mamamusings: sponsored

elizabeth lane lawley's thoughts on technology, academia, family, and tangential topics

Thursday, 31 March 2005

sponsorship swan song

This, my friends, is my last sponsored post for Marqui. Or for anybody, for that matter.

I’m grateful to Marc and Marqui for the opportunity to experiment with a new form of blogvertising. I have a great deal of admiration for their original and honest approach to their blogosphere program, and no regrets for having participated.

My reasons for not continuing are very similar to Molly’s—knowing that I “had” to post changed my relationship to my writing, and made the process of writing posts before and after the sponsored posts feel forced.

I do wish Marqui well in their continuing program, and success with their product.

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categories: sponsored

Monday, 28 March 2005

my penultimate marqui post (sponsored post)

Apparently Marqui won an InnoTech Innovation Award this month, according to press release.

I’m also pleased to see that they’re building partnerships with non-profits.

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categories: sponsored

Wednesday, 23 March 2005

marqui shout-out

Just a quick shout-out and thank you to Marqui, since I’m long overdue on sponsored posts this month. There will be two more this month, which I promise will not be content-free!

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categories: sponsored

Saturday, 5 March 2005

it's not over 'til it's over (sponsored post)

It turns out that since I started the Marqui program a month later than the other bloggers, my contract extends for a month longer than theirs. So while I probably won’t sign another contract, you’ll be seeing a few more posts from me while I complete the terms of this contract.

I’ll use part of that time to berate them about their web site. I wanted to use a screen shot as part of a series of “software as service” examples in my talk this week (along with Basecamp and TypePad), but I couldn’t find a single page that had a clear enough message that I could put the screen shot up there and have it mean anything. Feh.

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categories: sponsored

Monday, 28 February 2005

farewell, marqui? (sponsored post)

Well, this is it. The last contractual Marqui post.

It’s been an interesting experience, and I’m not yet sure if I’ll continue (if they choose to offer another contract). It has had some effect on my blogging patterns. I don’t think it had any effect on the content of my other posts, though it did impact the frequency (I didn’t want to post about Marqui without balancing with non-sponsored posts, for example).

I wish I was more enthusiastic about Marqui—that would make it easier for me to make the decision. But as I mentioned in my last post, I still don’t feel as though they’ve articulated a clear message to a clear market, so it’s hard for me to know who the audience I’m writing these sponsored posts for really is, or what I ought to be pointing them towards.

If I do continue, it will be with the same level of transparency that I’m already using—I’ll tell you up front if I sign another contract, and what the basic terms of it are. And I’ll clearly mark any and all sponsored posts with both an indication in the title and a visual offset on the page.

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categories: sponsored

Sunday, 27 February 2005

marqui: software as service concept (sponsored post)

I’ve been lax in my Marqui blog-for-pay work lately, so today and tomorrow will be a one-two combo to get me up to date on posts, and bring me to end of my contract. (Haven’t decided yet if I’ll renew if given the option; several people I admire have expressed concerns about the mixing of editorial and advertising content, and I found Jason Kottke’s recent post particularly compelling.)

That being said, I’ve been thinking about the “software as service” concept that Marqui is pushing with their CMS, and I find it somewhat intriguing. The basic idea is that your source content, and your finished output (HTML pages, Word documnts, PDFs, etc) live on your own your servers. It’s just the processing of your input that’s handled by Marqui’s server. (Think of it a bit like having Blogger publish your site to your own server, rather than their servers—you provide the input, they process it and output it to your site.)

This is true of proprietary software, too, of course. If I create a project using Macromedia Flash or Director, I can output it and run it anywhere, but I can only edit it if I have the software. The difference here, however, is that once I’ve bought (licensed) the software, I can use it again at any time—with “software as service,” once I stop paying I lose my ability to use the software.

Marqui’s not the only place offering software as a service—some of my students have recently started using Basecamp for project management. For some reason, though, Basecamp feels less…well…scary to commit to.

Marqui really needs to work on its web site. When you get there, it’s not at all clear what they’re trying to sell you. Compare that to Basecamp’s site. Clear, direct, easy to understand what they’re offering. A free mode that lets you use the system for simple tasks. That would make me feel a lot more comfortable recommending to people that they give the system a shot. As it is, it doesn’t feel clear or approachable—the site and the concept remain too opaque for most people to respond to.

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categories: sponsored

Friday, 18 February 2005

online journalism review article on "blogging for dollars" (semi-sponsored post)

J. D. Lasica has written an interesting article for USC’s Online Journalism Review entitled “The cost of ethics: Influence peddling in the blogosphere.”

My trust in the piece was somewhat marred by JD’s poor fact-checking—I’m a professor, not a lecturer (there’s a big difference…sort of like calling someone a copy editor vs a reporter, or a reporter vs an editor), and more importantly I teach at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) not RPI.

I would have commented on the site with a correction, but commenting on OJR requires not only your name and email, but also your date of birth, which I found a bit intrusive.

Nonetheless, I think JD does a decent job of outlining the issues in the debate.

I have to say that I take Stowe Boyd’s criticism of the Marqui program with a grain of salt. I founded Corante’s Many-to-Many blog on social software, and have been writing for it for nearly two years. I have yet to receive one penny of compensation from Corante for that work. This week, however, I cashed a hefty check from Marqui for the four clearly-marked sponsored posts that I wrote in January.

All in all, I don’t feel at all bad about participating in Marqui’s program. I don’t think it has had any impact on my writing in other areas, nor have I felt that I’ve misled my readers in any way. So it’s hard for me to see where Stowe’s outrage comes from.

It will be interesting to watch where this all goes…

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categories: on blogging | sponsored

Wednesday, 16 February 2005

sabbatical details

I was deliberately vague in my first post about the sabbatical, because I was waiting for details to get firmed up a bit. But I can now say, with no small measure of delight, that I’ll be spending my sabbatical year as a visiting researcher at Microsoft Research, in the Social Computing Group. w00t!

Many thanks to Lili Cheng, manager of that group, for making this happen. I’m really looking forward to working with her team, which is made up of some really amazing people.

What will I be doing, exactly? Well, that’s still being worked out. I’m hoping to get a chance to peek over their shoulders on current projects like Wallop, providing feedback and participating in the design process. But I’m also really interesting in pursuing some work on what Linda Stone describes as “continuous partial attention.”

I’ll also be working on developing a social computing curriculum to implement at RIT upon my return.

Because I don’t want to spend half my life in my car, we’re planning on looking for a place to rent on the eastside (is it one word or two out there?). I love the idea of living in the city, especially since we’ll be homeschooling, but I just don’t think it makes sense given the traffic in the area.

My tentative start date at MSR is July 1, which means we’re really only four months away from moving—which is more than a little daunting. Lots to do between now and then!

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categories: research | sponsored

Saturday, 12 February 2005

marqui content management software: a first look (sponsored post)

I’ve spent a little time today watching the Marqui animated demo today, so that I could write a belated first February post where I addressed the actual operation of the product. In general, I hate animated demos, and this wasn’t really an exception. I resent a company demanding my undivided attention for a fixed period of time, and I hate it even more when there’s no way for me to pause or rewind if I’m interrupted or distracted while watching it.

That aside, the basic ideas that the Marqui demo gets across are solid—the focus is on the fact that people in a workflow process (PR, legal, company management, etc) each have a role in creating, editing, and approving content. Marqui is designed to facilitate that process, allowing writers to produce content, editors to modify it, and publishers to approve final release of content. What makes Marqui interesting to me is that it does more than simply publish content to a web sit when its done. It handles a variety of content distribution approaches, including sending properly-formatted XML files to news publishers, sending email announcements, and publishing content in different locations (an internet site, an intranet site, even a CEO’s blog).

From the brief glimpse of interface that the demo showed, it looks pretty well-designed for non-technical users. I’m hoping to get a chance to play with it hands-on this week so that I can do a better job of evaluating it. In the meantime, it does seem well worth a look for companies that have a variety of distribution formats and a moderately complex or distributed workflow pattern.

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categories: sponsored

Tuesday, 1 February 2005

what is marqui, anyhow? (sponsored post)

At the dinner table the other night, my older son asked me what Marqui was, and whether I used it. I told him I didn’t, and he asked if I was endorsing it. I said I wasn’t, that I was just writing about it. He wanted to know how that was different. My younger son piped up and said “Because she can say that they suck if she wants to!”

Yes, I could. I could write for three months (well, two more months) about how much I hate Marqui. But since I haven’t used it yet, it’s tough for me to say anything bad about them. And I can’t really complain about the terms of my agreement with them—I’m able to clearly separate sponsored content from non-sponsored content, and there are no restrictions on what I can write.

Thus far, I’ve written pretty general material about the blogosphere program Marqui is running, and about what CMS programs do, generally. Tonight I’ll start talking about Marqui more specifically.

Marqui bills itself as a “communication” (not content) management system. The content that it lets you manage, however, is very focused on communication. On their site, they say:

You enter a space online that lets you manage your website, brochures, events, e-mail campaigns, newsletters, grant proposals, press releases, donor outreach — any kind of communication. You input information once, Marqui will output to all sorts of formats. Input once, output many — that’s how it works.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot like my department’s information needs. And right now, we do a lousy job of managing all that content. We duplicate things in so many places—catalogs, web sites, email messages, etc. Consolidating content, managing workflow, and reducing duplication are needs that probably aren’t unique to my environment.

Marqui is a hosted environment, rather than a package you install on your own servers. They call it “Software as a Service.” The cost ranges from $199/month to $499/month, depending on the scale of your operations. While that may sound like a lot, compared to the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars that it costs to license some high-end, enterprise-level CMS packages it’s not really all that much.

That’s it for today’s hosted installment (a few minutes past the end-of-the month deadline, alas, but since most of it was written in January, I’m counting this as a January post!).

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categories: sponsored

Saturday, 29 January 2005

what exactly is a CMS? part two (sponsored post)

My last Marqui-sponsored post was a basic introduction to what a content management system (CMS) is. This post continues with some discussion of different kinds of CMS systems, and the costs and tradeoffs associated with them.

As I mentioned in the previous post, if you use weblog software (Movable Type, Blogger, WordPress, Expression Engine, etc), or use a courseware systeem to create materials for a class, you’ve used a CMS. A special-purpose CMS, which may not bill itself as such, but a CMS nonetheless.

While it’s possible to convert tools like MovableType into content managers for complex dynamic web sites, it’s a challenge. The software isn’t designed to support a number of critical enterprise-level CMS aspects, such as workflow management. In many web publishing environments, content goes through a number of processes before being published. With weblog software, the author of a “post” (or content) typically edits and publishes his or her work on the site. In many publication environments, however, the author submits content to an editor, who may submit the work to a section editor, and possible a site editor. There’s no way built into most lightweight CMS systems to support this type of workflow.

The process of deciding on a CMS for a specific application depends on a wide range of aspects.

First, where do you want the software to run? If you have a server that can handle the traffic and files, and staff who are able to install and maintain the software, you can opt for a package installed on your own systems. If you don’t have those, however, you may want to look at a hosted solution.

If your content management needs are fairly simply, you may be able to use a lightweight CMS and adapt it to your needs. However, if you need a higher level of customization or workflow management, you’ll probably want to look at a higher-end system.

If your organization is committed to open source software, there are a number of packages that allow you to create your own CMS, from lightweight options like WordPress and TextPattern to heavier-duty tools like Zope and Mambo.

While I’ve yet to immerse myself in the Marqui documentation (that’s tomorrow’s project), my understanding is that Marqui fills a middle ground. It provides tools similar to those in high-end multi-thousand-dollar packages, but does so in a hosted environment (the software and your content reside on their servers, but can be used to output web pages on your own servers). I’ll be talking more about Marqui in a post that’s scheduled for Monday.

Here are some links for more information on CMS options:

CMS Information Sites
* How to Evaluate a CMS
* CMS Watch
* CMS Review
* The CMS Matrix
* PC Magazine Product Guides & Reviews: Content Management Systems

Open Source CMS
* Mark Pilgrim: Freedom 0 (Why open source matters.)
* Open Source Content Management List

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categories: sponsored

Monday, 17 January 2005

what exactly is a CMS? part one (sponsored post)

If I’m going to be a shill, I figure I can at least try to mix my shilling with something useful to my readers.

For some time now I’ve been meaning to write a beginner’s guide to what a CMS (Content Management System) is, and what they’re used for. So I’m using my ‘paid blogging’ gig for Marqui to subsidize some of that content here. Since Marqui is a CMS (though they call it a “communication management system” rather than “content management system”), it makes sense to combine my required (and slightly late) weekly post with that tutorial and some link-loggery.

So, if you’d like to know more about what a CMS is, and why people use them, read on. If you’re so put off by the scent of paid blogging that you can’t bear to read any more, that’s okay, too. :)

At its simplest, a CMS is simply a system that allows you to create, collect, store, and disseminate content. That content can be (and most often is) text, but can also be images, binary files, or other digital media.

If you’re a blogger, you probably already use a specialized kind of content management—tools like MovableType, Blogger, and LiveJournal are all essentially CMS. They allow you to enter content (your blog entry, title, descriptors, etc), they store the content in a database, and they allow you to output the content using specific templates.

But blogging systems are typically considered to be “lightweight” CMS, because while they work well for the specific task of blogging, they don’t have the flexibility and extensibility to serve the needs of more complex publishing environments. Larger-scale CMS systems provide more customizability, a greater range of “roles” for people working with the content, and scalability (which any long-time user of MT or Blogger can tell you is a weak spot for most blogging apps).

There’s a pretty good tutorial at which outlines the basics of what I just described. It goes on to talk about three key roles for users of a large-scale CMS: content authors (who create or input the content for the web), content editors (who decide what content to publish and where), and content publishers (who publish the content on the web).

What a CMS facilitates is something called separation of concerns. When I talk to my students in web development classes, I talk about using HTML and CSS for separation of concerns—HTML for content and structure, and CSS for presentation. But a CMS allows you take that separation further, by separating out content and structure. If you’ve ever tweaked templates in a weblog system, you have a sense of this. Think how valuable this is for organizations whose business is the management of content. You really don’t want authors tweaking HTML templates or writing SQL queries. And you also don’t want your programmers writing your marketing materials or documentation. With a CMS, different people can have different levels of access and control over the publishing process.

In a business production environment, there are usually more roles than just author, coder, and designer. So higher-end CMS packages provide for varying roles and workflow management. An author can create content, an editor can approve it and/or schedule it, a publisher can output it, a designer can edit templates and someone else can sign off on them, etc.

One of the reasons that people (like me) have adapted tools like MovableType to do non-blog-like things (such as my courseware setup) is that CMS systems tend to be either very complicated, or very expensive, or both. So adapting MT (or other blog programs) provides an inexpensive, though at time kludgy, way to accomplish CMS tasks.

In Part 2 of this essay (coming later this week), I’ll talk about a number of different approaches to CMS, the costs and tradeoffs associated with them, and my first impressions of Marqui.

Useful Related Links:

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categories: sponsored | technology

Monday, 3 January 2005

mamamusings sells out?

women_blogging.gifWell, not exactly. But I’m sure some of you will think so.

Along with a number of other bloggers whom I like and respect, I’ve decided to enter into an agreement with a company called Marqui, which makes content management software. I blog about their product once a week, and they pay me a not-insignificant amount per month for doing so.

They do not control what I say—I could, for example, complain bitterly about the product’s shortcomings, so long as I linked back to them. And I’m free to note clearly in the posts that it’s a sponsored post (which is why this post has a category of “sponsored,” and a funky box around it).

However, I wouldn’t have agreed to the gig if it wasn’t a product that I found interesting, and a business model that intrigued me. For those of us who put a lot of time and effort into creating content for our sites, it’s nice to find a way (beyond Google AdWords) to be compensated for that effort. The model that Marqui is trying out (with the guidance of Marc Canter) is one that I think has real potential. It’s an above-board way of building buzz, without (to my mind) compromising content. They’re not dictating what I write (although they are providing suggestions for content), and they’re not demanding that my site be overrun with advertising.

So, we’ll see how it goes.

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categories: sponsored
Liz sipping melange at Cafe Central in Vienna