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Get started blogging, keep your New Year's resolutions... and win $500

ChangeEverything.ca launches contest to help community with their 2007 goals

Our good friends (and clients) at Vancity are running a contest on Chang

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Yesterday's open house: thanks for coming!

Dayglo (Rob), Consultini (Alex), Pravin and Catherine

We had a great time at yesterday's open house welcoming Catherine to Social Signal. These events have their own unique dynamic: like being at a party, with little knots of people forming and talking... except you can hear everybody else's conversation as well.

The amazing thing is that, despite those potential distractions, you focus on the conversation you're having with the avatars closest to you. And it really feels like I met these folks.

To everyone who came, thanks for making this such a success. We had well over 50 people drop in over the two hours, and some fascinating conversations with people doing very interesting work.

(Update: AgentHandy has a great batch of Flickr photos from the event here. And thanks to Beth Kanter, Monique Trottier, Kate Trgovac, Jordan Behan, Aldon Hynes, Boyd Neil, Tim de Jardine, The Fountain and Bieneff Bruder for their reports on us! Special thanks to Neville Hobson for his kind words of welcome in episode 203 of the For Immediate Release podcast.)

For anyone who couldn't make it, here's a transcript of the opening remarks:

[14:10] Consultini Paperdoll: I just wanted to thank everyone for joining us today. We're really thrilled to be welcoming Catherine Omega to Social Signal and to be launching Social Signal's new Second Life practice. Social Signal is a company based in Vancouver, BC. We build online communities for nonprofits, government organizations and businesses including the NetSguared org site created by CompuMentor's TechSoup. They are our hosts today, so perhaps before I go further I can just take a minute to thank them and to thank Info Island for their generosity in lending us this space. Handyland Fairymeadow is here from TechSoup - Handyland, do you want to explain to folks what TechSoup is, and what you're doing in SL?

[14:15] HandyLand Fairymeadow: :) our pleasure to have you. sure... hi! I am handy of TechSoup. TechSoup is a nonprofit in RL and we are also doing work in SL. In RL-- we are are a nonprofit that assists nonprofits with their tech needs. In SL, we are doing a few projects to help get nonprofits connected in-world. We are doing the following projects:

We have a nonprofit directory which can be seen here to my far right behind you all. You can click and wear it and be taken on a tour of some orgs in-world.

We are also working on a big project which is a nonprofit office complex. We are calling this the nonprofit commons and we are donating free ofices to nonprofits; this sim was donated to us by the anshe chung studios. We are also having weekly meetings here in this space every friday from 8:30-9:30 PST.

To read about what we are doing check out our google group at http://groups.google.com/group/TechSoup-Second-Life. Also, feel free to check out our FAQ at http://www.techsoup.org/community/Second%20Life/page4997.cfm, join this group in SL, and feel free to take a notecard about TechSoup.

If you know any nonprofits in-world, please tell them to connect with either me or glitteractica cookie by IMing us inworld.

Enjoy and thanks for coming to this event!

[14:19] Consultini Paperdoll: Thanks, Handyland

First, just a reminder that we have a goodie bag for everyone -- just touch the giant menacing cube behind me to get yours.

Maybe the next thing for me to do is to introduce our team:

Dayglo Maladay, aka Rob Cottingham, is the President of Social Signal
Pravin DeSantis, aka Pravin Pillay, is our new COO
I'm Consultini Paperdoll, aka Alexandra Samuel, and I'm the CEO

And as of today, Catherine Omega, aka Catherine Winters, is our Managing Director of Virtual Worlds.

We're thrilled that Catherine has joined us and we're very excited about what we'll be able to do together in Second Life. We were introduced to Catherine as one of the smartest people ever to hit a virtual world, and she's more than lived up to that billing.

Catherine, do you have a blush animation you want to play now?

[14:21] Catherine Omega: I'm actually getting used to the gushing, to be honest.

[14:21] Ruby Glitter: ;-)

[14:21] Consultini Paperdoll: glad to hear it, because we hope to have lots of occasions to say more great things in the future

[14:21] Catherine Omega: Okay, well maybe not TOTALLY used to it yet... :)

[14:21] Consultini Paperdoll: She's both sharpened and broadened our ideas of what our clients can accomplish, and how SL can trigger social change and innovation.

We decided to get into Second Life because we think this is a crucial space and a crucial moment for the growth of online community. We've all seen what Web 2.0 has done to business, and to the social sector. And we've been working to build online communities that realize the best of that potential and really help people collaborate in ways, and for purposes, that might not otherwise be addressed. For example, the ChangeEverything.ca site which we built for Canadian credit union Vancity recently gathered 76 bags of clothes for homeless people during a cold snap here.

We think that's an example of what online communities can do and what Second Life can do, perhaps even more powerfully than the web: bring people together, bring out the best in them and enable real social change.

We think Catherine's understanding of SL and her dazzling technical skills will help us to realize that potential and we're looking forward to continuing the conversation which we've already begun with many of you about how SL can be a home and a force for positive social change... as well as a good place to displace our socially/environmentally destructive consumerist impulses ;)

Again, Catherine, thanks so much for joining us -- we're really honored to have you as part of our team. Did you want to say a few words yourself?

[14:28] Catherine Omega: Oh, well, thank you. I'm excited to be here. I guess it was Hamlet Au from New World Notes who actually put me in touch with Social Signal initially... Soon after, I met with Rob and Alex and found that Social Signal's goals meshed well with my own, and that this was somewhere I really felt I could contribute.

I'm looking forward to bridging Second Life with the "traditional" web for existing and new online communities, because I think that this is something that we've only really started to see the potential of.

With this new job, I've been given an exciting opportunity to develop some of the things that I've only really speculated about until now... as well as using the skills and experience I HAVE developed in a different direction than I've been able to do in the past.

So I'm pretty excited about being here today, and perhaps a little shy about it... But I'm looking forward to working with Social Signal and with many of you. So, thanks, you guys. It's a pleasure to be here.

[14:31] Consultini Paperdoll: Thanks, Catherine. And thanks to all of you for coming today.

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Second Life: What it is and why it matters - a Social Signal white paper (and spoiler)

So you've been reading, seeing and hearing all the hype about Second Life, but you're not really, exactly, completely sure... um... what it is. Or why you should care.

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Finding the Social Signal Open House at TechSoup

Social Signal is holding an open house in Second Life on Wednesday, January 3 from 2-4 PST. The event will be held in TechSoup's space on Info Island.

If you're new to Second Life, this is a great way to try it out and meet some other people, so we thought it might be helpful to give you step-by-step instructions on how to get online and find us.

To get started, visit http://www.secondlife.com and hit the big orange "join now" button to get your free account and software (it's a big download, so allow it some time).

Once you've got an account and the software, there are many different ways to explore and move within the world of Second Life. For visitors who are uncertain how to make it to Social Signal’s Second Life open house event, just follow these steps to get there.

  1. Log into Second Life.
  2. Select View -> World Map. This will open a bird’s eye view of Second Life, showing every feature and object in the world.
  3. On the World Map window, look to the right sidebar. There are many different options you can select, but the one we’re looking for is the text entry box labeled “Search by Region Name”. Click in it to begin typing, and enter “Info Island” into it. This will cause two region names to appear in the Search Results area beneath it: Info Island and Info Island II.
  4. Click “Info Island” in the Search Results list. This centers your map on the Info Island region, and highlights it with a bright red circle.
  5. At the lower right of the World Map window, click the “Teleport” button to go to Info Island. You will find yourself in the Info Island Welcome Center. You’re almost there!
  6. Looking around the Info Island Welcome Center, it may take a few moments for everything to appear on your screen. When it does, look for a large black billboard in the southeast corner of the Welcome Center, labeled “Info Island Teleport Station”.
  7. Walk over to it and click the green ball labeled “ICT/TechSoup”. This will teleport you to the location of the Social Signal gathering. See you there!
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Tracking tasks with Remember The Milk: Dairy delight or lactose intolerance?

(Aaron and I prepared this review together. He's responsible for the first half or so, plus the roundup; I'm mainly to blame for the milk-related puns. –Rob)

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Seven reasons your organization should consider Second Life in 2007

I'll remember 2006 as the year when people stopped staring at me blankly when I mentioned my involvement in the virtual world of Second Life. Sure, I still get plenty of questions, but more and more people have heard about this new space where you can create a digital body that walks around and chats with people and buys stuff. Maybe they read a newspaper article describing it as online game, or maybe they read a business story that called it the next big marketplace. But 2006 was the year that blank stares turned into vague nods.

2007 will be the year those vague nods turn into people saying, "yeah, I just logged in!" At the rate Second Life is growing -- from 100,000 registered users a year ago to one million in October, and now all the way up to two million -- it may be over thirty million a year from now. At thirty million users Second Life is no longer a sideshow, but is something everyone has heard of and many people are experiencing for themselves.

What does that mean for organizations who are trying to stay in touch with customers or supporters -- people who are more and more likely to be in Second Life, and spending more and more time in SL once they get there? It means 2007 is the year those organizations have to figure out Second Life for themselves, and in many cases, establish some sort of Second Life presence.

So, why should your organization think about establishing a presence in Second Life this year? Let me give you seven good reasons.

1. Tap into immersive marketing

2006 saw Second Life emerge as a cutting-edge communications and simulation platform. Just as the web is already replacing and extending the capabilities of traditional print media, Second Life is likewise extending the capabilities of broadcast media and chat. Second Life now surpasses the intensity of broadcast advertising at an even more favourable price point than print. So shake out that ad budget and consider where your dollars are best spent.

2. Earn media coverage

When you invest in a Second Life presence, it's not like you're just advertising to people in Second Life. At this point, simply being a real-world organization with a presence in Second Life is enough to guarantee media interest. However, we’re already seeing a shift away from that, to one where media organizations are not simply content to report on yet another company entering Second Life, but rather, are interested in talking about truly novel uses of virtual worlds. 2007 will see a shift towards media coverage of SL being limited to applications that feature interactivity and community networking. But if you're one of the organizations smart enough to do something interesting, a Second Life presence is still a great way to get free media coverage.

3. Get in on the ground floor

While it's becoming harder to catch people's attention in Second Life, it's still much easier now than it will be in another year or two. As more people and more organizations get into Second Life it's going to become harder -- and more expensive -- to catch people's attention. But by establishing your presence now, you create a profile that will grow as Second Life grows -- the same way that early bloggers have grown into massive audiences as blogging has taken off. As Second Life grows, more people want to use it, and more people want to do business with the organizations who have been around a while.

And don't forget the grandchildren factor: don't you want to tell your grandkids that you got into SL before it got massive and commercialized?

4. Make your web site work harder

A Second Life presence is a great complement to an existing web presence, marketing site or online community. By creating an SL space for members of your online community, you give them a meeting place where they can cement the relationships they're establishing on the web. A Second Life presence also gives your users a chance to directly experience the things they're talking about on the community site. A Second Life simulation can illustrate or elaborate on ideas or information you present on your web site.

5. Amplify your live events

Live events are very popular in Second Life (sometimes TOO popular: a Second Life can actually get filled to capacity during a popular event). Holding an event in Second Life is a great way to make a real-life event accessible to people who can't join you in person. You can hold an event simultaneously in both real life and a corresponding SL space, allowing remote guests to participate and feel as if they’re actually there. You can make your real-life meeting reach further by holding a parallel event in Second Life, or even hold your event in SL entirely.

6. Conquer new markets

I sometimes like to describe Second Life as being like a grown-up version of Lego and Barbies; it's a playful space, where people spend a lot of time building things and dressing up. They spend real dollars on all this fun: hundreds of people are now making a full-time living by selling products and services in Second Life, and thousands more are making something between latte money and a second income. If you sell virtual versions of your products in Second Life -- or run a virtual version of a fundraising campaign -- you can earn Second Life Linden dollars that convert into real-world money. This is more than just a new market and revenue stream: it's a great way to demonstrate your real-world products or message.

7. Play a leadership role

Second Life grew quickly last year, but these are still early days compared to the role it's going to play in our lives in another five or ten years. Maybe the virtual world we end up living in won't look exactly like today's Second Life, but as the biggest virtual world out there (by far!) Second Life is going to have a big impact on how our virtual lives evolve. By getting involved with Second Life now, you have a chance to shape the market, culture and politics of an important online space -- an online space that will become the face of the Internet in the years ahead.

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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.

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Financial hope for parents of disabled children: congratulations to PLAN

Congratulations to the folks at PLAN, the Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network. Since we started working with them earlier this year, we've been impressed by their unique alloy of compassion, entrepreneurial drive and faith in the potential of people working together.

They've been putting a lot of work into creating a Disability Savings Plan, modelled on the educational savings plans that offer tax incentives to parents saving for their children's higher education. PLAN's idea is geared to helping families cope with the fact that people with severe disabilities are now often outliving their parents; it would help them set aside some money to ensure their children's financial security.

Some intense lobbying by PLAN is now paying off. On Tuesday, a panel established by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to examine the PLAN proposal gave it their backing, recommending a $200,000 limit as well as cash grants of at least $1,000 annually over 20 years for parents of children with severe disabilities – doubled in the case of low-income families.

Then, on Wednesday, Flaherty himself weighed in, saying he "would be surprised" if the plan doesn't appear in the budget.

That's no guarantee, of course; spending priorities often shift dramatically before a finance minister tables a budget, and this one has to clear the added hurdle of a minority government. But even if the Conservative budget goes down to defeat, there's now enough support among Canada's political parties to give parents real hope that PLAN's idea will become a reality sometime in the first half of 2007.

If you want to add your voice to a petition supporting the Disability Savings Plan, click here. And to learn more about PLAN, click here.

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Packing my virtual bags for CaseCamp Second Life

Later this evening, I'll be attending a conference in Second Life, the avatar-based virtual world.

CaseCamp, which has already proven to be a popular, effective way to pass along stories about marketing efforts, moves tonight into the virtual realm with CaseCamp Second Life, to be held on Crayon Island. (The event was oversubscribed quickly; I'm one of the lucky folks whose name was chosen in a random draw.)

It'll be interesting to see how this pans out. My early concerns about a sudden epidemic of repetitive strain injuries among the Marketing 2.0 set were allayed when I learned we'll have a live audio hookup. That's good, because my experiences with SL text chat conferences haven't been completely encouraging; the lag between one comment and another often leads to confusion in group conversations as to just who's talking to whom.

Congratulations to organizers C.C. Chapman (Cleon Goff), VP new marketing for crayon and host of Managing the Gray; Bryan Person (Zeke Barber), podcaster and blogger at Bryper.com; Eli Singer, who invented CaseCamp; and digital marketing genius Kate Trgovac (Katicus Sparrow) of MyNameIsKate fame.

Meanwhile, do you think maybe I got here a little early?

Rob waits, alone, at CaseCampSL
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Introducing our new Chief Operating Officer: Pravin Pillay

Pravin Pillay

If we've seemed a little more delighted then usual when you've spoken to us in the last few weeks, we can finally tell you why:

We're pleased to announce that Pravin Pillay has joined our team as Social Signal's new Chief Operating Officer.

Pravin holds an MBA from McGill University, and has a long record of success bringing together innovative interdisciplinary teams – from artists to engineers – and helping organizations consolidate and enhance their business capacity.

Does his name ring a bell? That may well be from his work with non-profits, businesses and government agencies for positive social change:

  • Pravin was the first director of development with Médecins Sans Frontières, working with their international team to establish the organization in Canada.
  • He served as the director of special projects for the federal agency Youth Service Canada, partnering with businesses, organizations, institutions and agencies to help young people overcome barriers to rewarding careers.
  • As the first executive director of the Rediscovery International Foundation, he developed sound, lasting business practices to advance the organization's mission: drawing on the strength of indigenous cultures to empower youth around the world.

Pravin's high-tech background that dates back to his first experiences programming a classic Commodore PET computer. From one of his early jobs working with British Telecom's mainframes, to advising tech firms navigating the transition from garage-based startup to full-fledged businesses, he's had a healthy respect for both the transformative power and the limitations of technology. His reflections on the meaning and future of identity in an online world were featured in the 2003 film Avatara, the first feature-length machinima documentary.

He also maintains a thriving artistic practice – informed by his social and political activism – that has spanned a wide range of installations, performances, talks, symposia and articles.

In short, Pravin brings the best of the worlds of business strategy, activism, non-profit organizing and the arts. We're confident that we'll benefit every bit as much as our clients will from his proven role as a proven catalyst for change, growth and success, as he helps us enhance and expand our business capacity. And he's a mensch.

All of which means he's absolutely ideal for the critical role of managing Social Signal's rapid growth and honing our entrepreneurial edge, while keeping us true to our purpose: helping you use the power of online community to change the world.

We can't wait to have you meet him.

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