her childhood about loss. The student at your local coffee shop, who constantly wears headphones and is so focused on the screen in front of him, has as a tale with trials and tribulations that are hard to believe.

It’s always fun to hear the stories of the millionaires and billionaires, the celebrities and VIPs. But everyone has a story to tell, even if you don’t have the shiniest car or thickest wallet–and this inspired me to talk to the “normal,” everyday people around me; to understand what they’ve been through, what their early years were like, what path they took. Like everyone, they’ve been through good times and bad times, tough times and easy times. And I wanted to help them tell their tales.

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A sleazy salesman. Image courtesy of Csaba Diglics on Flickr.

What do you picture when you hear the phrase “online advertising?”

What’s your first thought when you hear the phrase “online advertising”? If you’re like a lot of people, your gag reflex kicks in as you painfully recall memories of slimy ads pitching miracle weight loss drugs.

But there’s more to online search engine advertising and marketing (SEM for short) than digital snake-oil salesmen shoving flashing banner ads down your throat. It’s a way for New York Times best-selling authors to test their book titles. An opportunity for feel-good doggy daycare companies to get 90% of their business. And a chance for someone like Dave Collins, founder of SoftwarePromotions, to create a company that helps businesses like the feel-good doggy daycares of the world get that business.

In 1996, Dave was on a train in the UK when inspiration hit. Find out how Dave took a brief moment of train-enlightenment and molded his dream job into his own company.

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Watch out! It's a video game pirate!

A video game pirate approaches! Photo courtesy of Jeff the Troja on Flickr.

When was the last time you saw an advertisement? I’d bet it wasn’t too long ago. Was it on a website? A 30-second pre-roll before watching Modern Family on Hulu?

On my daily walks through New York City I see buses vibrantly painted marketing a new TV show, buildings covered in “happy hands” watch billboards, and even chalk-written notes on the sidewalks reminding people to go to church. Whether we like or not, every day we subconsciously observe psychology in marketing, advertising, and selling.

Enter the Humble Bundle, a site that uses some excellent advertising to entice customers to buy “indie” books, video games, and music. Started about two years ago by the ever-forward thinking Jeff Rosen, the Humble Bundle has been a massive, massive success. In total, the Humble Bundles have generated about $19,500,000 in total revenue. In a field littered with piracy, how were they able to generate so much revenue? Read on as I break down eight different ways the Humble Bundle website pushes you to happily give them money (often more than you expected).

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Become your own boss and enjoy life as you want to. Image from user jay j wilkie on Flickr.

Become your own boss and enjoy life as you want to. Image from user jay j wilkie on Flickr.

Your alarm clock goes off at 7:15 in the morning. You begrudingly swat at it to turn it off. An hour later, you’re in your car and on the way to a job you’ve done for way too long. You get to work, stare at your computer for a few hours, and dream about living in Costa Rica until the clock hits 5 pm. Is this really the way you wanted to live? Do you really want to do this for the next 20 to 30 years? Your eight-year-old self would be so upset you’re stuck in a cubicle all day and not off exploring space  or saving the world from bad guys!

Pam Slim is a lifestyle coach who helps people quit their 9-5 and create your own dream company. Her book, Escape From Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur is a wonderful breakdown of the steps involved in quitting a job and creating a business (think Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek, but with more detailed steps as to how to actually create your muse).

What’s the benefit of creating your own company? Well, for you, my fellow friends, it leaves you more time to sarge on your own schedule. In essence, you get to do things as you want to do them, without having to answer to all your crazy boss’ requests (how many more times can you hear you need to finish another competitive analysis by Thursday?).

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A public address. From the user master alarm on Flickr.

A public address. From the user master alarm on Flickr.

There’s an old adage web marketers love to follow: “all attention is good attention.” In the marketing and advertising worlds, any attention to a brand is traditionally thought to help the brand out. After all, it brings the company into the spotlight, so more people hear about it and eventually buy their products… right?

We all know how dangerous assumptions can be. So, recently, I was able to test the aforementioned publicity theory. Last week, a television personality for one of the biggest news organizations in the world said something controversial on-air, and using publicly available data, I was able to track the sentiment and overall effect to his Twitter account. Because Twitter has become a central hub for the current generation to voice their concerns and complaints, it was a great method to understand how the general public felt about this news celebrity.

Now, the two main metrics that I wanted to track were new followers and mentions over a 24 hour period, starting when the person first made the comments. Whereas follower growth is pretty black and white (an increase in followers is good, a decrease is bad), mentions are a bit more of a grey area. Some of the mentions can just be people linking to articles about this person, others can be a upbeat show of support, while even more can be a harsh attack.

So, let’s dive in. On an average day, this personality gains approximately 30 new followers  and receives 30 mentions per day. Let’s discuss how they fared on the day of controversy.

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How do psychics seem to know everything about us? Photo courtesy of newsusa on Flickr.

How do psychics seem to know everything about us? Photo courtesy of newsusa on Flickr.

Have you ever been to a psychic? If not, I’m sure you can point to a friend who has. Furthermore, I’m sure you have a friend who is an extreme believer in the power of psychics. Whether it’s foreseeing our future, telling us how a deceased loved one is handling the afterlife, or detailing the mistakes we’ve made in the past, psychics usually tell us things we want to hear (and believe are correct).

Some of you who follow me closely on Twitter may have noticed I tweeted out an article on cold reading recently. The entire article is a fascinating look at the art of psychic cold reading, and furthermore, how all the psychics seem to know you so well.

So how do these psychics appear to be so familiar with the ins and outs of your life? The fact is, they have a trick. A very interesting, powerful trick.

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Getting prepared to deadlift 500 lbs! Image courtesy of Joint Base Lewis McChord on Twitter.

A weight lifter getting prepared to deadlift 500 lbs! Image courtesy of Joint Base Lewis McChord on Twitter.

It’s been about a year since Tim Ferriss’ latest book, 4-Hour Body, came out. The book was released to a large amount of fanfare, and even today, hovers around the top 200 books sold on Amazon.

Although focusing on body/nutrition/fitness optimization, Tim’s book has important implications for learning anything. In essence, his message is: cut the fat and extra bull when trying to learn something new and you’ll be rewarded.

So, with that message in mind, let’s dive into Tim’s book. This book review will be a little different than the other ones you may have read. Additionally, below you’ll find a nice surprise — a content/giveaway I’m running.

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Meditating and thinking about defaults!

Default options shape how people behave. Photo courtesy of janicebriggs3350 on Flickr.

Defaults are incredibly interesting. Behind every default choice on a major website is an angry room of people yelling at each other. “Why can’t we move the image up two pixels?!” a Product Manager may say while pounding her fist on the table. “We should move the image down two pixels!!!” a Strategy Analyst may counter. Then chimes in the VP of the Digital team, “why do we even need an image?”

For sites like Facebook and Twitter, defaults aren’t just interesting, they’re the lifeblood of the entire company. What a user first sees when they navigate to a website channels the user’s behavior and interaction with the site. In some instances, 95% of users don’t change or configure anything; they leave the page or application identical to how they found it.

Therefore, when Twitter launched their new homepage (their second homepage change in the past year), I was interested to examine the differences at a microscopic level: what changed, and what implications does this have for users navigating to twitter.com? Furthermore, an understanding of defaults may have dramatic effects on how you interact with pages online! Twitter isn’t the only company that does this: some of the most popular website you use–like Facebook, Google, ESPN, and Wikipedia–test defaults all the time. A lot of times they do this without you even noticing.

So, let’s dive in and explore the new Twitter homepage and see what’s changed.

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Image of the New York City billboards

Image of the New York City billboards (thanks to Adrienne Jean Fisher on Flickr)

Advertising is the lifeblood of online content.  How does Google manage to stay in business?  Online ads.  Mashable?  CNN?  That random blog you frequent?  The vast majority of the digital world is paid for by advertising.

With hundreds of millions of people accessing the Internet daily, it’s no mystery why: there are a lot of eyes looking at web pages and, therefore, a lot of opportunity to earn money.

With 750 million users, Facebook is the second largest website in the world.  Because the opportunity to appeal to such a large demographic is rare, Facebook knows that advertisers lick their lips at the chance to be in front of so many eyeballs. And thus, the Facebook Ads platform was born!  You pay money to advertise your fan page, website, or application on Facebook.  As a result, you (hopefully) get people clicking your link!  If done properly, Facebook ads are beneficial for Facebook, and you, the advertiser.

Because Facebook Ads are so new, very few people know how to fully unlock the potential of the platform. After this how-to, dear reader, you’ll be one of those super lucky people.

This guide is split into six different sections, starting with the basics (e.g. what are the different types of Facebook ads?) and ending with a full run-down of how to create (and maintain) a successful campaign.  The article is filled with examples of my experiences with Facebook advertising (including how I managed to blow through a few thousand dollars in less than 72 hours!) so you can learn from my mistakes.

So without further ado, let’s dive in.  Come on, I promise it’ll be painless. :)

Section 1: Overview of Facebook Ads

Section 2: Benefits of Facebook Ads

Section 3: How-To Create Facebook Ads

Section 4: Example Facebook Ads

Section 5: Results of Facebook Ads

Section 6: Downsides to Facebook Ads

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A full bookshelf in every home, a book in every hand!

A full bookshelf in every home, a book in every hand!

I was once told by a friend that books are one of the greatest investments one can make.  Where else can you find years of someone’s knowledge for less that $15, this friend casually mentioned.

I completely agree.  Books are an incredible resource to gather insight and experience from someone who has immersed themselves in a field for years.  Over the past 10 months, I’ve tried to read one new book a month based on different interests.  The books didn’t have to be long, overly scientific, or elitist.  I just read books on a topic I found interesting! Although difficult to do at first (it took away from my Internet time!), the knowledge I’ve gained has been well worth the initial cost and time investment.

So those of you who stopped reading over the years can easily jump back into the game, I’ve created a list of some of my favorite recently released books.  Now, when you run into your second grade teacher and she asks if you’re still reading as much as you used to you can (emphatically) say yes.

This is shorter and sweeter than most of my previous posts, so enjoy!

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