Tweeting Your Own Horn

I grew up a privileged kid.  Not private-boarding-school privileged, but certainly computer-in-my-room, internet-access privileged.  I learned most of what I know about programming and the internet in my spare time.  I helped create and run the very-successful Uniball, a huge learning experience for me: I dealt with hundreds of players in my leagues and on the chat service, dealt with technical issues, and even supplied and hosted a game server, all for free (1500 hours and 18,000 lines of code).  I made free game frameworks, free time-card applications, ray-tracers.  I contributed to an open-source physics simulation engine.  My interests shifted towards education and I started contributing for free to the blogosphere, writing this blog, leaving comments on the blogs of others, and now tweeting (follow @rileylark).

I’ve done all of this for no money; the experience and the learning has been its own reward (and I got a job at Microsoft for my Uniball work).  In this community of free contributions, doing anything to make money is frowned upon, actually.  There’s a pressure not to be making money and not to be looking for the most followers, etc.  Your work should speak for itself, and your learning and fun should be the only reward!

Well, I have an announcement to make.  Next year I will be drastically reducing my hours at school in order to write software to better support teachers in the switch to and maintenance and improvement of standards-based grading.  My steady yearly income will drop to something like $10,000, which is, as they say, not enough.  I’m betting a year of my life on the software I plan to create.

Developing great software is hard, but I can do it – I have tons of practice, both professionally, academically, and as a hobby.  What I don’t have practice with is intentional networking.  About 180 people follow this blog (thanks!  I’m glad you like it!), but I’m going to need more exposure than that if I’m going to support myself on my own handiwork – I know what your budgets look like.

Now, finally, the point: the last 15 years of internet social experience are telling me not to publicize.  Don’t add “Tweet this post” buttons to your posts, and don’t put ads on your pages!  Looking forward to a profession based on the internet, though, shows me that I have a lot to learn about marketing and revenue.  So, I’m adding these things to my blog as experiments.  If you think they’re trashy, please let me know.  If you don’t notice them, please let me know.  If you like tweeting about stuff when you’re given a little box, please let me know!

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.  What place does marketing have in our blogging community?  What about money?  How do you feel about tweeting your own horn?

13 thoughts on “Tweeting Your Own Horn”

  1. Hey there,

    Wow, watch me leap at your conversation.. I’m interested in what exactly you’re going to produce to support teachers who are grading based on standards. I ask because I’m very interested in a gradebook that would better accommodate standards based grading. It would be great to have a gradebook into which we could enter how a child scored on the same concept on multiple quizzes, without erasing old data, and if we could choose whether we wanted the highest score to count, or the latest. Also, some of us are still counting homework, participation, binders, etc as part of our grades, so it would be good if we could establish weighted categories (one of which would be the quizzed (or whatever) standards). Lastly, several of us (myself included) are Mac users; it would be wifty cool if your solution included us too :) Feel free to contact me if you need a Mac beta tester :)

    1. Hi Meg,

      I *will* feel free to contact you, thanks! There are a lot of ways that software could support teachers in SBG, and since I can only support some of them and since I can’t start work until September I don’t want to get ahead of myself too much. I’m sure I’ll announce the first beta release on this blog (I expect November, so maybe in January?) so check back here in five or six months.

      If you could only have a single feature in a piece of grade-reporting software, what would it be?

  2. (sorry for not responding to your comment on my blog yet — this term is not great for ‘spare five minutes’!)

    Now, finally, the point: the last 15 years of internet social experience are telling me not to publicize. Don’t add “Tweet this post” buttons to your posts, and don’t put ads on your pages! Looking forward to a profession based on the internet, though, shows me that I have a lot to learn about marketing and revenue. So, I’m adding these things to my blog as experiments. If you think they’re trashy, please let me know.

    On ads:

    Blogs are a great medium to advertise, but the advertisement has to be specific and justified. I’m not sure how much money the Google Ad you have brings you in, for example, but it’s wasted on me, as I’ve trained myself to recognise and skim over Google Ads without actually taking in any of the content! Making the adverts more prominent (and less specific) will just lead to increased annoyance.

    On the other hand, I’m now seriously considering buying quite an expensive textbook based on a discussion about it by another blogger whose opinion I respect. I imagine that, if you start discussing the features of the software you are creating, and build up a community of people who actually have some investment in the result, you’ll get better results than you would do by spamming the hell out of everywhere in sight.

    On publicity:

    ‘Tweet this’ and other publicity tools, however, are different to advertisements, and seem like quite a sensible thing to put on your site in these crazy social-networking days. It means that people can come to your site and *choose* to publicise it themselves to their friends — they’re doing the publicity for you, of their own free will, and why not make this as easy as possible for them?

    1. Thanks for your thoughts – the ads are not particularly effective (think 46 cents in the last month), so that particular experiment probably only has another day or so to go. The twitter social dynamics are so interesting! A recent signal vs. noise podcast included discussion of criticism SvN got for encouraging people to market for them (as part of entry requirements for a contest). Where’s the line?

  3. Speaking as someone who has independently developed software and failed to sell it, I wish you the best of luck. Doing self-promotion is really hard for those of us who have been taught to be polite and modest. I don’t know how good my advice on this is, but I’m going to offer it anyhow.

    Don’t be afraid to let people know what you’re working on. Even if it seems like it’s impolite to self-promote, it’s still the best way to get your product known.

    Encourage and enable people to promote your product, but don’t coerce them, if you don’t want criticism. Having a “tweet this” link, is enabling promotion, and is totally cool.

    Offer free useful and/or interesting content where ever you are doing promotions. People are more likely to share something interesting with a bit of sales pitch in it, than something that is all sales pitch.

    I can point you at some people/websites/companies that I think do the internet based marketing really well, if you want.

    Kudos to you for trying to fill a gap in available software. I look forward to seeing the results. And again, good luck!

  4. “If you could only have a single feature in a piece of grade-reporting software, what would it be?”

    Choosing just one feature is pretty hard — there are some basic features that are simply required in order for it to be an effective gradebook. Then there are “wishlist” features.

    Basic:
    * Place to enter student name & number
    * Be able to enter scores for each “assignment”
    * Be able to establish weighted categories for grading, and categorize each assignment as belonging to one of the categories
    * Be able to change details of assignment (such as date or point value) after creating assignment (Bonus points if the gradebook offers to scale entered scores when you change the point value of an assignment!)
    * Reports so students can see how they’re doing in the class
    * Export to web so parents & students can keep track online at their convenience
    * Lots of other stuff I just take for granted!

    #1 Wishlist:
    * Ability to track student scores for each concept/learning standard over time. Choice of how to assign grade for standards: highest score, latest score, …?

    Also I’m pretty torn on the whole online gradebook thing. Not needing to upload grades, because they’re already online – that’s nice :) And the instant update for students checking their grades online is a big plus. However, my laptop and I often venture *gasp* away from wireless access, and it’s a bummer if you’ve got a perfectly good computer and a stack of graded quizzes and you can’t enter grades because your gradebook is trapped on the internet. I know there are some interesting things happening with offline access to online apps (gmail for example)… Anyhow, if you’re thinking of designing your grade reporting software online, please consider some kind of local caching/offline access :)

    BTW, I’m using Gradekeeper as my gradebook right now. I’m pretty happy with it, except for the whole tracking per-concept improvement over time thing. Well, and the reports could use some improvement. But overall, it’s a nice, simple app that does what I need & gets out of the way :)

  5. Riley – best of luck! I’ve considered something like this as well, but I don’t have the same basic programming experience/skill level as you so best of luck. I can say that the biggest selling point of Easy Grade Pro for the teachers at my school who’ve chosen to use it mostly on their own is the ability to generate password-protected online progress reports so that students and families can view progress. Many websites do this. It’s essential.

    I used to use a spreadsheet that I had designed for grading, but found it too time consuming to generate the online reports – I had done all kinds of hacking to get reports to generate using mail merges and inefficient procedures (it took me about 2 hours to get all 100 reports ready and sent each time I updated my gradebook on the weekend).

    Easy Grade Pro cuts the time on those reports to essentially 0, but it also takes away much of the flexibility for how to design the grading, and I don’t like the way there’s is setup.

    I’d love to help out in any way that I can, I really admire this project, and I think there is potential for it to be widely useful. Since you’re doing it, I’m sure it will be well designed.

    Cheers,
    Nick

  6. Thanks for the ideas, Nick – I used an excel spreadsheet this year, and even with only twenty students (I know I’m lucky) generating the reports took forever. Web reporting is a definite must for me – so much so that I’m designing the app to be run entirely on the web (perhaps version 2 will feature offline access).

    I’m definitely going to need beta testers this winter, so stay tuned if you’re interested in helping that way. Thanks again!

  7. Hi Riley,

    I just wanted to wish you luck with your new venture. It takes courage to give up a dependable source of income and follow your heart. I’ve been there. There were struggles but things worked out in the end.

    I can totally relate to your concerns about self-promotion. My response to the perceived pressure was to do no promotion and just hope that others would step in and do it for me. It was a terrible strategy. I hope you’ll do better. I would encourage you to continue building relationships within the educational community. Tweet and blog about your project as it develops. Ask for input from the crowd. Seek out people who have done similar work; people who are developing products for teachers. I can connect you with a few. I’m sure others can, as well. It took me a long time to realize this but your success is entirely up to you. It’s all about your vision, your skills, your decisions, your timing, your presence, and your passion.

    As far as income goes, I wonder if you could create a simpler web-based program over the summer before starting your main project. Not necessarily something related to education; just something that people would find interesting. You could easily set up a website for this program and host ads there. I think you could earn a significant supplemental income. There are very few blogs that are profitable. A web site that attracts a more diverse audience has a much better chance. I, too, am very uncomfortable about money as it relates to educational endeavors. But I’m slowly realizing that no one is doing volunteer work. And the more educators I meet who are earning six figure salaries, the less bad I feel.

    I can’t wait to see what you create.

  8. Thanks, Colleen! I think it’s a great idea to make something small over the summer – I do need a wedding registry system…

    I really appreciate your support. I’ll be posting updates about the project in the fall, and I hope you’ll still be reading then. I’ll be eager to ask your advice – you’re a great role model for me :)

  9. Riley, I love when someone is passionate about doing something to fill a need, especially in our profession.

    My 2 cents for a feature to include: the ability to group standards based on categories. For example, many (most?) math standards are based on domains, including numbers and operations, measurement, geometry, data analysis, probability, and algebra. Being able to group rearrange standards by domain (or some other category) would be another way to see trends in student knowledge.

  10. I say go for ads! I follow lots of blogs on all sorts of topics and it seems that only in the education blog area is it taboo to put up ads. It’s as if they want to be martyrs and continue complaining about low salaries (and I am a teacher). Anyway, go for it. Put up ads, they don’t bother me a bit. You should get at least something for your ideas. Furthermore, the ads are normally niche specific, so their might actually be something advertised that I am interested in and wouldn’t have known about otherwise! Also, I just ran into your blog today and I love it!

  11. I ended up taking the google ads off, since after 8000 impressions I earned $0.46, it wasn’t worth the controversy. Someone else suggested more specific ads too, and I think I’ll certainly be advertising my own software here next year.

    The taboo is interesting, isn’t it? Thanks for your comment!

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