FriendsRoll and TopLinks at DemoCamp Ottawa

We presented FriendsRoll and TopLinks at DemoCamp Ottawa8. This was our first public coming out of these apps and it was a real thrill to stand in front of our community and talk about our idea and how we’re brought it to life. On top of this, we got some great feedback from the DemoCamp attendees, including some suggestions for improvements that we’ll definitely incorporate in future releases.

For those new to the story, Friends Roll and Toplinks are free WordPress plugins that we hope will revitalize the blogroll. TopLinks uses your internal WordPress database to show the blogs and websites you link to most often in your posts. FriendsRoll lets your readers show that they are part of your community. Both plugins display this information in your blog sidebar. You can see my FriendsRoll and TopLinks in the sidebar of ProPR.

Steve Lounsbury, who was the principal developer of FriendsRoll, and Julie Haché, who played the same role for TopLinks, joined me in the DemoCamp presentation. I hope that this video of our presentation gives you a better sense of what we are trying to achieve and also a sense of the atmosphere of DemoCamp.

Thank you for Ian Graham , Peter Childs and the whole crew of volunteers who organize DemoCamp Ottawa . Your efforts have brought our community together in the best of ways.

More about DemoCamp Ottawa

Ottawa DemoCamp Roundup


FriendsRoll and TopLinks at DemoCamp Ottawa

FriendsRollTopLinksSteve Lounsbury, Julie Haché and I will be presenting FriendsRoll and TopLinks at DemoCampOttawa8. This will be our first public presentation of these plug ins. So, we’re hoping for some good feedback on both the concept and how we could improve the implementation.

DemoCamp PresenterThe other presentations include:, LoyaltyMatch, GlobeEx Pro, Trade Wars Rising, DevShop and FaveQuest. Thanks are due to Ian Graham and the other organizers who are making it possible for the Ottawa tech/startup community to gather and celebrate innovation.

If you’re in Ottawa on the evening of March 31, come out to DemoCamp and join in the discussion.

Read More about FriendsRoll and TopLinks:

The BlogRoll Reinvented – FriendsRoll and TopLinks

Launching FriendsRoll and TopLinks

FriendsRoll and TopLinks Case Study Part 1

FriendsRoll and TopLinks Case Study Part 1

FriendsRollLast Friday, we launched FriendsRoll and TopLinks, two WordPress plug ins that the development team at 76design and I hope will give new life to the blogroll concept.

This is the first in a series of posts in which I plan to write about our experience launching these plug-ins and what we learn through this experience.TopLinks (If you are looking for background, you may want to check out my two previous posts about the launch and about our objectives and how we will measure success.

What we did in the first three days since launch

Monitoring and Analysis

We intended to promote FriendsRoll and TopLinks exclusively through social media. So, our first step was to set up the analytics and tracking tools that would help us monitor conversation and traffic.

  • Installed Google Analytics to provide us with insight into how the FriendsRoll and TopLinks site is performing and where our traffic is coming from.
  • Set up Technorati and Google Blog searches for FriendsRoll and TopLinks and subscribed to the RSS feeds for these searches so that we would be alerted to conversation relating to the plug ins.
  • Set up a profile on Radian6 to provide us with the ability to conduct additional analysis of the conversation taking place through social media.


We set up the FriendsRoll and TopLinks Website the week prior to the launch, testing it and refining the copy.

On Friday, March 7, I wrote an initial post on ProPR about the plug ins and how we hoped they’d help bloggers to effortlessly show up to date information on the blogs they link to most often and also enable readers of their blogs to join their FriendsRoll.

I also sent out a Twitter message pointing to the post.

Then I hopped on a plane to SXSW. And that explains a question you’re probably asking. Why would we launch something on a Friday? I had hoped that we’d be able to launch at least a week earlier. However, the code just wasn’t ready until Friday. And because I was going to be seeing so many blogger friends at SXSW, I wanted to be able to tell them about something that had passed the vapourware state. So, a Friday launch it was.

(I’m not really upset about this because I never expected we’d make a big splash. We’re expecting a very gradual take up rate on the plug ins. Like other things in social media, word must spread and people will want to try it out. That can take time.)

Social Media Conversation

In the first few days, we received positive posts from Jevon MacDonald at StartupNorth, Parker Mason at Blog Campaigning and MartinHoffman, pick up in Sarah Wurrey’s PRBlogJots, and a link from Mark Evans. (Mark even installed the plug-in; more about that below.)

So far, nothing from my blogging friends attending SXSW. But I hope that’s because they all have moved onto Twitter or Utterz which seem to have become the preferred means for reporting on SXSW this year.

Site Statistics

Some noteworthy stats:

  • 30 unique visitors to the FriendsRoll site on the Friday launch day, 18 on Saturday, 9 on Sunday and 21 on Monday;
  • 67% of the traffic to the site was attributable to referrals from other sites, 31% was direct and 2% came from search engines. 47% of the visits to the site came by way of my posts on ProPR;
  • The TopLinks plugin was downloaded 7 times and the FriendsRoll plugin was downloaded 4 times.

User Feedback

Two people who installed the TopLinks plugin on their blogs – Sandy Kemsley and Mark Evans – contacted us to offer comments, ask questions and report problems. Their feedback was particularly valuable because they spotted problems with the initial implementation of the FavIcons feature and the anomalies in the look and appearance of the plugins when installed. Sandy was a particularly thorough tester and gave us several rounds of feedback.

Observation: The culture of generosity really does prevail in social media. The feedback offered by Sandy and Mark was invaluable and even more appreciated because of the positive way it was offered.

Others who didn’t install the plugins left comments on my post or sent us emails. Their feedback included:

  • When will we make the plugins available for other platforms? (Answer: we’d like to. But first, we want to see how this works out on WordPress.)
  • Can the colour and dimensions be varied to fit custom templates? (Answer: Not yet. But we’re planning to introduce this in a subsequent release.)

Release 1.1

As a result of Sandy’s and Mark’s user feedback, Steve Lounsbury and Julie Haché, crunched through the weekend and were able to produce release 1.1, which addressed the issues reported to us. This was posted for download late Monday.

We’re still not 100% happy with the way we’ve solved the FavIcon problem and we’re discussion other approaches that may be taken in the next release.

Summary Thoughts (for today)

We’re happy with the early reaction to these plugins.

In a way the small numbers of visitors and downloads have been a blessing. The people who tried it out proved to be generous and helpful – ideal Beta Testers. As a result of their feedback, we were able to fix problems before they became a problem for others.

Yes, we have very small numbers and limited attention so far. But we weren’t expecting the world to issue a collective gasp. What counts to us is the experience of those who find these plugins useful. And we’ll also learn from people’s reactions whether we are addressing a real pain point.

Your Turn

What do you think of FriendsRoll? Of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it?

This is an opportunity for us all to learn together. So, please leave your thoughts, suggestions and questions as comments on this post.

Launching FriendsRoll and TopLinks Case Study

FriendsRollYesterday, we launched FriendsRoll and TopLinks, two WordPress plugins which we hope will give fresh life to the blogroll.

We are using exclusively social media to promote awareness, use TopLinksand discussion of FriendsRoll and TopLinks. We have no advertising budget and are not using pay per click or other advertising.

So, I’ve decided to try to chronicle the launch as a case study of the use of social media to support a launch.

First, I’ll set the stage with what we are trying to achieve with FriendsRoll and TopLinks. Then, in future posts, I’ll talk about how things roll out.


Our objectives for FriendsRoll and TopLinks are:

  1. To offer something to the community which people use and value;
  2. To be seen to be a contributing member of the social media community;
  3. To highlight our programming and design skills; and
  4. To “learn by doing”.

Who do we want to reach

  • Social media practitioners and thought leaders;
  • The WordPress developer community; and
  • Our clients and companies/organizations interested in who is innovating in social media

Success Criteria

We will define success in the following ways

  • Friendsroll and TopLinks are downloaded and used by bloggers (maps against objective 1);
  • Others notice and comment on the applications and our development and offering of them. We will measure tone, not just quantity in judging success. (objectives 2 and 3);
  • Our user community provides us with feedback on how we can improve the apps (objective 4); and
  • We gain practical knowledge about what works and what doesn’t in social media (objective 4).

In my next post, I’ll write about our experience on Day 1 of the launch. I hope that you’ll follow along with me and also offer your comments and reactions. By doing this, we can learn together.

Read the story from the beginning: The Blogroll Reinvented: FriendsRoll and TopLinks

The Blogroll reinvented – FriendsRoll & TopLinks

Today, we are launching FriendsRoll and TopLinks, two new WordPress plugins that I hope will give new life to blogrolls. You’ll see the very first intallation of these in the sidebar of this blog.


There’s been a lot of good discussion about whether the blogroll has lost its utility.

Personally, when I find a new site that I like, I review the author’s blogroll. And I’ve frequently discovered some great new sites this way.

But I also have to admit that my own blogroll was dreadfully out of date. I just didn’t remember to update it often enough. And so, it didn’t really reflect my most current reading list or recommendations.

So, what to do about this? How could we reinvent the blogroll so that it would continue to have the utility of helping us discover sites recommended by others while making it painless to keep these lists up to date?

Our answer: TopLinks. TopLinks replaces the manually edited blogroll with a widget that automatically generates a list of the Blogs and sites that I most often link to.

In doing this, it not only solves the problem of keeping my list up to date, but it also provides an extra indicator of whose thinking I most closely follow and most frequently cite in my own posts.

(Think about the potential for having this data openly posted on blogs. We will be able to analyse and use it to construct social graphs of the blogosphere, gaining insight into communities of thought and influence.)

At the same time, I wondered about another issue. The explosive growth of social networks like Facebook is powered, in my opinion, by people’s desire to connect with others.

I’m a member of Facebook. But it seems to me that it’s best for making connections with others and signalling affinity to causes. But for great content, I still look to blogs. That’s where the serious writers have continued to post their content and where the discussion has flowed most freely. Moreover, this occurs in the open, outside of any walled garden, where all this great content is available to anyone who can use Search.

So, the question: How can we provide readers with a means of signalling that they read and trust an author and consider themselves to be part of his or her community?

Our answer: Friendsroll. FriendsRoll enables your readers to sign up to appear on your list of Friends. Any data they provide will stay with the blogger, not reside on some external site. So the relationship is directly between us. No third party involved.

Get them together or separately
I think Friendsroll and Toplinks work best together. But you can install them individually or together.

Both plugins can be downloaded from the Friendsroll site. Try them out – let us know what you think.

Thanks to some very talented people

I’m very lucky to work with some truly talented developers and designers at 76design. Thanks to the great 76design team who worked on this: Julie Haché, Shawn McCann, Brett Tackaberry, Steve Palmer and the project’s leader, Steve Lounsbury. And thanks to to Tod Maffin, who may recall that this idea originally emerged in a discussion that we had in Vancouver last summer.

All that’s missing is you

Oh, by the way. This is a real Social Media project. The plug-ins can be downloaded and used for free. And the promotion budget to let people know about this is $0.

So, I’m hoping that if you like the concept of Friendsroll and Toplinks, you’ll post about them and encourage others to try them out and give us their feedback on them. Only through being used and talked about will we be able to improve on this first effort.