Why is it so hard to find a project management platform with billing functionality?

I didn’t think my demands were so, well, demanding. I’d like to keep track of my projects, manage my time and send out my invoices from a single platform. Ideally, I’d like to have it sync with Evernote, too. Oh, and I guess I don’t want it to cost $70/month, either, unless it really works. I just refuse to pay that much for a platform that only meets 75% of my needs. After all, as a small agency in a touch economy, I’m watching my expenses.

So far, though, I’m flummoxed.

For a long time I used Wrike to manage my projects and FunctionFox to track my time. Neither was perfect and I ended up having to use two different systems and pay for both of them. Wrike is $49/month; FunctionFox was $20/month. So here I was spending $69/month on a solution that wasn’t perfect.

Don’t get me wrong. Wrike is a very capable project management system. But it didn’t allow me to track my time easily and it didn’t allow me to create an invoice based on time that I could print and present to my clients. FunctionFox was a platform I used for probably close to 10 years but over time I found that their interface  was not as flexible as others and putting in time was cumbersome. I tried their premium platform for a month to see if I could get it to meet all my needs and it just didn’t cut it.

In fact, while I found several very good project management platforms — I looked at Work Etc., Intervals, Basecamp, Zoho —  in at least one area each one fell flat (mostly it was in time tracking/invoices) or offered something that I didn’t really value, like CRM, and didn’t want to pay for. And they each required you to adopt convoluted (to my mind) ways of thinking, plow through unintuitive interface designs or had strict limits on how many projects you could manage. For example, I loved the interface at Intervals, but their basic plan ($20/month) allows you to manage only 15 projects. I’d blow through that in five minutes! Their not-so-basic plan ($50/month) allows you to run only 40 projects, which sounds like a lot until you start writing them down. Same with Basecamp. To manage projects effectively, I need to be able to track them and not try to clump them into larger projects to stay under my limit.

After running Work Etc. and Intervals in parallel for a month and discovering that both of them had holes that didn’t appear until I was fairly committed to the process (mostly in the area of invoicing), I gave up. Right now I’m using Harvest for time tracking and invoicing (it’s a very nice product for $12/month) and Evernote for keeping track of things (Free).

I’m still looking for a good project management system — one that syncs with Evernote — and am currently looking at Nozbe and ShoutDone.

Has anyone come across a solution that works well for them?

Think you can use that photo you found on the web? Think again!

It is way too easy to find images on the web. Go onto Google images and you can links to thousands of pictures. But can you use them? Not without permission.

Many people don’t realize that even if an image does not carry a copyright mark, the right to use the image belongs to the photographer. So, you can’t grab an image off the ‘net without permission and you also can’t hotlink to an image on someone else’s site.

What about the concept of “Fair Use”

Fair Use allows copyrighted materials to be used for specific purposes. Fair Use is, however, does not provide a blanket excuse for using copyrighted work without permission and it is far more limited than many people realize.

Fair Use is covered in Section 107 of the Copyright Act.

The fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include –

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

What does that mean? Doesn’t it say materials can be used for news reporting?

Yes and no. The first factor looks the new work, created by using the copyrighted materials, and evaluates it based on whether it is used for non-profit/educational purposes or is commercial in nature (preference is given for non-commercial use); whether it is used for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research (also linked back to the commercial/non profit element) and whether the new work is transformative (giving new meaning to the work) or merely illustrative. For example, if you use a photograph as part of a product review or commentary, you have created something new.  In the case of photos used on http://www.lolcats.com, I suspect that the addition of the captions is considered transformative. However, if you use a photo to support an article, the copy may not have added new expression or meaning to the image.

The second factor looks at whether the materials are worthy of copyright protection. In the case of photography, that actually happens the moment the photographer presses the shutter. Even if a photograph is not marked with a copyright statement it belongs to the photographer until he sells its use.

The third factor looks at how much of the work is used. Ideally you should use as little as possible of the original work — excerpting just enough to make your point. The subfactors include evaluating the quantity, quality and importance of the work used. For example, you can quote from a speech, especially when using the quotes in a new context, but you cannot reproduce an entire book.  With a photograph, that concept is trickier.

The fourth factor considers whether the use of the material will harm the commercial value of the original material to the copyright owner.  In the example above, the website included a photograph on its site that the photographer was selling to similar sites. This has the potential to harm the copyright owner because other people might not feel the need to buy the image either. Depriving the copyright owner of income is usually an indication that the materials do not fall under the Fair Use doctrine.

If you have any concerns about your own use of copyrighted materials, use one of the Fair Use evaluator tools to help you consider your use against the four factors discussed above.

Best Practices “Fair Use” of Copyrighted Materials

If you think your use of materials is “Fair Use” then there are certain protocols that you should follow. The most obvious first step is to ask permission. Many photographers will let you use an image on your blog, especially if you are a “hobby” blog with no commercial interests. Additionally, as was discussed earlier, don’t hotlink to images on someone else’s site. You should upload the images to your own site and then provide a text link back to the source.

I found these “best practices” recommendations on the blog A Photo Editor.

  • Always include the photographer’s name and links to both the image(s) you are writing about and their portfolio in your story or in the caption to the image.
  • The destination of the anchor link for the image should be the page where the image was found (most blogging platforms have the anchor link to a larger size image so this has to be changed manually).
  • The bare minimum number of images should be used to make your point. You want to pique the readers interest so they visit the photographers site to see a full selection of images.
  • Use a screenshot of the image (instead of downloading the file used on their site) and include as much of the surrounding page as possible so it’s obvious that the image came from another website.
  • The end result should always be that readers, who find the photograph interesting, click to visit the photographer’s site.

What does this mean for you and your clients?

To keep on the right side of copyright law you should never use a photograph without paying for the use or obtaining permission to use the photograph . . . in writing.

Make sure that when you purchase the use of a photograph that you spell out all possible uses and time periods that the image will be part of your/your clients’ materials. Over the years we’ve found that once an image is incorporated into marketing materials it “pops up” in other places because internal staff doesn’t realize that buying the use for the image in a brochure doesn’t mean that it can be used for an ad, or on the website.

In fact, here’s a real-life example of how a company got caught using an image downloaded from the web — and how much it ended up costing their agency.

Legal lesson learned: Copywriter pays $4000 for $10 photo


New features enhance collaboration in Google Docs

When you are working on a document as a team, life gets a lot easier if you can see all the comments from all the key players in a single location. There’s little more frustrating than trying to keep track of the different revisions, only to find out that you’ve made updates to the wrong document.

Google Docs is one of my favorite ways to share documents with my clients and now, it’s even better. Google has rolled out a new feature called Discussions that lets users of its productivity service discuss shared documents in real-time. The upgrade is aimed at helping users resolve issues faster.

You can now hold threaded conversations within a document using time stamps, profile pictures and @mentions. Now you know who said what to whom and can track in a single location.

To keep all the players on top of changes, Google notifies users of new messages via e-mail when they are mentioned in a discussion. This helps keep participants involved in the document . . . rather than going off on side discussions in email.

Discussions is being rolled out to users (you probably already have the capability). Just remember: you have to create a new document to take advantage of it — you cannot apply the feature to old docs.

E-Readers put a library in your pocket

At first I was skeptical about e-readers. I love books and I love the tactile, page turning part of them. I am now an e-reader convert but it took some time and a few false starts.

My first e-reader was my iPad, using the Kindle application. The iPad is a great e-reader: the screen is bright, the “page size” is good and the interface is completely intuitive, using the touchscreen to its full advantage. The Kindle app is seamless. You can buy a book on Amazon, have it downloaded and be reading it in a minute or less. I have wireless and 3G on my iPad which makes it easy to get a book anywhere. The only downsides are that the iPad is pretty heavy compared to devices that are just e-readers, weighing in at 1 1/2 pounds. A better choice would be to use the iPad Touch or the iPhone with the Kindle app because then you get the quality of the screen in a smaller, lighter package plus the wireless access.

My brother introduce me to the Kindle. He likes it because he can download the newspaper and pack a couple of books on it when he’s traveling. Compared to the iPad, the screen is more like “paper” and less like a computer screen. Personally, I prefer the iPad’s brightness but the electronic ink used by the Kindle is very readable. The unit is smaller and lighter than the iPad too. The Kindle makes buying books very easy. In fact, it was my first choice for my mother (not very technical) and she’s enjoyed it tremendously.

The problem with the Kindle is that it is not compatible with the digital books available from the library. I consume a lot of books and am on a first name basis with the staff of two local libraries. I didn’t want to buy every book that I read, even if they don’t take up much space when they are digital. The Kindle holds about 3,500 books and the wireless version weighs about 8 1/2 ounces.

So, when I decided to buy an e-reader, I bought the Barnes & Noble Nook.

The Nook is a lot like the Kindle (I bought mine before the color version came out). It has a slightly larger screen than the Kindle and instead of a keyboard has a pseudo touch screen interface. I say pseudo because you still need to use the scroll buttons on the side of the unit. It’s not a touch screen the way an iPad is one.

I haven’t used the Kindle enough to compare the readability of the screen to the Nook but I found the Nook to be a bit gray and the type not as sharp as compared to my iPad. Like the Kindle, you “flip the pages” using a button on the side of the screen. On the Nook there are two on each side allowing you to go both backwards and forwards. It’s not ideal, but you get used to it. The Nook has less memory than the Kindle (about 1,500 books) but probably enough for most people — and for those who need more you can use an SD card to add memory. It’s slightly heavier than the Kindle, weighing in at 11 1/2 ounces.

I read a half dozen books on my Nook but didn’t love it.

Then I saw the new Pocket Reader (PRS-350) from Sony. I thought it would be the ticket and for me, it’s the best solution. Like the iPad it has a true touch screen interface. That means that the unit can be very small (pocket book sized) because it’s all screen. It’s very light weight (4 1/2 ounces) and easy to slip into a purse or briefcase. Like the Nook it holds about 1,500 books.

You turn the pages by running your finger across the screen (just like the iPad). I find the quality of the electronic ink to be better than the Nook and although the screen is smaller so you have to turn the pages more frequently, the interface makes it easy.

Like the Nook, the Sony e-readers are compatible with library books. I’ve downloaded and read about a dozen books so far and the process is easy.

The Sony E-reader had a metal case which has a more polished appearance than either the Nook or the Kindle. Mine is pink but it also comes in silver and blue.

Is there a downside? Potentially there are two. First, the Sony PRS-350 has no wireless capability. The only way to put a book on it is to sync it with your computer. I don’t have a problem with this but it means you can’t download a book on the fly; you need to plan ahead. The second issue is that the Sony library is not as extensive as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

My conclusion? If you want to read library books the Sony PRs-350 is great. Because it’s so light, I take it with me everywhere; I just load my books ahead of time.

If you don’t care about having free books, the Kindle and the Nook are both very good choices. But personally, I’d go with an Apple product — iPad, iPod touch or iPhone depending on your need. Yes, the screens on the iPod and iPhone are smaller but the interface is so nice that it’s worth the trade off (in fact, I know a few people who have gone this route, and find their Kindles are getting left at home).

My Favorite Free Communications Tools

I am frequently amazed by how many excellent communications tools are now available for free. Just a few years ago they were either not available at all or were expensive. Now, with a little time and ingenuity you can express yourself (or promote your clients) in ways we only dreamed about.

Here are a few of my favorites.

  • WordPress: This blogging platform has now evolved into a full fledged Content Management System that rivals Drupal and Joomla but which (IMHO) is much more intuitive to use for the non-programmer. Not only is the platform itself free, but there are thousands of free templates, to give you a customized look and feel, and innumerable free plug-ins that provide a wide variety of functionality. I use both WordPress.com and WordPress.org, depending on the application. Certainly for the complete novice, the hosted platform at WordPress.com is a blessing. My 11 year old daughter set up a blog by herself in less than an hour on WordPress!
  • Freeconference.com: This free webconferencing service is easy to use and works pretty well. Only once have I had a problem with the sound quality.
  • YouTube: With a little imagination you can create your own broadcasting channel on any topic you want. While it’s helpful to provide your own content, even that’s not necessary: You can bring other people’s videos into your Channel using playlists.
  • Blog Booker: Turn your blog into a PDF book in less than five minutes. It works like a charm!
  • Self-publish your e-Book in a number of electronic formats including Amazon Digital Text Platform (DTP), Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble PubIt. While these services don’t charge you for creating your book, all do take royalties on sales.

Of course there are also platforms such as Twitter, FaceBook, and LinkedIn for people who want to stay connected.

The hardest part is keeping track of all of the new offerings. I’ve really been enjoying the proliferation of these new digitally available platforms and products because they have allowed me to manage my own content on line and present it in visually appealing packages. I was shocked recently to find that I was able to recreate a site that in WordPress that I paid major $$ for someone to build for me in Drupal. The real kicker? Mine looks better.

Update on “How good is your back up system?”

Just a few weeks ago I published a post on the importance of backing up your data. Yesterday, I was very grateful that I followed my own advice!

My Macbook was not operating correctly and the disk utility showed that there was a disk error.

A quick call to my local Apple store got me an appointment that afternoon at the Genius desk where they ran their own utilities and determined I needed a new hard drive. In less than an hour I was on my way back to the office with a new drive ready to restore my system using Time Machine.

I will admit that I held my breath while my data was restored and am still slightly shocked that it all worked so well and cost me, well, nothing! Time Machine did just what it was supposed to do — my hard drive was completely restored including all my settings, email, passwords and software. Instead of rebuilding my hard drive from scratch, the whole process took about two hours.

Live video streaming through YouTube just around the corner

We all think of YouTube as a way to catch up with events through video. But what if it offered you a front row seat to an event . . . anything from a concert . . . to an inauguration . . . to a community event or a press conference? Think of the possibilities that it offers to communicators as a way to reach a broad, worldwide audience in a truly interactive way. This is the step that will really turn YouTube into a broadcaster.

YouTube has been testing its new live streaming platform which integrates live streaming directly into YouTube channels; all broadcasters need is a webcam or external USB/FireWire camera.

There will also be a “Live Comments” module which lets you engage with the broadcaster and the broader YouTube community.

This feature was trialed in September. Soon to be available to Google Partners!

The benefits of an enhanced YouTube Channel

You may have heard people talking about Enhanced vs. Standard YouTube channels. What exactly does that mean? Standard channels are the ones that anyone can set up using a Google email address. Enhanced channels have additional features and functionality.

Enhanced channels are available to colleges and universities through YouTube’s EDU program or from a Google Content Provider like CMTv.

Here are some of the benefits of an Enhanced Channel as compared to a Standard Channel.

High Impact, Interactive Banners:

Enhanced YouTube Channels feature a “clickable” banner at the top of the page. This allows you to link your Channel directly to your Web site and also to reproduce the “look and feel” of your Web site. This provides direct integration with your existing outreach and provides a more professional look. In fact, YouTube banners are completely mappable so you can link directly to different parts of your school’s website, like the DSU banner, or to different YouTube channels, such as Northwestern. Standard channels have no banner; the only branding is at the top of the screen like you can see on the Curry College channel.

Delaware State University uses mapping to link directly to pages on their website.

Northwestern University highlights its YouTube play lists in its banner.

Curry College has a standard channel. There is no banner; the only branding comes from the college name.

“Instant On” Video:

Enhanced Channels have a “featured video” which plays as soon as you visit the page, immediately engaging your viewers. Standard channels are static. Many colleges and universities use this feature to play a 60-second promotional video.

Branding Boxes:

With an Enhanced YouTube Channel you have blocks to sign up subscribers, link to specific topic areas, and fully active links to other pages and sites. This helps you “push” visitors to the most relevant parts of your Web sites and create direct links to areas of interest. Standard channels have no branding boxes.

Branding boxes allow you to link users back to pages on your Website or other social media.

This box links to a description of the college's video contest.

Curry College uses play lists to help organize their content and make it easier to find.

Comprehensive Analytics:

Enhanced YouTube Channels have access to more extensive data than Standard Channels. This data can can help you fine tune your marketing outreach and target specific geographies and populations.

Extended Play Videos

Break the 10 minute barrier! On standard channels, videos on YouTube are limited to 10 minutes. Enhanced channels can host videos that are several hours long. For colleges and universities this gives you the opportunity to leverage one of your most important assets: your courses. UC Berkeley had made a commitment to offering many of its classes on line. The response has been amazing. Just look at the views on these videos! Think about all the data that they collected by attracting so many viewers.

UC Berkeley features its courses on its YouTube Channel. Take a look at the views!

Tips for Video Search Engine Optimization on YouTube

Uploading a video to your YouTube Channel is pretty easy; it’s what you do with the video once it’s part of your site that influences how much visibility it gets.

YouTube works as a typical search engine regarding listing results. The search algorithm checks the title, the description, the tags, the number of views, the links and ratings of the video. Therefore you should focus to the above factors to make sure that you have fully optimized your videos and get high rankings not only on YouTube but also on Google. Note that even though YouTube is about video . . . search engines don’t look at video files; they look at the content that surrounds them. It’s the written word that determines your Search Engine Ranking.

As part of your marketing strategy identify the key words or phrases that you want to have identified with your college or university. Think about it like this: these are the words that you hope people will use to find your college on YouTube.

  1. Use key words in your title. While cute or funny titles seem like they would attract views, it’s better to be descriptive than clever. The title of your YouTube video becomes its meta tag and it is also the most important piece of information that search engines have about your video.
  2. Write your description with SEO in mind. Use key words and descriptive phrases when you describe your video. After the title, it’s the most important information for search engines. It can be helpful to include a URL in your description especially if you are driving viewers to a specific program or event. Put that URL first.
  3. If you need input on key words, YouTube has a Keyword suggestion tool that can help you identify the words YouTube viewers are searching on (keep in mind that video searches are often different than web searches): https://ads.youtube.com/keyword_tool.
  4. Make those first 27 characters count. This how many characters you have for key word placement before the ellipsis when the description is truncated. That’s why you should put the URL first.
  5. Fill out the “tags” with key words about the specific video and your channel. Aim for at least 5-7 relevant words or phrases. Tags associate your video with other videos that use the same tags so when people watch a different video, your video will get highlighted as a “related” video and garner more views. Tags work best when they are written in a logical order – the way someone might type into a search box, so think through your strategy before putting them in randomly.
  6. Take advantage of annotations and captions to link to other videos or drive people to your related social media tools (like Facebook).
  7. Don’t forget to fill out the location for your videos. Part of YouTube’s analytics is geographic and you will get more information if your location is identified.
  8. Encourage embedding, don’t restrict it. When someone embeds your video on their site it counts as an inbound link and boosts that video’s rating in search engine results.
  9. Encourage viewers to rate your videos. Higher ratings and more comments indicate that videos are better/more interesting. Use Facebook and Twitter to encourage your viewers to rate your videos and leave comments.