Viewing posts by: David Billson

Team Building: rtraction style

October 12, 2010

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Our company has a quarterly* team building excercise – the goal is to improve communication, trust and the overall effectiveness of the team. We also tend to have fun.

* Any planning or regularity in these events is not expressed nor implied

For the fall activity we decided to try Paintball. Why? I’m not entirely sure, as using high-powered air rifles to shoot paint-filled gel-cap balls at each other doesn’t seem to be a good “team building” thing. However, through the day I did learn some valuable tips.


I didn’t shoot Shawn despite him being on the same team as me – largely because the Blue team was beating us handily and we couldn’t afford to be a team member down, but he doesn’t know that, so we’ll say that we built trust that day.


When your team mate says “WATCH YOUR RIGHT!” and you think to yourself “I know there’s someone on my right, that’s what I am shooting at” – it behests you to clarify “Do you mean the person I’m shooting at? Or the two people I don’t know about sneaking up on you?” Simple communication like this can save you getting hit by a lot of paintballs.

Overall Effectiveness

When we worked as a team and had a game plan, our team did much better. If we started a round saying “Uh, let’s just go!” we died/lost in spectacular fashion. Just like in web work, a little bit of planning goes a long way!

The team gets ready to battle

We decided on one round – everyone vs. Shawn – it was pretty short.

UnMarketing: UnBook Review

September 8, 2010

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I have enjoyed Scott Stratten’s content for a little while now – starting with http://www.nooooooooooooooo.com/, his twitter feed, and most recently his book UnMarketing (Affiliate Link)

I briefly met him at Canada 3.0 and was delighted as he tore into a panel of traditional marketers, deflating the myth that we as a society want and crave interruptive advertising. That panel session was worth the price of admission to the event.

Therefore, I was very excited to get my hands on an early copy of UnMarketing and it didn’t disappoint.

It was the most engaging book on business I have ever read, consuming the better part of a weekend like only Robert Jordan, JRR Tolkien and TH White have done in the past. Before reading the following review, a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. Scott’s sense of humour is perfectly matched to mine – sarcastic with a slight chance of ranting. If you don’t find sarcasm an appropriate use of humour, you may not find this book as amusing as I did. Scott wields sarcasm like Picasso wields a paint brush.
  2. I hate cold calling and have never done it to build my business…

What does cold calling have to do with this book review? Scott takes an aggressive early swing at traditional marketing techniques and I agree with every single point he made. Every one. At one point I even shout-whispered “HELL YEAH!” (children were sleeping at the time).  Scott quickly segues into better ways to engage customers, building long term relationships and discovering the potential for every interaction with a prospect – online and off.

The tips and ideas flowing out of this book easily pay for the cover price – it is well worth the read.

Learning and Loving it!

The reason I am telling you to go buy it now is that it is FUN TO READ and INFORMATIVE. Yes, I said it, a sales/marketing/business book that was actually a pleasure to read from cover to cover. I actually counted out seven times I laughed out loud, at one point earning a quizzical look from my wife.

The last book that made me laugh out loud while reading it was Douglas Adams some 15-20 odd years ago – particularly the part with the jaguar guarding the records room, but that’s a story for another time.

Scott has deliberately set out to make a very different kind of marketing book and in most ways it works.

Room for Improvement

The only disappointment found is that there are 56 chapters, and each chapter has at least one, in many cases several key action items, things that you can take and apply today. There are no “chapter summaries” that give you the key take aways from the chapter to start your to do list.

Now to be fair, I typically completely ignore the chapter summaries in most other business books – however, there is so much great content/ideas in this book that I would have liked a quick reference I could go through with a highlighter and say “these are items we are implementing this month”.

I am going to re-read the book – probably starting tonight – and create a chapter by chapter summary for myself.

No Proof, No Pudding?

As a suggestion to Scott, more “Proof” (Scott has a section of a book covering the 3P’s of an article/presentation) throughout the book would be a nice addition – there are a few case studies from Scott’s perspective, i.e.: Switching from Tim Hortons to McDonald’s coffee (by the way – can you get deported from Canada for declaring that in a public forum?)

His book would have benefited from some examples of companies who have put some of his advise into action – not just to build a marketing consultancy like Scott –but how an actual accountant, retail store, local restaurant, etc. put his advice into action and benefited directly.

There is a similar issue reading Trust Agents by Chris Brogan (another excellent book) – perhaps the UnMarketing techniques have not been in play long enough to show the specific gains to specific organizations. Maybe we’ll see UnMarketing 2: People Actually Listened so Now I Can Show You

All in all you will benefit greatly from reading Scott’s book on the new marketing models for our generation of customer engagement, and you will thoroughly enjoy it.

If you are interested in social media, viral marketing, or ol’ fashioned treating the customer first, this book is for you. Pick up a copy at Amazon.com or meet Scott at his UnBook Tour in London. or in other cities near you.

Update: Scott has his Tim Horton’s & McDonald’s story excerpt on his blog.

Social Media and Open Data for Municipalities

June 14, 2010

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Titus and I had a wonderful opportunity this past week to speak to civic leaders at the Ontario Municipal Administrators Association about the importance of engaging online websites, social media, and open data. The underlying theme of the day was that better engagement from the city/regions results in better citizenship engagement and an overall improvement to the quality of life in those regions.

We had some tough questions from the audience around social media policies; where do the lines between personal liberties and freedom of expression cross into professional conduct and employment agreements. We were very grateful for the additional insight provided by Dennis Flaherty from the City of Markham around the importance of having a good, clearly communicated policies AND social media training in place.

Both Titus and Dennis brought up that the challenges with social media and employees excercising poor judgement in a public forum is not a new challenge, and in fact many of the employment contracts already have provisions in them that protect the municipality in the event that employees are excercising poor judgement, provided the aforementioned policies and procedures are in place.

One interesting point that came out during the question and answer period is the lack of information around community pages on Facebook, and a general lack of participation in Wikipedia. A challenge I’ve put out to attendees from the session is to task someone within your team to ensure that your municipality is participating in generating the content for both community pages and on Wikipedia.

During the presentation, we showed some examples of some websites that do a great job of broadcasting out information to their constituents:

We also discussed Social Media Policy and suggested a starting point could be our own social media policy generator:

There is a lots of information about social media and to get a handle on the scope, popularity, and sheer importance of it all, we recommend the excellenet Socialnomics video:

We gave some examples of what some municipalities and citizen groups have been able to do with Open Data:

And suggested that if there was interest in learning more, some great resources are;

Our slide deck was mostly visuals to aide in the discussion, but here are the key talking points per section:


Social Media

Open Data

  • Help your Citizens – Do more, with less
  • Engage Citizens in Public Policy debate
  • Better sharing of data across government lines
  • Create new, innovative technologies
  • Crowd source solutions
  • Enable new, commercial applications

We wrapped up the session by issuing a challenge to all present to work harder to position their Municipalities as leaders in these areas. The changes we’ve seen in the first decade of the 21st century are only the tip of the iceberg and there is no better time to get involved.

Ding Dong, IE6 is dead.

June 9, 2010

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IE 6.x has long been the bane of any sane web developer. Many, many hours are spent making otherwise perfectly healthy website implementations work in this broken, and terribly outdated browser.

IE 6.x is continuing to experience a decline in usage; Google (and Google owned YouTube) have already discontinued support for the browser.

We are jumping on the bandwagon. By default, rtraction quotes will no longer include IE 6.0 support in quotes, RFP responses, etc. We will still include IE 6.0 support as an optional line item.

Here is what this means to our clients:

  1. The average cost of our website implementations will drop significantly, especially for basic content management systems. It’s actually scary to analyse how much time has gone into IE 6.x support over the years. Now we’ll have that time to spend on other, more innovative things.
  2. Websites built/quoted before this announcement will continue to support IE 6.x. Additionally, for our public sector friends support is still available for those sites that are required to have backwards capability.
  3. Our developers will be happier. I am expecting a parade, or some equally elaborate celebration now that this announcement is formally made.

As always, if you have any comments, complaints, etc please comment below or drop me a line directly – david.billson@rtraction.com.

The State of Open Data in London Ontario

April 24, 2010

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When our local health unit released its Food Inspection Disclosure Site we thought it was a great resource to find out about our local eating establishments. The interface for the application is very good if you’re looking for information on a specific establishment but we found it difficult to get a sense for what might be going on in your neighbourhood or region.

One of the advantages of working in a digital technology firm is that all someone has to say is something like “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if you can see this on a map?” Because the answer is yes, you can. After a few days of solid effort by our team, we are happy to introduce: EatSure.ca

Introducing EatSure BETA - A Mashup of Google Maps and Midlesex London Health Unit Food Inspection Data

We uncovered a few surprises ourselves doing this initiative – for example – looking in your area may turn up your grocery store has a critical warning. I didn’t even know that grocery stores were inspected!

We believe that the resource itself will be useful to the people in our community but we also hope to start a community discussion around the importance of open data and how citizens can imagine new and exciting ways of using that data.  We were able to create EatSure.ca with only the information that is provided to the public web browser; we could make the application more powerful if we had access to the underlying data that drives the health unit’s web site.

We are aware of only one other initiative in our area – a Blackberry application that was developed by a Fanshawe College student on his own time to display London Transit bus location data (not yet available for public use). If you are aware of any other open data initiatives in our community, please post them in the comments below.

Across our country, cities like Toronto, Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver have embraced open data and have initiatives well underway. Edmonton is also launching a contest for open data applications and offering $50,000 in prizes for winning entries. And around the world the US and UK governments have massive programs established.

At the forefront of the open data movement in Canada is David A Eaves. Recently he launched a citizen led initiative to advance the progress of open data across the country – datadotgc.ca.

“Unlike our American and British peers, the Canadian Federal (and provincial…) government(s) currently have no official, coordinated effort to release government data. We think that should change. But rather than complain, we thought we’d do something. This is our effort. A stab at showing our government, and Canada, what a federal open data portal could and should look like.”

Our political leaders are excited by the ways in which open data can be used to enhance the lives of our citizens and it is up to us who are interested in technology to continually better the services that are available.  Technology geeks like to do these types of things for fun, to see if they can, and for the general service of our neighbours, friends and peers.

All we need, our government friends, is the data. Please?