Building Brand Identity Through Custom Short URL’s

It’s no secret that Twitter has revolutionized link sharing.  Sure, there are other ways to send links out to your friends (email, Delicious, Facebook, etc), but never before has it been so easy, quick, or had the potential to be seen by so many.

In the same manner that Facebook power-pages like Big Prize rely on user-sharing, the practice of “Re-Tweeting” updates on Twitter can make your content visible to unknown hundreds.  The main thing standing between you and this unreached, information-searching population?  Brand identity.

In regards to social media, there is a myth that one must be easy going and personable when sharing links on Twitter.  That’s just not true.  While it is often the best approach, there are many web giants (blogs, news sites, and corporations) that use Twitter to great success without a personal approach.  This is often partly due to fame but often, it’s because they have created a great brand identity – one that is trusted by the masses (see Google, Mashable, etc).

So, how do you create brand identity in 140 characters or less?  One of the easiest ways is to have your own custom short URL – especially if you do lots of link sharing.  Until recently, users were limited to a small selection of short url sites – Bit.ly, Is.gd, etc.  While these services provide great usability and features, they don’t provide the end-user (i.e., the one clicking the link) the comfort of knowing what exactly they are clicking.  Obviously, the best method is to have created an online identity that is trusted – though this is becoming less and less important with account hacking and spam.

Apart from the simple cool factor, having your own custom URL can help establish a trusted online identity – whether you are a power blogger or simply an everyday link-sharer.  For you to post the link, you must have had access to both your shortening service AND Twitter.  Hopefully this will help ensure others that they aren’t clicking spam.

There are a few options (most of which I have tried), but the easiest to set up and maintain, at least in my opinion, is YOURLS.  The best thing about this service is that it’s self-hosted – meaning if the YOURLS site ever gets shut down, your links will still work. It provides great traffic statistics and sharing options as well.

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What You Will Need:

  • Domain Name – preferably something short (I chose http://rybo.us)
  • Webhost
  • Database

Installation is easy.  Simply follow the steps below and you’ll be sharing links in no time.

  1. Purchase your domain and set up hosting.  If you have a Deluxe account at GoDaddy, you can just host the domain on your account and point it to a new folder.  If you do this, make sure you are hosting the domain and not simply forwarding it to the folder – otherwise your URL’s won’t work!
  2. Set up a SQL database.  If you have a hosting account, there’s a good chance you have a few extra databases you are allowed to create.  Simply choose a name, login username and password.  Remember this information for step 4.
  3. Download YOURLS from Google Code.
  4. Unzip this folder and navigate to includes/config.php.  Open this file in a text editor.  Fill in the following information:
    • YOURLS_DB_USER
      your MySQL username
      Example: 'joe'
    • YOURLS_DB_PASS
      your MySQL password
      Example: 'MySeCreTPaSsW0rd'
    • YOURLS_DB_NAME: The database name
      Example: 'yourls'
    • YOURLS_DB_HOST
      The database host
      Example: 'localhost'
    • YOURLS_DB_PREFIX
      The name prefix for all the tables YOURLS will need
      Example: 'yourls_'
    • YOURLS_SITE
      Your (short) domain URL, no trailing slash
      Example: 'http://ozh.in'
    • YOURLS_HOURS_OFFSET
      Timezone GMT offset
      Example: '-5'
    • YOURLS_PRIVATE
      Private means protected with login/pass as defined below. Set to false for public usage (on an intranet for instance)
      Example: 'true'
  5. Save config.php and upload all of the files to the directory you created.
  6. Navigate to http://example.com/admin – and you’re ready to start short-linking!

Speed Up WordPress Blogging with HTML

If you’re familiar with WordPress, chances are you know there are two options when writing posts – Visual and HTML. Using the Visual editor gives you more options for look and feel – alignment, colors, spell-check, etc. HTML is a very basic editor and only allows a few HTML shortcut buttons – bold, link, etc.

While using the Visual editor will allow you to use more of a WYSIWYG interface, learning a few HTML tags can save you quite a bit of time, allow you exact customization that Visual sometimes can’t offer, and speed up your input text.

Learning a few tags can make blogging quicker. For example, when you want to insert a link while in Visual editor, you must click a button, then wait for a Lightbox window to open up, giving you input text options for link address, name, etc. It also allows you to choose if your link opens in the same window or new tab/window. The problem comes when you have 10 links in one post. Opening the menu and filling out these options can take a long time. Why not instead, just learn to insert a link with HTML?

<a href="http://www.example.com" target="_blank">Example Link</a>

Example Link

Adding the target="_blank" forces the link to be opened in a new window. See how much quicker that is?

Here are a few more simple HTML tags for WordPress blogging:

Blockquote

<blockquote></blockquote>

So, since each of these HTML tags are already in blockquotes, this looks a bit odd. Hopefully you get the point.

Inserting Images

<img src="http://rybomedia.com/marly.jpg" />

Unordered List

<ul>Item One</ul><ul>Item Two</ul>

    Item One
    Item Two

Ordered List

<ol>Item One</ol><ol>Item Two</ol>

    Item One
    Item Two

List Items

<li>Item One</li><li>Item Two</li>

  • Item One
  • Item Two
  • Heading 1

    <h1>Heading 1</h1>

    Heading 1

    Bold

    <b>This is bold text!</b>

    This is bold text!

    Italic

    <i>This is italicized text!</i>

    This is italicized text!

    Alignment

    <p align="center">Center Text</p>

    Center Text

    <p align="left">Left Text</p>

    Left Text

    <p align="right">Right Text</p>

    Right Text

    <p align="justify">lots of texts</p>

    Justified Text – You can’t really tell that it’s justified unless it extends to the edges of the post box. Hopefully me explaining this will have caused it to! Note – you will also have to have text that is multiple lines so that you can tell it’s all the same length.

    Now all of that is pretty straight forward. However, it can come in really handy if you’re getting frustrated wit the Visual editor. Like any GUI-type interface, it is often easier and more efficient to type in the “basic code”. It’s sometimes easier to wrap <p align="center"></p> around the exact text you want than to try and highlight, then select menu items – especially when working with images and other media.

    For some reason, typing in the HTML box is faster than the Visual box. I’m not exactly sure why, but I’ve noticed this on several occasions. If you don’t need all the bells and whistles while you type, switch over to HTML for lighter blogging.

    Of iPhones and Gnomes…

    Big Prize. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter, there’s a good chance you’re somewhat familiar with the name. Whether you check the fan page every hour, are constantly confused by the odd little sayings your friends write on their wall, or your Twitter homepage is sprinkled with #moonfruit tweets – you’ve seen the name.

    BigPrize

    In less than two weeks, and with over 140,000 fans at last check, Big Prize is taking over – by giving stuff away!  The people at Big Prize seem to understand something very basic to human nature – we like free stuff.  Want to attract a lot of people?  Give them really expensive things…for free.

    Now, as with every “free giveaway” program, Big Prize has raised plenty of skepticism, especially after the consecutive winnings of Ben Scott.  Ben was one of the people I got to talk with, and he has a very interesting story about Big Prize.  Ben actually won 4 different prizes – 3 t-shirts and an iPod Touch.  While a lot of people posted some pretty rude things about him, he won it all fair and square, simply tweeting responses when he received Twitter SMS updates.  That’s not good enough for some people, and Ben gave up 2 of his shirts to calm the storm of people essentially angry over the fact that they didn’t win.

    To be fair to those truly wary, I was also a tad hesitant at first.  However, after doing a little reading, tweeting, Facebook stalking (and discovering that it’s sponsored by Startlike), I was (and am) sold.  So how can someone just give away iPhones, MacBooks and golf clubs?  The answer is pretty straight forward, and involves something my mom has hounded me about for years – budgeting.

    As with any company, Startlike has a marketing budget.  This is how they can give away awesome little freebies that we all love so much like t-shirts and koozies (honestly, what is it about free shirts that makes us salivate?).  It’s also how they can afford to chuck out more iPhones than self-taken mirror shots on an middle schoolers Facebook.  Which do you think is more effective – banner ads, pens, and rubber key chains or TaylorMade drivers, iPhones, and MacBooks?

    As Michael Scott (Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin Paper Co. in Scranton, PA) has taught us, this is what’s called a “win-win-win”.  Big Prize experiences an exponential growth of fans (hopefully attracting partners), Startlike gets more attention, and all the fans and Twitter followers get the opportunity to win stuff.  Viral marketing at its finest, in my opinion.  Traffic, fans, and interest grows through Facebook “word-of-mouth”, with minimal-to-no direct advertising.

    Ok, so all that’s fine and dandy – but why do you care?  As the end consumer, you just want to know that you aren’t getting scammed.  That’s where I come in.  Over the past few days, I’ve been gathering interviews from a few people who have been Big Prize winners.  Everyone I talked to was happy to answer my questions – I guess free iPhones tend to put people in a good mood.

    Now, as Facebook is geared towards sharing information with friends, most people I talked with found Big Prize through the wall posts of friends or direct referrals.  Michelle Cramer, however, saw something about it on her Startlike homepage.  A few days ago, I wrote a post about how much I enjoy my own Startlike homepage, and it’s neat to see a winner who uses it on a regular basis.

    Basically, though, I just wanted to find out if winners actually got their prizes, and if they got them quickly.  My answer:  a resounding double yes.  Everyone I talked with had great communication with Big Prize, and they received their prizes about a week after winning.

    “They were really quick about it, within a week I got it.” – Binal Patel

    “They told me on June 29th or 30th I would get the gift card . . . on July 8th. I got it on July 2nd.” – Benjamen Scott

    “The prize . . . arrived by postal mail the following week. No muss, no fuss.” – Eric Alderman

    “I received my [prize] about a week after winning it, which in my opinion is pretty quick!” – Michelle Cramer

    So, after speaking to 4 completely satisfied winners, I can safely say that yes, Big Prize is giving things away – no scams, no ploys.  “No muss, no fuss.”

    Now, explaining why I’m a Big Prize fan is like trying to explain to my best friend Daniel (a Celtics fan) why I’ve been a die-hard Laker for 11 years – they’re the best program in the league, backed by some terrific players (in Big Prize’s case, Startlike), and Kobe Bryant is the finest example of hard work, dedication, and fundamental perfection the NBA has to offer.  Ok, so that last one didn’t really apply at all, but it’s my blog.

    Show me another company that can give away thousands of dollars in free stuff, carry on great personal customer relations, generate thousands and thousands of Facebook fans in a few days, and represent themselves with a gnome.  In the meantime, my computer’s broken, and I could really use a MacBook – so excuse me while I keep playing.

    Embed RSS Feeds in WordPress

    WordPress makes it easy (well, kind of) to embed RSS feeds into your WordPress template, so you can have a feed displayed in your sidebar, footer, or anywhere else you want in your PHP files. To do this, I used a combination of code from Darren Hoyt and Jeriko.

    first, from Darren

    <?php
    require_once (ABSPATH . WPINC . '/rss.php');
    $rss = @fetch_rss('RSS FEED HERE');
    if ( isset($rss->items) && 0 != count($rss->items) ) {
    ?>
    <ul>
    <?php
    $rss->items = array_slice($rss->items, 0, NUMBER OF ITEMS);
    foreach ($rss->items as $item ) {
    ?>
    <li>

    and then the bit from Jeriko

    <a href='<?php echo wp_filter_kses($item['link']); ?>'>
      <?php echo wp_specialchars($item['title']); ?>
    
    </a>
    </li>
    <?php } ?>
    </ul>
    <?php } ?>

    Backup Contacts With Google Sync

    A friend of mine (@mindstorms6) showed me how he uses Google Sync to backup his phone contacts to his Gmail account.  Like many Google mobile applications, I have found this suprisingly very useful.

    I am always paranoid about losing contacts.  My phone is strictly for personal use, but I still have over 100 entries (including numbers, email addresses, etc) in the Address Book.  The thing is, even though I try and save them to the SIM card, they usually automatically save to the phone or switch when I add a picture or ringtone to the entry.  In addition, lakes, pools, and other natural beauties provide more cause to stress.

    Anyway, Google Sync provides a free (except for data plan charges of course) way to backup all your phone contacts.  Simply download the program (or click here if you’re on your phone – iPhone, Blackberry, etc) and set your synchronize settings.  Next thing you know, all of your phone contacts will be listed in the “Contacts” section of your Gmail account.

    And just like that, my stress is gone.  Enjoy.

    Unplug It, Turn It Off and Put It Down

    Every now and then, I am in awe at how blessed I am, especially with technology. Let’s face it – I can keep up to date with my favorite sports teams, check my email, look over my exam study schedule, listen to a personalized playlist, audiobooks, or catch up on the latest episodes of Chuck – all while sitting in the bus on the way to class!

    It seems as if technology has grown exponentially in the last 20-30 years.  From Bill Gates’ dream of a personal computer in every home (check this out), to the invention of the mobile phone, the iPod, and eventually the combination of the two, technology has changed how we live, think, and act.

    It is important, though, to unplug, turn off and put down these devices.  I will be the first to admit that often times I listen to my iPod all day at school, check my Blackberry every 2 minutes, and power up the laptop as soon as I get home.  However, often my most inspirational and most thought-provoking moments are those away from all things battery powered.

    Google is famous for encouraging employees to take creativity breaks, where they go outside, chat with friends, and do things non-tech related.   No wonder they are one of the most innovative, user-friendly and groundbreaking companies.

    I encourage you to take some time out of your day (it doesn’t have to be much) and distance yourself from your gadgets.  I think you’ll find a refreshing change and a much needed break.  If anything, it will give your thumbs and eyes a chance to relax.

    Install WordPress on Your Desktop!

    Thanks to a recent post by DesiznTech, I have learned that you can actually install WordPress (and a few other CMS) locally, on your desktop! For me, at least, this is an answer to prayer. As a web designer by hobby, having a local way to make changes and design without affecting a live site is great. Before now, I installed WordPress in a separate folder on my account to use as a “sandbox”.

    To clarify, I haven’t actually done this yet. Personal situations and upcoming exams have drained me of time and energy, so I haven’t had a chance to try this out. However, I plan to do this as soon as I’m able, and I would encourage you to give it a try. If you do, let me know what you think!

    Here is the WAMP Server, which you will need to install PHP, Apache, and MySQL on your desktop, and Jeff Chandler’s tutorial on how to actually install the software.

    Ubuntu Portable Review – @pubcrawlercom

    In response to a tweet of mine yesterday, @pubcrawlercom sent me a live twitter review while he installed and ran Ubuntu Portable. With his permission, I’ve reposted his thoughts here.

    From what he has said, I think I’ll try it – as soon as I boot up Vista again, that is. It might be a while (or at least until I need to sync my iPod next. For some reason, Banshee doesn’t work with the Classic and Wine won’t configure with iTunes 8 correctly).

    read one tweet that it crashed for someone under XP. Extracting to disk now. this machine only has 512MB RAM 🙁 might be issue…

    decompressed portable ubtun is around 2GB… moving it around and rebooting fresh XP loadup to test it.


    my tweetreview of ubuntu portable starts now 🙂 as I go

    bunch of random errors on bootup in text shell window ran from.

    updates last ran 200+ days ago – 177 updates downloadable… 118.3 MB

    screen video refreshes slow at times – like when asks for root pwd for updates. dreadfully slow

    ubuntu update downloads seem slow to download – often can be 🙂 whos knows… not my bandwidth here.

    network stuff works fine, but ping doesn’t for external IPs… unsure why…

    firefox loads and runs much faster than in XP on same machine.

    still downloading updates for ubuntu portable… computer paging memory to disk.. but that’s my fault.. tweetdeck pigging out on RAM

    portable ubuntu finally finished downloading the updates. now the wait for them to install. always the 1st things I do in order 😉

    ubuntu portable crashed during excessive paging on XP. trying again – that was my fault. all well after restarting it 🙂

    running near out of RAM 🙂 but portable Ubuntu works on 512MB XP system.

    Portable Ubuntu would be nicer say with Portable Crunchbang Ubuntu version less resource use

    Loaded up Rythmbox and streaming music plays fine in Ubuntu Portable 🙂

    Software sources in Ubuntu Portable set to Argentina. Change to your local country.

    hey try Ubuntu Portable. worked well for me. Haven’t tested everything, but it looks good. certainly will need more polish 🙂

    Make a Custom Gmail Theme

    gmail

    A few months ago, Gmail introduced themes to its popular email service. However, themes were controlled by Google since they cannot be installed from outside the page, or by uploading files (like WordPress, Joomla, etc). This makes sense, because it’s an email site.

    However, there are only 31 themes so far, and many are simply color palettes. Thankfully, in February (I’m a bit late with this), Gmail added a “Choose your own colors” option. If you haven’t changed your theme since picking it, chances are you’ve missed this.

    Switching the colors is pretty straight forward – you just use a live demo to edit how you like and save it. In my opinion, it’s a lot better than any of the other themes. I like things clean, so I was able to set all backgrounds to white, using a light grey for messages and a light blue for links.

    screenshot-inbox-gmail-mozilla-firefox

    Technology Invades the Stands

    As we continue to see the progression of [tag]technology[/tag] creeping into every aspect of our lives, major [tag]sports[/tag] stadiums have introduced a way to stop unruly fans from ruining the game for everyone else around. That’s right, you can now [tag]text message[/tag] the stadium to have annoying fans removed.

    For those who get [tag]ESPN[/tag] the Mag, you may have seen the recent Rick Reilly’s piece about this on the last page. The story was also reported by [tag]CNET[/tag]. So far, all but 3 [tag]NFL[/tag] teams have this service, though the remaining will most likely adopt it soon. It has proven highly effective, and according to Scott Meyers of [tag]InStadiumSolutions[/tag] (who puts out the service), only 5% are joke texts.

    So next time you’re at the stadium, and you can’t see the field because of the 350 pound main yelling obscenities and screaming, you know what to do.

    Check it out at CNET