No Place for Copy Cats

This post also appears at  You should check it out.  It’s decent despite the fact that I write for it.

Charlie Croker: You’ve got no imagination. You couldn’t even decide what to do with all that money, so you had to buy what everybody else wanted. 
Steve: Try this on your imagination, okay. That gold is already gone.
From the Italian Job 

I came across an unnamed college Web site the other day that looked oddly similar to the Saint Michael’s College blogger page.   At first I couldn’t believe I was seeing such fragrant laziness.  Below is a side-by-side comparison (I did my best to block out the other institutions name so as to avoid embarrassment).


Uncanny huh?

I think this is pretty egregious for three reasons:

1. You have to at least put in some effort.  When I built the SMC bloggers page in 2008, I took a great deal of inspiration from the Butler University blog page.  That page had photos of the bloggers, their names and bios, links to their blogs, and a Twitter feed (that actually didn’t work).  I incorporated each of those into our new page.  At the time my coding skills were relatively limited (still are) so the page came out the way it did.  I’m embarrassed to admit the amount of time I spent building that stupid page.  I know that it took me half a day to figure out how to change the color.   Despite a redesign when @MalloryWood took over in 2010, some of the key design features still hold true.

The point is, you have to own it, in order to make it work.

2. This is cheating.  Literally this is plagiarism.  You’ve taken 90 percent of a Web site, added your name and colors, and published it as your own.  If a student at your institution did the same on a research paper, they would be expelled.   It is the responsibility of the institution live by the same values it expects out of its students.

Now, I’m not suggesting there was malicious intent here.  I’m guessing that this is just ignorance at play.  That being said, you just can’t do this.  It makes your institution look bad.  It makes the institution that you copied look bad.  It makes you look bad.  And lazy.

3.  This damages both brands.  Your applicants overlap.  Small residential, liberal art, college in the north east.  Yup.  That means there will be plenty of cross over between your apps.  It makes the both of you look lame, packaged, and discredits any authenticity you’ve established.  Unfortunately for SMC, this means they need to change their page immediately because this other institution is making SMC look bad through their laziness.

I think SMC has to move here.  It’s already December and high application season.  In order to maintain their brand (which is pretty damn strong) and authenticity (also pretty damn strong) they have to roll out a new design.  Like the quote at the top says, “The gold is already gone.”  SMC has to rebuild it.

So what about that saying I hear over and over again, Copy And Steal Everything?

Clearly this is said tongue in cheek.  There is plenty of room to allow yourself to be inspired by others, but you have to transform that inspiration into a product that truly reflects your institution and brand.  Social media is all about authenticity, and your ripping off a site from another school, you’re not being authentic.

Pay attention. Look at what others are doing, and figure out how you can adapt them into your own channels. While you’re at it, keep an eye out for those who are ripping you off.

Damn Facebook. You’re sketchy.

I needed help with that title, and reached out on Twitter land with this “Facebook is sketchier than__.  Fill in the blank.”  Below a few of the responses I got back.

@nickdenardis: Your mom at a high school party
@juliaalling: the guy in the next office who mumbles to himself. (this I believe is a reference to me)
and the required and always good for a chuckle “@tsand” from @epsteada

The response that was most apropos however came from Eric Bates on Google+ (which I love btw), “Eric Schmidt.”

I asked for help finishing that sentence because I was inspired once again to write about Facebook’s increasing creepiness.   You’ve probably seen a few messages in your news stream that Facebook has begun storing all of the contacts on your mobile device.

That’s my biggest question.  Why would I need my cellphone contacts in Facebook?  If I need to call someone, I would do it from my cellphone.  If I didn’t have their number and I was friends with them, then chances are I can’t remember who that person actually is or how I know them.  It’s probably that random friend of a friend that I met at a party, had a cool conversation with, but don’t particularly care whether I see them again and thus will never need to call them.

And why do I feel violated?
I’m sure it says it somewhere in the lawyer speak, but did I really need to give Facebook access to information on my phone when I agreed to the Terms of Use for their mobile app?

I guess Google does this, but it’s because I’ve purposely clicked a box to allow my Google Contacts to sync with my phone.  Facebook you just did it.   Couldn’t you have just asked?

How much longer will I put up with this?
It seems like with every move Facebook makes, it gets sketchier.  I won’t say I’m ready to nuke my account or anything like that, but I do hope that something new comes along. 

I’m kinda feeling the same way.

Zuck should have stayed in school, or at least taken Geography

I ran into a funny little quirk with our Facebook page yesterday afternoon. One of our Fans posted on our wall, “The Bing map on your FB page is ALL WRONG!!! ”

I first this was some sort of spam post that seem so prevalent recently, but after clicking around our page a bit, I noticed that there is a Bing map under the “Info” tab. I hadn’t paid any attention to it before, but I could clearly see that it had us in Groton, VT, not Groton, MA. The address field was correct, and I tried to move the pin to our actual location, but was told that it was to far away from the original. That’s because Groton, VT is 155 miles north of us. I tried to suppress it, but then my “Wall” went away.

@MalloryWood and @ChristineSMC replied over Twitter that the SMC Facebook page had a similar bug, moving my Alma matter a few hundred miles south from the venerable Winooski Park, VT to somewhere in the Nutmeg State.

Checking back today, we are now located in Blanchardsville, MA. This time however, I was able to suppress the map without losing my Wall.

Clearly this is a result of Mr. Zuckerberg’s dropping out of college before he had an opportunity to take Geography 101.

Has anyone else experience something funky like this? Combine this with all of the annoying Osama, embarassed girl, and other SPAM out there and I’m starting to wonder what type of shop Zuck’s running.

QR Codes

@dmolsen had a great post about QR codes the other day. It reminded me that I had been tossing a similar post around in my head for a while and it was time to write it.

I think QR codes are a massive waste of time. They’re over hyped, a pain to use, and just not that interesting. Here three examples of why QR codes are a waste of time, and why I’m sick of hearing about them:

1. Back in January, I came across an article in the alumni magazine of a New England independent school. The article was an alumni profile and highlighted some of the work he was doing for this school specifically the new QR code he had created for the school.

Excited, I pulled out my iPhone. Downloaded a QR app on a slow 3G signal. Snapped a photo of the code and waited for the magic.

The code brought me to the school’s Website. Not a mobile version of the Web site, but the school’s Web site.

2. Riding on a Metro bus in Washington D.C., I saw a QR code on a poster of the bus route. Thinking it would give me a similar map formatted for a mobile phone, I searched through my iPhone apps trying to find the QR code app that I had downloaded back in January. Sifting through folders with my thumb, I finally came across it, and snapped a photo.

It brought me to a mobile site that asked for my comments as to the quality of my Metro experience.

3. We own a Ford and got one of their magazines in the mail the other day. In the market for a new car, I saw a QR code next to a photo of one of the new Ford Explorers, and I tried to give it a shot. Sifting through the folders on my iPhone again, I could not find the QR code app that I had downloaded sixth months ago.

I gave up.

Investing in QR codes at this moment is a total waste resources. Right now the technology isn’t well implemented, does not meet consumer expectations, and the readers is not seamlessly integrated into smartphones. Until I can take my phone, just take a photo, and the be quickly and automatically brought to content that is interesting, useful, and exclusively available through that code, then there’s really no point.

Frankly, I have no idea how education could use these things. Campus maps? Maybe, but only if you’re a huge university with a lot of acreage. Stories about buildings? Not compelling. It is rare case that a building on a college campus is compelling and interesting. Free screen savers or other give-a-ways? Now you’re thinking too highly of yourself and reading your own headlines.

Save your money. Save your time. Save your resources. Skip the QR codes.

Admission Chat

I helped our admission office here host a chat for prospective students. We used CoverItLive, and for our first go round, I think it went pretty well.

I looked around for something that was free or really cheap. CoverItLive was free, it looked cool, and it was free. That being said, if the crowd had been the 25-30 I had expected, I don’t know if it would have worked well. Admittedly, I didn’t spend much time playing in the guts of the thing, but I had to approve every comment. It would have been much easier if everyone’s comments were automatically posted, yet I retained the ability to unpost them.

That is assuming the crowd had been the 25-30 I was expecting. I’ll get back to this one.

So we gathered in the admission office with some cookies and milk to say thank you to the 12 prefects who had volunteered their time to be the student chat leaders. I gave them a brief overview at what was going to happen and then switched the room on 15 minutes before the advertised start time. No sooner had I opened the door when comments began flooding in-and I mean flooding. I was clicking away trying to approve comments, set our students up as admins and quickly became overwhelmed. There was consistently a 4 minute gap between when a comment was submitted to when it was posted.

It turns out that we had 710 people log into that chat. My experience had me expecting 30 at the most. For a while I was worried that we would have more prefects then perspective students. We had only sent an email out announcing the chat three days prior. That I guess is the power of reputation.

So the feature that was originally a major pain, turned out to be a life saver. I can only imagine the chaos of an unfiltered chat. It would have been impossible to keep up. For the next one, I think we’re going to have to include some text explaining how the system works, that not all questions will be answered, but we’ll try. The last thing I’d want is for a kid to get frustrated that their question didn’t get answered because the chat room was too crowded. That is so not who we are. We’re a small school where everyone gets attention and I’d hate to leave anyone with a different impression.

If you’d like to get a sense for what it was like, the transcript is still up here. We’re going to be doing another one soon for admitted students. It’s a pretty fun time and we have a blast with the students. I might try to video tape it. I’ll post it here if I do.

No I will not be your friend

I hold a grudge. Sorry I do. I know that I should probably be more forgiving and let things slide, but tough. That’s not me.

I recently got a Facebook friend request from a former co-worker at a past job that I absolutely hated. It was the most miserable place I have ever worked and this person was a part of that dysfunctional culture. There was never any hesitation to toss a coworker under the bus , light a math and watch them burn.

It was two years of hell.

So no. I will not accept your friend request.

Live Streaming for Dummies (and I mean dummies)

We’ve branched into a new media here at Groton–live streaming.

If there is one event that we do exceptionally well, one event that all alumni cherish, it is the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.  Lessons and Carols is a holiday service modeled after a similar event at Kings College.  This year’s festival was the 82nd annual and it’s a big deal for all involved.  Our Chapel holds the student body plus the Faculty, thus about 450-470.  We hold three standing-room-only services, one for the town, one for parents and alumni and one for the School.  Quick math will tell you that’s about 1300 to 1400 people.

See the full event here:

Or for a quick taste, check out the crowd favorite, “Personent Hodie”:

This year, we decided to try to live stream this quintessential Groton event.  Previous to this, we had live-streamed two events, both using my $50 Logitech web cam and my Dell laptop.  Really simple and quite frankly, the video quality stunk and the audio was just fine.  These would not do for this event and it was time to step up our game.

Now when I wrote the title to this post, I meant it.  I have no experience in doing any of this.  I can hang out in Facebook and Twitter and talk marketing strategy, but when it comes to the real technical stuff, I’m clueless.  The same goes to video and audio streaming, and making it work.  I took me three weeks from the time our Choir master came to me with this idea up to the night of the event when everything went live.

Step 1:  Get a Mac

I took me a week to figure out how to get the camera to feed into a computer (And by “figure out” I mean , Hans Mundahl (@hmundahl) at New Hampton told me).  It turns out you need something called a fire wire.  It’s faster then a USB cable and the only laptops that I was able to find with a port were the MacBook Pros.  There were a couple of PC’s on campus that had them, but I didn’t have room for it in the Chapel.  Besides, I see us streaming a bunch of other events and needed the portability.

Step 2:  Get a camera

I found a nice camera lying around in the back of the IT closet.  It’s a Cannon 3cccd and it looks like it came out right before HD became widespread.  If we start doing this, I’ll look into getting and HD camera, but for right now, this works fine.

I set it up, plugged in the fire wire into the camera and the MacBook and was good to go.

Step 3: Get a microphone

This service is heavy on choir music, which can be quite loud.  It also has readings by individuals, which although there a microphone and speakers, they aren’t the best and it can be hard to hear.  I didn’t have access to a soundboard and needed to accommodate both.  The camera microphone was pretty good quality, but I could get rid of an echo.  Again, I know nothing about sound or how to correct it.  I did however have a Zoom H2 Handy Recorder which we bought on Amazon for $150 earlier this year.   This has a great microphone on it, and I ran a line from the headphone jack on the recorder into the microphone jack on my MacBook.  With a little adjusting, it sounded great.

Step 4: Get Internet and power

Thankfully, my IT guys were awesome and able to get me a dedicated line and power to where I was in our 100-and-something year-old Chapel.

Step 5:  Find your platform

I went with  It’s a service that I had used before and was comfortable with.  To get a higher quality video, it suggested I download Adobe Flash Encoder.  I did.  I have no idea what it does, but it did seem to make a difference. is free, but we paid for one month’s subscription to get rid of the advertisements.  Some how, seeing the Hoff sweet talk a fan in German didn’t’ seem appropriate on this special occasion.  For $99 it seemed like a no brainer.

That being said, I wouldn’t use them again.  I have so far been unable to make changes to the description of the video, nor can I download it.  I put in a service ticket, griped over Twitter and emailed, but I have yet to receive a response.   LiveStream is getting my business next time.

Step: 6 Market it

This is the part I hate doing, because that means you’re doing it.  You are committed and if it crashes and burns, you’re  crashing and burning with it.  We did an email blast to all parents, alumni, past parents and friends of the school two days before the event.  I also created an event on Facebook, posted a link on the Fan Page and plugged it on Twitter.

The response was, well, modest.  I think we had 14 people confirm for the event, a couple of likes and comments on the Fan Page and zero replies on Twitter.  I figured that I had fifty viewers, this would be a success.

The event was slated to start at 7:45 p.m.  I jumped on at 7:30 p.m. to give a quick sound/video test and then planned to jump offline.  When I had 50 viewers at 7:32 p.m. I figured I couldn’t kill the feed and just kept rolling.  That number had climbed to 220 by the time the orchestra start playing at 7:45 p.m. and when Lessons and Carols began at 8:00 p.m. we were over 300.  Our high for that night was somewhere around 360 at one time with over 900 total viewers.  I’m glad I remembered to hit the record button because since then we’ve had over 630 views of the event.  That’s over 1500 views.  It’s the equivalent of adding 3 more performances to totally packed Chapels.

Needless to say I am totally stoked.

Step 7: Evangelize

Hopefully all went well.  The next step is to start telling people about it.  Luckily, I have a great boss who made sure that our community knew how well this went.  I’ve been trying to talk up social media here and this has helped tremendously.  There was a buzz on campus just before we left for break.  I’m excited to see what comes out of it. We had luke warm buy-in on campus before this event.  Now with these numbers, people are excited.  I spent most of the Faculty Christmas party talking about that night with others asking what is next on my agenda.

This is where my final piece of advice comes in.  When starting out with live streaming, pick a simple event to get your toes wet.  Then, once you get the basics down, go big or go home.  Pick the biggest event you can and by biggest I mean the one that is most meaningful to your constituents.  You’re guaranteed to find success, that is if you pull it off.  Screw it up and you’ll really hear about it.


As of January 3, 2011 we’ve had a total of 840 views of the recording for a grand total of 1,800 views. This makes it the our highest attend alumni/parent event for the year, eclipsing even Reunion Weekend.