Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Basic tools for online business collaboration

The technology of the Internet, especially all the freely available tools like Twitter and Gmail, are a key part of any business that relies in any way on the Internet, and that involves two or more people to make the business run.

If you're thinking of being an online entrepreneur, or even if you are thinking of working with other people to develop an idea that may one day become a business, you'd be smart to have a handful of tools that are ready to use so that when the idea hits, or when you find one or more collaborators, you can immediately get down to business.

Why go to the trouble of getting these collaboration tools?
Quite simply, these tools allow you to use the Internet to freely share information (as in without restriction and also without cost) with a group of people without letting outsiders see what you are doing or thinking. While you can certainly use email to trade ideas and messages back and forth, the tools mentioned in this article make it easier to share other things like documents, photos, and media files.

What every business needs
Most businesses, even businesses that don't have a product or service ready just yet, will have a few basic needs, namely the ability to communicate amongst the people working in the business; the ability to create, edit, and share documents; and the ability to communicate with the outside world.

ACTION STEP - get Gmail
Probably the smartest thing to do is to get a Gmail account. If you already have an account, get another one that'll be used strictly for your business. In fact, if you don't stop right now and take a few minutes to get your new Gmail account, stop reading this article because otherwise you are wasting your time.

AFTER ACTION EXPLANATION - Why is Gmail important?
There are a lot of reasons to use Gmail, but maybe the most important is that Gmail is run by Google, and when you get a Gmail account, you get access to dozens of other useful free Google tools. Some, like Google Docs (described below) are immediately useful, and others may come into play later. Another important reason to get a new Gmail account, even if you already have one, is that it is good to keep your personal affairs separate from your business affairs, especially email.

After you get your new Gmail account
Your first steps after getting your Gmail will getting your other basic tools. for all of your other business related accounts that are necessary. The following are the minimum set of basic tools you should have, and why they are useful:

  • Google Docs: This is like an online Microsoft Office, allowing your to create and edit word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentation slides. Just as important, you can allow one or more people edit those documents, even simultaneously.You can also export Google Docs in formats that work with Microsoft Office.
  • Twitter: Before you start using it for work related collaboration, you can use Twitter to get update in real time on events of wide interest to individuals or the news media. For business, it can be one of your best free marketing tools.
  • Bitly: This is a tool that allows you to shorten URLs, and more importantly track how many times someone clicks on the link. This can be used to measure aspects of your marketing efforts, and to measure what topics if of interest to your audience.
  • Dropbox: This is an online storage application that allows you to share files with people who are not your collaborators, including your audience.

What about web sites?
Web sites are still an important part of any business strategy, but at the beginning of any collaboration, it may be too early to think about getting a web site. However, by getting a Gmail account, you also get a freee Blogger account, which you can use to create a very basic web site.

What about Facebook and LinkedIn?
Both of these social media sites may be useful later on for promoting your idea or project. Since they are both connected to an individual, you may want to go ahead and one or both for your own reasons, but you don't need them to collaborate online.

What should I do now?
If you actually followed the advice earlier in the article and created a new Gmail account, use that account to sign up for Twitter, Bitly, and Drobox. After that, get your collaborators on board with the idea of using these tools. If you don't have collaborators, start looking.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Listening to music online

Using my computer. I go through three different music-listening apps pretty seamlessly; Spotify, iTunes and Grooveshark. Of the three I would say that Grooveshark is my favorite to use.

There are a couple reasons for this. Part of its cache comes from the fact that it is a somewhat forgotten medium from the last generation of mp3 listening/downloading platforms--including Pandora (still going strong), Songza, and the lesser known Dogpile. The other is that Grooveshark started out with an ambitious goal, providing free streaming music on the internet with the maximum amount of individual choice. Basically a YouTube but for music.

In this sense it would be a mix of Pandora, which based its image around the fact that there is a seemingly unending supply of songs that can be played on a custom radio station, and iTunes, which gave you the kind of comprehensive selection that no physical record store could promise. With Grooveshark all the music is at your fingertips. Since all music is uploaded by users (which hover around the tens of millions) you end up with a free for all of music that even iTunes cannot compete with.

As a result you get to find obscure artists, obscure albums by popular artists, popular artists and artists that refuse to have their music for sale in a digital market place or music-streaming service (Frank Zappa is a particularly notable artist whose music has shirked the grasp of juggernauts like iTunes and Spotify).

However, this idealistic marketplace has its obvious down sides. For awhile, the group of University of Florida students who started this company were able to do exactly what they wanted. Living an ultra realized version of the start up fantasy life that so many entrepreneurially minded techies would dream of.

There was the fact that they were actually making revenue, but there was also the essence that these were true techies, people like hackers, shaking the system with an innovative approach to marketing and internet commerce. However, the company, as a result of its vision, has run into continued legal troubles.

Not surprisingly, and very impressively, they have been able to surmount orders from major record labels, including EMI, and continue to provide free music in a way that no other service can.

To me it is surprising that more people aren't using it. Surely this repels a certain number of people averse to listening to artists without compensating them, even so it seems like sites YouTube have already democratized the media consumption experience and gotten people used to the fact that you don't have to do the things they way we used to and that in fact, yes, we can do something outlandish like listen to a full album, watch a full television episode, even watch a rare interview between two luminaries; all of these would be impossible without the advent of the knowledge-democratizing medium known as the Web.

I, as an individual, am not particularly bothered by the fact that using Grooveshark would in the eyes of a traditional consumer constitute stealing. For one, it's so fun to use because there is so much out there (very literally any artist you can conceive of, within reason, should have something on there). Secondly, because there is so much to choose from, it makes it easy to search for related artists and discover new sounds. Thirdly, you find yourself connected to a large community of people who regularly upload and curate their collections, as well as broadcast individual music radio stations, and talk to each other through sharing music.

I commend the people behind Grooveshark immensely, because I think it is a music listening model that is perfect for the music, and most accurately reflects the way people listen to music currently. Barring anymore serious legal issues, I see a lot of good things in Grooveshark's future. From my view it seems that it has nowhere to go but up, as more people catch on to how exciting their blend of art and commerce is.

I would say the next step would be, somehow (and I can expound on this later), making Grooveshark and ideal place for independent artists and small labels to place their music. How this will work with more traditional media such as physical or digital album/single purchase we will say, but for now I'd have to say that Grooveshark is the underground king of internet music.

- Alex Curtis