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“Make it simple. Make it memorable. 
Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” 
Leo Burnett, 1891-1971

The Great American Eclipse 2017

eclipse

The Great American Eclipse 2017 is on August 21, 2017. The total eclipse of the sun (sun totally eclipsed by the moon) follows a viewing path from the northwest United States to the southeast United States on eclipse day. The "path of totality" (path where the sun is completely eclipsed) across the United States is roughly 70 miles wide, moving from a the northwest in Oregon to the southeast in South Carolina. The path of totality is where the umbra occurs (the umbra is the dark core of the shadow by the moon onto the earth's surface).

Most Americans will be able to witness a partial eclipse, even though they are not in the viewing "path of totality" for the solar eclipse. Schools and organizations hold watch parties for this significant celestial event.

A solar eclipse is an event where the moon moves between the earth and the sun, and thus blocks the view of the sun as seen from the earth.

Keep your eyes safe during the eclipse - never look directly at the sun. See the suggested apparatus (below) to safely view a projection of the solar eclipse.


Eclipse Maps

 

Eclipse Activities

  • Eclipse Watching Parties

My Great Big Bend, Oregon Mountain Biking Adventure

Last week I finished a mountain biking trip in Bend, Oregon. It included seven days of riding, camping in a hammock, and exploring the town of Bend.

It was a spectacular trip for me.

I biked 277 miles, rode 18 of the trails in the Bend area (just a small fraction of the mountain biking trails in the Bend area).

The trip was filled with spectacular mountain trails, high desert landscape, challenging climbs, and thrilling descents. The entire week was a refreshing break.

Here is what I learned...

 

Texas Independence Day - The Republic of Texas



Texas declared independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. 

59 individuals signed a declaration of independence from Mexico.

Texas Declaration of Independence

Text of the Texas Declaration of Independence is below.


Unanimous
Declaration of Independence
by the
Delegates of the People of Texas
in General Convention
at the town of Washington
on the 2nd day of March 1836.

When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.

When the Federal Republican Constitution of their country, which they have sworn to support, no longer has a substantial existence, and the whole nature of their government has been forcibly changed, without their consent, from a restricted federative republic, composed of Sovereign States, to a consolidated Central Military despotism, in which every interest is disregarded but that of the army and the priesthood, both the eternal enemies of civil liberty, the ever ready minions of power, and the usual instruments of tyrants.

When, long after the spirit of the constitution has departed, moderation is at length so far lost by those in power, that even the semblance of freedom is removed, and the forms themselves of the constitution discontinued, and so far from their petitions and remonstrances being regarded, the agents who bear them are thrown into dungeons, and mercenary armies sent forth to force a new government upon them at the point of the bayonet.

When, in consequence of such acts of malfeasance and abdication on the part of the government, anarchy prevails, and civil society is dissolved into its original elements. In such a crisis, the first law of nature, the right of self-preservation, the inherent and inalienable rights of the people to appeal to first principles, and take their political affairs into their own hands in extreme cases, enjoins it as a right towards themselves, and a sacred obligation to their posterity, to abolish such government, and create another in its stead, calculated to rescue them from impending dangers, and to secure their future welfare and happiness.

Nations, as well as individuals, are amenable for their acts to the public opinion of mankind. A statement of a part of our grievances is therefore submitted to an impartial world, in justification of the hazardous but unavoidable step now taken, of severing our political connection with the Mexican people, and assuming an independent attitude among the nations of the earth.

The Mexican Government, by its colonization laws, invited and induced the Anglo-American population of Texas to colonize its wilderness under the pledged faith of a written constitution, that they should continue to enjoy that constitutional liberty and republican government to which they had been habituated in the land of their birth, the United States of America.

In this expectation they have been cruelly disappointed, inasmuch as the Mexican nation has acquiesced in the late changes made in the government by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who having overturned the constitution of his country, now offers us the cruel alternative, either to abandon our homes, acquired by so many privations, or submit to the most intolerable of all tyranny, the combined despotism of the sword and the priesthood.

It has sacrificed our welfare to the state of Coahuila, by which our interests have been continually depressed through a jealous and partial course of legislation, carried on at a far distant seat of government, by a hostile majority, in an unknown tongue, and this too, notwithstanding we have petitioned in the humblest terms for the establishment of a separate state government, and have, in accordance with the provisions of the national constitution, presented to the general Congress a republican constitution, which was, without just cause, contemptuously rejected.

It incarcerated in a dungeon, for a long time, one of our citizens, for no other cause but a zealous endeavor to procure the acceptance of our constitution, and the establishment of a state government.

It has failed and refused to secure, on a firm basis, the right of trial by jury, that palladium of civil liberty, and only safe guarantee for the life, liberty, and property of the citizen.

It has failed to establish any public system of education, although possessed of almost boundless resources, (the public domain,) and although it is an axiom in political science, that unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty, or the capacity for self government.

It has suffered the military commandants, stationed among us, to exercise arbitrary acts of oppression and tyranny, thus trampling upon the most sacred rights of the citizens, and rendering the military superior to the civil power.

It has dissolved, by force of arms, the state Congress of Coahuila and Texas, and obliged our representatives to fly for their lives from the seat of government, thus depriving us of the fundamental political right of representation.

It has demanded the surrender of a number of our citizens, and ordered military detachments to seize and carry them into the Interior for trial, in contempt of the civil authorities, and in defiance of the laws and the constitution.

It has made piratical attacks upon our commerce, by commissioning foreign desperadoes, and authorizing them to seize our vessels, and convey the property of our citizens to far distant ports for confiscation.

It denies us the right of worshipping the Almighty according to the dictates of our own conscience, by the support of a National Religion, calculated to promote the temporal interest of its human functionaries, rather than the glory of the true and living God.

It has demanded us to deliver up our arms, which are essential to our defence, the rightful property of freemen, and formidable only to tyrannical governments.

It has invaded our country both by sea and by land, with intent to lay waste our territory, and drive us from our homes; and has now a large mercenary army advancing, to carry on against us a war of extermination.

It has, through its emissaries, incited the merciless savage, with the tomahawk and scalping knife, to massacre the inhabitants of our defenseless frontiers.

It hath been, during the whole time of our connection with it, the contemptible sport and victim of successive military revolutions, and hath continually exhibited every characteristic of a weak, corrupt, and tyrannical government.

These, and other grievances, were patiently borne by the people of Texas, until they reached that point at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue. We then took up arms in defence of the National Constitution. We appealed to our Mexican brethren for assistance. Our appeal has been made in vain. Though months have elapsed, no sympathetic response has yet been heard from the Interior. We are, therefore, forced to the melancholy conclusion, that the Mexican people have acquiesced in the destruction of their liberty, and the substitution therfor of a military government; that they are unfit to be free, and incapable of self government.

The necessity of self-preservation, therefore, now decrees our eternal political separation.

We, therefore, the delegates with plenary powers of the people of Texas, in solemn convention assembled, appealing to a candid world for the necessities of our condition, do hereby resolve and declare, that our political connection with the Mexican nation has forever ended, and that the people of Texas do now constitute a FREE, SOVEREIGN, and INDEPENDENT REPUBLIC, and are fully invested with all the rights and attributes which properly belong to independent nations; and, conscious of the rectitude of our intentions, we fearlessly and confidently commit the issue to the decision of the Supreme arbiter of the destinies of nations.





Long Live Texas!

#Texas
#TexasIndependenceDay
#LoneStarState
#TexasForever
#RepublicOfTexas
#LongLiveTexas


Want freedom and independence for your website or for your organization's digital presence? Contact Big Spark Media to move your brand forward!

Hip-Hip-Hooray for the Underdog! How Small Business Packs a Punch.

Hip-Hip-Hooray for the Underdog! How Small Business Packs a Punch.

Underdogs Change the Game When Facing Giants.

Small businesses are often considered underdogs in the world of marketing. But the world is filled with examples of underdogs who win. Underdogs that win follow a pattern.

Take the illustration of the classic underdog – the story of David versus Goliath from the Bible. David was the youngest son of Jesse, a shepherd, and was camping with the Israelite army. He faced Goliath of Gath, a giant with the Philistine army. Goliath challenged the Israelites with a man-to-man combat – Goliath against any man the Israelites chose. Goliath proposed a winner-take-all contest, where the winning combatant would also win for his army – and the loser's army would become servants to the winners. The Israelites were afraid to fight a larger Goliath. But David volunteered to fight Goliath man-to-man.

Goliath was a large man armed to the teeth – a bronze coat of mail that weighed more than 100 pounds, a helmet, armor covering his legs, a sword, and a spear – classic battle equipment for the day. David's leader gave David armor to wear and traditional battle equipment to carry.

But David changed the game – he went light. David choose to go to battle against Goliath with no armor and without traditional battle weapons of the day. Instead, he took his shepherd's staff, a sling, and a shepherd's pouch full of rocks – not the classic battle gear of the day.

When Goliath saw young David approach, Goliath disdained David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” Then Goliath taunted David with trash talk, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”

Light and fast-moving, David placed a stone in his sling, wound up, and struck Goliath in the forehead with the stone. Goliath fell forward, and David took Goliath's own sword, and killed Goliath by cutting off Goliath's head. Game over.

How did David win?

David knew Goliath had a size advantage and stayed far from Goliath's reach.

David realized that Goliath was weighed down with heavy armor and battle gear. Heavy armor was considered a strength, but David took advantage of a slow-moving Goliath as a weakness.

David used what he knew and that which with he had experience – David had used a sling and rocks before.

David used Goliath's own sword to kill Goliath. A competitor's weapon can be used against the competitor.

David and Goliath is a great story for those who fought hand-to-hand combat thousands of years ago, but one may think, “This story doesn't much help run a small business in today's world. “ Think again. Fast forward to a modern day business story of David versus Goliath - Netflix versus Blockbuster.

Netflix was the classic underdog – a small upstart that slayed entertainment industry giant Blockbuster. Blockbuster began operations in 1985. At its height in 2004, Blockbuster was a multi-billion dollar enterprise with more than 50 million members, 60,000 employees, and 9,000 stores worldwide.

Underdog Netflix began operations in 1997, an idea born after one of its founders, Reed Hastings, was assessed a $40 late fee for returning the video “Apollo 13” late to Blockbuster. Netflix originally began as a pay-per-rental video business. Videos were ordered via its website, at which point Netflix mailed physical video discs to renters. Netflix began its subscription business model in 1999, and added video streaming delivery to computers in 2007. Netflix thrives today, renting most if its media via online streaming.

In 2000, Blockbuster had the chance to buy Netflix for a small price, but the giant video rental chain chose not to purchase the upstart underdog. Blockbuster filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010. Game over.

How did Netflix win?

Netflix began with an idea to relieve the customer's pain. It was a hassle to visit a Blockbuster store to rent a video, drive back home, watch the video, and visit the store to return the video in a few days, or face late fees. Netflix began by eliminating the drive to the video store – Netflix established a online method to order videos and had them delivered to the customers via post mail, and returned via post mail. No drive back and forth to the video store, often to find that the video the customer wanted was not available. Netflix had the right number of videos to mail (or to stream online) so that it always had what the customer wanted to rent. In addition, Netflix had a larger selection of available videos than Blockbuster could offer at Blockbuster's physical store location. Netflix used customer points of pain to win against Blockbuster.

Netflix eliminated the need to have physical stores by delivery via mail and via online ordering. At its height, the number of physical stores (distribution points) was considered a Blockbuster competitive advantage. No one else could match Blockbuster's number of retail locations. Netflix turned Blockbuster's strength into a weakness. Netflix chose not to play in Blockbuster's business model of expensive retail locations and its related high fixed costs. No physical stores, less fixed expenses.

David versus Goliath. Netflix versus Blockbuster. The little guy changed the game. Game changers find that moment when the lightbulb comes on – an “aha moment”. Game changers change the rules to gain an advantage.

Here is how small businesses change the game to gain an advantage:

1. Use innovation to disrupt the playing field.

2. Display agility in business tactics, reacting to customer wants and needs in the moment.

3. Do what others don't want to do. Go down paths that others will not take.

4. Find customer pain points and remove the customer's pain. Game changers transform the “accepted rules” to relieve customer pain.

5. Capitalize on their own strengths. Game changers don't try to imitate the larger competitor.

6. Attack a competitor where they are weak, rather than attacking a competitor at its point of strength.

7. When facing giants and when facing challenges of biblical proportions, underdogs deliver their message with a punch.

The digital world provides a variety of ways to deliver for small businesses to deliver their message. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Digg, Youtube, Snapchat and a business website are just a few channels where small businesses can pack a punch.

Big Spark Media helps underdogs pack a punch. Find out how to tell your story, to get the advantage, and to gain new customers with Big Spark Media.


Article references:

1 Samuel 17 (ESV Bible)
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Samuel%2017&version=ESV

The Sad End Of Blockbuster Video (International Business Times)
http://www.ibtimes.com/sad-end-blockbuster-video-onetime-5-billion-company-being-liquidated-competition-online-giants


Your late fees are waived: Blockbuster closes (CNN)
http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/06/tech/gaming-gadgets/blockbuster-video-stores-impact/

Blockbuster LLC (Wikipedia)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blockbuster_LLC

Netflix (Wikipedia)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netflix

Big Spark Media
http://bigsparkmedia.com

Small Business Stand Up and Be Heard: The Loudest Insect On Earth Is Tiny!

Insects are like small businesses and tiny charities – they may be small in size, but can deliver a powerful message.

Consider the Walker's cicada (Neotibicen pronotalis), the loudest insect on earth. Males of the species can belt out an alarm call measuring 105.9 decibels - louder than the sound of a jackhammer operating from fifteen meters away. The male Walker's cicada, found in the North America, sings to attract females. A male of the species sing out to females using small tymbals on its rear abdomen. Tymbals are like ribs on the cicada's exoskeleton. The cicada contracts and relaxes its abdominal muscles to produce a series of clicks. The male cicada's abdomen is largely empty, acting like a sound box, similar to the empty sound box of a guitar.

Listen to a Walker's Cicada (Neotibicen pronotalis) in the video below.

 


The Walker's cicada is loud, but the water boatman insect delivers the most powerful call relative to its body size. The water boatman insect is the world's loudest animal relative to its body size, according to a 2011 study published in the Public Library of Science. The water boatman (Micronecta scholtzi) are freshwater insects measuring 2 millimeters and may commonly be found in ponds and rivers in Europe. These tiny insects, the size of the width of a grain of rice, produce high decibel mating calls. 

See the enlarged photo of a water boatman (Micronecta scholtzi) below.

Water boatman (Micronecta scholtzi)

Water boatman male insects produce an extremely loud courtship song. The song was recorded by researchers at noise levels up to 99.2 decibels, a significant volume considering the size of this tiny insect. Its decibel volume power is comparable to the sound of a passing freight train.

The water boatman produces its sound while underwater, so much of the power is lost in the transition from water medium to air medium. Even so, the water boatman courtship song is audible to humans from the bank of a pond or a river.

The lesson for a small business or a small charity: one does not need to be big to attract others. For its size, the tiny water boatman insect produces an extremely powerful courtship song.

How does your small business court potential clients?

A small business that tells its story well, and that delivers a high impact message to potential clients, attracts customers.

What is your business doing to craft a powerful message that resonates with others, to deliver its message to the right people, and to win new customers?

When was the last time your business delivered a powerful message with a punch?


 Mark Johnson leads Big Spark Media, delivering powerful messages for businesses and charities.


Article references:

Neotibicen pronotalis (Wikipedia)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neotibicen_pronotalis

Cicada (Wikipedia)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicada

Neotibicen pronotalis walkeri Metcalf, 1955 (formerly Tibicen marginalis, Tibicen pronotalis walkeri) (Cicada Mania)
http://www.cicadamania.com/genera/species.php?q=T.+pronotalis+walkeri+

Neotibicen pronotalis singing (file 2013 08 06 065) (YouTube)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlirgKX46M4

Public Library of Science
So Small, So Loud: Extremely High Sound Pressure Level from a Pygmy Aquatic Insect (Corixidae, Micronectinae).
Sueur J, Mackie D, Windmill JFC (2011) So Small, So Loud: Extremely High Sound Pressure Level from a Pygmy Aquatic Insect (Corixidae, Micronectinae). PLoS ONE 6(6): e21089. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021089
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0021089

Micronecta_scholtzi (Wikipedia)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micronecta_scholtzi

Occupational noise exposure (OSHA)
https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation/

My Big Fat Oregon Cascades Solo Mountain Biking Adventure

mark johnson mountain biking at crater lake rim 2015

I completed a week-long, 215 mile, solo mountain bikepacking trek in the Oregon Cascades in July 2015. At the end of the trek, I added another 40 miles of mountain biking on local trails, making my week’s mileage 255 miles.

It was an epic adventure for me – sleeping in a hammock, biking through the Oregon wilderness, drawing drinking water from streams and rivers, climbing in mountainous elevations, dealing with an unseasonal heat wave, skirting a forest fire, and meeting many kind people.

Here is what I learned:

Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation - October 3, 1863

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States


A Proclamation

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,

Secretary of State

Ball Pits Are Cool

Ball pits, mosh pits, arm pits - what is dashcon?

Big Spark Media did ball pits before ball pits were cool !

#ballpit #dashcon #dashconballpit #ExtraHourInTheBallpit #ballpitsRcool #gottalovedashcon


Background story here...
Bloggers mock stumbles at Tumblr convention

Dashcon on Wikipedia...
DashCon


Make a friend in a ball pit


Want to make a splash in the digital ball pit? Tell a story, build a community, get to know your customers on social media, or sell online. Its a big world out there - go and get it! Contact us, the ball is in your court!

 

The Web Doctor Is In !

 
Why do websites lose their relevance?  Websites need periodic "checkups" to stay healthy.

When was the last time you saw a doctor for a medical checkup?   Making appointments for health checkups with a medical professional is one of many practices that can insure a clean bill of health and help prevent major health issues.  Frequent and regular health checkups are part of a healthy lifestyle.

In the same way, a website needs frequent and regular checkups to serve its owners well.  Rapid change characterize the Internet, applications used for the web and devices for accessing web information.  And user preferences change at a torrid pace in the web world.  Keeping up with these rapid changes can make your website robust, striking, memorable and healthy.

 

Self assessment or professional assessment?

Your body can be self assessed via checking your weight on scales at home, checking your blood pressure and the like.  Similarly, a website owner should perform his own "self assessment" regarding website basics - assessing graphics, content, style, colors, menu structure and correct linking.  Is website content fresh and up-to-date.  Does a website user have a positive impression after using the website?  Does the website continue to support the organization's objectives?  What improvements can be made to the website?  The organization's management should perform these kinds of self assessments once a quarter.

But a qualified "web doctor" should provide in-depth website analysis on an annual basis.  A web designer analyzes the website, diagnosis its health and recommends changes to help the website meet its objectives.  A professional web designer keeps up with the latest technical standards, Internet security issues, user interfaces and web applications to maximize a website's effectiveness. Many web designers offer these services to clients and may even bundle periodic  "web checkups" as part of a web maintenance package.  Having an in-depth analysis and a set of recommendations for an organization's website is key to optimizing an organization's web presence.

 

Areas to diagnose

Websites have a variety of attributes that make them perform optimally. Diagnosing these attributes is key to having a healthy website.

  • Identity and branding
  • Graphics
  • Content (text, images, audio, video)
  • Style
  • Colors
  • Navigation and menu structure
  • Links
  • Technical standards
  • Security
  • User interfaces (usability/accessibility)
  • Compliance to mobile browser standards
  • Web applications
  • Social media
  • Search engine optimization
  • Analytics

 

Big Spark Media uses an extensive checklist to assess a website's health.  Let us insure your website is healthy, robust and performing to its full potential.

Make a call and schedule a checkup - the web doctor is in !

Interact With This! Emerging Trends in Web Design

Web design is constantly evolving.  Web innovation occurs at a torrid pace - often more quickly than web designers can keep up.  The website designed for the internet 2-4 years ago can be out of sync with how people interact online.  Web designers re-design online websites, e-stores and web access tools to take advantage of new methods that allow users to interact online in a more natural manner.

Optimized for mobile. Growing numbers of people use their mobile phones and mobile devices to access the internet.  Online destinations that are optimized for the mobile user have a higher user retention.  Optimizing for mobile includes design for smaller screens, efficient download of graphics, mobile access to content and other items to help the mobile user access the site.

Rich user interfaces. Less text and more images that allow users to interact in an intuitive way.  Yoday's websites have graphics, icons and buttons that change when clicked or animated when moused-over.

Use video. The growth of broadband allows users to more easily view full video without waiting for the video to download. Videos entertain and engage users to tell a story or to communicate a need for a product or service.

Large typography.  Font sizes more than 36 pixels in height.  Non-standard fonts and typography that give a website a customized look and feel.

Large, vibrant graphics.  Illustrations, photos and website backgrounds with textures to communicate a specific sense or feeling.

Social media.  Icons connecting users to social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr and RSS feeds.  These icons allow users to make a conection between their social media tools and the website.

Social bookmarking. Icons allowing users to bookmark site pages to social bookmarking services such as Digg, Delicious, reddit and Stumbleupon.  These services allow users to share interesting articles, stories and web pages with others.

Multi-column layouts. Sites with much content make it easier for users to explore with information in short, compact columns.  The columns give users a brief overview of content with appropriate white space to give the eyes a rest.

More white space. Google was a leader in designing a web space with a simple interface and lots of white space.  The increased size of screens and improved web design practices have allowed users to have more comfortable experience with lots of room for eyes drawn to key website elements.

Site templates for different users. Web designers allow different users to have a different online experience by using different templates based on their user type.  Websites have different templates for users with different backgrounds - by country, by age, by sex and other attributes of a user's profile.

Community and connected-ness. Websites allow more online user profiles, user photos and user-generated content through communities and interconnections.  Users can share more of their experiences online with user reviews, comments and forums where users can interact with the website and with one another.  Websites allow users to post comments for all to see and allow for a richer, more shared social experience.

How is your website?  Contact Big Spark Media to take advantage of the latest trends in customer interaction and website usability.

# # #

Big Spark Media – web development, graphic design, marketing.

Get Things Done.  We exist to increase your visibility and your sales.

Brother, Could You Spare a Lead?

A recession is the right time for online innovation.

Usually the beginning of a year is filled with positive predictions of health, wealth and the optimism.  But with the economy in weak state, things look like they may get worse before they get better.  This harkens back the Great Depression era when the anthem “Brother, could you spare a dime?” hit the top of the charts.   Or, in this age, business owners looking for new customers might sing the blues, “Brother, could you spare a lead?”

The global economy will get improve. A year or more from now, the recession will be past us. Like spring after winter, growth will return to the economy. Only businesses that are prepared for the growth will benefit.  And those businesses are investing in customer acquisition through online customer communitiessearch engine optimization and online marketing innovation.

The natural reaction for any business is to "batten down the hatches" during a recession - to focus on cost cutting and running lean - to survive as the prime objective. But there's a significant problem with this approach. Businesses don't simply have to survive to grow - they have to grow to stay viable. A business that makes it to the end of the recession unprepared for the post-recession growth may fail after all.

Whether your business is using the latest technology or not, the lesson should be clear: The recession of 2009 is a great time to innovate. Competitors will batten down the hatches, effectively stopping their innovation and hibernating, shivering in the frigid economy. There's never been a better time to prepare for growth - and, in doing so, to get a leg up on your competition.

Sometime in the next year, the recession will end. A spring thaw will appear as companies emerge from the economic winter.  Some companies will emerge alive, but thinner and weaker. A few - including some that have invested in their website and used it to market to new customers will be stronger, faster and better. These firms are the ones that will benefit from the rebound growth after the recession. Which companies will be the rebound winners?

Big Spark Media is prepared to make your organization one of the winners.

Contact Big Spark Media to accelerate your leads and to provide marketing ignition for your business.

# # #

Big Spark Media - web development, graphic design, marketing.

Get Things Done.  We exist to increase your visibility and your sales.

Get a Free Website

Snag a FREE website for your business or not-for-profit organization! 

Get your business online NOW!

facebook First, just "like" us on Facebook to be eligible (click on the FB logo and "like" us.)

 Next, follow us on Twitter (click on the Twitter logo and follow Big Spark Media).

Next, tell us what you could do with your free website. Click here to tell us why you want a FREE website with custom design. 

Last, we'll contact you within one business day to confirm website setup. It's that easy!

The FREE website will include a custom website design and will include up to 5 pages.

logo big spark media blue and orange 400w

Big Tex is Back !

September 26, 2013


Today marks another chapter in Dallas history - Big Tex is back. The Dallas icon returns to the State Fair of Texas today after catching fire due to an electrical malfunction at the 2012 State Fair of Texas.

Many Texas residents think fondly of Big Tex, recalling a hearty Texas-sized welcome to the State Fair of Texas. "Howdy folks" he calls out, "Welcome to the State Fair of Texas". The Big Tex icon evokes memories of cool fall weather, corn dogs, car shows, the fair's Midway rides, the annual Texas-OU football game, funnel cakes, the animal stock barns, the petting zoo, cooking demonstrations, baked goods competitions, and other State Fair of Texas events.  

The 2012 fire left standing a 52 foot tall frame, a burned out shell of the Big Tex we all knew and loved. This was shortly followed by cruel jokes about Big Tex and fried food (playing on the State Fair of Texas tradition of celebrating deep fried food - corn dogs, fried butter, fried stuffing, and many other unhealthy fried delicacies unique to the State Fair of Texas).

In honor of his return, the citizens of Texas are holding a Big Tex haiku contest (see below).

Big Tex returned today, arising from the ashes like the fabled Phoenix. He sports a facelift and a new set of clothing. It took all year to create him and Dallas citizens cheered his return. Long live Big Tex, and long live the great State of Texas!

Old Big Tex (Prior to 2013)

Old Big Tex - Prior to 2013 (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

In honor of his return, Big Spark Media is hosting a Big Tex haiku contest. Yes - a haiku.

Tweet your Big Tex haiku. The contest winner will be highlighted by Big Spark Media on Twitter.

Contest rules:

1) Tweet your Big Tex Haiku.

2) Use the hashtag #BigTexHaiku after the haiku (to enter the contest)

3) Extra credit for...
    a) using hashtag#BigSparkMedia
    b) mentioning @BigSparkMedia on Twitter
    c) following @BigSparkMedia on Twitter

4) Super extra credit for using a 3 a, b, and c !

5) Extra credit for the most retweets, favorites and mentions. 

6) If you can't do a haiku, fake it and try some pseudo-haiku or other form of poetry. 

7) Have fun with it, be creative, make it hilarious and keep it clean!

 

Contest closes for entries on the last day before the State Fair of Texas 2015 closes. Big Spark Media will announce the contest winner on the last day of the Sate Fair of Texas 2015.

Here are some starter entries from Big Spark Media to get you thinking...

Fried foods.
Make mutant man, no knees.
Big Tex 2013.
#BigTexHaiku #BigSparkMedia 

Lady liberty.
Text me. Statue love.
Big Tex.
#BigTexHaiku #BigSparkMedia  

Howdy folks.
Eat corn dogs, fair fun.
Big Tex
#BigTexHaiku #BigSparkMedia  

A Relevant Church Website – The Essentials

The web landscape is filled with technology companies and applications that have come and gone, yet the innovation and new technology continues to progress at a torrid pace. Big Spark Media has developed many websites and has found only one constant: there are no constants with digital media.

It seems that many web trends and technologies are relevant one day and gone the next. Just think about Netscape, Napster, Lycos, MySpace, Friendster, AltaVista, and countless others. One aspect we can be sure of is the web will always be driven by end-user expectations. With everything moving at a rapid pace, how does a church keep up, stay current and remain relevant?

At Big Spark Media, we’ve found the following key elements to be key for today’s relevant church web experience…


1) Be Mobile
If you cannot be found on a mobile device (phone, tablet or mobile computing device), you are not real. The desktop computing era is dead – long live mobile applications! Your church should have a mobile strategy – ways to connect to your content through applications using mobile devices.  

2) Embrace Communities
How does your web site intimately connect with the diverse groups within your church? Churches typically communicate as if there were only one audience with very broad, but similar needs. The concept of tribes illustrates specific, connected groups and their affinity for the ministries to which they are most connected. Your web content must speak to the congregation as a whole, but more importantly, it must speak to the multitude of tribes and their community needs. Youth are a perfect example of a tribal community within a church body. This teen-aged tribe has its own special language, specific methods of communicating, and a unique set of needs. Understanding the youth-aged community from a tribal perspective is essential in order to connect with them in relevant ways. Elder adults are another tribal community within the church. Going tribal means creating authentic messages that appeal to specific tribal needs and expectations. A tribal communications approach to web content and web applications insures people are more apt to connect and more likely to become intimately connected.

3) Consider This: Your Online Presence Is Your Brand
Many corporate brands exist where the website is the brand. Their customer’s only experience of that brand is through the web site. More than 90% of today’s first-time church visits happen online – not through a visit to the church campus. The church web site is the new front door to the church for an ever-increasing number of people - commitment to make it relevant represents a significant outreach to the world. With first impressions forming so quickly, how is your church brand reflected in your web site? Is your website appealing? Do the graphics reflect your brand? Is the website up-to-date? Is the information relevant to your community? Are the messages consistent with your church's unique DNA? Does your website reflect a strong identity or does it devalue the church? Run the church online presence as if it were the brand. 

4) Be a Story Teller
Telling a story with video is a powerful experience that can deeply effect viewers. Whether the user watches a sports event on ESPN, views a new YouTube video, catches up on a favorite sitcom at Hulu, or scans the main stories of the day, online video experiences are more commonplace than ever. Consider the explosive growth of hand-held technologies, specifically mobile phones, where the demand for video is substantial. Many churches are leveraging video as a ministry communication tool. Many churches misuse video formats by requiring users to download video viewing software, utilize outdated video viewing formats and under-value the impact video can bring to a web experience. Offering the right multi-media video experience provides a “sticky” factor for web a user that insures repeat visits.  Tell your stories and use the web to communicate those stories.

5) Go Social: Make it Personal
Remember the days when a web site was about dates, times, and basic overview information of the church? Today’s audience expectation is to connect on very real, personal levels, hearing from church staff and church leadership. Social media applications such as blogging and Facebook have provided gateways to people’s thoughts and experiences. Twitter allows a real-time glimpse into a person’s daily experiences and values. These apps allow people to have emotional bonds and experiences online that likely would never have occurred otherwise. Opening one’s mind for the world to see on the web was once taboo, but now it is a proven method to build relationships and allow people to experience genuineness in the digital community.

5) Foster Digital Community
People expect to find and experience community online. The growth of social medial and applications such as Facebook and Twitter has opened new mission fields for the church. Effective ministries work to create and maintain a positive presence in online communities. Unfortunately, more often than not there is no strategy or real understanding of how to make a Facebook presence productive for the church or for a ministry. Churches must be intentional with their presence in these established communities because people are quick to dismiss intrusion into their digital space. Consequently, a church’s community building initiative must be relevant and a natural addition to established digital communities

6) Get Viral
How a church communicates continues to increase in complexity with new technologies and with the growth of digital communities. Churches now have viral marketing platforms to add to their communications arsenal. Increasingly, people are using Facebook more than e-mail. Twitter’s simple, fast communication method is growing. The popularity of these applications opens up new methods of communications for the various constituencies of a church. In addition to being very effective communication tools, these viral apps are free!

7) Reach with Digital Ministry
Just a few years ago, many church leaders perceived that online ministry was impersonal and ineffective. Churches must look outward and see that people live their daily lives in the digital world. More churches across the country are creating digital campuses, providing worship, and prayer experiences via video and live chat. People can view a worship experience on their cell phone or listen to their favorite sermon while training at the gym. Digital ministry is becoming a part of one’s daily Christian walk these days. How is your church ministering digitally?

8) Be Current
An online prescence is a living, changing thing.  Websites with current, up-to-date and relevant content meet people at their need.  Keeping the website current and updated doesn't have to be difficult.  It just takes thoughtful design, along with intentionality in to keeping the content up-to-date and relevant. 

9) Make It Easy
Simple is better. People expect things to be simple these days. Corporate America is creating web experiences and apps designed to fit into people’s lives. Today’s priority is “easy and simple.” Churches are notorious for making simple things very complex. Unfortunately, complexity creates barriers and missed opportunities for ministry. Navigation, branding, a multi-media experience, content, calendars, registration for events, should all focus on easy experiences for the user. Simplicity and ease-of-use should pervade every aspect of your digital ministry.

10) Be Intentional
Align your online prescence with the mission and objectives of the church.  Think and plan through the digital design and the method of web operations that will propel the church towards its goals and its mission.   


This is a current day snapshot of how vibrant churches make their website relevant. One guarantee we can make is that the landscape of web applications will change within just a few months. New applications, content management systems, and mobile advancements contine to drive the user’s ever changing desire for new, relevant digital experiences. 

Is your church’s digital presence relevant?

Always Be Relevant.  Let’s Talk.

Call Big Spark Media or visit us at www.BigSparkMedia.com

Streams of Influence

Streams of Influence – Reaching the Market via Social Media

How to Win Friends and Influence People, a book by Dale Carnegie outlines key ideas to pull others into your sphere of influence, to persuade them and to win others over to your goals and principles.  The book, published in the 1930’s, brings to mind the methods we use today in the online universe of social media.  Social media marketing is a method using social networks to influence others regarding an organization's products and services.


Value to business “at the intersection”

Value occurs at the intersection where its employees, clients and potential clients interact with the company's products and services, providing a stream of feedback and interaction with the business.

general store

Think of the quintessential small town prior to the days of the internet – in the days when Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People.  Stores and businesses congregated near street intersections where there was a high traffic flow.  Store owners engaged the potential customer with social and business conversation.  People interacted with the establishment’s wares – seeing the goods, touching the products and evaluating their value.  Often, they would engage in conversation - “How is the weather?”, "Do you have any cap snafflers?”  “Does that quantambler come in red?”, “What size works for my situation?”, “If the product breaks, will you fix it?” The constant stream of feedback, interaction and “chatter” was useful to the business.  Customers saw the goods; employees commented on their value and their use by customers.  No store owner in his right mind would simply place his goods and prices in the store window and then sit in the “back of the store” waiting for the customer to buy.  Instead, they placed themselves at the front of the store, greeting visitors, interacting with the customers and keeping up the “chatter”. 

Similarly, in the online world, customers can find a company’s goods and services.  Most businesses have a website.  In its simplest form,  a website is effectively an online brochure. While online brochures are a start, they do not often provide an interactive way for customers to find answers to their questions.  Where most businesses fail: not  providing an interactive way for employees to provide some “chatter” and for customers to chatter back about the company, its goods and services.  Many companies effectively “sit in the back of the store” waiting for a customer to buy.  Their online presence is a simple website that provides no way for clients, potential clients and employees to “chatter” about the company’s products and services.  Companies that fail to provide a place for employees and customers to discuss products and services effectively restrict access to their products and services.

The right place to conduct this kind of “chatter” is through social media tools – blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Digg or company-created online communities.  Social media networks are “the intersection” of a company’s website, its clients, potential clients and employees.  If created and managed well, social media tools are the place where a company can connect with others, win friends and influence people.  Streams of influence flow at places where employees interact with a company’s content and produce meaningful client interaction.    

The social media world grows daily – here are a few brief metrics (as of the writing of this article). According to Technorati, there are more than 133 million blogs in existence.  The facebook.com website claims 400 million users and more than 25 billion pieces of content shared each month on its website.  Twitter’s micro blogging service reports more than 50 million daily updates (tweets) with the number of tweets rapidly growing.  These social media networks are the modern day “intersection” where clients and employees interact with a company, its products and services.


facebook      linkedin   google+ icon 32x32   twitter   blogger   digg   youtube   wordpress
 

Fear factor

Businesses and charitable organizations often scratch their head with regards to social media tools – in a quandary regarding the online social media world.  What might happen if an employee tweets something that is not in line with company policy, what happens if one of the clients sees that the employee had Coco Puffs for breakfast, or spent time bragging online about their son’s youth athletics accomplishments?  What is the effect of employees sharing online posts that are not screened by the firm for “acceptability”?  What might happen if a customer complains online?

Today’s electronic media allows clients to complain online and to affirm a company online. There is no stopping a client from blogging about poor service, tweeting praises regarding a firm’s products or commenting on Facebook regarding a firm’s services.  Progressive businesses step up to the new reality and proactively engage the client in such instances.  These firms think of a customer complaint as a gift – the opportunity to make a change or to influence others.  Businesses train their employees to address these types of situations rather than avoiding them.  Additionally, businesses use social media tools to connect with potential customers.

Many employees find it difficult to separate personal lives (what cereal we ate for breakfast, with whom we ate lunch, where we went biking, what we though of the latest movie) from professional lives (how we are serving our clients, our professional project list, what we are learning professionally, the meetings we attend and why).  

Some businesses are comfortable with letting their employees chatter about their personal and professional lives.  Those businesses conclude that chattering online makes the employees seem likable, approachable and human.  

Other businesses do not feel comfortable with personal chatter.  These businesses tend to want “professional chatter” only.  These businesses are often more comfortable with “dual channels” for employee social media.  The dual channel concept involves employees setting up dual social media tools - one for personal life and one for professional life.  We see this dual channel everywhere – Facebook for friends and our personal/social life and LinkedIn for professional life.  In the Twitter world employees might have two accounts – one for professional updates and one for personal updates.  

Ignore or engage?  Sit at the “back of the store” and wait for the customer to buy or “get out front” and engage customers in chatter?  That is a key question for businesses as they consider the social media sphere.  It is clear that businesses cannot avoid social media – the world is increasingly embracing social media.  As a result, each business must think critically of its social media strategy, manage its implementation and monitor its effect.


Accountability is Key

Just as one would hold an employee accountable for talking appropriately with a client, a business should hold an employee accountable for his professional and personal conduct in the online social media world.  Companies that train their employees on how to use social media effectively and hold them accountable to social media best practices gain value from such training.  Effective social media training allows employees to learn about the firm’s expectations for engaging the social media world.  Social media training introduces basic strategies for best representing their firm’s products and services.

While employees can powerfully interact with clients and potential clients via social media, it is important to remember that they own their own social media accounts.  Employees own their own social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Digg and on other online communities.  Employees and contractors are responsible for the content on their accounts (and control that content as well).  

Some online communities are not particularly useful places in which businesses (or their employees) might participate.  These are communities where users have online identities masked by usernames (cyberdude58 or happygirl684).  Online communities where users don’t have real information about themselves or where online identities are heavily masked don’t build trusted relationships.  They may have limited use for a business due to their lack of accountability.  Businesses and not-for profits are wise to generally avoid these kinds of online communities.


Influence Wisely

Some of the same key principles found in Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People apply to the online social media world – the world of blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.  And good old common sense applies to using social media to influence others. Here are some key principles:

- Set a strategy for customer interaction.

- Choose channels for customer interaction.

- Train employees in appropriate use of selected channels
 
- Be active in social media channels.  
 
- Manage your online reputation.
 
- Listen first, sell later.
 
- Show respect for the other person's opinions. 
 
- Appeal to noble motives.
 
- Give to the community and the community will give back to you.


Social media marketing is about engaging clients and potential customers.  The constant stream of social media chatter by a business and its employees influences customers and potential clients.  Businesses successful in using social media best practices influence others and build their brand while increasing their market value.   




Critical thinking regarding this article

After reading this article, answer these key questions.

Is your business engaging your potential clients and your existing customers (in person, on the phone and online)?  

Does the business engage online - not just via a company website, but via true social interaction online?  Are you “sitting at the back of the store” by having a website with company information and product descriptions, but no without social interaction, without “chatter”?  Is your business “winning friends and influencing people” via its online processes?

Can your employees interact with potential customers online?  Do your employees influence others online and in person?  What tools has the business given employees to start a meaningful conversation with potential customers?  Do those tools allow employees to highlight company products and services?  Do these tools and processes highlight meaningful messages?

Is there untapped value in your employees engaging potential customers in chatter? What is the value to the business if that chatter were unlocked?

Does your business have a strategy for engaging customers “at the intersection” -  chattering at the intersection?

Is your business using best practices when interacting with customers – face-to-face, on the phone and online?


Suggested reading

How to Win Friends and Influence People - by Dale Carnegie. Published by Simon & Schuster, 1936.

Socialnomics – by Erik Qualman.  Published by John Wiley & Sons, 2009.

 

 
Big Spark Media can unlock the value of social media for your business.  Contact us to begin engaging your potential customers.

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