Getting Feedback from Customers

The landscape of the average person is a very connected one.  As consumers, we are constantly bombarded with requests for our time and attention.  Surveys and focus groups only capture a sliver of the wealth of ideas and opinion that your customers already have.  Customers have amazingly valuable opinions and ideas for improving your product and customer service.  Maybe customer A has an idea for your next ground breaking, earth shattering product.  The dilemma is how do you engage your customers in a cost-effective manner.

Napkin Labs has risen to the challenge.  They are offering a service that provides a collaborative framework for customer engagement.  It even rewards participants using a point system.  Why not give your customers the opportunity to become super customers in the eyes of their fellow customers.  I like the idea.  Here are a couple of videos that describe the Napkin Labs approach.

Introduction to the Napkin Labs Way

 

Tour of the Napkin Labs User Interface and Overview of the Workflow

Dennis Johnson of Stowaway Speaks Innovation

Dennis Johnson is the man bringing the Stowaway Attic lift to the market (and a Montie Design client).  Here is his company’s creation:

This morning he had a great addition to the standard definition of innovation.  He said:

Innovation is not giving people what they asked for.  It is delighting people with something they never dreamed of.  Dennis Johnson, Stowaway, 2011

Its a great way to think about measuring the effectiveness of your innovation by the results. Never discount the “wonder” factor in your work or design.

Have a great day!
Montie

Merry Christmas!

Montie Design Update

Wishing You a Merry Christmas!

I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!  Two thousand and nine has been a year of ups and downs for just about everyone.

We’ve had some successes and challenges.  I would like to thank our clients for your patronage of Montie Design.  I would also like to thank our contributors and staff for helping make those successes happen.

While we were designing products for clients, we were also able to release three Montie Design-branded products this year.  One is an RFID troubleshooting tool.  The other two are shooting rests for rifles, shotguns and pistols.  These products are laboratory for us.  These products give us the opportunity to experience the trials of bring new products to market, which in turn sharpens our skills in helping clients do likewise.

The RFID Detector tool allowed us to release a simple product that has now been sold to users in over seven countries.  When we started the project, I really had no idea that Montie Design would have to become an exporter.

Introducing the X-Rest (lightweight version shown above) required a systematic public relations, sales and marketing campaign.  The experience was such an eye opener that we have put together a presentation about the process we used to design and market the X-Rest.
Of course, testing is an important part of developing any product.  Repeated testing helped us improve the product as we worked through the design process.   It was also a lot of fun.
We’re mostly done with our move to the new office.  Our goal is to be completely settled in by January 1st.  Our new office gives us a significantly bigger shop area, a second conference / focus group room, incoming inspection area and dedicated work areas for projects.  Our new address is:

100 Dominion Dr., Suite 101

Morrisville, NC 27560

Give me a call, or send me an email, if this was helpful or if you have topics that you would like to see in future updates.  Don’t forget to call when you are ready for us to contribute to the success of your project!

Cheers,
Montie Roland
President
Montie Design
800-722-7987

About Montie Design

Montie Design is a collaborative product design and  development firm with core competencies in industrial design,  mechanical engineering and fuzzy front end services. Implementing  a client-centric approach in taking products from concept to  marketplace, Montie Design balances vision with usability in  realizing products that are economical to manufacture, elegant and robust. The firm operates out of the Research Triangle  Park region of North Carolina with access to industry-leading  technology, resources and innovative thought. For more  information, visit www.montie.com.


NC Product Design Co-Op Lunch & Learn #3

This event is sponsored by the RTP Product Development Guild.

Date: Wednesday, 4 Mar 09

Time: Noon until 1:30

Location: Montie Design / Studio Hagler, 400 Dominion Dr., Morrisville, NC 27560

Purpose of Meeting: Get to know other, potential co-op members in a relaxed environment.  Six attendees will have five minutes each in front of the group to explain their business.  This is an excellent opportunity for us to get to know each other on a professional and personal basis.  If you would like to have your five minutes of fame, please purchase the ticket above with the time slot that you would like to have.

Purpose of Co-Op: Develop a standards-based community that presents a unified public face to the greater business community, both locally and nationally.  Potential clients see the Co-Op and understand that here is a group of design / prototyping-related businesses that already know each other and work together well.

Who Should Come: Local product design, development and prototyping vendors who are interested in working together in a constructiveand substantial way to bring more business to local design community.

This is a great way for entrepreneurs, engineers, managers, and purchasing agents to find local vendors.  If you have a need for engineering, design, or prototyping help this is a great place to not only find new vendors but personally meet the individuals running those companies.

Questions: If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Montie Roland at montie@montie.com, or by phone at 919-481-1845.

Pre-registration is Required:  Register at http://ncproductdesign3.eventbrite.com/

Product Design Speak 101: What is an Interactionary?

by Montie Roland, Montie Design

Morrisville – Last week, I had the honor of being selected as a judge for an Interactionary Design Competition held by the Triangle chapter of the Usability Professionals Association (www.triupa.org). According to Scott Berkun (www.scottberkun.com), an interactionary is

an experiment in design education. The idea is to explode the process of design by forcing insane time constraints, and asking teams of designers to work together in front of a live audience. From what weve seen, it forces the discussion of design process, teamwork, and organization, and asks important questions about how designers do what they do.

 

 

The event was a lot of fun and helped the participants (and maybe even the audience) sharpen their design skills. The event began with a keynote presentation from Anthony D. Hall. Hall is responsible for making sure that the IBM.com website is easily usable by a worldwide audience. He spoke from the perspective of a usability professional who has a staff of researchers and developers whose only job is to make a website (with millions of pages) easier to use.

The Interactionary was driven by three teams and a panel of judges. The teams had ten minutes to design an interface to a voting booth. There was a twist however. The interface had to allow the user to find out more information about each candidate before voting. The interface also had to allow the voter to change his vote if the candidate that he voted for was not currently in the lead. The event started with first team being introduced to the design requirements. They were then give ten minutes to find a solution. During those ten minutes they were encouraged to do user research by polling the audience. They then had two minutes to present their solution and answer questions from the judges. We (the judges) rated the team on teamwork, approach / process, and the validity of their design. This continued until all of the teams had an opportunity to create a new interface based on the criteria.

This event didn’t teach the team members, or the audience, how to design. Instead it helped them sharpen their design skills. By creating an absurdly constrained situation, the format of the event forced the team members to act in a bold way, while having fun. Design is about pushing the boundaries and talking bold risks. Events like this make design fun. They make it easier for all to stay passionate about design. That passion gets translated into better products and services. When that happens, everyone wins.

The pictures from the event are at:

http://flickr.com/photos/waynesutton/sets/72157603027654523/

Montie Roland is President of the Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development Management Association. Roland is also President of Montie Design, a product development and prototyping firm in Morrisville, NC and the RTP Product Development Guild. You can reach Montie by email at: montie@montie.com

Design Speak 101: Defining a Product Champion

The product development world, just like other industries, has its own language. One example of this ?product speak? is the term product champion. Many products (and most of the very successful products) are driven by the vision of one person, or a small group of people. We call these people ?product champions?.
Product champions drive new products to market through experience, use of available resources, drive, determination and vision. They have a vision for a product. They work with others around them to push that product out to the market. This new product can be an extension of existing products in a existing company. The vision may be bolder and push an existing company in a direction.

A good example of a new direction for an existing company is the Apple iPod. Apple is a computer company that struck out into the personal entertainment industry. The biggest leap is when a product champion has to build a new company around a new-to-world product. When that vision incorporates technology and design practices from two or more industries (what we call cross-pollination) the opportunity exists for a truly disruptive product. Disruptive products change the marketplace and can propel a manufacturer to a position of market leader.

Product developers categorize new products into four areas. The first category of product development deals with incremental advances. An example, is a company that makes 42-inch plasma televisions decides to create a 44-inch model. Generally, these products make incremental, or evolutionary, leaps forward in technology or design.

The next area is a class of products that are based on existing products, but make revolutionary leaps in the state of the technology or the design approach. These products can dramatically affect an entire industry and drive market share to new heights, or help a company establish a presence in a market space that they werent previously able to penetrate.

Me-too products are designed compete with existing products. These products may be new to company that manufactures them, but they are not new to the market. Me too products generally are designed as direct competitors. They are generally not very innovative in their design.

New-to-world products are exactly what the name implies. These products are often technologically innovative and higher risk. They do not exist in the current marketplace, or they use a technology or a design approach that is not currently available.

The Apple iPod was not a new-to-world product. An existing market space for MP3 players existed for several years before the iPod arrived on the scene. The designers of the iPod combined improvements in four key industries to make the iPod a massive success. Apple improved the state of the basic product by designing the click wheel interface. This interface was a significant improvement over the traditional interface provided by existing manufacturers such as Rio. These advancements were revolutionary in that industry.

Apple went farther by bundling the product with iTunes. iTunes was software product that leveraged Apples core competency with computers to deliver content over the internet. iTunes also made it simple and easy to update the iPods firmware. Previous MP3 players required more-than-average expertise to simply update the firmware. Apple changed the user expectations about how easy it should be to purchase and download music to the player. They also changed the industry by creating users that expected painless firmware updates through iTunes. While the iPod was not a new-to-world product, iTunes was a new-to-world product.

The product champions at Apple had the vision to create a well-integrated product that combined advancements from multiple industries including electronics, audio compression, internet technology, service, and software. The amazing part is that existing manufacturers in the MP3 player market space were concentrating on the player itself and the software to drive the player. At the time the internet was mainly be used a vehicle to move data, but not as an integrated part of the user experience. The product champions at Apple saw an opportunity to cross-pollinate between multiple industries and create a market dominating product.

The RTP Product Development Guild has core philosophy that the most disruptive products come from the cross-pollination of technology and design knowledge from two or more different industries.

Product champions do not necessarily have to have experience from within multiple industries. The key is to have a vision that integrates technologies and practices from multiple industries into a single product. Then you have an opportunity to create the next highly disruptive and highly successful product.

RTP Guild Proclaims October as RTP Product Development Month

by Tom Vass, Vice-President, RTP Product Development Guild

The RTP regional economy has a unique set of economic strengths in technology innovation. The basic platform for all the strengths comes from the population of scientists and engineers who live in the region. Raleigh tops America for PhDs per capita for a metro city.

The RTP is geographically the largest research park in the world and is home to more than 130 R&D companies, employing nearly 40,000 workers. The RTP is home to IBM, GSK, Cisco Systems, DuPont and Sony Ericsson.

The high number of PhDs, and the location of large high tech corporations sets the stage for technology commercialization in distinct product areas. Our focus at the Guild is on product development because that leads to new venture creation which leads to new markets.

New markets are essential for wealth creation because persistence in the status quo distribution from current markets of wealth tends to lead to economic stasis. We suspect there is a mutually reinforcing relationship between wealth creation and new product creation, meaning that the more of one leads to the more of the other.

However, this relationship is perfectly symmetrical, which means that the longer the status quo of current markets remains constant the longer the existing distribution of wealth will stay the same. The result will be lower rates of innovation and new product development.

New products do not get created without a lot of effort, and our basic business model addresses how to help entrepreneurs commercialize their ideas. Our approach to new product development is different than the existing players in the region.

We focus attention on independent entrepreneurs who are not affiliated with the tech transfer programs at the local universities. We also target small engineering and manufacturing firms, and spin-offs from the R&D efforts of the larger corporations. We suspect that many of the 40,000 workers in the RTP have great ideas that could turn into great products if they follow the business development model of the RTP Product Development Guild.

During the month of October, we are going to target product development in the 4 areas we think will be most beneficial to regional economic growth. Each product area shares a common technological platform in both design and production, even though the end market users of the products are different.

On each Wednesday evening of October, we will host an educational seminar at our facilities in Morrisville, N. C., to introduce our model to budding entrepreneurs in each product area.

Our selection of product areas are:

1. October 10. Consumer technology products for the mass retail market.

2. October 17. Health monitoring and home health care products.

3. October 24. Sports and recreational equipment.

4. October 31. Homeland defense products.

We will charge a small admission fee, and our seating is limited to the first 20 entrepreneurs who register to attend. We are soliciting the participation of individuals and small companies who are curious about our business model of advice for commercializing technology.

We think that participants will gain benefits from meeting each other, and listening to how others are going about the process of commercializing their product ideas. If the RTP Guild model seems attractive, then the next step would be to apply as a project candidate for one of the Guilds product development teams.

While commercializing technology is a great objective, we think that the bigger goal for each entrepreneur is to win the Guilds prestigious annual award for the RTPs Most Disruptive Product Technology, presented in March of each year. But, you cant win the prize unless you get in the game.

Registration for the October events is at: www.rtpproductguild.com

Local Product Design Community, Changes at Home

by Montie Roland, President – Montie Design

Product design in the RTP area is nothing new. Entities that vary in size from the smallest startup to the largest multi-national companies are engaged in a daily business of product development. These companies dont practice the art and science of product development in a vacuum. They rely on an infrastructure of local vendors that provide a variety of services and products.

Since moving into our new office space where we added an embedded machine shop, and becoming a part of the RTP Product Development Guild, the Montie Design business model has changed dramatically. The biggest change is how much tighter we have integrated with the product design community around us. Our firm has relied on the services of other vendors for years, so in itself this is nothing new.

The new offices opened in June of 2007. Approximately one month later, we were joined in the office by Brandon Lisk and 101Machine. The office space included a shop and office area big enough for both companies. The rationale for having them in the same space allows both companies to offer more vertically integrated services. Consulting firms operate with remote (across town) vendors every day, but being in the same building allows a greater level of cooperation and coordination, thus relieving pressure from clients to have an in-house machine shop.

What I didnt expect was how it would change the Montie Design business model. Once 101Machine was up and running, clients began expecting that Montie Design would do several things. The first was to handle the prototype builds directly. Previously we would design the product and create the documentation. Then we would recommend a machine shop and get a quote. The client would then take that quote and issue a purchase order directly to the machine shop (or other vendor). Now clients expect us to manage the prototype build and handle the billing so they just have to create one purchase order. This arrangement makes it more convenient for the client and gives us a higher level of control over the process. However, it also added a new layer of administration that we have accommodated for. As a result, we have begun issuing purchase orders to vendors and tracking them. This was a big change for a small, but growing, company. It was a welcome change because it has allowed us to offer a broader range of services that arent directly tied to the number of billable hours. It also requires tighter financial controls because of the larger, and more complex, cash flow requirements.

Not all prototype parts and pieces can be economically produced by a single machine shop. An example was a group of physically large parts that were beyond the normal capabilities of 101Machine. Barnes Machine, in Apex, was able to very cost effectively produce these parts in a very tight time frame. This was a case where we were able to produce a set of prototype parts in an off-site location as a service to our client. JMC Machine is another example of an off-site vendor (also located in Apex). We have worked with Glenn Berry and Howard Nystrom for over a decade to produce parts for customers.

We also work closely with ADR Hydrocut to create complex, flat parts. ADR Hydrocut has two water jet cutting machines. The water jet process uses an extremely thin column (fifteen times the thickness of a human hair) of water mixed with an abrasive to cut complex shapes out of sheets of just about any material. Their business model relies on quick turnarounds of parts. This means that you can usually order a part and receive it within five to ten working days. One of the advantages of our current office location is the close proximity to ADR Hydrocut. This proximity and close working relationship with the owners, Al Ely and Ron Harris, allows us to work hand-in-hand with them, which is critical on projects with tight time restrictions.

The value of the relationship with JMC Machine and ADR Hydrocut has gone far beyond any one project, or one customer for that matter. The personal relationships with the owners of these companies have lasted for over a decade. These are people that I call friends. As it is always critical to not confuse friendship with what is best for the firm, or the customer, I find it wonderful to be able to work with a group of friends whom you can trust.

So how does all of this tie into the subject of a design community? Much of our success as a design firm is related to the availability and performance of the vendors that support us. Without the vendors behind us, we could not serve our customers at the level to which they have become accustomed. Adding a level of vertical integration has allowed us to expand our services, but at the same time has highlighted our need for quality relationships with reliable vendors. Relationships such as these help form the backbone of the product design infrastructure that is such a vital part of product design successes in the Research Triangle Park area.

Upcoming PDMA Event in Cary on 18 Apr — Systematic Innovation

Morning,

I thought this might interest many of you. The event is taught by the Brand Manager of Lenovo. You can sign up at http://pdma2.eventbrite.com. More information about the event is available at www.pdma.org/carolinas. Detailed information about the event follows.

Cheers,
Montie

————————————————————–

We take networking seriously and innovation is a lot of fun, so what could be better than combining the two?

Join us for an evening of networking and innovation. The evening will begin with beer, pizza, and business card exchange, then we will get an introduction to Systematic Innovation, and then we will split into teams and have some fun innovating some products. Those who have most fun will even win a prize!

About Systematic Innovation (SI): some call it innovation by templates and there is some truth to that even though on the surface the notions of templates and creativity appear to be an oxymoron. However, when you think about it, we may subconsciously use learned templates in our creative thinking anyway. SI techniques attempt to come up with such templates and they can be quite effective tools in stimulating creative thinking that result in innovative solutions. A most visible SI technique is TRIZ, a technique used by companies such as Ford, Procter & Gamble, Eli Lilly, 3M, and Samsung.

This session will be led by Stacey Baer from Lenovo and Shimon Shmueli from Touch360.
See bios below.

Who Should Attend Product managers, engineers, designers, and marketing managers.

Date

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

 

 

Stacey Baer, Ph.D., Lenovo

Currently the corporate Brand Manager of the international PC manufacturer Lenovo, Staceys primary responsibilities are to manage the Lenovo and ThinkPad brands. Her responsibilities also include branding strategies, product & brand naming, and trademark management.

Stacey received a BA in Psychology in 1986 from Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, and then went on to get a Masters of Science (1989) and Doctoral degree (1996) in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Kentucky.

Stacey was hired by the PC division of IBM in 1992 as the lead Human Factors engineer for IBMs PC brands. Her product responsibilities over the next few years included the PS/2, Aptiva and then the ThinkPad brands.

In 1998, Stacey became the first Customer Experience Strategist for the IBM company. She had world-wide responsibility for defining end-to-end customer experience strategies, first for all ThinkPad products and then later for all the PC Divisions customer-facing device brands.

In 2003, Stacey received an Executive MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. She became the WW Brand Manager of IBMs PC Division, and then the Corporate Brand Manager for Lenovo after the PC Division was sold to Lenovo in 2005.

 

Shimon Shmueli, Touch360

Shimon is the founder of Touch360 where he leads product development, innovation and design, and technology and business strategies.

Before founding Touch360, Shimon was with IBM, where he held various leadership positions, among them as worldwide marketing segment manager for PC products, worldwide product manager for the ThinkPad line of consumer notebooks and accessories, and leading the development of new mobile platforms.

Shimon was a co-founder and CTO at KeyNetica, a company that pioneered the use of the USB Flash Drive as a mobile platform. He also served as a marketing and business strategy consultant and as adjunct professor at George Mason University where he taught graduate marketing classes.

Shimon holds an engineering degree from the Technion in Israel; an MSEE/CS degree from Polytechnic in New York; and an MBA from Wake Forest University. Always a student, he is currently pursuing graduate studies in industrial design at North Carolina State University.

Shimon has been a speaker and mentor in various forums, including Taiwan Design Center, Johns Hopkins University, and Virginia Tech School of Architecture & Design. He is a professional member of IDSA, IEEE, HFES, DMI, and PDMA.

Go Here for Funds for Your NC Startup!

Afternoon All,

Here is your chance (press release below) to get a grant to help fund your start-up in NC.

Their website is www.ncidea.org.

Happy Hunting!

Montie

———————————————————————-
NC IDEA seeks grant applications from entrepreneurs and early-stage companies
08-21-2006

RESEARCH TRAINGLE PARK, N.C. NC IDEA is seeking grant applications from North Carolina entrepreneurs and early-stage companies focused on information technology, medical devices or material sciences.

NC IDEA is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to helping establish and develop early-stage companies through the commercialization of research innovation. NC IDEA plans to award $150,000 ?proof of concept? grants to help bridge the gap between innovative ideas and venture capital funding. The grants are designed to prepare companies for equity funding, accelerating the creation of new North Carolina companies and jobs.

NC IDEA is accepting online applications through its Web site (www.ncidea.org) beginning today, Aug. 21. Grants of up to $50,000 per company will be awarded in December.

The grants support business activities that validate potential markets, reduce business risks, and advance projects to the point at which they are suitable for consideration by private equity investors. Preference is given to companies that have not previously received equity financing. An entrepreneur who has not formed a company may apply, but company incorporation is required prior to the awarding of grant funding.

Bridging the Innovation Gap
Many new technologies are not successfully transferred out of universities and research institutions because of a funding gap between government and private equity support. Research funding typically does not include support for business development activities or development of product prototypes suitable for mass production. Yet, venture capital funds typically do not invest in companies until they have a product and are already generating revenues from customer sales.

The NC IDEA grant program provides a novel source of assistance to bridge this gap. Earlier this year, NC IDEA awarded $225,000 in grants to seven early-stage North Carolina companies.

“NC IDEAs grant program offers young pre-venture companies an opportunity that cant be found elsewhere,” said Josh Whiton, chief executive officer of TransLoc, which received an NC IDEA grant in the previous cycle earlier this year. Dr. Nimmi Ramanujam, a professor at Duke and project manager for previous grant recipient Illuminus, agreed. ?There are no other sources of early funding that can be sought to address these issues,? she said.

In addition to funding, NC IDEA and its strategic partners facilitate access to business and technology leaders who will mentor and guide entrepreneurs to help them overcome research, product development, sales and product adoption hurdles. NC IDEA collaborates with the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED), The North Carolina Technology Association (NCTA), the North Carolina Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) and Southeast TechInventures.

The initial ?pre-proposal? applications must be submitted online by Sept. 15. Approximately 12 to 15 companies submitting ?pre-proposal? submissions will be selected to participate in a subsequent full proposal submission and review period from Sept. 15 through Oct. 27. This process will include submission of a more in-depth proposal and prioritized budget for use of grant proceeds, and potentially a presentation from the company to a NC IDEA Grants Program advisory committee.

About NC IDEA
NC IDEA provides grants, loans and traditional venture capital to help young companies between seed funding and Series A financing. The non-profit company further supports these companies by leveraging strategic partnerships and alliances to help companies through research phases, business challenges and growth goals. NC IDEA is committed to supporting North Carolinas economic development by ensuring young, innovative companies grow, create jobs and become contributing business leaders. For more information, visit www.ncidea.org. Media Contact: Scott Yates, Largemouth Communications (for NC IDEA), 919-649-6621, scott@largemouthpr.com.

What is a Blog?

What is a blog?

A blog is a specialized version of a website. Blogs allow users to concentrate on providing content (usually editorials) rather than worrying about the technical aspects of creating a web page.

Modern web publishing tools such as Microsofts Front Page allow just about anyone to compose relatively simple websites. Front Page has made the task of editing simple websites almost as easily as using Microsoft Word. Even though the software is straightforward to use, running a website requires the user to establish a web space to publish to, and to deal with the issues related to publishing to the web. These technical hurdles keep most people out of the web publishing business.

Blog software streamlines the process of web publishing. Websites such as Bloglines.com have streamlined workflows that allow users to quickly and cheaply (often free) create their own blogs. The combination of; the open source software movement, PHP (a scripting language on web servers), and MySQL (a database program, similar to Oracle) has allowed even low-budget websites to host blogs that reach huge audiences.

Why is blogging so popular?

Non-technical users can now easily create and maintain their blogs. The biggest cost of creating and maintaining a blog is the writers time. This allows writers to concentrate on creating their content. Bloggers can easily add text and pictures to their blogs. Once text and pictures have been added, or updated, that content is almost instantly available on the internet. Bloggers get the instant gratification of having their writing and images instantaneously available around the world.

Bloggers can also add content to their blogs from anywhere in the world. All they need is a computer with an internet connection. It is now common to see a press release saying ?He will be blogging from?. What this means is that magazines and other media outlets can have their bloggers add content while they are at venues such as trades shows, planned events, the scene of natural disasters, or even from their tent in Iraq. A good example is the proliferation of blogs written by soldiers from their duty stations in the Iraq war.

Readers can subscribe to one, or many, blogs, often for free. Subscriptions are maintained by aggregators. These aggregators allow the reader to tell the aggregator website which blogs they want to monitor. Some aggregators only monitor specific blogs (maybe only blogs they host). Other aggregators maintain directories of active blogs (this is common for podcasts). Subscriptions are much more convenient for the reader than having to visit the blog each day to check to see if there is new content.

One of the secrets of the success of the meteoric rise of blogs is the use of the RSS feed. Every blog has an RSS feed. RSS stands for ?Really Simple Syndication?. RSS feeds use a standard format to encapsulate the content of the blog. The use of the RSS feeds also allows the encapsulation of audio (podcasts) and video. From a broader perspective, its important to consider that RSS is as important to blogs as news services such as the Associated Press have been to traditional media. Make no mistakes, blogs represent a new media. The adoption of RSS feeds (and the subsequent support of these feeds by blogs and aggregators) creates a path for the distribution of blogs.

To put this in perspective there are three main ways to find a website on the internet. The first is to search for a topic, maybe through Google or Yahoo, and then visit a site that has information about that topic. Another way is to see, hear or be given a website address (maybe in print, TV, or radio) and then type in that address in Internet Explorer to go there. The third way is to see a link on another website or electronic document. You then click on the link and the website comes up.

Without RSS, most blogs would languish in obscurity as web pages that never got read. The aggregators now use RSS feeds to provide potential blog readers with choices of blogs to read. A good metaphor is to think of an RSS feed as a TV channel. For example you may turn to Fox to see a program on Thursday nights. RSS turns the blog (or podcast) into an outlet. Your computer can bring up the RSS feed and present you with the content of that channel. Combine this with the directories of blogs and podcasts that aggregators create and you have the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of channels, all on-demand. With the TV, you have to have TiVo, or a VCR, to record the programs that you miss. With RSS feeds, you can download the content and listen to it at your convenience. You can even search it.

Make no doubt blogs and podcasts represent a new media, both for entertainment and information. In the past, being ?media? meant massive investments in airspace, equipment, and personnel. Now one individual can sit at his, or her, PC and share opinions, thoughts, wisdom or knowledge just by sitting down and typing it into his computer and hitting ?upload?. Pictures, video and audio and are now easily integrated into blogs and podcasts. Just the ability to take a picture with your digital camera and have it passed through the RSS feed to thousands of subscribers is massive. This is a powerful tool, one which will affect the way we perceive the flow of information, thoughts and ideas for a long time to come.

Having a standard format allows aggregators to monitor blogs. The aggregators have programs visit (also called spider) each blog at regular intervals and check for updates. RSS feeds even contain a tag that suggests to the aggregator how often their blog is updated. This allows bloggers who update frequently to have their RSS feed checked more often.

Aggregators check the RSS feed by visiting the website hosting the blog and downloading the RSS feed. The potentially new RSS feed is automatically compared to the previously downloaded feed. Once new content has been detected, the aggregator then alerts any subscribers to the fact that the blog has been updated and new content is available. An example of an aggregator is www.bloglines.com. Other aggregators include:

www.blogwise.com
www.blogger.com
www.feedburner.com
www.newsgator.com
http://www.apple.com/rss/

Bloggers may also use a service like www.pingomatic.com to alert major aggregators if their blog has been updated more frequently that usual.

There are several ways an aggregator can alert subscribers to the presence of new blog content. The first way is through an e-mail. The subscriber receives an e-mail from the aggregator (or from the blog website itself) letting the subscriber know that new content is available. Bloglines uses a program (downloaded by the subscriber) running in the background on the subscribers machine. This program checks the RSS feeds from a list of subscribed blogs for new content. Once new content is available, the reader can visit the blog and read the new content. It is important to note that the software that downloads new podcasts (podcatchers) works essentially the same way.

There are also search engines that concentrate on blogs. A good example is blogsearch.google.com.

How do you create, publish and syndicate a blog?

There are two different ways to create a blog. The first is to go to a website that provides blogging services. These sites include:

www.bloglines.com
www.blogger.com
www.eponym.com
www.typepad.com
www.wordpress.com

Generally, creating your first blog is as easy as creating an account and starting to add content. However, many of these sites require you to agree to terms that include the reassigning all copyrights to the hosting site. This means that to use their services you may have to give them the rights to the content you are adding to your blog. This can be very important if you decide to reuse that content later (or you want to control how the content is used), since you may not own the content in your blog any more. This is one time that it is critical that you read the terms before you agree to use ?free? blog services.

The second way is to integrate blogging software into your website. This requires more skill and an on-line presence. There are several different ways to achieve the creation of your own blog. One is to use software that is built for the sole purpose of allowing the creation and maintenance of blogs. These may be written in CGI, Perl or PHP. PHP blog scripts often use a MySQL database. Most presence providers (such as www.powweb.com) support PHP and MySQL. Sources of blog scripts include:

www.hotscripts.com
www.outshine.com
www.sixapart.com/movabletype/index
www.wordpress.org/hosting/

At www.Montie.com we use a slightly different approach. We wanted to support an on-line community, as well as, a blog. The on-line community is powered by a script called PHPbb. PHPbb is available from www.phpbb.com. This is an open source script that is used on tens of thousands of websites around the world. PHPbb has spawned several widely used variants such as Post-Nuke. There is a good chance that any time you are looking at a forum on the internet, it is powered by PHPbb or a variant (such as Post-Nuke).

We then use a program called PHPBlog from www.outshine.com. PHPBlog allows all the topics on a specific forum to be posted as blog entries. Each time a reader visits the blog (www.montie.com/blog/index.php), the script searches the forum database to create the blog page and compiles the RSS feed.

We also use CuteFTP to move files around and to edit the script files. Unfortunately, in order to install PHP scripts you will want FTP software to upload files to your website and edit PHP files directly while you are installing and upgrading software. It is necessary to upgrade software as security issues are fixed. You can do FTP transfers (moving files to and from your website to set up and configure the PHP scripts) with Microsoft Internet Explorer. Many tasks can be automated with a program with CuteFTP and that is a huge time saver.

You will also need to be familiar with an image editor. The web gives you the opportunity to present full color images to the world at almost no cost. Once you have a blog and begin adding content, there is a good chance you will want to add pictures, sound (podcasts), and maybe video. Youll also need to create a banner for the top of your blog. Youll also need to do more mundane things like resize pictures that you want to show off on your new blog. There are a couple of tools that come with Microsoft Windows that work fairly well. There are also many image editing programs available commercially, and some even for free. Learning to use a simple one will be a huge help as you discover how a simple image from your digital camera can add to the power of your written words.

Once you have all of this set up, you will want to use tools like those available at www.pingomatic.com and www.feedburner.com to properly syndicate your site.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, Montie can be reached by e-mail at montie@montie.com, or you can visit his website at: www.montie.com. Montie is a consultant providing product design services. He is also the President of the NC/SC chapter of the PDMA (www.pdma.org/carolinas).