Viral Videos: YouTube vs. Vimeo

I spent the past week producing a promotional video for Social Harbor, the new website developed by Ingenex Digital Marketing. Derek and I went to the Diag on UM’s campus last Wednesday to get some primary video footage. I took the tape home and used iMovie to import and edit the video clips. I found a song that was available without royalty fees on Incompetech.com. Kevin MacLeod writes and records all the music on there — and he only asks for optional donations.

Once I had the film cut to about 1 min. 45 sec., I exported the final product as a Quicktime Movie file in order to upload it to the web. We had chosen YouTube as the service to host and share the video. Of course we could put the video right on the Social Harbor home page using a flash player. But we want to be able to send a link in emails and embed the video on blogs and other websites. We also want people to be able to share the video on social bookmarking sites like Digg.com. YouTube offers all of these. In fact, it’s commendable that YouTube has maintained the “king of the hill” status for so long in the realm of web video streaming. Most Web 2.0 sites that got that big have sold out and gotten ruined (like MySpace, for example).

I did run into some problems with video resolution while uploading to YouTube. They broadcast at 425 pixel width, but iMovie exports at about 320 width by default. It was no easy task to get the ratio correct AND have the video streaming the way it’s supposed to. I had to find a tutorial to help with expert settings and export the video the correct way. Of course, I figured it out right when my brother — who just moved to LA to get into the film industry — told me that Vimeo is better for high resolution videos. They don’t compress your video so much, and you can even host a video in HD quality.

There are some negatives to Vimeo. First, you have a limit of 500 MB per week that you can upload. On YouTube, a single clip can be as large as 1 GB (1000 MB), and there is no limit to your total uploads. Second, you’re not supposed to upload any commercial content. Vimeo is intended for personal creations only — as in home movies and short films. That means I’m not supposed to load the Social Harbor video to Vimeo even if I want to.

The end result: The video is on YouTube, available for viewing by the general public: Social Harbor video.

Lights Off In The Skyscrapers

According to a New York Times article published on Saturday, the nighttime dimming of skyscraper lights is finally starting to become widespread and noticeable. The article says that lights were more often dimmed during World War II and the energy shortage of the 1970s, but otherwise it’s normal for buildings to have way too many lights on at night.

Timers, motion sensors, and light dimmers are all being used to reduce the energy waste associated with superfluous lighting. These projects are easier in modern times because the cost of the technology has dropped significantly. One interesting point is that landlords have an easier time renting space if their building has been approved for environmental efficiency. However, if tenants have to pay for electrical bills themselves, they are more likely to install efficient lighting devices.

MSU’s EJ Magazine published an article by Amanda Peterka entitled “Blackout!” in their Fall 2006 issue that covered the same topic. Both articles mention groups like New York City Audubon and International Dark-Sky Association (IDSA), which have been highly instrumental in bringing about large-scale changes in huge American cities like New York and Chicago. According to Peterka, the IDSA certified Flagstaff, Arizona as the first International Dark Sky City in 2001. New York City was given a 9 on the IDSA’s 9-point scale of light pollution (i.e. wasted/unnecessary light and sky glow).

To me this seems like a no brainer. There is absolutely no reason to keep these skyscrapers lit up at night. All unused and extra light should be turned off. Savings will come in electric bills and carbon emisssions. It’s not a complete solution, but — as with most environental action these days — it’s a step in the right direction.

WordPress Plugin: All In One SEO

During this fall internship, we’ve been devoting a lot of time and energy to search engine optimization (SEO) — both learning what it is and how to do it, and then putting that knowledge to use. Up to this point, businesses have provided SEO as a service to those hoping to bring traffic to their website. But now it seems that might become a thing of the past. Everything on the Internet is shifting towards keywords and tags. Soon that will be the model upon which the Internet is navigated. So then one might ask, “Is there a way to automatically generate keywords based on a site’s content?” And it turns out that such methods are being developed today.

The first one I found is particularly applicable for bloggers such as myself. It’s a WordPress plugin called All In One SEO, developed by Semper Fi Web Design. I came across it last week as I was searching their plugin database for helpful tools. Out of 279 user reviews, it has an average rating of about 4 out of 5. But what exactly does the plugin claim to do? As stated on the WordPress page, the plugin should optimize your blog for search engines, generate META tags, avoid duplicate content, and more. The plugin claims to work “out of the box” for WordPress 2.3, with no fiddling necessary (Unfortunately we’re on to WordPress 2.6.2). They also say you can override META tags and specify most settings.

That all sounds great, but is there more to the story? As far as I can tell, there’s no way to confirm that the plugin is actually doing what it’s supposed to do. Time for some more research, and more writing about Digital Marketing on my own blog.

Go Ride A Bike…For Free

According to The New York Times, bike borrowing and sharing programs are becoming very popular at universities and colleges around the country. Some universities are funding the programs, hoping that students will choose bike travel over using their car. Some schools spent as much as $50,000 on their program, offering bikes that sell for over $400. Other programs involve discounts through local bike shops. Not only will this cut down on carbon emissions, but it will also decrease traffic and parking competition on campus.

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I think there’s a definite need for such a program at Michigan State. Students pay between $1.25 – $1.75 per hour for campus parking, and tickets start at $10 and quickly accumulate. However, this kind of program might conflict with the City of East Lansing’s actions to move students as far as possible from the actual campus. More and more students live in apartments up to two miles away from where they attend class. The main campus is already about four square miles, or about a 45-minute walk from end to end. Some might also say that bike riding decreases in the winter with increased snow and ice levels. Still, the bike remains the best method of transportation at schools like MSU and U of M. It woud be in the best interest of the universities to develop a free bike program for students.

Furthermore, cities should start programs like this. I would potentially ride a bike to downtown Ann Arbor if I had a decent street bicycle. However, I currently do not own one, so I lack that option. A city could help develop its green accomplishments (and its green reputation) with this kind of program.

(NOTE – I’ve just been informed by fellow Eco-Friendly Intern Jennifer Harrison that MSU does have a bike rental program. You can read about it at bike.msu.edu.)

Follow our internship at my personal Digital Marketing Blog. Also, go to the Social Harbor website to learn more about Ingenex Digital Marketing.

An Utterli New Way To Share Messages

These days there’s never any telling what web site will become the next big thing. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that Twitter would become such a big sensation. Personally, I’d rather post on a blog where I can write more, or put a status update on Facebook with the rest of my info. Twitter didn’t make sense until I realized how easy it makes it to share links with a ton of people. And that’s fun, but you’re still limited to text – 140 characters of text, which ends up between 10-15 words.

Luckily the Internet is all about progress, and one way to move beyond the Twitter model is Utterli. This site features the same concept, except you can also post photos, video, and audio. One obvious downside is the appearance. Twitter is simply beautiful, whereas Utterli feels boxey, cold, and unfriendly. Another downside: you can’t embed someone else’s video, photo, or audio on Utterli. You can only upload or record your own. However, if you have a video camera or microphone, it’s a pretty cool option to be able to record right on their site.

Other than the obvious snags, it seems to be a very useful web tool. You can also update from your phone like on Twitter. I have no idea how much that costs, since I’m currently a “web only” social media user. Utterli seems to promote cross-posting between other services like YouTube, Twitter, and WordPress (which is strange, since I can’t find any way to bring content in from a site like YouTube). Utterli may become the next big thing, or someone might come up with something better. For now all we can do is give it a whirl, and try not to get too addicted.

The Green Party in the 2008 Election

With the 2008 Presidential election approaching, I sometimes wonder, “Why do the mass media act like there are only two political parties in the United States?” Just because the Democratic and Republican parties are currently the most powerful, it doesn’t mean they’re the best. In fact, I think a strong case can be made to argue that they are far from ideal. However, that’s not my intention for this post.

Since this is the Eco-Friendly blog, I thought I should have a look at the Green Party. According to the Wikipedia page on the subject, the party operates on 10 Key Values. Three of them happen to relate directly to eco-friendly issues: 1) Ecological Wisdom; 2) Personal and Global Responsibility; 3) Future Focus and Sustainability. According to Wikipedia, Ecological Wisdom “refers in part to biomimicry (imitating the efficiency of nature’s services and bodily forms).”

Personal and Global Responsibilty mean reducing the harm that we are causing to the planet and its ecosystems. This seems to be a more scientific approach than Ecological Wisdom. Future Focus and Sustainability means shifting agriculture, technology, and other aspects of society towards a model that can be replenished on a long term basis. This has to do both with physical constraints (i.e. – limited natural resources) and energy shortages.

The other values are relevant and interesting. They include equal opportunity, social and economic justice, decentralization, gender equity, and respect for diversity. In the 2004 election, Green Party nominee David Cobb only received about 120,000 votes, or 0.10% of the popular vote. However, in 2000 Ralph Nader received over 2 million votes on the Green Party ticket. The presidential nominee in 2008 is Cynthia McKinney of Georgia. She might not take the cake this year, but I have a feeling that the Green Party will gain more attention in the future as the values they espouse become more and more commonplace in greater society.

The Do’s and Don’t’s of Social Media

It’s somewhat ironic that it’s now important to utilize social media websites to create a professional image online. As with most cultural phenomena that start out below the radar, social networking has now become mainstream and highly commercialized. The extreme case is MySpace, which is now more of a business model (i.e. – intended to sell things to you) than a networking model. But really, social media started as an outgrowth of the strange allure of AOL chat rooms. In fact, the first social site that I can remember hearing about was Hot Or Not. The concept was as simple as you may have already guessed. People load a portrait of themselves, and the audience rates the person’s “hotness” on a scale from one to 10. There wasn’t much interacting, but it was essentially a Web 2.0 concept. The audience contributes to the site and provides reviews for the “content.”

I heard about that site in 2002. Needless to say, a lot has changed in the past six years. By 2005 people started realizing that they need to exercise at least some caution about what they post on these websites, even if it is semi-anonymous. For individuals getting a kick out of the brave new world that the Internet offered, this wasn’t always a fun realization. Some sites did choose to protect the adventurous nature of the web. By 2007, Facebook had ramped up their security features, so that you can specify what parts of your profile will be visible to which people.

Still, the Internet feels a lot different now. Pretty much all our online activities can be traced to us in some way. That makes us more accountable for our actions, and, in some cases, more cautious. I’m confident that the benefits of the Internet will always outweigh any possible disadvantages. And even as things do change, being web savvy allows you to take advantage of the system. Students and recent graduates are in a position to utilize social media to the fullest potential. I didn’t hear about LinkedIn until early 2008, but now it seems to be the number one professional networking site on the web.

The best way for graduates to utilize social media is to stay on top of the wave. Being familiar and practiced with the sites and services as they become standard will make you a desireable employee in this increasingly digital world. Take our internship for example. In the first week we worked with blogs, LinkedIn, Naymz, AboutUs.org, and ZoomInfo, to name a few. If graduates show that they can capitalize on the emerging technologies and tools, they won’t miss the best of the surf.

This also means minimizing or hiding the “recreational” activities like Hot Or Not. If you wouldn’t enter a hot body contest at your local pub, maybe it’s best to follow suit in cyberspace.

Our Experimental Method

This week we set out to “own” a set of personalized keywords using search engine optimization. The goal was to try to get my blog to appear very high up in a Google search of certain keywords. I used the terms “Online Publishing Marketing” on my Digital Marketing Blog. I chose these terms because of my goal of combining web publishing (both journalism and creative writing) with digital marketing. I took a snapshot of the Google search at the beginning of the experiment, and set up a Google Alert for the three keywords. Then I blogged about it using the terms in the title, as well as the beginning and end of the blog post.

As you can see in the enlarged second image, the search terms “online publishing marketing” now bring up my WordPress blog tags fairly high in a Google search.

The other Eco-Friendly Interns and Ingenex CEO Derek Mehraban will be doing the same, and then cross-linking between our posts. Amanda Marandola posted on “Marketing an Eco-friendly Expansion.” Katie Hyzy posted on “Eco-Savvy Marketing Ann Arbor.” Pedro Martin posted on “Experimental Marketing Michigan.” Jennifer Harrison posted on “Digital Eco Fusion.” Derek Mehraban posted on “Digital Marketing Education.”

Mission: Local Bloggers – Ross Johnson

When we were asked to follow a local blogger (based in Ann Arbor, Michigan) as part of our Eco-Friendly Internship, it occurred to me that the concept of a blog has changed since they first entered the public view. Blogs began mostly as a method of personal expression, either standalone on sites like Blogger.com or as part of a MySpace profile. That was three years ago. In the time since, something called the “blogosphere” was born. I never really understood what that meant, since it implies that there’s some collected space where all blogs hang out. MP3 blogs got really popular, since people love being able to download a song or two and stay tuned in to what’s “cool.” Political blogs also boomed, not only as a response to mainstream media, but sometimes as a unique source of political news.

Today it seems that the majority of blogs exist as part of a business model. As a journalist and natural skeptic, I’m a little worried about that. It is great for companies and employees to get information out to the public, but it also blurs the lines between personal expression (i.e. – creativity), journalism (i.e. – seeking truth while documenting events), and public relations (i.e. – selling something…at least, most of the time).

One way to keep blogs valuable is to center them around a geographical community. The ArborWiki has an open list of local bloggers. For the Eco-Friendly Internship, I’ll be following Ross Johnson, co-owner of 3.7 Designs, a website design company in Ann Arbor. His Web Design Marketing Blog and Podcast features a unique, attractive appearance and seems to focus largely on Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). For those not familiar with web development, CSS is a relatively new branch of coding for fonts, colors, and other front-end elements of a web page. Having just finished developing my own web site with HTML and a basic grasp of CSS, I’m hoping that Ross will have a lot to teach me on the subject.

Starting with the Basics

For me to evaluate how a digital marketing company can operate on a more eco-friendly basis, it would be necessary for me to see how their actions are either directly or indirectly hurting the environment. Since I still know so little about the marketing industry, the best way for me to do that is to start with the basics. America is one of the highest carbon-emitting countries in the world partly because so many people commute to work via automobile. As far as I can tell, Ingenex Digital Marketing is a small company with employees living in (or at least near) Ann Arbor.

The next step would be to evaluate the office space. Is the lighting low-wattage (i.e. – curly fluorescent bulbs instead of regular ones)? Are employees actively recycling paper and containers, and buying recycled materials (from paper to scissors)? Is the building designed for efficient heating and cooling to minimize utility costs and related pollution? If not, can it be renovated? Is the company buying credits for wind and solar power, and donating to organizations that plant trees?

There are also alternative options for heating and cooling. If the office is a standalone building on a large property, it could be possible to install a heating and cooling system that runs fluid pipes through the ground to harness the earth’s temperature (which is warmer than the air in winter, and cooler than the air in summer).

As far as I can tell, a company like Ingenex Digital Marketing does most of its work online. That already implies that many operations that were once done on paper are now done electronically. Another option might be to provide pro bono work or discounted services for charitable groups or non-profit environmental organizations that need help with digital marketing. Some examples in the Ann Arbor area are the Great Lakes Commission, National Wildlife Foundation, and Greenway Collaborative.