Maine wastes taxpayer money on inept web campaigns

Let’s see if that title earns some much-warranted attention to this story. See, something stinks here in my home state of Maine, and at least this time around it’s not the State’s abysmal DirigoChoice health are program.

Instead, I’m talking about some highly irregular, irresponsible, and completely unprofessional behavior on display by our state’s Office of Tourism. The story is getting long, but it’s quite familiar, as it involves potentially huge sums of taxpayer money wasted on inept programs by seemingly clueless consultants and buearocrats.

Pay-per-gate, as it’s being called, is an ongoing investigation by Lance Dutson of Maine Web Report, a fellow Maine-based blogger and web developer.

Back in October of last year, Dutson discovered that the Maine Office of Tourism was buying Google AdWords targeted to specific Maine businesses. As he noted at the time, that act itself is just plain wrong, for the reasons he lists, including the facts that the State is not only bidding against the businesses it is meant to promote, but further that it should be focusing on general Google-juice and not re-directing traffic better suited for other sites to its own web presence.

The plot thickened, as its apt to do, when Dutson then noted that the Office of Tourism is expressly forbidden from spending its budget within the State of Maine That fact is important because last month, Duston reported that the Office of Tourism was violating this rule by not filtering Maine out of its expensive AdWords campaigns.

(UPDATE: Lance wrote to tell me this point is not correct. While the Office of Tourism is not prohibited by law from spending within Maine, they would certainly appear to be wasting money doing so. Maine business spend, in aggregate, millions of dollars marketing themselves to Maine residents. An Office of Tourism, meanwhile, should exist to represent them outside of the state.)

Here is where a good PR strategy becomes extremely important. After some of the campaigns were pulled, then all of them, Lance waited while the PR firm and the State both failed to respond to his inquires. I have an inquiry myself: have any of these people ever heard of blogs?

After a series of go-rounds between the consulting firm, the state, and Dutson, in which the ads were pulled first within the state and then overall, the director of the Office of Tourism Dann Lewis again demonstrated that the Office has no business what-so-ever doing business on the web. Here’s an excerpt of Lewis’ letter to Dutson, according to the Maine Web Report:

I will devote sufficient time to this over the next several days in order to respond to you fully and factually by Monday afternoon, March 6. I will be in Washington on business for the next three days, hence the time frame for my full response, which I hope you will share with the readers of your site.

In the meantime, I would ask you to refrain from making any further comments on this matter.

Yep, you know what this last statement reeks of: It’s called “Do you know who I am?!” disease, and it appears to be prevalent among even the most mid-level of State governmental agencies.

Worse, Lewis’ promise to present the Office of Tourism’s side of the story hasn’t even come true: it’s now 11pm on March 6th and Maine Web Report has not posted any reply from the agency or Mr. Lewis.

Since Lewis’ request for Dutson to “keep quiet,” the blogger has done anything but. In the past week alone, he’s discovered perhaps the most sickening and relevant facts yet. According to a 2004 newspaper article, the Office of Tourism was spending up to $7,000 per month on Internet advertising. Keep in mind, that’s $7k per month- or $78,000 per year- to out-bid Maine businesses at their own game. And as Dutston notes, in 2006 it’s likely that the Office of Tourism’s budget is at least that, if not much higher.
All in all, this is a sordid, embarrassing affair that is quickly rising to the level of scandal thanks in part to the state’s bungling response to Duston’s many legitimate inquiries. As a web developer, I’m appalled at the level of incompetence on display here. As a taxpayer, I am on the verge of outrage.

Full-text RSS is mandatory around here

Now that my RSS reader has grown to include 139 feeds (I put an informal cap at 100 a few months ago), it’s time to do some pruning.

As much as it pains me, I’m starting by usubscribing from all my feeds that are not full-text. The biggest loss for me in that department is Dr. Helen, who is on Blogspot and therefore can easily flip her feeds to full-text with just a simple click. I hope she considers doing so!

Another one I’m going to miss is Paul Davidson, author of Lost Blogs and a funny blogger who provides a great diversion from my tech-heavy reading list.

I hope both bloggers recognize that providing full-text RSS feeds will actually bring them more fans, not less, and take a risk by offering full-text feeds.

UPDATE: jasonclarke.org gets results! Paul Davidson left a comment on this post saying he’s enabled full-text posts for the time being. Thanks, Paul! You’ve been re-subscribed!

edgeio: Classifieds, and a hope for distributed community

You may think the previous post on my blog, in which I listed a propane fireplace for sale, was a little bit strange. In fact, there’s another reason for it besides my desire to sell the fireplace (after all, I’ve already paid to post it for sale elsewhere). The ad was also my first test of the new distributed classifieds service edgeio.

Edgeio

Edgeio is still in beta, so you’ll need a password to check out the site. But without visiting it, you’ll have to trust me when I say that it’s not only a great new web-based classifieds service, it’s also a promosing hope for the future of distributed content and community on the web.

So that’s what makes edgeio so exciting, but what makes it tick? Simple. Instead of the ebay model, where you create a separate account, a separate identity, and sell your listings on their site, in their market, edgeio makes all of the web a market. Rather than posting an ad for sale on edgeio, you write a blog post listing your item, service, or job opening. Tag it with “listing” and other keywords, and edgeio reads your RSS feed and automatically lists your item. In my first test today, my listing- including the image I posted on it- appeared on edgeio within a few minutes.

After it appears, you can enhance your listing with graphics, keywords, by claiming it. The point is that while edgeio is a convenient place to search for and view items in context, the actual item itself is generated from within your own central place on the web.

Behind the simplicity of this difference lurks another tremendous benefit: identity.

Read More

Michael J. Totten, a freelance reporter, spent some time in the northern Iraq city of Erib and files an engrossing first-person report on his time there.

Michael’s braveity in venturing into Iraq virtually on his own is to be greatly admired. Perhaps even more so is his willingness to report back with candor, narrative, wit, and depth.

The night before my book came out, Glenn Reynolds linked to it and drove its Amazon rank from around 12,000 down the mid-hundreds. Two days later, his links again propelled the book, this time all the way to #4.

Of course, I can’t return the favor, but the least I can do is link to Reynolds’ new book, An Army of Davids, and encourage you to pre-order it. I haven’t read it yet, but if you’re a fan of Reynolds’ blog- or blogging in general, or free markets, or people-powered media, progress, etc- you’re guaranteed to like Army of Davids.

2005 Blogs of the Year

My picks for 2005 Blogs of the Year:

5. Scripting News – Dave Winer / He’s often infuriating, especially in a disagreement. But there’s no doubt that Dave Winer is the unofficial Chief Technical and Philisophical Officer of the living web. While some people find one or two interesting things to say every couple of years, delivering brilliant treatises- in text or audio- appear to come so easy to (and from) Dave via his blog. Better still, he’s one of the rare few who pontficiate, yet also spend an equal amount of time delivering with real tangible actions- or in Dave’s case, software, ideas, and movements.

4. Instapundit – Glenn Reynolds / Reynolds, my top pick for 2004, continues to outshine 99.999% of the blogosphere with his quality, frequency, variety, and intelligence. He’s always said he’ll blog as long as its fun. I only hope 2006 is his most fun year ever.

3. Micropersuasion – Steve Rubel / Steve Rubel blogs in a cheifly friendly, yet authorative voice, and manages to cover nearly every single emerging trend from RSS to online advertising to identity/attention to videoblogging. If I smell a trend on the web, I turn to Steve for updates and insight.

2. Lifehacker – Gina Trapani, et al / Lifehacker came out of the gate in early 2006, capitalizing on the mini-craze of ‘lifehacks’ popularized by Merlin Mann’s 43Folders site (and others). Lifehacker was great early and spent all year getting better thanks to Gina Trapani and later a stable of supporting bloggers. Keeping track of new software, tools, services, and trends can be mind-numbing, but Gina and Co. have made it fun while keeping coverage both deep and varied.

1. Scobelizer – Robert Scoble / Robert Scoble did the almost unthinkable this year. While Microsoft was busy making strides with RSS, open formats, and more, (yet not its browser) Scoble managed to put a human, friendly, aware, and intelligent face on the borg. Best of all, he emerged as an outstanding rolemodel for fairness and tranparency in blogging as he continually proved his will to discuss controversial issues again and again. Scoble’s fairness, honesty (he’s a geek, in case he hasn’t reminded you lately) and his sense of narrative (he’s just one of us, guiding us through Microsoft, and through the software industry) combine to make him the most enjoyable, revealing, and interesting blogger in 2005.

This is really cool: Mickey Kaus and Robert Wright have launched a new site called bloggingheads.tv (a take-off on “talking heads”, hehe).

It’s a video blog of sorts, with Wright on the left side of the video and Kaus on the right. The unique part: Both men are sitting in (apparently) their own separate offices, speaking into video cameras and communicating with each other via microphone. Somehow, they’re splicing each of their own videos into one, creating a single show with a split screen (Okay, I’m not explaining this all that well. Just go check it out).

Some quick reactions: This is a unique, innovative take on video on the web. Both commentators are smart and funny. As is necessary, the site provides plenty of contextual, metadata about the video. Especially valuable is a “topic view” where you can click directly to video clips pertaining to a particular topic. Also great: you can subscribe to either a video feed or an audio (podcast) feed of the program. Really, really excellent stuff.

This is a “talking head” show with no bombastic, idiotic host asking insanely stupid questions. Instead, it’s two smart folks talking about current events. So far, blogging has had a revolutionary impact on newspapers. Next up in 2006 and beyond: TV.

An idea for Steve Rubel

Steve Rubel is what I like to call “a blogger’s blogger”- among other reasons are his long series of posts about how to extend/improve your blogging/online geek experience. So, here’s an idea for Steve, a post I’d like to see him write:

“How to maintain multiple blogs”

Now that Steve is maintaining not just his own Micropersuasion blog, but also one on skin cancer (not to mention his Across the Sounda podcast with fellow PR guru Joseph Jaffe), I’d like to hear his unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities of being a multiple-blog-blogger:

* How do you maintain interest (and quality level!) in two blogs, each with divergent subjects?

* Do you set any “rules” or guidelines for how often you’ll post to each?

* How do you shift mindset when shifting from writing about one topic to another?

* Does one blog have to be your “default”- or, let’s say you were sick or busy and you only had time to update one, do you update one or neither?

* It’s hard to “launch” a blog- how do you get a 2nd (or 3rd?) one off the ground while serving the audience of the first?