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Vancouverites, please try CareSquare

One  of our small supply of trusted babysitters has fallen in love with someone in Nanaimo (hint to fellow parents: DO NOT encourage your babysitter to go visit that ex-boyfriend in another town). So we're back to searching for fresh blood, and wondered whether there might be room for a web app to help. 

Turns out, someone else has already thought this all through. CareSquare is a well thought-out online community that helps parents find available caregivers, and lets you rank trusted caregivers and see those who are trusted by your friends (or their friends). There are a few hundred caregivers already in the network, but surprise surprise they're mostly in the San Francisco area.

So fellow Vancouverites, hear my plea: if you are a parent, caregiver, or sometimes babysitter, please add yourself  to CareSquare. If we can get a few dozen Vancouverites using the tool, it could turn out to be really useful.

Advice to social media mavens…from media pros

We’re just back from two days in Houston as the guests of ttweak, a marketing, communications and design firm that shares our belief that authentic, original voices are the best way to convey a message. ttweak’s best-known work is probably their Houston It’s Worth It campaign, but their extensive and varied experience also includes a number of video projects that let interview subjects, rather than narrators, tell the story. ttweak principals Randy Twaddle and Dave Thompson proved to us that Houston is indeed worth it, not only for the food (mmm, bbq. I mean mmm, Mexican. I mean, mmm, Cajun.) but even more notably for the almost unbelievably friendly people.

While we were in Houston we had the opportunity to meet with a number of ttweak’s clients, all of whom reinforced our impression that Randy and Dave have mastered the art of bottom-up marketing campaigns — and did so long before us johnny-come-latelys in the Web 2.0 world started yakking on about user-generated content. Here’s some of the wisdom we gleaned from their example and their advice:

  • Let participants speak for themselves. Don’t drown out original voices with heavy-handed narration or moderation.
  • Remain tool agnostic. If your goal is to convey a message, you’ll need to choose a different medium depending on the message you’re delivering.
  • Production values matter. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that people will see past your barebones interface to appreciate the depth or brilliant of your feature set. Appearance counts.
  • Invest in your local community. Even if your business has a national or international reach, a solid reputation with clients in your own city provides a bedrock for growth.
  • Build relationships with your client’s entire team. During one client visit, we saw how ttweak’s introduction counted with the CEO — but we also saw Dave on hugging terms with the parking valet. We got a warm reception in the boardroom — and a warm car waiting outside when we were done.
  • Client service is the surest way to grow a business. Resist the temptation to cash in by focusing on a single hot product, or cash out by selling your company to the highest bidder.
  • Do what you’re great at. Over-reaching is the surest way to burn your client — and your brand.

We’re excited to work with a company that realizes Web 2.0 values of user engagement in all of its work. And thanks again to Randy and Dave for introducing us to their wonderful city!

Welcome aboard, Catherine Winters… as Social Signal takes on Second Life

A few months ago, Rob and I decided that Social Signal was ready to expand its development team with another web services consultant; Aaron Pettigrew has had such a transformative impact on our business that we realized another Aaron (as though there could be such a thing) would allow us to serve that many more clients that much more effectively.

And we decided that while we were adding another web geek to the team, we might look for someone who knows a little about Second Life — a virtual world that is the Internet's hottest new home to online community. (Find out more about Second Life here.) So I sent an e-mail to a leading Second Life blogger who blew my mind when we met at last year's SXSW. Here's what I asked him:

since I keep hoping that our business may eventually involve doing some Second Life projects for folks, I have the idea that our ideal next hire would be someone who's an experienced Second LIfer – probably not someone who's doing Second LIfe stuff professionally yet (though possibly) but the kind of person who'd be thrilled to make that part of their work. Basically we're just looking for a bright, energetic, progressive and tech-impassioned person who would enjoy bringing their social commitments and tech passions together. Do you happen to know any SL types in Vancouver who'd fit that description?

Lucky for us, he had an inspiration: a Vancouverite whose SL name is Catherine Omega. He pointed us to Catherine's bio on the Second Life wiki, and that was enough to convince us to get together with her.

A couple of weeks later, we met up with Catherine (known in real life as Catherine Winters) in a local Vancouver restaurant. Over the course of a lively lunch we covered everything from how she first got into Second Life (on a computer she built herself from scavenged parts) to the larger significance of Second Life and other virtual worlds (as a way of bridging social differences and disparities).

That was the first of a series of meetings in which Catherine coached us out of our SL newbieness and started talking with us about how Second Life could support a socially sustainable business approach. We were dazzled by Catherine's brilliant and thought-provoking take on Second Life's social significance, by her strategic insights into how organizations could make innovative and effective use of an SL presence, and by her exceptional clarity and good humor in making Second Life accessible to new users. And we suspected that as one of the co-authors of the new Official Guide to Second Life, she was in a position to take a leadership role in bringing more people to the platform.

Today, we're delighted to announce that Catherine Winters is joining Social Signal as our Manager of Virtual Worlds. Catherine will be leading a new Second Life practice to help businesses, non-profits and government agencies establish innovative, effective presences "in world". This practice will focus on working with organizations that want to create a profoundly interactive presence that stands out in Second Life's every-expanding world, that want an SL presence that integrates with a web-based online community, or that want their SL presence to advance a sustainability or social change agenda.

We'll have more news to share in the coming months about our plans for Second Life, including the forthcoming launch of our own island. Catherine's creative ideas and scripting powers will be put to good use as we introduce new opportunities for organizations to make compelling use of Second Life as a new medium for strategic communication.

Meanwhile our web site can tell you more about Catherine and our new Second Life practice. We also hope you'll join us for an open house to introduce Catherine to our clients, colleagues and friends, and to introduce Social Signal to the Second Life community. The open house will be held from 2-4 pm Second Life time (aka Pacific time) on Wednesday, January 3 at TechSoup's space on Info Island. (Many thanks to CompuMentor for lending their space to us for this event) If you've yet to visit Second Life, this is a great excuse to download their software and try it out (it's free to download and free to register) for yourself.

If you'd like to learn more about Second Life, or about how Social Signal's new practice can help your organization establish an effective Second Life presence, please call (778.371.5445) or e-mail Catherine (catherine [at] socialsignal [dot] com), me (alex [at] socialsignal [dot] com) or Rob (rob [at] socialsignal [dot] com).

We owe that blogger a huge thank-you for making this inspired connection. And yes, this does mean we're still looking for that web services consultant.