Rob Cottingham's blog

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Get started blogging, keep your New Year's resolutions... and win $500 launches contest to help community with their 2007 goals

Our good friends (and clients) at Vancity are running a contest on Chang

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Yesterday's open house: thanks for coming!

Dayglo (Rob), Consultini (Alex), Pravin and Catherine

We had a great time at yesterday's open house welcoming Catherine to Social Signal. These events have their own unique dynamic: like being at a party, with little knots of people forming and talking... except you can hear everybody else's conversation as well.

The amazing thing is that, despite those potential distractions, you focus on the conversation you're having with the avatars closest to you. And it really feels like I met these folks.

To everyone who came, thanks for making this such a success. We had well over 50 people drop in over the two hours, and some fascinating conversations with people doing very interesting work.

(Update: AgentHandy has a great batch of Flickr photos from the event here. And thanks to Beth Kanter, Monique Trottier, Kate Trgovac, Jordan Behan, Aldon Hynes, Boyd Neil, Tim de Jardine, The Fountain and Bieneff Bruder for their reports on us! Special thanks to Neville Hobson for his kind words of welcome in episode 203 of the For Immediate Release podcast.)

For anyone who couldn't make it, here's a transcript of the opening remarks:

[14:10] Consultini Paperdoll: I just wanted to thank everyone for joining us today. We're really thrilled to be welcoming Catherine Omega to Social Signal and to be launching Social Signal's new Second Life practice. Social Signal is a company based in Vancouver, BC. We build online communities for nonprofits, government organizations and businesses including the NetSguared org site created by CompuMentor's TechSoup. They are our hosts today, so perhaps before I go further I can just take a minute to thank them and to thank Info Island for their generosity in lending us this space. Handyland Fairymeadow is here from TechSoup - Handyland, do you want to explain to folks what TechSoup is, and what you're doing in SL?

[14:15] HandyLand Fairymeadow: :) our pleasure to have you. sure... hi! I am handy of TechSoup. TechSoup is a nonprofit in RL and we are also doing work in SL. In RL-- we are are a nonprofit that assists nonprofits with their tech needs. In SL, we are doing a few projects to help get nonprofits connected in-world. We are doing the following projects:

We have a nonprofit directory which can be seen here to my far right behind you all. You can click and wear it and be taken on a tour of some orgs in-world.

We are also working on a big project which is a nonprofit office complex. We are calling this the nonprofit commons and we are donating free ofices to nonprofits; this sim was donated to us by the anshe chung studios. We are also having weekly meetings here in this space every friday from 8:30-9:30 PST.

To read about what we are doing check out our google group at Also, feel free to check out our FAQ at, join this group in SL, and feel free to take a notecard about TechSoup.

If you know any nonprofits in-world, please tell them to connect with either me or glitteractica cookie by IMing us inworld.

Enjoy and thanks for coming to this event!

[14:19] Consultini Paperdoll: Thanks, Handyland

First, just a reminder that we have a goodie bag for everyone -- just touch the giant menacing cube behind me to get yours.

Maybe the next thing for me to do is to introduce our team:

Dayglo Maladay, aka Rob Cottingham, is the President of Social Signal
Pravin DeSantis, aka Pravin Pillay, is our new COO
I'm Consultini Paperdoll, aka Alexandra Samuel, and I'm the CEO

And as of today, Catherine Omega, aka Catherine Winters, is our Managing Director of Virtual Worlds.

We're thrilled that Catherine has joined us and we're very excited about what we'll be able to do together in Second Life. We were introduced to Catherine as one of the smartest people ever to hit a virtual world, and she's more than lived up to that billing.

Catherine, do you have a blush animation you want to play now?

[14:21] Catherine Omega: I'm actually getting used to the gushing, to be honest.

[14:21] Ruby Glitter: ;-)

[14:21] Consultini Paperdoll: glad to hear it, because we hope to have lots of occasions to say more great things in the future

[14:21] Catherine Omega: Okay, well maybe not TOTALLY used to it yet... :)

[14:21] Consultini Paperdoll: She's both sharpened and broadened our ideas of what our clients can accomplish, and how SL can trigger social change and innovation.

We decided to get into Second Life because we think this is a crucial space and a crucial moment for the growth of online community. We've all seen what Web 2.0 has done to business, and to the social sector. And we've been working to build online communities that realize the best of that potential and really help people collaborate in ways, and for purposes, that might not otherwise be addressed. For example, the site which we built for Canadian credit union Vancity recently gathered 76 bags of clothes for homeless people during a cold snap here.

We think that's an example of what online communities can do and what Second Life can do, perhaps even more powerfully than the web: bring people together, bring out the best in them and enable real social change.

We think Catherine's understanding of SL and her dazzling technical skills will help us to realize that potential and we're looking forward to continuing the conversation which we've already begun with many of you about how SL can be a home and a force for positive social change... as well as a good place to displace our socially/environmentally destructive consumerist impulses ;)

Again, Catherine, thanks so much for joining us -- we're really honored to have you as part of our team. Did you want to say a few words yourself?

[14:28] Catherine Omega: Oh, well, thank you. I'm excited to be here. I guess it was Hamlet Au from New World Notes who actually put me in touch with Social Signal initially... Soon after, I met with Rob and Alex and found that Social Signal's goals meshed well with my own, and that this was somewhere I really felt I could contribute.

I'm looking forward to bridging Second Life with the "traditional" web for existing and new online communities, because I think that this is something that we've only really started to see the potential of.

With this new job, I've been given an exciting opportunity to develop some of the things that I've only really speculated about until now... as well as using the skills and experience I HAVE developed in a different direction than I've been able to do in the past.

So I'm pretty excited about being here today, and perhaps a little shy about it... But I'm looking forward to working with Social Signal and with many of you. So, thanks, you guys. It's a pleasure to be here.

[14:31] Consultini Paperdoll: Thanks, Catherine. And thanks to all of you for coming today.

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Second Life: What it is and why it matters - a Social Signal white paper (and spoiler)

So you've been reading, seeing and hearing all the hype about Second Life, but you're not really, exactly, completely sure... um... what it is. Or why you should care.

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Tracking tasks with Remember The Milk: Dairy delight or lactose intolerance?

(Aaron and I prepared this review together. He's responsible for the first half or so, plus the roundup; I'm mainly to blame for the milk-related puns. –Rob)

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Financial hope for parents of disabled children: congratulations to PLAN

Congratulations to the folks at PLAN, the Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network. Since we started working with them earlier this year, we've been impressed by their unique alloy of compassion, entrepreneurial drive and faith in the potential of people working together.

They've been putting a lot of work into creating a Disability Savings Plan, modelled on the educational savings plans that offer tax incentives to parents saving for their children's higher education. PLAN's idea is geared to helping families cope with the fact that people with severe disabilities are now often outliving their parents; it would help them set aside some money to ensure their children's financial security.

Some intense lobbying by PLAN is now paying off. On Tuesday, a panel established by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to examine the PLAN proposal gave it their backing, recommending a $200,000 limit as well as cash grants of at least $1,000 annually over 20 years for parents of children with severe disabilities – doubled in the case of low-income families.

Then, on Wednesday, Flaherty himself weighed in, saying he "would be surprised" if the plan doesn't appear in the budget.

That's no guarantee, of course; spending priorities often shift dramatically before a finance minister tables a budget, and this one has to clear the added hurdle of a minority government. But even if the Conservative budget goes down to defeat, there's now enough support among Canada's political parties to give parents real hope that PLAN's idea will become a reality sometime in the first half of 2007.

If you want to add your voice to a petition supporting the Disability Savings Plan, click here. And to learn more about PLAN, click here.

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Packing my virtual bags for CaseCamp Second Life

Later this evening, I'll be attending a conference in Second Life, the avatar-based virtual world.

CaseCamp, which has already proven to be a popular, effective way to pass along stories about marketing efforts, moves tonight into the virtual realm with CaseCamp Second Life, to be held on Crayon Island. (The event was oversubscribed quickly; I'm one of the lucky folks whose name was chosen in a random draw.)

It'll be interesting to see how this pans out. My early concerns about a sudden epidemic of repetitive strain injuries among the Marketing 2.0 set were allayed when I learned we'll have a live audio hookup. That's good, because my experiences with SL text chat conferences haven't been completely encouraging; the lag between one comment and another often leads to confusion in group conversations as to just who's talking to whom.

Congratulations to organizers C.C. Chapman (Cleon Goff), VP new marketing for crayon and host of Managing the Gray; Bryan Person (Zeke Barber), podcaster and blogger at; Eli Singer, who invented CaseCamp; and digital marketing genius Kate Trgovac (Katicus Sparrow) of MyNameIsKate fame.

Meanwhile, do you think maybe I got here a little early?

Rob waits, alone, at CaseCampSL
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Introducing our new Chief Operating Officer: Pravin Pillay

Pravin Pillay

If we've seemed a little more delighted then usual when you've spoken to us in the last few weeks, we can finally tell you why:

We're pleased to announce that Pravin Pillay has joined our team as Social Signal's new Chief Operating Officer.

Pravin holds an MBA from McGill University, and has a long record of success bringing together innovative interdisciplinary teams – from artists to engineers – and helping organizations consolidate and enhance their business capacity.

Does his name ring a bell? That may well be from his work with non-profits, businesses and government agencies for positive social change:

  • Pravin was the first director of development with Médecins Sans Frontières, working with their international team to establish the organization in Canada.
  • He served as the director of special projects for the federal agency Youth Service Canada, partnering with businesses, organizations, institutions and agencies to help young people overcome barriers to rewarding careers.
  • As the first executive director of the Rediscovery International Foundation, he developed sound, lasting business practices to advance the organization's mission: drawing on the strength of indigenous cultures to empower youth around the world.

Pravin's high-tech background that dates back to his first experiences programming a classic Commodore PET computer. From one of his early jobs working with British Telecom's mainframes, to advising tech firms navigating the transition from garage-based startup to full-fledged businesses, he's had a healthy respect for both the transformative power and the limitations of technology. His reflections on the meaning and future of identity in an online world were featured in the 2003 film Avatara, the first feature-length machinima documentary.

He also maintains a thriving artistic practice – informed by his social and political activism – that has spanned a wide range of installations, performances, talks, symposia and articles.

In short, Pravin brings the best of the worlds of business strategy, activism, non-profit organizing and the arts. We're confident that we'll benefit every bit as much as our clients will from his proven role as a proven catalyst for change, growth and success, as he helps us enhance and expand our business capacity. And he's a mensch.

All of which means he's absolutely ideal for the critical role of managing Social Signal's rapid growth and honing our entrepreneurial edge, while keeping us true to our purpose: helping you use the power of online community to change the world.

We can't wait to have you meet him.

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Now blogging at Civic Minded

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve begun blogging at Corante’s Civic Minded blog, your guide to the political impact of the web. My inaugural post begins like this:

When I worked in a Member of Parliament’s office back in the early 1990s, our office – like those of our colleagues – was inundated with an unending stream of petitions, pre-printed form letters, faxes and actual mail. Sifting through it all took up a huge amount of time (and incurred more than a little staff resentment).

These communications varied wildly in impact. We often took the effort required by a particular medium as a rough proxy for the level of sender’s depth of feeling and commitment. A personally written letter, for instance, carried a lot more weight than a lowly mass-printed postcard, which was maybe a little more significant than a petition.

And if a tangible, paper-based petition is unlikely to soften the flinty hearts in the corridors of power, you can how much hope their electronic kin have. Point-and-click protest is so easy to do – and for that reason, just as easy to ignore in the face of so many competing demands for attention.

So my heart usually sinks whenever I receive yet another appeal to go sign yet another e-petition. With a very few exceptions (such as the petition to change Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day’s first name to “Doris” in 2000), and despite the hopes of their sponsors, they almost always wrap up without making a dent in public policy.

But now British Prime Minister Tony Blair seems interested in rescuing the lowly e-petition from irrelevance. Earlier this month, his office launched a remarkable experiment with online petitions.

You can read the rest of the post here.

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Vancouver joins the conversation on

Someone at City Hall is listening to at least one corner of the blogging world.

Over at, the online community we built with Vancity, user Scott Robarts recently asked why the city is cutting down the trees on Granville Street:

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Are you blogging? Business is listening.

Corporations start to recognize importance of monitoring social media for impact to their business

Dr. Joyce Brothers once said that listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery. If so, bloggers should be feeling mighty flattered these days.

One of the faster-growing areas of public relations these days is blog monitoring. The Web 2.0 equivalent of a clipping service, blog monitoring services scour the Internet's blogs for mentions of a client, client's competitor, or keywords suggesting an issue important to a competitor.

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